Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 17, No. 823.
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
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Subject: Re: 17.819 what's needed
 From: Robert Kraft <firstname.lastname@example.org> (23)
Subject: Re: 17.817 what's needed
Date: Sat, 24 Apr 2004 07:54:28 +0100
Subject: Re: 17.819 what's needed
From: Mark Wolff <email@example.com>
Date: 2004/04/23 Fri PM 01:26:38 EDT
I am sympathetic to Steve Ramsay's point that computers allow us to see
things we might not have seen without them. The problem, though, is
getting through to non-Humanities computing specialists who do not know
our methods. I put off a few people who read my dissertation because I
used quantitative methods to identify a semantic field for the titles
of adventure novels published in France in the nineteenth century. The
methodology was not that hard: I assembled a sample of all the titles
of novels by a group of authors who specialized in the adventure novel,
generated a word list and then looked at the frequency of the words in
that list. Eight authors produced over 600 distinct titles, and as
paratext the titles could be seen to share common themes about what
adventure was about. I didn't think I was that unconventional in my
approach because Claude Duchet was doing the same thing without
computers in 1971. I put off my readers because I used tables and
statistical measures instead of what we might call purely qualitative
interpretation. I feel that I learned something about adventure
novels, but I may be very alone in that feeling. A lot of people are
not prepared to think about literature analyzed with a computer.
Steve says he and others who use computers are making valuable
discoveries, and I would agree. Willard claims that computers open up
new methods of inquiry and problematize the humanities, creating more
questions than answers, and I would agree with this as well. But I
like a lot of people on this list already sing in the choir, so
preaching to ourselves may make us feel better but won't necessarily
bring in any new believers. Williard brings up the question of value:
"What are we doing for the world that is of some value to it, and what
sort of value is this?" The problem with value is that you have to
inculcate it, you can't simply declare it and expect others to buy in.
Inculcation (or indoctrination) takes time.
I don't know if anything new is needed, except maybe patience and
persistence in what we're already doing. A century ago the Humanities
were synonymous with what we now call Classics. The Modern Language
Association of America was founded in 1883 to promote the study and
teaching of modern literature which was at best a poor cousin to
Classical studies. Nowadays when people talk about the Humanities they
often mean modern and classical literature. Perhaps in another 100
years the Humanities will necessarily include computers and the annual
ALLC-ACH conference will be the required job market everyone attends.
-- Mark B. Wolff Modern and Classical Languages Hartwick College Oneonta, NY 13820 (607) 431-4615
-------------------------------------------------------------------- Date: Sat, 24 Apr 2004 07:58:01 +0100 From: Robert Kraft <firstname.lastname@example.org> Subject: Re: 17.817 what's needed
There is probably a simple solution to this net frustration -- I just haven't taken time to research the problem. I find that in many instances my first court of appeal for information these days is google.com, whether checking my spelling (it's amazing how many people misspell genealogy!), or looking for vaguely recalled folksong lyrics, or for images of manuscripts and papyri. What frustrates me is the inability to limit the context in which target terms are found -- e.g. find "Frank" and "Smith" within a line of each other, or within the same delimited block (e.g. paragraph). So searches may get thousands of hits, when a restricted area search could provide the desired information quickly and effectively. I also do web genealogy, where this problem is especially obvious.
So, if there are alternative web searchers that do what I want, please tell me. If not, this is something sorely needed.
-- Robert A. Kraft, Religious Studies, University of Pennsylvania 227 Logan Hall (Philadelphia PA 19104-6304); tel. 215 898-5827 email@example.com http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/rs/rak/kraft.html
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