File /Humanist.vol22.txt, message 43


Date: Mon, 26 May 2008 08:04:26 +0100
From: "Humanist Discussion Group \(by way of Willard McCarty              <willard.mccarty-AT-kcl.ac.uk>\)" <willard-AT-LISTS.VILLAGE.VIRGINIA.EDU>
Subject: 22.043 how things looked 46 years ago
To: <humanist-AT-Princeton.EDU>


                Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 22, No. 43.
       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: Mon, 26 May 2008 07:58:08 +0100
         From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty-AT-kcl.ac.uk>
         Subject: how things looked 46 years ago

In my trawlings for early views of computing one of the best finds has
been a series of commissioned pieces published by the Times Literary
Supplement in 1962 under the series title "Freeing the mind" and
later that year as a booklet, Freeing the Mind: Articles and Letters
from the Times Literary Supplement during March-June 1962 (London:
Times Publishing Company, 1962), for the sum of 3/6. The main
articles in this collection are:  Research and the Library of the
Future: D. J. Foskett; Mechanization in Lexicography: R. A. Wisbey;
Electronic Storage and Searching: Ralph Shaw; The Kinds of Machine
now in Use: Andrew D. Booth; The Future of Machine Translation:
Yehoshua Bar-Hillel; The Intellect's New Eye: Margaret Masterman;
Poetry, Prose and the Machine (anon). Perhaps the longest surviving
one in the series was Masterman's visionary article, which was quoted
approvingly by Allan B Ellis and F. Andre Favat in a book on The
General Inquirer, ed Stone (1966), and sixteen years later, as a
measure of what had not (and still has not) been achieved, by Susan
Wittig in CHum 11 (1978).

I quote below in its entirety the editorial introduction to Freeing
the Mind as a general stimulus to historical thinking and as an
example of the kind of thing I'm looking for. Notification of more of
the same kind will be most gratefully received.

Yours,
WM
-----

 >INTRODUCTION
 >
 >Is THERE A DIRECT relationship between the growth of human
 >knowledge and the decline in humanity's ability to handle what
 >it knows? It often seems that there is. The development of
 >(at least) two cultures, the breeding of more and more specialists,
 >the mutual mystification of experts even within a single field of
 >knowledge: we know the symptoms only too well. In every
 >profession, in every branch of scholarship, it is becoming harder to
 >keep pace with current developments. Nor is this just because so
 >many actual discoveries are being made. The fragmentation of
 >knowledge itself leads to overlapping and duplication, to the scattering
 >of the relevant material through an ever-widening range of
 >publications; as the horizons close in there is more and more pointless
 >research. Keeping up with the real advances is only part of the
 >problem. Trying to identify them at all in the vast wastes of words
 >and effort: that is what takes the time.
 >
 >                      -----
 >
 >We have often heard how this presses on the scientist. To take
 >the classic instance, the index to Chemical Abstracts for the decade
 >1947-1956 is three times the size of that for the decade preceding.
 >But at the same time the sheer volume of paper published is also
 >mounting on the non-scientific desk. Thus at a conference on
 >Information Methods of Research Workers in the Social Sciences,
 >whose report was published by the Library Association last year,
 >Mr. Donald MacRae complained of "the difficulty of knowledge of
 >and access to the mass of field studies and monographs" in sociology.
 >Again an article by Mr. Brian Rowley in the October-January, 1961,
 >number of German Life and Letters refers to a "jungle of secondary
 >sources" in his subject which the bibliographers no longer have under
 >control. Not only does research become increasingly fragmented
 >as a result, in Mr. Rowley's view, but the young scholar, pressed to
 >publish "original" work, may think he is doing so when the ground
 >has already been covered; he may be thickening the word-jungle to
 >no purpose. And there are many other indications that even if the
 >flow of new discoveries in other fields is less than that in science the
 >problem is still the same. For the scholar in the humanities cannot
 >afford to treat his predecessors' work as superseded. He has to keep
 >up with the present and the past.
 >
 >In the past ten or fifteen years a good deal of rather uncoordinated
 >thought has been given to taking some of this burden off the reader's
 >shoulders. Partly this is a matter of mapping the jungle by means of
 >abstracts (or brief summaries of books and articles), indexes and
 >bibliographies, all of which can be provided as a centralized service.
 >Partly it is a question of making the literature itself quickly accessible,
 >so that unnecessary time is not spent searching for references
 >or waiting for more or less unobtainable publications. Partly it is
 >a problem of how to cut down the sheer donkey-work of translating,
 >collating, copying, note-taking and compiling lists of references.
 >All these are aspects of academic work which could be simplified
 >by a more rational division oflabour and a more systematic application
 >of a number of new techniques.
 >
 >                        -----
 >
 >The seven articles which follow discuss the progress being made
 >from various different directions towards this end. The facts and
 >the technical discoveries involved will not be entirely unfamiliar;
 >xerography and microphotography for instance are already in
 >fairly common use in this country, and a certain amount of attention
 >has by now been paid to the use of punched-card machines or
 >computers for mechanical translation and lexicography (though
 >less, in this country at least, to their use for searching an index or a
 >store of information). Nor is The Times Literary Supplement alone
 >in this concern with the literary aspects of the new mechanization.
 >Quite independently the publishing house of Bompiani in Milan
 >has decided to devote its Almanacco Letterario 1962 (2,500 lire) to
 >"the application of electronic calculators to literature and to the
 >moral sciences". Italy has been prominent in this field, thanks
 >largely to the lexicographical work of the Jesuit Father Roberto Busa
 >at Gallarate, to which reference is made in our second article.
 >A rather similar operation at Borgo Lombardo is described in the
 >almanac, while at Padua university the Institute of Glottology has
 >been using electronic machines to help analyse the phonetics of
 >modern Italian.
 >
 >A new German quarterly is also relevant in this connexion.
 >Boldly entitled "Language in the Technical Age" (Sprache im
 >technischen Zeitalter, Kohlhammer, Stuttgart, 14DM. a year), it is
 >edited by Professor Hollerer in west Berlin and sets out to combine
 >the study of such new technical developments with articles on
 >semantics and information theory, with social analysis of language
 >and literature and with criticism of some of literature's socially
 >interesting manifestations. So far two numbers have appeared,
 >including notably a most useful summary of the present situation
 >in machine translation by Heinz Zemanek of the Vienna Technische
 >Hochschule. This lists no fewer than thirty-two teams in different
 >parts of the world who are trying to crack this particular nut;
 >thirteen of them in the United States and nine in the U.S.S.R.
 >Besides the departments at Birkbeck, at Cambridge (Language
 >Research Unit), and at the National Physical Laboratory only two
 >European groups are given: Professor Ceccato's at Milan and M.
 >Tabory's at I.B.M., France. A delightful diversion in the second
 >issue is Herr Karl Markus Michel's attack on the drivel often
 >printed on gramophone record sleeves.
 >
 >In this country it seems probable that librarians are better aware
 >of the new possibilities than are most scholars, writers, and publishers.
 >At the Fedration Internationale de Documentation's
 >conference, which was held in London last September, a number of
 >revolutionary developments were discussed, among them the
 >F.M.A. "Filesearch" and I.B.M. "Walnut" methods of mechanically
 >searching a store of microfilm and projecting or enlarging the
 >required page, and the efforts now being made to mechanize the
 >Human Relations Area Files, the anthropological library at Yale.
 >Immediately before this conference there had been an international
 >conference on mechanical translation at Teddington, which was
 >the largest and most important yet to be held.
 >
 >                    -----
 >
 >In the United States, where developments have been altogether
 >more spectacular, the Council on Library Resources was established
 >by the Ford Foundation in 1956 and was given a new grant of $8m.
 >last year precisely "to set up a laboratory to study photographic and
 >electronic techniques designed to cope with the deluge of publications
 >resulting from the accelerated rate of research". This and much
 >else has already been reported in the press. Yet each report so
 >far has been treated rather in isolation; many of the projects evolved
 >seem to have been planned without much idea of the scholars'
 >needs. Nor is it always clear how far they have got beyond the
 >theoretical stage.
 >
 >Development has been both piecemeal and one-sided. It has
 >not been easy for those interested to find a common language;
 >terms like "data processing" or "information reference arrays" act
 >as a barrier to all but the initiated. Moreover, although the technicians
 >in this field hopefully look to machines as "high-speed
 >idiots which will do the drudgery", their tendency has sometimes
 >been to think in terms of the machines available rather than of the
 >full extent of the problem or of the contribution which the non-
 >technical customer can make. Everywhere the problem has been
 >seen primarily as a scientific and industrial one; it is the needs of
 >science and industry, the armed forces and the strategists, which seem
 >to dictate every new solution.
 >
 >These are indeed the patrons who have initiated and financed
 >nearly all the progress so far made, from abstracting services to
 >automatic translation. None the less it may be dangerously shortsighted
 >to concentrate so exclusively on their requirements. It seems
 >doubtful, for instance, whether any satisfactory system of automatic
 >translation into English can be based entirely on experience with
 >Russian scientific texts (though machine translation up to now has
 >been virtually confined to this) or whether the principle of identifying
 >subject-matter by word-frequency will work outside a very limited
 >number of sciences (though this has been made the basis of mechanical
 >searching and of some experiments with the mechanical preparation
 >of abstracts). Nor should we overlook the possibly corrosive effect
 >of corrupt jargon and a debased technological style. Any system
 >built on the misuse of language is likely to impose its own distortions.
 >
 >                   -----
 >
 >What we hope to do in our series of articles is to provide a rather
 >more general view of the whole scene, and to put a new emphasis
 >on those requirements and standards which seem so far to have
 >been overlooked. It is remarkable, for instance, that the kind of
 >abstracting, indexing and bibliographical service given by scientific
 >journals and industrial libraries-which nced involve no special
 >machinery-should scarcely at all be available to students of the
 >humanities and the social sciences. (An important article in the
 >December, 1960, number of The Library Association Record by the
 >first of our contributors discussed how much more could be done
 >in this respect.) It seems wrong that so many highly trained
 >research workers should have to waste time on what are virtually
 >routine clerical operations, such as the word-by-word analysis of
 >Goethe's works for the projected Goethe-Worterbuch, instead of
 >letting the job be done by machine. Admittedly, there are scholars
 >who associate moral virtue and academic discipline with such
 >drudgery; but this view shows a certain lack of faith in the wider
 >aspects of scholarship, and it is high time that it was dropped. So
 >long as he is still able to do his own searching and browsing when he
 >wants, any scholar must surely welcome the new developments,
 >and hasten to draw up his own demands on them. The more
 >sluggish his interest, the more chance of the needs of the humanities
 >being ignored.
 >
 >It is not just a matter of asserting the non-scientist's claims; for
 >as mechanical methods come to play an increasing part in our
 >studies they are likely to affect the printing, publication and indexing
 >of books, and even their actual style. The shortcomings of more
 >or less elegant English prose for expressing certain kinds of situation
 >seem to pass at present almost unnoticed; "experimental writing"
 >is directed almost anywhere sooner than to rectifying this. Already
 >it seems that the machines would have it otherwise, and are beginning
 >to need a more diagrammatic, tabulated form of notation of the
 >kind that Professor Anthony Oettinger in his book on Automatic
 >Language Translation (Harvard University Press) calls "flow charts" :
 >
 >   The very properties of flow charts that make them such useful
 >   tools are unfortunately not easily described verbally, because a
 >   formal verbal description requires precisely the kind of intricate
 >   prose that flow charts are intended to replace.
 >
 >Here is a challenge of quite a different order from that of the formal
 >experiments to which the past fifty years of avant-garde writing
 >have accustomed us: our whole way of writing may be drastically
 >changed. At the same time publishers of important books could
 >very well help mechanical scanning by making their indexes available
 >in a form that can be handled by machine.
 >
 >Admittedly, we are still in the preliminary, or science-fiction,
 >stage of the whole operation, when a wide range of possibilities seem
 >to suggest themselves and the most revolutionary implications
 >arise. As something of a safeguard the writers of the present series
 >of articles have been asked to stress the question of practical
 >feasibility, bearing in mind the likely cost and distinguishing between
 >theoretical spadework and actual achievement. None the less
 >science-fiction can come true, and it is not impossible that there
 >will be a mechanization of scholarship comparable in its importance
 >with the invention of movable types.
 >
 >This makes it important not only that its manifestations should
 >be most carefully watched but also that its proper objective should
 >be continually brought to mind. For it must be remembered from
 >the start that the aim is to lift the burden of routine searching,
 >collation, listing of possible sources and even perhaps taking of
 >notes off the brain-worker so that he can use his mind and his time
 >to better purpose. It has often been said that humanity is tragically
 >placed because it cannot apply to its social, moral and political
 >thinking the same scientific methods as it uses to transform the
 >material world. But perhaps now it can use them for something
 >even more fundamental: the liberation of thought itself.
 >
 >The Times Literary Supplement-March 23, 1962

   

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