15.008 old into new: how?

From: by way of Willard McCarty (willard@lists.village.Virginia.EDU)
Date: Wed May 09 2001 - 02:40:29 EDT

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                    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 <willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk>
             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
    cognitive part?

    Save me (and my patient) from the sewer please.

    Many thanks.


    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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