17.489 best wishes for 2004!

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk)
Date: Fri Mar 19 2004 - 03:14:17 EST

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                   Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 17, No. 489.
           Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                         Submit to: humanist@princeton.edu

             Date: Mon, 29 Dec 2003 10:43:13 +0000
             From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk>
             Subject: best wishes for 2004

    Dear colleagues,

    Permit me a bit of a story.

    This morning, in pursuit of animated diagramming software called "The
    Brain" (www.thebrain.com), I ran into two remarkable sites: a neuroimaging
    primer, The Whole Brain Atlas, done in collaboration between Harvard and
    MIT (www.med.harvard.edu/AANLIB/home.html); and a popular animated
    exposition, The Secret Life of the Brain, done by the U.S. Public
    Broadcasting System (www.pbs.org/wnet/brain). One does not need to have
    had, respectively, brain surgery and children to appreciate these sites,
    but it does help to be aware of what we knew and could do a generation ago.
    It might also help to have a child on your lap while viewing them; I don't,
    but then I have no trouble and much pleasure both in reverting to childhood
    and summoning warm memories of parenthood at a moment's notice :-)....

    I have been thinking recently of what figures such as Jacob Bronowski and
    Simon Schama have done via television for science and history,
    respectively. These two came to mind some time ago, when I was finishing
    off a chapter of my book and needed an example or two of how a modern-day,
    digitally savvy scholar might respond in what seems to me a very
    interesting situation recorded by the mid 20C classicist E. R. Dodds in his
    commentary on Euripides' play, The Bacchae (Clarendon Press 1944; 2nd edn
    1960). In the commentary to lines 661-2 ("Where the white snow's glistening
    falls never lose their grip"), Dodds begins by discussing the
    meteorological problem created by a literal interpretation: "If this means,
    as some suppose, that it never stops snowing on Cithaeron, the exaggeration
    is monstrous", he writes. But -- here's the significant moment -- he then
    offers this parenthetical comment: "(I found none when I climbed the
    mountain in April)." The fact of this distinguished Oxford don climbing the
    sacred mountain himself, to be at the site where the Dionysiac ritual took
    place, where in the story Pentheus was dismembered by the maenads
    (including his mother and auntie), tells such a story as to be mightily
    arresting. What could a Schama or Bronowski do now with that moment in a
    digital commentary?

    So I return to the wonder of it all (which was the point of mentioning my
    encounters with the brain), i.e. to those moments when a life of highly
    specialized research is fulfilled, energized and made powerfully
    communicable by intersection with common humanity. Allow me to offer a New
    Year's resolution: not to give up anything, such as chocolate or the quest
    for true love, but to embrace and elaborate the applications of computing
    machinery to bridge, as Dodds did in his way, the private and the public.

    Happy New Year!


    Dr Willard McCarty | Senior Lecturer | Centre for Computing in the
    Humanities | King's College London | Strand | London WC2R 2LS || +44 (0)20
    7848-2784 fax: -2980 || willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk

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