20.050 historical hygene

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
Date: Sun, 4 Jun 2006 08:57:01 +0100

                Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 20, No. 50.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu

   [1] From: John Unsworth <unsworth_at_uiuc.edu> (66)
         Subject: Re: 20.049 historical hygene

   [2] From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk> (69)
         Subject: historical awareness

         Date: Sun, 04 Jun 2006 08:42:37 +0100
         From: John Unsworth <unsworth_at_uiuc.edu>
         Subject: Re: 20.049 historical hygene

On Jun 3, 2006, at 2:04 AM, Humanist Discussion Group (by way of
Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>) wrote:

> Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 20, No. 49.
> Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
> www.kcl.ac.uk/schools/humanities/cch/research/publications/ humanist.html
> www.princeton.edu/humanist/
> Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu
> Date: Sat, 03 Jun 2006 08:01:28 +0100
> From: "Edward Vanhoutte" <edward.vanhoutte_at_kantl.be>
> > Maybe there's an important role here to play by ADHO.
>Their website could become the digital memory of digital humanities
>and prevent the unacceptable fact that on-line material complementing
>a paper in a refereed journal disappears after only three years.

That is indeed part of the purpose behind setting adho (the alliance
of digital humanities organizations) up on digitalhumanities.org,
first and foremost a site that is not hosted at any individual's
institution, but on a commercial ISP (textdrive.com). It's also why,
for DH2007, we will (for the first time) have the reviewing system
installed on digitalhumanities.org and not on a server at the local
host's institution. ADHO is intended to oversee the joint activities
of its constituent societies, in particular conferences and
publications: speaking as chair of the ADHO steering committee, I
think I can say that ADHO would be glad to have copies of any of the
materials that Edward refers to on deposit at digitalhumanities.org.
Some have already been collected, with help from Stefan Sinclair, at:


Also, the ACH is already hosting its site on textdrive.com but ALLC
can't, because textdrive won't allow java on shared servers (because
of fears of memory leaks): the ALLC site is xml-driven, and uses
Tomcat (which is Java) to publish. That's good hygiene of a
different sort, but it happens to conflict with the objective of
moving the web site to neutral ground.

Of course, neutral siting is only one part of the problem, too--
managers of those sites then also need to be aware of the
consequences of moving files and changing URLS. If it's absolutely
necessary to do these things, there are ways to keep the links from
breaking (apache redirects, for example), but in very longest run,
it's only libraries that can come close to guaranteeing a stable
record of this intellectual community, and they are still struggling
with (though, I would say, gaining on) the problem of how to do this
when the record is digital. One small part of that process is
represented here:


Of course, another very practical intervention in this area is


where you will actually find, for example, an archived copy of
Willard's map, but only with some persistence. It's at:


but if you search for the URL that Edward gave (http://www.allc.org/
reports/map/) using "The Wayback Machine" (not the first but the
second search-term entry window on the page at http://
www.archive.org/) it'll tell you that it doesn't have a copy. But if
you search for http://www.allc.org/ it will give you snapshots from
1999 to 2005. Some of these don't seem to be there any more (for
example, June 4, 2002) but others are (for example, Dec. 1, 2002) and
if you drill down in one of those, you can follow links to reports,
and then to the map intro and then to the map itself.
www.archive.org itself represents the remarkable committment of an
individual, Brewster Kahle, to preserve the web--and it is quite
useful and in many cases the only record of the past that exists.
However, as users of archive.org will learn and attest, it is partial
and fragile--as all memory is I guess, especially the older it gets.


         Date: Sun, 04 Jun 2006 08:43:13 +0100
         From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
         Subject: historical awareness

Edward Vanhoutte's call for historical hygene, in Humanist 20.049, is
cogent and timely. Without developing an historical awareness of
ourselves as practitioners, we can hardly claim to be among the
humanities as one of their kind. I am thinking of what R. G.
Collingwood would argue if he were here, what many including him have
argued about what makes the humanities humane.

The problem is not only loss of primary historical evidence like
conference websites, reports and so forth. Except anecdocally we are
unable to support our claims for change in scholarly thought and
action because the evidence is not usually recorded at all. With eyes
firmly fixed on RESULTS we discard or overlook the means, and as an
intellectual practice focused on means, this is a serious matter. The
evidence for a history of means applied and changes effected,
including the odd metanoia here or there, vanishes with the words
spoken in meetings, the experiments tried, the diagrams sketched. We
have not cultivated the habit, as we should, of keeping laboratory
notebooks in which to write down thoughts as the research proceeds.
Should anyone here have the ear of a major granting body, he or she
would do us great good by speaking into that ear about funding
(post)graduate/postdoctoral researchers of the social scientific kind
to study humanities computing research-in-action. Some good, badly
needed articles and books could be generated that way, and these
would help greatly, not just toward the goal of intellectual hygene
that Edward argues for but also toward better practice within the
disciplines served.

To be fair to ourselves, neglect of this hygene is not unusual for a
practice little more than half a century old. Even historians seem
not terribly well equipped to be historical about such a recent past
when the problem arises, e.g. in the history of science. Some such
historians have argued that you cannot write history or think
historically until the dust has settled, the major players are dead
etc. -- that, I suppose, loss clarifies. Others, with whom I think we
should stand, would rather invent a new understanding of history than
suffer the loss of all that confusing evidence and the conflicts of
interest. But even if history, properly speaking, cannot be written
for a while yet, or the best sort of history, we can preserve what we
have more responsibly than we have. And we can strive to begin to
think historically about what we do, as Edward has done. We can
cultivate a dissatisfaction with chronologies of heroes and the
firsts they are responsible for; we can look beyond the time-lines of
technological progress to the patterns in formation. We can sharpen
our minds by asking historical questions. We can look for and pay
attention to our natural allies in the history of science, technology
and computing, some of whom are quite preoccupied by the problems noted here.

In part exclamations e.g. over the wisdom of Roberto Busa to have
thought about X, Y, and Z so perspicuously in 1980, or whenever, are
simply to recognize a great scholar's greatness. But in part, or
potentially, they hide the realities of history by plucking events
out of context. For one thing, since philosophy is numbered among the
humanities, we must be more aware than we are of the intellectual
problem Alan Turing was responding to, and how he responded. Over and
over again we run into the root-nature of the scheme he designed, and
repeatedly the collision would lead us, if we paid attention, to this
problem. For another thing, if Busa is a great mountain on the
landscape, then he is in relation to many hills and summits, and all
of these are part of a terrain that gives them their significance.
The first 25 years of the journal Computers and the Humanities is not
the only source, but it is one to which more attention needs to be
paid, and esp the lesson taught by the first few issues in the early
1960s: of astonishing diversity and intensity of research efforts
already well underway. (Read it tonight!) For a third thing (my last,
I promise), Busa and many others were and are working in a tradition
of analysis dating back at least to the 13th Century. O for an
intellectual history of the concordance!



Dr Willard McCarty | Reader in Humanities Computing | Centre for
Computing in the Humanities | King's College London | Kay House, 7
Arundel Street | London WC2R 3DX | U.K. | +44 (0)20 7848-2784 fax:
-2980 || willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk www.kcl.ac.uk/humanities/cch/wlm/
Received on Sun Jun 04 2006 - 04:26:58 EDT

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.2.0 : Sun Jun 04 2006 - 04:26:59 EDT