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-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
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         Date: Mon, 26 May 2008 07:58:08 +0100
         From: Willard McCarty <>
         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.


 >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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