Date: Fri, 20 Jun 2008 10:09:19 +0100 From: "Humanist Discussion Group \(by way of Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty-AT-mccarty.org.uk>\)" <willard-AT-LISTS.VILLAGE.VIRGINIA.EDU> Subject: 22.077 strangers in a strange land To: <humanist-AT-Princeton.EDU> Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 22, No. 77. 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: Fri, 20 Jun 2008 10:04:34 +0100 From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty-AT-mccarty.org.uk> Subject: musings on an interesting phenomenon Given the approaching Digital Humanities conference in Oulu next week, the following seems particularly relevant. I'd appreciate your thoughts on it. From time to time in discussions amongst ourselves arguments take place about what is important and what is not. (If this didn't happen we'd be in real trouble, no?) Paradigmatic is a particular incident at the ACH/ALLC in Charlottesville VA some years back, a staged but quite genuine dispute between a "text is an ordered hierarchy of content objects" contingent on one side and a "text is an n-dimensional autopoietic field" contingent on the other. Now I happen to be firmly on the latter side of the house, but abstracting myself from myself I note that the former has its origins in the thinking of an analytical philosopher and a theologically minded chap, with strong backing from a philologist and behind them all a fellow whose life-long passion was the processing of highly structured documents, indeed documents written to conform to pre-existing templates. I also note that the latter has its origins in literary studies of a particularly adventurous sort. You would expect such an opposition to lead to a fight, would you not? On other occasions I have been party to arguments between historians on the one side and, yes again, literary types on the other, the subject of the argument being the degree to which interpretation compromises the digital objects we build. Again, no great surprise, but the difference between the opposed parties is not so great as in the former example. The by now obvious observation is this: that how we see what we do in humanities computing appears very differently depending on how we've been trained -- a training that tends to be tacit and thus a hidden impediment to deeper discussion. For example, that which rigid computational structures cannot accommodate is totally unimportant if you are accommodating documents written to have none. If you're accommodating highly factual data, then the residue is not utterly insignificant, but it is not impossible to come to a good decision about how you capture what's most likely to be significant to the most number of people. If you're trying to match such structures to a literary text, considered as a work of imaginative language, then the residue is, as McGann says, "the hem of a quantum garment", and thoughts about how to use computing, it would seem to me, really do have to go in another direction. So you're likely to have a very, very different opinion on how things should go than even the historian does. Where this is leading is a destination I think quite important for us to contemplate: if humanities computing is only about method, then there is nothing to say which is not said in the words of one's discipline of origin (though perhaps with somewhat of a strange accent), and what the future holds is more of the present: disciplinary expatriots tending a common ground, not the beginnings of a new nation; or, if you will, a permanently multicultural society, never a core group of natives. And what we've got to get better at is realizing where our differences are coming from. Hence anthropology takes on a metadisciplinary role for us, I would think. "The relativist bent...anthropology so often induces in those who have much traffic with its materials, is thus in some sense implicit in the field as such.... One cannot read too long about Nayar matriliny, Aztec sacrifice, the Hopi verb, or the convolutions of the hominid transition and not begin at least to consider the possibility that, to quote Montaigne... 'each man calls barbarism whatever is not his own practice... for we have no other criterion of reason than the example and idea of the opinions and customs of the country we live in.'" (Clifford Geertz, "Anti Anti-Relativism", Available Light: Anthropological Reflections on Philosophical Topics, Princeton, 2000, p. 45). Comments? Yours, WM Willard McCarty | Professor of Humanities Computing | Centre for Computing in the Humanities | King's College London | http://staff.cch.kcl.ac.uk/~wmccarty/. Et sic in infinitum (Fludd 1617, p. 26).
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