15.045 obstacles (and propellers) to humanities computing

From: by way of Willard McCarty (willard@lists.village.Virginia.EDU)
Date: Fri May 25 2001 - 01:15:07 EDT

  • Next message: by way of Willard McCarty: "15.046 fsconcordance? "Internet researcher"?"

                    Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 15, No. 45.
           Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London

       [1] From: Wendell Piez <wapiez@mulberrytech.com> (42)
             Subject: Re: 15.044 obstacles to humanities computing

       [2] From: Merrilee Proffitt <Merrilee_Proffitt@notes.rlg.org> (8)
             Subject: Propeller heads unite!

       [3] From: "Kirk Lowery" <kirk@leningradensis.org> (81)
             Subject: RE: 15.041 obstacles to humanities computing

       [4] From: cbf@socrates.Berkeley.EDU (166)
             Subject: Re: 15.041 obstacles to humanities computing

             Date: Fri, 25 May 2001 06:10:28 +0100
             From: Wendell Piez <wapiez@mulberrytech.com>
             Subject: Re: 15.044 obstacles to humanities computing

    Hello Willard, and HUMANIST,

    At 07:28 AM 5/24/01, you wrote:
    >(2) Propeller-headedness. Lots here, that's for sure: the ancient rivalry
    >between those who make and those who think, to put the matter crudely but
    >politely; or, to speak to their integration in terms with which we should
    >be very intimate, the problem of what equipment has to do with and in the
    >humanities. A question that begins with or at least deeply involves the
    >history and philosophy and sociology of science and technology, in order
    >that we may see the computer in a broadly cultural context.

    Yea, verily, Willard. Not being able to resolve this rivalry, which so many
    of us experience in our very persons. Yet we are at a fascinating moment of
    self-consciousness, when we realize that our apparatus of thought, as we
    have learned to use it -- whether that be pencil and paper, discursive
    prose as composed on a typewriter, or search/sort operations performed on a
    text base -- have always conditioned our thinking itself. And that
    understanding this relation is part of understanding our own partiality
    (that shadow of our thinking that is so hard to see, being usually behind
    us as we gaze into the light cast by our instruments).

    Not long ago I read an interesting passage in a book by a mathematician who
    remarks on how pleased he is to have a job in which he can lie down flat on
    his back, shut his eyes, and be doing serious work. Having internalized his
    discipline, yet he would be unable to do this if he had not spent uncounted
    hours with pencil and yellow pad, or with stick and sand. Isn't the stylus
    and the tablet, though now so "virtual" he can shut his eyes and start
    scrawling, part of his means of thinking?

    Likewise, isn't the architecture of a sentence, the organization of an
    argument, or the carriage of a metaphor, the very stuff of the Humanities?
    And could we learn to use (could we even have discovered) these instruments
    if we had no way of externalizing them?

    "The ancient rivalry between those who make and those who think." Yet what
    do we ever think, but ways of making; what do we ever make, but ways of


    Wendell Piez mailto:wapiez@mulberrytech.com
    Mulberry Technologies, Inc. http://www.mulberrytech.com
    17 West Jefferson Street Direct Phone: 301/315-9635
    Suite 207 Phone: 301/315-9631
    Rockville, MD 20850 Fax: 301/315-8285
        Mulberry Technologies: A Consultancy Specializing in SGML and XML

             Date: Fri, 25 May 2001 06:10:58 +0100
             From: Merrilee Proffitt <Merrilee_Proffitt@notes.rlg.org>
             Subject: Propeller heads unite!

    I've been following the recent exchange with much amusement. I am
    perfectly happy with emacs. I tried at one point to show Charles how to
    use it, which he's been grumbling about ever since. I've failed humanities

    For those who want a propeller hat of their very own... (Willard, yours is
    in the mail) I particularly like the star and what appears to be a
    armadillo perched on top.



             Date: Fri, 25 May 2001 06:11:51 +0100
             From: "Kirk Lowery" <kirk@leningradensis.org>
             Subject: RE: 15.041 obstacles to humanities computing

    On 24 May 2001, at 7:28, by way of Dr. Donald J. Weinshank wrote:

    > We seem to be coming perilously close to a "flame war" on the subject of
    > what one does or does not need to know about computing to be a
    > productive scholar.

    I hope my remarks are not seen as any kind of rebuke of Charles Faulhaber!
    I completely sympathize with his position: computers ought to be easy to
    use. But they aren't. My own philosophy has always been, "learn what I
    must to accomplish my goals." I learned to program in the late 1970s,
    because no one was writing software to meet my needs. I learned about
    desktop publishing (and fonts!) in the 1980s because in my field we have
    to deal with many different writing systems and orthographies. That's what
    first attracted me to TeX and Metafont. I learned about networking because
    I wanted to connect and collaborate with other scholars around the world.
    In both cases economics drove me: I didn't have a lot of money available
    to me, especially for doing the travel to conferences, etc., that was

    Technology isn't the only knowledge domain I was forced to learn in order
    to reach my goals. In the mid-1970s while doing my grad work at UCLA, the
    marvelous library at Tel el-Mardik (Ebla) was discovered and escavated.
    Think of it! The only new Semitic language to have been discovered since
    Ugaritic in the 1920s and the only one in my lifetime. It was exciting--
    until I learned that the archaeological expedition was from Italy: all the
    site and epigraphy reports were in Italian. "How am I going to read this
    stuff?" I wondered out loud. My professor handed me an Italian dictionary
    and grammar. "With these," he replied. Eventually, of course, there was
    publication in English. But even today, the serious Semiticist should
    consult the Italian literature.

    I've been an interested bystander, watching developments in the biological
    disciplines as they have strugged to adapt to information technology. (Who
    better than they to know the consequence of not adapting to a changing
    enviroment! :-) As a group of related "disciplines", in the past ten years
    they have embraced IT and made it their own. (Cf.
    <http://www.bioinformatics.org/>. They have created large, public
    databases. They have collected and adapted programs and algorithms and
    created their own (non-commercial) software for everyday tasks. And they
    have created communities where the information flows freely--essential for
    the advancement of any "discipline." And now, a very interesting book has
    just been published by O'Reilly, _Developing Bioinformatics Computer
    Skills_ (<http://www.oreilly.com/catalog/bioskills/>). The table of
    contents is very instructive. It is clear that a consensus is emerging
    among those scientists as to what a minimum and optimum skill-set is to be
    expected of every practitioner.

    Now, I'm not advocating the humanities use bioinformatics as a template to
    follow, although I think there are many close parallel developments in
    computational linguistics that are of interest to many of us. But by
    analogy, most of us deal with "text," however that is defined or in
    whatever form. Our work tends to be in three parts: (1) the target of
    study or "raw data," e.g., manuscripts or literary works; (2) our analysis
    of that target; (3) our own literary productions about our analysis.
    Humanities computing has addressed all these already with varying degrees
    of success. I am going to present a minimum "skill-set" that, in an ideal
    world, grad students should be expected to have before they set out in
    their profession. I only tentatively offer these; I know not everyone will
    agree. I won't lengthen this posting further with detailed reasoning, but
    I assure you I can defend each suggestion aggressively.

    Ideally, then, a brand, spanking new humanities PhD *minimally* ought to:

    1. Be able to write programs to manipulate text, and to be able to create
         and manage databases. This implies knowledge of:
         a. the Perl programming language
         b. Regular expressions
         c. How programs can be "hacked" together from pieces of code lying
            about the net
    2. Be able to collaborate with others. This implies knowledge of:
         a. Web authoring (and HTML/XML) and markup
         c. "Groupware" allowing networked collaboration

    I'm oversimplifying, and glossing over many questions and issues. This
    list is suggestive, not a departmental memo for a curriculum proposal. And
    this list only conceives the computer as a manipulator of static
    information. The computer could dynamically simulate and model textual
    worlds or linguistic analysis. But that requires a much, much higher level
    of skill. A matter for 22nd century humanities scholars.

    Well, time to get back to planning this weekend's tutoring of my 14 year
    old son. He enters high school in the autumn, and C/C++ programming is a 5
    hr/wk class all four years. He wants to get a "jump" on his classmates.
    Right now it's an elective, but there's talk of making it required for all

    Kirk E. Lowery, Ph.D. <Kirk@leningradensis.org>
    Associate Director, Westminster Hebrew Institute
    General Editor, Project "eL", The XML Leningrad Codex
    Chair, Computer Assisted Research Group, Society of Biblical Literature

             Date: Fri, 25 May 2001 06:12:15 +0100
             From: cbf@socrates.Berkeley.EDU
             Subject: Re: 15.041 obstacles to humanities computing

    The comments below all miss the obvious. Humanities computing has been a
    tiny sub-discipline for going on forty years. It will probably continue to
    be a tiny sub-discipline for a long, long time. But it could have an
    _enormous_ impact on main-stream scholarship if its devotees could find
    some way to harness their considerable expertise and make it available to
    the _much_ larger world of scholars who regard computers as necessary
    evils but are quite willing to make use of them if it makes what they
    _really_ want to do easier and faster and allows them to answer more
    interesting questions.

    Charles Faulhaber The Bancroft Library UC Berkeley, CA 94720-6000
    (510) 642-3782 FAX (510) 642-7589 cfaulhab@library.berkeley.edu

    On Wed, 23 May 2001, Humanist Discussion Group wrote:

    > Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 15, No. 41.
    > Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
    > <http://www.princeton.edu/~mccarty/humanist/>
    > <http://www.kcl.ac.uk/humanities/cch/humanist/>
    > [1] From: John Lavagnino <John.Lavagnino@kcl.ac.uk> (9)
    > > authoring
    > [2] From: "David L. Gants" <dgants@english.uga.edu> (63)
    > Subject: Re: 15.031 obstacles to humanities computing: SGML
    > authoring
    > [3] From: Anne Mahoney <amahoney@perseus.tufts.edu> (16)
    > Subject: Re: 15.035 obstacles to humanities computing
    > --[1]------------------------------------------------------------------
    > Date: Wed, 23 May 2001 07:57:52 +0100
    > From: John Lavagnino <John.Lavagnino@kcl.ac.uk>
    > Subject: Re: 15.031 obstacles to humanities computing: SGML
    > Charles Faulhaber comments:
    > > You should not have had to spend uncounted hours to get to this
    > > level; and I think that it is a real indictment of humanities
    > > computing as a discipline that you have had to do so.
    > If you want to get trained in something and then never learn anything
    > else, scholarship is the wrong line of work for you. I recommend
    > something like plumbing.
    > John Lavagnino
    > Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
    > --[2]------------------------------------------------------------------
    > Date: Wed, 23 May 2001 08:05:58 +0100
    > From: "David L. Gants" <dgants@english.uga.edu>
    > Subject: Re: 15.031 obstacles to humanities computing: SGML
    > >> From: "Kirk Lowery" <kelowery@cs.com>
    > On 21 May 2001, at 6:36, by way of Charles Faulhaber wrote:
    > > I've worked with EMACS on Windows, and I'm afraid that I didn't like
    it at
    > > all. I think that once you get the hang of it, it does everything
    that you
    > > say it will do; but it is absolutely counter-intuitive for anyone
    who has
    > > never used UNIX.
    > I certainly don't want to start any religious war over the One True
    > Editor(TM). But for those who *must* do markup and cannot afford the very
    > expensive commercial solutions, Emacs+Psgml+XAE is a practical alternative.
    > Why do I say "practical?" Because all the essential functions of markup
    > can be accessed via a menu. By menu one can:
    > o create and save a file
    > o create the XML/SGML declarations for DTDs.
    > o parse the DTD
    > o insert tags without having to remember what they are
    > (Emacs "knows" all about each element and entity, the element's
    > content model)
    > o invalid markup is not allowed by Emacs based upon the DTD
    > (Really helpful if one is just getting to know a complex DTD)
    > o mark up pre-existing text by selecting a span of text
    > (Emacs will insert the start and end tags appropriately
    > o apply the associated XSL stylesheet which passes converted HTML to
    > a browser for viewing
    > No command lines. No arcane key-bindings to learn. The syntax
    > highlighting alone is worth the cost of learning it. To see some excellent
    > examples of colorized SGML/XML/XSL markup in Emacs, see
    > <http://dulug.duke.edu/~mark/screenshots/index.html>
    > I admit the installation takes some skill. However, I can take someone who
    > understands about markup, and have them successfully doing markup in Emacs
    > in a half-hour or less. This assumes that they've had previous experience
    > with word processors of some kind. And because the system is in their
    > familiar Windoze environment, they won't have to get used to Unix's
    > stability and they'll have their familiar "Blue Screen of Death"! :-)
    > > I think that what you describe is precisely the situation that we need
    > > to get away from. It should _not_ be necessary for scholars to become
    > > computer experts in order to do the work for which we have been
    > Computational skills are on a par, in my opinion, with communication
    > skills: we expect scholars to be able to effectively articulate their
    > ideas orally and in writing. They should be able to handle a computer with
    > equal facility. Otherwise, they don't know how to utilize the full power
    > of information technology, and will be left in the dust by those who do.
    > > You should not have had to spend uncounted hours to get to this level;
    > > and I think that it is a real indictment of humanities computing as a
    > > discipline that you have had to do so.
    > I thank you for your sympathetic concern. I don't resent the time. It's
    > what pioneers and "early adopters" must do. As a discipline, the
    > humanities have a long way to go to catch up with the natural sciences in
    > adapting to the Information Age.
    > <rant>
    > "Humanities computing" cannot be a separate discipline, the business of
    > only the "propeller-heads" among us. Until it becomes the concern of every
    > professor in the humanities, your "indictment" will stand.
    > Do you know what I find encouraging? The Information Age has freed us. The
    > ivory tower is no longer a symbol of isolation: a satellite dish is
    > sitting on top of it. We don't have to wait for everyone to "get it." We
    > can just go out and *do*.
    > </rant>
    > Best wishes,
    > Kirk
    > ________________________________________________________________________
    > Kirk E. Lowery, Ph.D. <Kirk@leningradensis.org>
    > Associate Director, Westminster Hebrew Institute
    > General Editor, Project "eL", The XML Leningrad Codex
    > Chair, Computer Assisted Research Group, Society of Biblical Literature
    > --[3]------------------------------------------------------------------
    > Date: Wed, 23 May 2001 08:06:54 +0100
    > From: Anne Mahoney <amahoney@perseus.tufts.edu>
    > Subject: Re: 15.035 obstacles to humanities computing
    > Willard asks about "L. Dindorf" in Dodds's Bacchae commentary, on ll.
    > 661-662. I presume the reference is to Dindorf's edition of the plays
    > of Euripides, published when he (Dindorf, not Euripides!) was only 20.
    > You would have expected a reference to "Dindorf" to mean William, who
    > wrote a lot on tragedy (and Greek poetry generally). Were they
    > brothers?
    > How does one find this out? I went to the OPAC of my favorite big
    > library. I don't expect the average graduate student in classics knows
    > anything about either Dindorf, but I would like to be able to assume
    > such a student would understand the metrical point on which Dodds
    > disagrees with his predecessor. Ideally, there would be a search tool
    > that would allow the curious reader to find all the instances of
    > "tribrachs composed of a single word coinciding with the foot" (to quote
    > Dodds's slightly antiquated language); that's a tool that would greatly
    > facilitate work that's very tedious with print editions.
    > --Anne Mahoney
    > Stoa Consortium

    This archive was generated by hypermail 2b30 : Fri May 25 2001 - 01:20:04 EDT