15.055 obstacles, apprenticeship, service and fun

From: by way of Willard McCarty (willard@lists.village.Virginia.EDU)
Date: Mon May 28 2001 - 03:12:56 EDT

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                    Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 15, No. 55.
           Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London

       [1] From: "Norman D. Hinton" <hinton@springnet1.com> (10)
             Subject: Re: 15.052 obstacles (and propulsion) to humanities

       [2] From: cbf@socrates.Berkeley.EDU (40)
             Subject: Re: 15.050 obstacles to humanities computing

       [3] From: Adrian Miles <adrian.miles@bowerbird.rmit.edu.au> (43)
             Subject: Re: 15.052 obstacles (and propulsion) to humanities

       [4] From: "Osher Doctorow" <osher@ix.netcom.com> (380)
             Subject: Re: 15.050 obstacles to humanities computing

             Date: Mon, 28 May 2001 08:06:06 +0100
             From: "Norman D. Hinton" <hinton@springnet1.com>
             Subject: Re: 15.052 obstacles (and propulsion) to humanities computing

    I'm always amused and sometimes a bit angry at the same time whenever I
    see lists of "what a Humanities Computing Person should know". They are
    so time-bound and changeable -- I recall when people said "Pascal", for
    instance...and I remember an earlier time when it was said that no one
    needed to write software -- what humanists needed to know was computer
    architecture, etc.

    There is no standard curriculum or agreed upon set of information (or
    even worse "behaviors") for a Ph.D. in English, and if we're lucky,
    there never will be. I hope the same is true for "humanities
    computing"....do what you need to do, or what you're curious about, and
    ignore the folks who are trying to tell you what's important.

             Date: Mon, 28 May 2001 08:06:32 +0100
             From: cbf@socrates.Berkeley.EDU
             Subject: Re: 15.050 obstacles to humanities computing

    Let me take another stab at this (the question of whether humanities
    scholars who want to use computers in their research must become computing
    humanists) with the following analogy.

    For much of my career--going on 25 years now--I have been working on the
    problem of improving access to primary sources of interest to students of
    medieval Spain. These are primarily manuscripts and early printed books.
    It was and is my view that it shouldn't be necessary for scholars
    interested in a text, a particular set of texts, or any other kind of
    problem, to spend two or three years simply locating the materials they
    were interested in, becoming experts in the arcana of manuscript
    description and the admittedly obscure byways into which it leads those of
    us fortunate or unfortunate enough to be interested in it.

    What this has meant is that in addition to spending a lot of time in
    libraries looking at medieval manuscripts (that was fun, in the
    Kirschenbaum sense), I've also spent a lot of time working with database
    technology, working with colleagues, writing grants, and hiring
    programmers to implement the collective vision of what improved access
    means. The database thus created (PhiloBiblon) is now about ten times as
    large as the initial version, which was first released in print form in
    1975, then on CD-ROM in 1992 with a DOS-based interface, now on the web
    (sunsite.berkeley/edu/PhiloBiblon), and soon (God willing and my
    programmer isn't hit by a truck), on CD-ROM again with a Windows

    Now a group (mostly librarians) is trying to provide much the same kind
    of access to medieval MSS in general, with a web-based visual union
    catalog (http://sunsite.berkeley.edu/Scriptorium/). This started as a
    collaboration between Berkeley and Columbia and involves ongoing
    discussions with colleagues in this country and Europe.

    In other words, my colleagues and I have been trying to solve a general
    problem that will benefit the discipline as a whole. We're saying, in
    effect: "Here it is, the sum total of dozens of person/years of work. We
    hope that it will enable you to get started working on the scholarly
    projects that really interest you. We're going to provide you with as much
    information as we can; and we're going to try to make it as easy as
    possible for you to get access to that information."

    Is the analogy between this effort and my view of what humanities
    computing ought to be doing for our colleagues who are not particularly
    interested in computers? Probably not, but that's my story and I'm
    sticking to it.

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

             Date: Mon, 28 May 2001 08:07:55 +0100
             From: Adrian Miles <adrian.miles@bowerbird.rmit.edu.au>
             Subject: Re: 15.052 obstacles (and propulsion) to humanities computing

    At 7:12 +0100 27/5/2001, Matt K wrote:
    >The truth is
    >that if I did _not_ find these activities fun, I would not be working at
    >them no matter how important or vital I thought the tool we were building
    >really was.

    hi Matt, just interested in joining this to what you also said about images
    in the Blake Archive, etc. There is a pleasure in using computers to do
    these things that is visceral and, I suspect, carnal (make of that what you
    will). After all, each of us here could work on manuscripts, languages,
    images, etc without the necessity of the computer. I use a computer because
    there is something in the 'creative instrumentality' (an oxymoron perhaps)
    of this that engages me, makes sense to me. Why 'creative
    instrumentality'?, because it isn't just about the instrumental, there's an
    excess to my use of the computer where I can spend forever 'playing' with
    it. You know, fiddling with this, fussing over that, spending hours trying
    to trouble shoot something where others don't see a problem or don't see
    the need.

    I suspect all on this list do this all the time. For me it is a particular
    set of things (digital video, hypermedia as a critical academic practice),
    for others something else. But i suspect that for most of us there is a
    pleasure in the machine that lies alongside our more 'proper' disciplinary
    pleasures. (Just like there are people who stand around with the bonnets of
    their cars up, apparently experiencing the sublime in the design of a
    classic V8, go figure.) Perhaps computing humanities (but here I'm offering
    the views of a distant and naive observer of this discipline) is actually
    constituted at the intersection of these two things, an interest (passion,
    love, whatever) in some set of texts (i'm not going to embarrass myself by
    trying to name any of the texts or discourses that you all study) and an
    interest (passion, love, whatever) in that part of computing which is past
    or not merely instrumental.

    I imagine my question would be simply to what extent do people here think
    their use of computers is *only* instrumental, and to what extent there is
    a pleasure in the machine? And is there any relation between this pleasure
    (out on a big rather flimsy limb :-) ) and your 'work'. "I like studying
    rare difficult to interpret and rather arcane manuscripts and UNIX is
    cool". I'm just really interested in Matt's comments and the appearance of
    pleasure in both posts, the pleasure of seeing the image as an image on
    your screen, and the pleasure of working *with* the computer.

    cheers from an obviously too idle Australian.

    adrian miles


    lecturer in new media and cinema studies + media studies. rmit [http://hypertext.rmit.edu.au] + institutt for medievitenskap. university of bergen [http://media.uib.no]

    --[4]------------------------------------------------------------------ Date: Mon, 28 May 2001 08:09:18 +0100 From: "Osher Doctorow" <osher@ix.netcom.com> Subject: Re: 15.050 obstacles to humanities computing

    From: Osher Doctorow osher@ix.netcom.com, Sunday May 27, 2001

    I find myself agreeing with Patrick Durusau that humanities computing skill beyond a certain elementary level is best left for post-Ph.D. work. The search for the *elementary level* brings to mind the somewhat obscure search for the *missing link*. In my occasional contributions to Humanist, I think that I have been subconsciously trying to find such an *elementary level* or EL for abbreviation purposes wherein mathematics and physics can interact with humanities. I think that I have found it [orchestral accompaniment: begin]. [New Paragraph.]

    I think that the EL is in ourselves. If one truly understands mathematics or physics or one of the humanities or computing, then one should (it seems to me) be able to convey that knowledge to somebody in another field at least at an elementary level (EL) in a rather short and concise/succinct manner in a language understood by both parties (English here, or EL for English Language). Patrick is talking about the need for Ph.D. students to understand computers in this sense, not to be experts at either using or inventing/modifying computers or computer languages. In mathematics, most statisticians and/or probability and/or logic specialists (as well as the other branches) cannot for the life of them say anything in a few well chosen English words (I hope that I am not providing such an example here).

    The difficulty, as I see it, is that specialists who themselves understand their fields very well (and many so-called specialists do not) tend to worry about giving up control when they simplify things into English. This is partly an internal and partly an external (socially conditioned, say) matter. People, especially colleagues, will criticize them. *Dunces* or idiot savants may become part of the field, which in the abstract may be laudable but at the personal level, who wants to deal with dunces every day (not that some of us do not)? If I tell you that a car has the function of getting you places much faster and that you use it by pressing two levers (accelerator and brake) and roughly guiding a wheel in the direction that you want to go, I tend to worry that you might run somebody over and sue me for oversimplification, but also if I were an instructor in automobile repair, I might worry that my colleagues would accuse me of diluting the field. Actually, I do things that that in my mathematics/statistics teaching all the time, and the penalty is that I transfer my teaching from one university/college to another roughly every year (which at the age of 62 is not bad, but I suppose that for the young generation 30 years old is too old).

    I would go on and on, but I think that I have conveyed the idea, and also I do not want to be an example of that error which I have cited. (Citations can be very useful.)

    Osher Doctorow Ph.D. Doctorow Consultants, etc. ----- Original Message ----- From: "Humanist Discussion Group <willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk>)" <willard@lists.village.virginia.edu> To: "Humanist Discussion Group" <humanist@lists.Princeton.EDU> Sent: Friday, May 25, 2001 10:39 PM

    > > Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 15, No. 50. > 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: Patrick Durusau <pdurusau@emory.edu> (67) > Subject: Re: 15.044 obstacles to humanities computing > > [2] From: Adrian Miles <adrian.miles@bowerbird.rmit.edu.au> (47) > Subject: Re: 15.045 obstacles (and propellers) to humanities > computing > > [3] From: lachance@chass.utoronto.ca (Francois Lachance) (46) > Subject: Words in the Mouth > > [4] From: Igor Kramberger <kramberger@uni-mb.si> (60) > Subject: use of software > > > --[1]------------------------------------------------------------------ > Date: Sat, 26 May 2001 06:30:10 +0100 > From: Patrick Durusau <pdurusau@emory.edu> > Subject: Re: 15.044 obstacles to humanities computing > > Willard, > > Charles Faulhaber's response to the comments so far: > > > 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. > > raises an important issue about the work of computing humanists. > > Yes, let's call a plague down on the heads of the computer scientists > who practice master/disciple relationships, but also on the humanities > where they stole the idea. But criticizing someone for acting like > ourselves does not answer Faulhaber's request. > > Nor am I persuaded by Kirk Lowery's suggestion that new Ph.D students > should know things like Perl (a programming language) and regular > expressions (crudely put a syntax for searching texts). Both of those > are things that I have and continue to devote time to but that does not > mean that they are essential components for a PhD in the humanities. (I > note that Glendon Schubert, _The judicial mind revisited : psychometric > analysis of Supreme Court ideology_, Oxford, 1974, taught himself > multivariant factor analysis on a Friden rotary calculator. I don't > think anyone would contend that mastery of the rotary calculator is > relevant for humanities computing today.) > > Humanities computing is still a very young discipline and many of us > work very "close to the metal" as it were in developing tools and > applications. I hear Faulhaber's request as a call to create tools that > allow humanities scholars to use the results of our labors without > serving as apprentices in areas removed from their main subject matter > interests. I don't have to be able to create a text editor to use one, > why should I be able to create a heavily encoded text to use the fruits > of such an effort? > Understanding the markup will make me a better user, but shouldn't that > come after I have found the tool a useful one? > > For example (this does not exist, yet!), consider an electronic version > of the Hebrew bible that displays a standard base text. By choosing menu > options, scholars can display other versions (read manuscript witnesses) > either as the main text or as a critical apparatus. On choosing other > menu options, scholars can record structures they see in the text, which > is immediately formatted to display that structure (menu driven display > options) and after marking several such structures, they can be compared > against each other or sent to other scholars. Morphological, syntactic > information and comparative materials are available through other menu > options. The program dynamically updates the information that can be the > subject of searches or analysis based upon the information provided by > the scholar. Statistical analysis is also available through a set of > menu options. > > Working very close to the metal to build such an application, one would > need to know all manner of technology not strictly relevant to mastery > of the subject matter material. But the non-computing humanist Hebrew > scholar should not have to care whether I can used SGML's concur, > TexMECS or some other markup technology to encode the textual variants. > That knowledge is useful to help add to the construction of such tools > but it should not be a green card to access the fruits of our labors. > > I think Faulhaber is correct in thinking that spreading the use (and > perceived relevance) of computers in the humanities depends upon us > making applications that are easy to use by non-computing humanists. > (Witness the spread of the PC if you require a historical demonstration > of this strategy.) > > Patrick > > -- > Patrick Durusau > Director of Research and Development > Society of Biblical Literature > pdurusau@emory.edu > > > > > --[2]------------------------------------------------------------------ > Date: Sat, 26 May 2001 06:31:41 +0100 > From: Adrian Miles <adrian.miles@bowerbird.rmit.edu.au> > Subject: Re: 15.045 obstacles (and propellers) to humanities computing > > At 6:15 +0100 25/5/2001, Humanist Discussion Group wrote: > >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 > > to enter into the spirit of Charles' comments and what the above, for me, > completely assumes: > > that computing humanities apparently has little or nothing that it wants to > say about: > painting > sound > still image > moving image > digital images > the cinematic > the televisual > new media > > i think my very general question, as someone in cinema studies with > computers, is why are these major cultural forms of the last 100 years > largely invisible *to* computing humanities? Is computing humanities > primary concern with the static and stable textual object (manuscript, > etc)? Why doesn't it seem to have much to say about these things? > > how does this relate to Charles' comments? I'm not actually sure :-) except > I think i do humanities computing because i use computers to do things in > the humanities that can't be done without computers. but i don't see how > that statement implies I *must* know Perl or even a formal programming > language. > > I think what you all do and describe is a pragmatics of computing where you > know how to pragmatically assemble what you need to get to where you need > or want to try and get to. (emacs or not, who cares?). this is the skill > that humanists (great creative lateral thinkers all) bring to computers > (great think linear dumb machines) to apply to their object of study. its > about this is a process, not what brands have to fit in that process. > > just .05 cents worth (we got rid of the 1's and 2's in our currency here a > few years back....) > > cheers > adrian miles > -- > > lecturer in new media and cinema studies > + media studies. rmit [http://hypertext.rmit.edu.au] > + institutt for medievitenskap. university of bergen [http://media.uib.no] > > --[3]------------------------------------------------------------------ > Date: Sat, 26 May 2001 06:32:04 +0100 > From: lachance@chass.utoronto.ca (Francois Lachance) > Subject: Words in the Mouth > > Willard, > > Nice to see your request for gift (a propeller-enhanced beanie) sandwiched > between other messages. Very astute placement --- not too forward by being > the first and a nice break with tradition of moderator privilege of last > spot in the list of messages. It is by chance that I had read of Merrilee > Proffitt's success in locating a supplier of the soon to be cherished item > before I read the bundle of messages containing your request and so it > probably influenced how I read > Dr. Donald J. Weinshank's anecdote of the Unix MAN search. > > > > > Example: I was trying to number pages printed from > > a file on a UNIX operating system. After trying > > every source of help on UNIX (the syntax is > > MAN (whatever) where MAN is short for "manual"), > > I asked a colleague how to do this. Without > > breaking stride, he replied, "MAN enscript," where > > "enscript" is the name of the utility I needed. > > > > Computer scientists say, "UNIX is the only > > operating system taught by word-of-mouth." > > > Is that "taught" in the present tense? or the past? > > The anecdote doesn't say if at any point the searcher considered to > eavesdrop on the conversational traces offered by the World Wide Web. > > A simple Boolean search on the string "Unix NEAR printing NEAR page" > matches a number of pages which then can provide the vocabulary for a MAN > search or for further refined searches of the WWW. > > I am very grateful for the anecdote since I have done some work on the > pedagogy of reiterative searching > > Reading and Searching: Tools and Skills > http://www.chass.utoronto.ca/~lachance/tcon2000.htm > > but never quite made the connection of usings the search results from one > domain (e.g. the WWW) to glean keywords for the search of another domain > (a manual, a library catalogue). I have had students share and comment on > each other's search strings. I am also aware that document management > systems such as PCDocs (recently bought by Hummingbird) allow users to > save queries and use them to (re)search repositories and to swap queries > with other users. The informing metaphor is moving away from a folder > system to a constellation or kniting one's own utterance (a question) > form the bits and pieces of stardust conversation one has collected. Is it > now wonder that pollination and cross-pollination follow from browsing or > as, I believe, has been pointed out on Humanist before, what the French > call "butiner". > > Hum with your MAN -- wonder the Web. > > > -- > Francois Lachance, Scholar-at-large > http://www.chass.utoronto.ca/~lachance > 20th : Machine Age :: 21st : Era of Reparation > > --[4]------------------------------------------------------------------ > Date: Sat, 26 May 2001 06:32:53 +0100 > From: Igor Kramberger <kramberger@uni-mb.si> > Subject: use of software > > Hi to all: > > Willard McCarty wrot on May 9th: > > I would be most grateful for pointers to articles and books on software > > design that focus on analysis of pre-existing artefacts. > > and Kirk Lowery wrote on May 25th: > > 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 think that we should narrow what a humanist should be doing with his/her > computer -- computer is a tool and I do not produce first a hammer to be > able to use it later. > > Comments: > 1.a. I think that Perl is fine, but that general implication could be that > we need some knowledge about scripting languages: Python, UserTalk (for > Frontier), Tcl (look at Alpha and AlphaTk editors) -- which is not > comparable with the C/C++ programming. > > 1.b. Yes, GREP is fine -- but only as long as you have to deal with texts > in English. Or: how would you use GREP for a document written in Hebrew? > > 1.c. I do not think that there is a real difference between 1.a and 1.c -- > as every (La)TeX user knows, who is editing the configuration files. > > What is more important, is, how to use all the options in an application > you use every day. Here is my story. > > For the bibliography of the first 50 issues of the review "Otrok in knjiga > " (Child and book) we used Nisus Writer as a word processor. This allowed > us to use very free form for every bibliographical entry which is divided > into three parts. Later we added at the end of each entry the number > variable. We marked every entry for several indices -- for a short time we > turned every entry into a page, so we had the same number as the last > number variable and as pages. We produced indices which relate to the entry > number and returned to the full page of entries (entries divided by two > returns). > > Using GREP and some markup we could transform the huge source file, in > which all articles were described from the first issue until the last, in > 12 minutes into a bibliography with different sections according to the markup. > > Bibliography is now printed -- but every interested person could get a file > for find / search purposes using strings of literal characters or GREP. > > Finally, some years ago two persons in Australia developed Palimpsest -- an > application which supports creation of hyperlinked documents from an array > of text pieces. The user defines the windows for the text input. Every > window can be hyperlinked with every other window -- in one direction or in > both directions. Links can be annotated -- and you can browse through this > annotations. The initial idea came from experience with the law and > procedures at court. > > After the second version the development was more or less abandoned, > because there were not enough users, who would be prepared to use such > approach for their research (collecting pieces of text) and writing which > would start from the hyperlinks. > > <http://www.westciv.com/> > > Respectfully, > > -- > Igor > ----- > kramberger@uni-mb.si >

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