20.485 fixing the MLA's problem

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
Date: Mon, 5 Mar 2007 07:15:10 +0000

               Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 20, No. 485.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu

   [1] From: "Patricia R. Bart" <prb8b_at_virginia.edu> (58)
         Subject: Re: 20.482 fixing the MLA's problem

   [2] From: Richard Cunningham <richard.cunningham_at_acadiau.ca> (71)
         Subject: Re: 20.484 fixing the MLA's problem

         Date: Mon, 05 Mar 2007 07:08:35 +0000
         From: "Patricia R. Bart" <prb8b_at_virginia.edu>
         Subject: Re: 20.482 fixing the MLA's problem

At 04:30 AM 3/3/2007, you wrote:
>I'm wondering whether many of the students of English have not, fairly
>deliberately, chosen their subject to get away from the digital and
>nerdish. If you tell them that the numerate have also taken in hand
>the future of Romance, they may well feel a little miffed.

My work uses digital technologies to study the process a medieval
scribe undertook to produce a _gesamt_ edition of _Piers
Plowman_. His thousands of alterations and recombinations in the
text of _Piers_ can be studied and (partially) understood only with
the aid of standardized markup--in this case, TEI markup.

Taking this work on the road has been an interesting study in the
reception of digital scholarship, since my dissertation and all my
publications are digital in both their content and their distribution.

For example, at one recent job interview at the MLA this December, I
was asked how, exactly, I was a medievalist. My staunchest efforts
to explain how studying the work of an actual medieval reader of
_Piers_ fits into the overall scholarship, and to demonstrate with
glowing teaching evaluations that the students really do respond well
did not compensate for my lack of . . . non-digital approaches to

I had arrived on the set without a wimple, and nothing was going to
compensate for my lack of proper costuming.

At another interview there, when asked why I found that I was
appealing as a teacher to pre-med, pre-law, science and engineering
students, my answer--that my particular flavor of scholarship, with
its inductive, material, historical and technical approach to texts
was a sort of bridge for them into more affective or theory-based
ways of reading--deeply offended the interviewer who was a specialist
in the Romantics.

I have to say that, from my point of view in the interview, this
meant that my very existence was offensive to her, even though what I
have done frequently in the classroom is draw students from the
natural sciences further into the more traditional approaches to
literature by being a familiar and friendly face to them, making them
think that perhaps they could handle this English lit. thing after
all, and even enjoy it. (Let's not forget that the suspicion and
contempt run both ways in this social game of academe.)

As for accepting digital scholarship and its distribution in digital
publication, I cannot speak to the tenure process, but I can say that
interviewers probing me for second-round interviews did respond
immediately and well when it is pointed out that a publication on CD
or an online journal has been refereed, just like one on paper. It
may be that the reception of digital scholarship and publication will
be a little less like the digital publication of newspapers (always
an ephemeral medium) and a little more like the reception of online
banking, with those doing the receiving taking a "show me"
approach. But then, as with online banking, something important is
at stake in digital scholarship. Something important could be lost
were the process not to work properly.

It seems to me that patience and integrity are the things
needful. And the recruitment of more digital scholars would not
hurt, since having a plurality of scholars with work invested in the
field would in itself bring about the desired change. Introducing
technophobic humanists to little bits and nibbles of digital
humanities will hasten the day.

Every humanist is a potential digital humanist.

Patricia Bart
The Piers Plowman Electronic Archive
The University of Virginia

         Date: Mon, 05 Mar 2007 07:11:01 +0000
         From: Richard Cunningham <richard.cunningham_at_acadiau.ca>
         Subject: Re: 20.484 fixing the MLA's problem

While it might be said I've already said enough, Willard you've
managed to once again conjure a tale of woe from me. But first let
me thank you and Matt and others who've written to continue this
thread for giving me concrete knowledge that there are many others
who see the world much as I do.

At that same unnamed university I visited recently, in a second talk,
this one just for faculty and graduate students, when I spoke about
publication on demand I saw on the faces of many in the room a sense
that they should humour me because they were clearly in the presence
of a lunatic.

I didn't say it would be a long tale.

In direct response now to your question, Willard, "is on-demand
printing a prayer likely to be answered?" I can't see a downside to
it, so I'm puzzled by your second question ("Should it [be]?") and
will leave it alone. As for the first question, though, I think the
answer is "unavoidably, yes." Gutenberg was not some religious or
educational nutter anxious to put a Bible in every home and a Donatus
in every school house. He was a proto-capitalist chasing a
guilder. The cost savings inherent in publication on demand are too
profound for publishers to ignore.

But even if we take that as a given, it still leaves your other
question, Willard, about the appropriateness of the codex as
electronic artifact. I suspect publication on demand might connect
with another rapidly emerging technology, electronic paper, to enable
the codex to assume the best features of codex and scroll, and
e-publishing. But on this I am much less sure (mainly because my
ignorance of the state of development of e-paper is profound--he
said, hoping someone would direct him where to learn more).


At 03:58 AM 3/4/2007, you wrote:

> Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 20, No. 484.
> 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

> [2] From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk> (21)
> >
> Date: Sun, 04 Mar 2007 07:54:35 +0000
> From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
> Subject: what goes around comes around, unless...
>I would suppose that one reason we're reminded of the ironic
>etymological meaning of "revolution" is that revolutionaries so often
>only replace one sort of narrowmindedness for another -- one that
>puts them in power. I'd think that the point of the digital
>revolution, if it is to escape becoming just one more revolution in
>the cycle, or worse, is to expand the scope of reading and writing
>and the media in which they take form, not shrink it. The stupidity
>of publishers (only some of them, it is true, but not a few) may
>force our hand, of course. If these cannot even properly manage the
>distribution and publicity of our books (as seems the case with
>mine), then what do we need them for?
>Let me ask a question. Is it becoming our experience that journal
>articles do better in digital form but that codex books remain best
>as printed codices?
>If so, then speed the day when the technology for on-demand printing
>is local and of good quality, but preserve hand-press and other
>high-quality printers. A prayer likely to be answered? Should it?
>Dr Willard McCarty | Reader in Humanities Computing | Centre for
>Computing in the Humanities | King's College London |
Received on Mon Mar 05 2007 - 02:23:06 EST

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