Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 17, No. 567.
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
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 From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Francois (48)
Subject: Re: 17.558 rupture, shifts & humanities computer
 From: Manfred Thaller <email@example.com> (158)
Subject: Re: Reply
Date: Tue, 27 Jan 2004 08:26:35 +0000
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Francois Lachance)
Subject: Re: 17.558 rupture, shifts & humanities computer science
Another excellent resume of the label science is found in Raymond
Williams's _Keywords_. He too makes the point about the difficulty posed
by translation into English of the cognate "science" from other
Euro-languages. In reading his account which among other topic treats of
the distincition between of _experiment_ and _experience_ and the Art -
Science pair in relation to Mechanical and Liberal Arts, I am wanting to
propose as sub-branch of the field: charletonantics.
Throughout the humanities-science discourse as it has been pursued on
Humanist the dramatic tension is between the the practitioner and the
theoretician. I think it is important to recognize that the tension gets a
neat twist with the appearance of a third figure: the charleton. It is, I
suggest around the trope of the inauthentic that the question about the
investment of time, energy and resources raises itself.
The imposter, the one pretending to pass as a savant, is familiar figure
from pre-electronic computing days. The Sophists though much maligned give
the philosopher grist.
If as teachers we train students (and keep ourselves fit) by the
methodical art of asking questions and asking questions about questions
(or in the sight-focused terminology of theory: observe, compare and
judge), we constantly make use of the imposter, the charleton, the
trickster and the chatter, buzz and discourse they engender. At times do
we play the fool?
Waste and want not. The amateur fears not waste. The professional
perpetually fears the taint. Well not, perpetually. I exagerate. And it
certainly is a slide to conflate an amateur and a trickster.
I keep sensing bubbling up in the science-humanities question a set of
counter-claims between leisure and industry (especially in those asides to
institutional arrangements and administrators). Industry or leisure: which
is to be the motor of knowledge production?
I think that there is an implied narrative in invoking the "production of
knowledge". That narrative sets the agents (scientist and humanist) in
competition with each other. That narrative assumes that the production
of knowledge moves from a state of no knowledge to one of knowledge. The
dream of ex nihilio creation. The ghost of an ahistorical moment. If the
"production of knowledge" is figured in local evolutionary and
collaborative terms much like good husbandry that cultivates biodiversity
through constant experimentation then both humanist and scientist can
thrive on the babel of waste and administrators will mind the compost.
Yes, the science and art of management belongs somewhere in the practice
of HC or HCS. Spin doctors and marketers of applied rhetoric: they after
all do observe, compare and judge.
The best professors I have known have combined the roles of teacher,
researcher and impressario. Their best students do too. So do their worst.
-- Francois Lachance, Scholar-at-large
mnemonic is to analytic
mimetic is to synthetic
Date: Tue, 27 Jan 2004 08:26:02 +0000
From: Manfred Thaller <email@example.com>
Subject: Re: Reply
Wendell Piez quotes Julia Flanders when he writes in commenting about,
among others, the CSH thread:
> >.. open the "self-study" route is essential--not just because
> >such a route will continue to be a source of creative, intelligent influx
> >to the humanities computing community, but also because it reminds us to
> >evaluate things (and people) by looking at their merits rather than
> >through the codified symbology of credentials.
> >Even though we may find it desirable and useful to design educational
> >programs that formalize what we know and cultivate a new generation of
> >colleagues, we should make sure that we don't start mistaking those
> >programs for The Way.
> A position with which I can agree with whole-heartedly, while recognising
It may come as a surprise, but I agree with them. However, I have to add two
(a) Interdisciplinarity means by definition, that people do things which have
not been done before. As you cannot codify the unknown, a codification of
"the Field" or "the Way" in a narrow definition, simply destroys the
with which it is possible to react to new situations.
However, I have some difficulties seeing that danger at the moment as
One of the problems of the totally self-taught approach is that the discussion
about computer applications in the Humanities shows a really deplorable lack of
abstract methodological discussion; "lightening ones mind" by embracing
a specific technology may be very useful for an individual project, but is
rather damaging for the community as a whole in the long run.
I consider Jean-Claude Gardin one of the most stimulating writers
in what I understand as HCS. While his writings never have been without
contradictions, and I most certainly do not endorse all of his ideas
myself, his "Le Calcul et la raison", Paris, 1991, e.g., presents a
complete and consistent
methodological position what IT should do for the Humanities. Formulated
at the height of the "expert system" wave, it actually presents quite a few
positions which could easily be reformulated today in terms of the discussions
about the usefulness of ontologies - which, keeping in mind, what became of the
AI wave of the later eighties, might actually lead to a more realistic estimate
of what the semantic web wave can or can not accomplish.
... As far as I notice, those parts of the CH community which are interested in
the SemWeb are currently reliving some of the discussions which were going on
in the expert systems era.
The earliest reasonably easily accessible overview over C. in a section of the
Humanities which I am aware of, is the book on the "Wartenstein Conference" of
1962, edited by Dell Hymnes: The Use of Computers in Anthropology, London,
In his editor's preface he describes as the major methodological decision to be
taken, whether "the computer" should primarily be used as a tool for technical
tasks or for the methodological improvement of the Humanities.
Some time later Padre Busa has a very clear opinion on that:
"In this field one should not use the computer primarily for speeding up the
operation, nor for minimising the work of the researchers. It would not be
reasonable to use the computer just to obtain the same results as before,
having the same qualities as before, but more rapidly and with less human
effort... [T]he use of computers in the Humanities has as its principal aim
the enhancement of the quality, depth and extension of research and not merely
the lessening of human effort and time." p. 89 in the context of:
Roberto Busa: The Annals of Humanities Computing: The Index Thomisticus,
in: Computers and the Humanities 14 (1980), 83-90.
Honestly: Can anybody show a process, by which from such individual
contributions over a time frame of four decades a well ordered
discussion has been arising, out of which the CHum community has been
developing trusted terms of reference which allow statements about the
applicability / usefulness of a particular new technology?
So I would propose, that a professionalisation of "the field" has to provide
a framework, within which somebody discovering a new way of applying technology
to the Humanities can build on the experiences of the history of such
attempts. Otherwise, if everyone has to start from scratch, we simply cannot
get beyond a certain point.
(b) However, WHAT does form a discipline?
Fotis Jannidis writes:
> I am not totally convinced by the concept of the "Humanities Computer
> Science" because it seems to me to outline a discipline which is so large
> that nobody can really handle it anymore.
Well, I have the feeling that this is one of the points which have lead me
away from what I see as the reality of CH. To make me look even worse, let me
give a non-exclusive list of what a follower of HCS should in my opinion be
- Data base theory and applications to a degree, where he / she can design and
evaluate data base driven research.
- AI to the degree to implement / evaluate simulation studies.
- Empirical methods sufficiently well, to understand about the potential of
statistical tools in content driven projects as well as in areas, where they
become technically meaningful.
- Image processing and its potential for handling cultural objects as well as
- Markup and its relationships to other ways to structure data.
- Handling of geographical information, to the degree of understanding what
difficulties exist in the application of GIS techniques to material with a
- Simulation techniques.
No, nobody has to be able to make meaningful and original contributions in all
of these fields. A researcher of English studies is not normally expected to
publish on the grammar of Chaucer with the same frequency as on the
and changes in the reception of literature represented by the popularity of the
Gothic novel. Nor would I expect a HCS researcher to contribute to all of
the above. If he or she specialises in one field, fine; as long as she or he
is aware of what is going on in the other fields and understands the
developments there sufficiently well to recognise parallels when they become
apparent. (Which they do surprisingly frequently, in my opinion.)
If somebody specialises in one such field and proclaims a formal curriculum in
"HC", which than consists of one of the fields above and creates the
impression among the students that this constitutes "the Field" ... sorry,
the world's best specialist for the first 50 lines of the twelfth song of the
Ilias is not my most favourite concept of classical studies, though it can be
observed in the real world.
And I have to admit, that there are examples of HC courses which for me come
sufficiently close to this concept, that I insist on following a
paradigm, which does not follow any such "focusing".
[ The AHC has in its days developed a model of different levels for the
implementation of curricula. Of course, a single course which trains
any of the above for the benefit of a specific discipline, is a valuable
addition to the curriculum of that discipline. It should in my opinion not try
to create the impression, that it constitutes a specific "field", however. ]
Finally, you yourself write:
"But humanities computing can be a broad church, with many ways."
Yes, this is exactly what I am concerned with, that it SHOULD be a very varied
But for that, in my opinion we do not only need individual curricula,
definitions and models which stand isolatedly side by side, but the common
of reference I started from in this mail, which in my opinion is described
by a HCS as described earlier.
A frame of reference which provides the self-taught with a framework into
they can fit their own discoveries (and help them not to have to re-discover
other things); a frame of reference, which really lets us build on what the
age cohort of specialists has discovered and a frame of reference, which
(sorry, Fotis) is intentionally as broad as possible, to bring one's own
interests into perspective.
I very much like the notion of a broad church; much less so that of a multitude
of chapels distributed over the landscape, each of which is convinced, that it
holds the true cross and therefore does not really listen to what is preached
in the others. And somehow I have a deep suspicion about which metaphor
is a better approximation of the reality of CH in toto today.
"Science": I understand your feelings very much, but we DO face a translation
problem there. The largest chunk of what I understand to be the meaning of "the
Humanities" in the English speaking community is called in German
"Literaturwissenschaften" (= literary sciences); and even worse, the closest
approximation to the term as a whole are the "Geisteswissenschaften" (= Hm.
'Sciences of the reasoning mind', maybe?) So, while I certainly share your
apathy against overly self confidential hard science people, I still do have
difficulties of recognising the full impact of the connotations of C"S".
C"S" as in 'Computer Studies', maybe, for an abstract knowledge domain, within
witch 'Computing' stands for an applied branch, as a (degree bearing)
'Russian translator' is an applicant of some of what 'Russian studies' are
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