Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 15, No. 8.
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
Date: Wed, 09 May 2001 07:33:27 +0100
From: Willard McCarty <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: how the old is carried into the new?
I would be most grateful for pointers to articles and books on software
design that focus on analysis of pre-existing artefacts. A very fine
example of this is Darrell R. Raymond and Frank Wm. Tompa. 1988. "Hypertext
and the Oxford English Dictionary", Communications of the ACM 37.7 (1988):
871-9. This of course is focused on a particular artefact but makes broader
statements about the process, e.g. about getting at knowledge implicit in
the object by considering how that object is used. As I recall the authors
do not deal with tacit knowledge as such. I'd be grateful to know how
designers deal with that kind.
I would also appreciate any references to discussions in other disciplines
about what I suppose could be called the problem of objectivity -- to pick
an example not exactly at random, the problem of understanding the past in
as close to its own terms as one can get. In The Use and Abuse of History,
M. I. Finley writes about the struggle of history to separate from and keep
separate from poetic myth -- as one might say, the contest of "what
actually happened" and "what is always happening". In translation studies,
there's Umberto Eco's recent definition, the interpretation of a text in
two languages and their cultures (Experiences in Translation). Or, to
switch to anthropology, Clifford Geertz's comment in The Interpretation of
Culture: "I have never been impressed", he wrote, "by the argument that, as
complete objectivity is impossible one might as well let one's sentiments
run loose. As Robert Solow has remarked, that is like saying that as a
perfectly aseptic environment is impossible, one might was well conduct
surgery in a sewer."
Yes, there is a link between the above two paragraphs other than "also".
I'm thinking that when some like Raymond or Tompa looks at an artefact like
the OED, ideally he or she has to be able at least some of the time to do
what Finley and Geertz (and Eco by implication) are talking about: see that
artefact in as close to its own terms as possible. What they say they
actually did do was listen to users of the thing, and that's a good idea of
course, but the cognitive point is that those guys not only listened, they
also heard and understood. Now has any software designer talked about that
Save me (and my patient) from the sewer please.
Dr Willard McCarty / Senior Lecturer /
Centre for Computing in the Humanities / King's College London /
Strand / London WC2R 2LS / U.K. /
+44 (0)20 7848-2784 / ilex.cc.kcl.ac.uk/wlm/
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