File /Humanist.vol22.txt, message 4

Date: Thu, 08 May 2008 10:10:47 +0100
From: "Humanist Discussion Group \(by way of Willard McCarty              <>\)" <willard-AT-LISTS.VILLAGE.VIRGINIA.EDU>
Subject: 22.004 materials toward a history of literary computing
To: <humanist-AT-Princeton.EDU>

                Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 22, No. 4.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to:

         Date: Thu, 08 May 2008 10:01:06 +0100
         From: Willard McCarty <>
         Subject: history of literary computing

As part of an ongoing research project I'm looking into the history
of literary computing from the beginnings to ca 1989, i.e. over a
span of about 40 years. Chronologies have been put together, notably
by Susan Hockey, but as many here will know, we don't yet have a
genuine history of any aspect of humanities computing. Indeed, we
don't even have a proper history of computing, as Michael Mahoney has
pointed out many times (see "Issues in the history of computing", The history I am attempting
to write is in support of an argument about the future of the literary
kind. The evidence I am turning up appears strongly to suggest
that quite early on practitioners and commentators ran straight into deep
problems that remain thorny today -- when we have the wit to talk
about them. We rarely seem to do that, gripped as we are by the fever to
implement, despite the possibility that we might now be in a position
to do something about them. We can certainly keep them alive for the
sake of our scholarly mental health. It is sobering to see the
attention paid to such basics in publications such as the Times
Literary Supplement all those years ago.

A single example. In a review, "Keepers of rules versus players of
roles", of two books on the social impact of computing, in the TLS
for 21 June 1971, p. 585 (on the same page as a blurb for James
Herndon's The Way It Spozed To Be, "A disturbing account of a year's
teaching in a ghetto school in Washington"), the anonymous reviewer
concludes thus:

 >Whether and, if so, how the playing of a role differs from the
 >application of rules which could and should be made explicit and
 >compatible -- this is the major epistemological problem of our time.
 >Computers raise it by implication. They may even help to resolve it
 >-- if their exponents can resist the temptation to bury it. The
 >temptation will be dangerously strong. Slave labour is so seductive.

Indeed. That last sentence is worth holding in the mind for a time
and will be especially meaningful to those here who have spent a
time, or are still "eyeless in Gaza".

My growing digital archive of materials may be of interest to some.
If so, let me know. And allow me to whisper into the ear of anyone
with their own collection of old stuff that scanning it could be a massive
cottage industry -- the captaincy of which is an honour I hereby decline.


Willard McCarty | Professor of Humanities Computing | Centre for
Computing in the Humanities | King's College London | Et sic in infinitum (Fludd 1617, p. 26). 


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