17.832 what's needed

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty ) (willard@mccarty.me.uk)
Date: Fri May 07 2004 - 16:51:22 EDT

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                   Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 17, No. 832.
           Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                         Submit to: humanist@princeton.edu

       [1] From: Michael Fraser <mike.fraser@computing- (40)
             Subject: Re: 17.829 what's needed

       [2] From: Willard McCarty <willard@mccarty.me.uk> (52)
             Subject: matchmaking

             Date: Wed, 28 Apr 2004 07:10:24 +0100
             From: Michael Fraser <mike.fraser@computing-services.oxford.ac.uk>
             Subject: Re: 17.829 what's needed

    > --[3]------------------------------------------------------------------
    > Date: Tue, 27 Apr 2004 07:08:58 +0100
    > From: Robert Kraft <kraft@ccat.sas.upenn.edu>
    > >
    > To the best of my knowledge (and the information provided on the grep
    > page), grep is not a web searcher like google.com and several others,
    > but searches known files. If I'm wrong, and grep can be used to search
    > the entire web for words or phrases that occur near each other (e.g.
    > within two lines of each other), please elaborate! I don't see it in the
    > introductory information.

    Perhaps something like WebCorp, developed at the Research and Development
    Unit for English Studies (RDUES) at the University of Liverpool, comes a
    little closer to what Bob is seeking:

    "How is WebCorp different from search engines?
    Search engines, such as Google and AltaVista, are designed to retrieve
    information from the World Wide Web. They use complex techniques to index
    the Web and return the documents from their indices which are most
    relevant for the user's request. WebCorp is designed to retrieve
    linguistic data from the Web: concordance lines showing the context in
    which the user's search term occurs. In response to a user query, standard
    search engines return a list of URLs (page addresses), along with a
    description of or some text from each page to help the user decide which
    pages are most useful. To view the pages, the user must click on each of
    the links individually."
    - http://webcorp.org.uk/guide/howworks.html

    Plenty of options available, including collocation, pattern matching and
    wordlist generation.

    Unfortunately, it currently appears to be undergoing maintenance so
    getting results is very slow.


    Dr Michael Fraser
    Co-ordinator, Research Technologies Service & Head of Humbul
    Oxford University Computing Services
    13 Banbury Road
    Oxford OX2 6NN
    Tel: 01865 283 343
    Fax: 01865 273 275

    --[2]------------------------------------------------------------------ Date: Wed, 28 Apr 2004 07:55:54 +0100 From: Willard McCarty <willard@mccarty.me.uk> Subject: matchmaking

    There are two questions that seem to have become entangled in Matt Kirschenbaum's latest on the question of "what's needed?" One is whether work in humanities computing is worth doing. The second is whether it gets noticed and rewarded. To deal with the latter I suppose one needs to deal in the coin that has buying power "in a scholarly economy of citation and influence", as Matt says. Hence the violent metaphors of "impact" and "overturning", the problematic notions of solving problems and answering questions. But I would hope that we remain aware of what we're doing, and that means being clear to ourselves what is indicated by the language we use and what relationship that has to the humanities, properly so called. Then we won't forget the first question.

    "Impact" belongs to what one might call The Billiard Ball Theory of history, suggesting that historical actors are inert objects hit by some event, idea or whatever. What bothers me here is the assumed passiveness. Are we playing a participatory game or are we simply wanting to smack our colleagues with big, impressive achievements so that they won't ever forget who we are? It really does matter which of these you think you're doing, whether or not said colleagues ever feel the blow. I agree that if one makes a tool primarily for others to use and they don't use it there are questions one needs to ask, but even there "impact" is a misleading metaphor. If we build it and they don't come, perhaps we've been thinking too much about impact.

    "Overturning" does happen sometimes, and certainly we do not want simply to receive knowledge, like some canned ontology from an AI factory. We want rather to be de-ontologizing. But I am not at all sure that setting out to overturn the current government of ideas is the right objective. What actually motivates good scholarship? How does it come about? Are we after (dangerously to use a dangerous term) the truth, or are we after being revolutionaries, and so being noticed? Perhaps it doesn't matter, as long as we do the work.

    The notions of solving problems and answering questions are problematic because they can so easily be mistaken for the goal of work in the humanities rather than a means. Of course we want to solve problems, such as getting a particular piece of software to work, but that's a means to some end or other. Is Ovid's use of personification a problem that one solves? What's the most common open-class word in the works of Jane Austen is a question that one may need answered, but a scholar will want to get it answered in order to ask better, more interesting questions -- or it isn't scholarship that he or she is doing.

    One thing I think Matt is saying agrees with Leibniz's wonderful articulation of an objective he shared with us: "Theoreticos Empiricis felici connubio zu conjungiren", as he said in a characteristic mixture of Latin and German, "to join theorists and empirics in a happy marriage" (quoted by Peter Burke, Social History of Knowledge, p. 17). So I repeat Matt's question using Leibniz's connubial metaphor: what can we do to further the romance?

    Yours, WM

    [NB: If you do not receive a reply within 24 hours please resend] 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 www.kcl.ac.uk/humanities/cch/wlm/

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