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Computers and the Humanities

IP.com Disclosure Number: IPCOM000131343D
Original Publication Date: 1978-Aug-01
Included in the Prior Art Database: 2005-Nov-10
Document File: 3 page(s) / 19K

Publishing Venue

Software Patent Institute

Related People

Paul Bratley: AUTHOR [+4]

Abstract

It is as difficult, and perhaps as silly, to try to present the field of computing in the humanities in one special issue, as it would be to present computing in business, say, or the scientific applications of computers. Nevertheless, the effort seems worth making. Much of the work in this area is genuinely interdisciplinary: for interdisciplinary projects to take shape and to prosper, it is essential that workers on one side of the line be regularly reminded of what is happening on the other.

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This record contains textual material that is copyright ©; 1978 by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc. All rights reserved. Contact the IEEE Computer Society http://www.computer.org/ (714-821-8380) for copies of the complete work that was the source of this textual material and for all use beyond that as a record from the SPI Database.

Computers and the Humanities

Guest Editors' Introduction

Paul Bratley and Serge Lusignan

University of Montreal

It is as difficult, and perhaps as silly, to try to present the field of computing in the humanities in one special issue, as it would be to present computing in business, say, or the scientific applications of computers. Nevertheless, the effort seems worth making. Much of the work in this area is genuinely interdisciplinary: for interdisciplinary projects to take shape and to prosper, it is essential that workers on one side of the line be regularly reminded of what is happening on the other.

Computing in the humanities is a field dominated by amateurs, in the best sense of this word. Nothing forces a critic to put his texts on a computer; no composer is compelled to seek the aid of a machine; even the programmers employed on this kind of project are likely to be there by inclination rather than by accident. Economic motives are also largely absent: in general, nobody makes or saves any money by using computers for such applications, and only occasionally can the machine save time.

What, then, is the justification for our activities? Almost always, it lies in the fact that computers make new methods possible. For the critic, it may make it feasible to examine many more details of a text than before; for the historian, much more data can be analyzed; for the creative artist, many more structures of words, of images, or of sounds can be generated. The results obtained must be judged by traditional scholarly or artistic criteria, in which style may be as important as content, or interpretation as crucial as facts. It seems unlikely that any question of importance in the arts or the humanities will ever be decided by a machine (unlike, say, the four- color problem in mathematics}. At best, the machine can offer new patterns for consideration and verify certain hypotheses. Yet in many fields this ability to stimulate creativity or to restrain overconfident imagination is ample justification for the use of computers.

Computing in the humanities is also all too often amateur in the sense that projects have little or no money, and that they scrape by using such resources of machine time and programming expertise as they can obtain from better-endowed commercial or scientific colleagues. A modern scholar working on a text may quite probably begin by copying it out by hand, exactly as his medieval counterpart would have done, except that one uses a keyboard where the other used a pen. It can be a source of cons...