20.141 defining humanities computing

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
Date: Tue, 8 Aug 2006 06:51:27 +0100

               Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 20, No. 141.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu

         Date: Tue, 08 Aug 2006 06:31:34 +0100
         From: Richard Cunningham <richard.cunningham_at_acadiau.ca>
         Subject: Re: 20.138 defining humanities computing


I've just re-read a few chapters of Terry Eagleton's Literary Theory:
An Introduction in preparation for a class I'll teach this fall, and
in it (I think it's in the final chapter) Eagleton argues for a
strategic approach to literary criticism rather than an aesthetic or
explicitly theoretical (e.g. deconstructive or Marxist)
approach. Perhaps "strategic" is simply a synonym for pragmatic, but
perhaps it is slightly more. It implies having a goal in mind from
the outset (in the mind of the one who deploys the theory, practices
the criticism, advocates the [huco] approach) whereas pragmatic
implies causing some action, some change, in the world, but perhaps
not so clearly focused an effect as is implied by "strategic." I'm
not sure, but I know I've heard more intelligent people than me speak
against pragmatism and wonder if this is (still?) a wide-spread
attitude. In the event someone were to object to taking a pragmatic
view of humanities computing, might we suggest a strategic view?

A strategic view of humanities computing might include "historians do
better history as a result" of using huco methods and asking huco
questions, etc, without stopping there. It could also include,
briefly I hope, justification of the field and its relationship to
academic disciplines (scientific, social scientific, humanistic,
professional), technology, humanity, and post-humanity. I would urge
that the justificatory impulse be brief because I remember what a
farce the "rhetoric of" move became in the US during the 1990s (it
seems to have run its course, but I may just have mercifully fallen
out of touch). There was a spate of conference sessions and papers
and books on the rhetoric of science, the rhetoric of architecture,
the rhetoric of technical documents, etc, as though rhetoric could
systematically be reduced to form and separated from the content of
science, architecture, technical communication, etc.

Humanities computing is not, it seems to me, just a different way to
do history (to continue with the same example), although it is that;
rather, an historian who is also a computing humanist thinks as well
as works differently; she asks different questions and seeks
different information and synthesizes that different information
differently. If we were to ponder the pragmatics of the huco
historian's work, would we think about what she does and ask the same
questions as we would if we were to ponder her strategy? If she were
to approach her work strategically, the questions she asks and the
approach(es) she takes might be determined by the goals she sets
herself, whereas if she were to approach it pragmatically she might
limit her concern to the possibility of completing her research
within a specific time frame, or budget, or--and this strikes me as
unsettling--she might simply satisfy herself with producing a (i.e.
any) result.

Or am I myself guilty of devaluing pragmatism, and simply splitting
hairs as a result?


At 04:54 AM 8/7/2006, you wrote:

> Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 20, No. 138.
> 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: Sun, 06 Aug 2006 10:03:16 +0100
> From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
> >
>The philosopher F. H. Bradley, in "Association and Thought", Mind
>12.47 (1887): 354, arguing in a footnote with the editor of that
>journal about how to define "a psychical fact or event" in the
>empirical science of psychology, declares that
> >A definition in psychology is for me a working definition. It is not
> >expected to have more truth than is required for practice in its
> >science; and if when pressed beyond it contradict itself, that is
> >quite immaterial.
>Giving his definition, he then observes,
> >We see here the impotence of empirical science to justify its
> >principles theoretically.
>-- not because this or any other empirical science is inherently
>inferior, but because in his view metaphysics has no place in it.
>But what then justifies such a field is its results, which in the
>case of psychology is a better understanding of how and why humans
>do what they do, and not only or primarily why we shop for
>particular products or any other such thing to which psychology
>might be applied. If humanities computing is an empirical field -- I
>won't say "science" for obvious reasons -- then by analogy its
>justification cannot be how and why it is that, say, historians do
>better history as a result, but how and why scholarly enquiry is
>different -- better, perhaps, but certainly different -- across all
>the humanities (by which the historians' improved performance may be
>explained). Not a metaphysical but a pragmatic philosophy?
>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 Tue Aug 08 2006 - 02:12:42 EDT

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