Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 17, No. 802.
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
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Date: Sun, 18 Apr 2004 09:00:30 +0100
From: Willard McCarty <email@example.com>
Subject: what's needed?
A question that resurfaces from time to time is, "what needs to be done in
humanities computing?" I'd like to ask that question again, if for no other
reason than insights and the populations that have them change. If, say,
you could direct a large group of competent people to go forth and
accomplish a number of tasks, or you could persuade everyone to adopt a
particular way of working that would have benefit to many, what tasks or
new habits would you list? Then please list them, and send your list to
I'd like to see a lists of varying length and level of detail as well as
content, from as many different perspectives as possible. If, for example,
one item of desire were "create new tools!" (that's an old one, to be
sure), the it would be helpful to know which tools, for what kind of work;
if another item were "put more good stuff online", then what subject area,
and for what purposes. If an item were recommendation of a practice, such
as "let penultimate versions of published works be put online", then it
would be useful to know whether you'd want to include books (say, your own
book), and if not, why not.
Someone recently noticed that in the history of the field most attention
used to be paid to the application of analytic tools but that with the
popularity of the Web all that one hears about is what's online or what
should be. Has analysis been utterly usurped by communication? It might be
helpful to imagine a complete collection of texts, images, sounds of a
world-wide digital library into existence, for example, then ask yourself,
Some folks imagine a (though they say "the") "semantic" web, which I gather
expresses the desire for a resource that deals with what you want or need
rather than with matching character-strings, even cleverly, as Google does.
In examples of what this might be, or at least the ones I have heard about,
a life full of appointments and errands is imagined -- exactly the kind of
life I try to avoid having, so such a "semantic" web would have no meaning
for me, or at least a meaning I would put well down toward the bottom of
any list. What would make a finding and arranging aid semantically welcome
to me would privately track my information-seeking behaviour, then present
to me a filtered, prioritized list of the kinds of things that my history
shows I tend to go for, and another such list that shows the kinds of
things that I haven't gone for, filtered and prioritized by comparison with
the mass behaviour.
What about analysis? Tools for sorting and classifying are still very poor.
I have yet to see nothing remotely as sophisticated as Notecards, which
inspired HyperCard. I've heard and read similar things said about FRESS. So
I actually use Excel in loose combination with Word and Windows Explorer
but with a keen sense that the world could be better for notetaking and
arranging. Part of the problem here may be simply screen-size; I do dream
from time to time about having a 3-dimensional holographic projection
device or other virtual reality environment within which I could arrange
notes spatially -- a method that, as various people have noted, goes back
at least as far as Sir James Murray.
But what about deeper kinds of analysis -- of texts, images, sounds?
And for humanities computing itself? I would say a genuine history, as opposed
to a mere chronology of firsts, is badly needed, and along with that, an
ethnography of current practice so that we might know what we do and
what it does for us.
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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 || firstname.lastname@example.org
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