Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 6, No. 0809. Wednesday, 18 October 1995.
From: Humanist <
Date: Tuesday, 17 Oct 1995 18:31:25 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: Announcement about Humanist
Humanist: an electronic seminar for humanities computing
What is Humanist?
Humanist is an international electronic seminar devoted to all aspects of
humanities computing. Members use it to exchange information among themselves,
ask questions, make announcements, and volunteer information they think will be
useful to others. Its primary goal is to provide a wide-ranging forum for
discussion that will help advance our understanding of the field and will
foster the development of a community out of the many individuals for whom
computing is integral to the humanities.
Humanist is published by the Center for Electronic Texts in the Humanities
(CETH, Princeton and Rutgers). Technical support is provided by Computing and
Information Technology (CIT, Princeton), and both CETH and CIT are involved in
software development. Its editor is Willard McCarty (Toronto).
A brief history.
Humanist began in May 1987 as a means of communication among a small group of
people concerned with the support of humanities computing. At the time e-mail
was relatively new among humanists and mechanisms such as ListServ almost
unknown. Humanist grew rapidly and, in response to the community it helped to
discover, developed quickly into a international, interdisciplinary forum
primarily distinguished by the quality of its discussion. From the example of
Humanist, many if not most of the current online groups in the humanities were
For details of the early history, see "HUMANIST: Lessons from a Global
Electronic Seminar," <t>Computers and the Humanities</t> 26 (1992): 205-222.
Since the electronic world has grown radically in the last few years and become
part of what most humanists do, we must begin by asking if there is any need
for the seminar now that so many of its progeny and others populate the virtual
world. Its members seem to think so, but to answer positively obliges one then
to face the more difficult question of what role remains for it to play.
However much people fondly remember the old Humanist, they should remember
accurately that it was always changing. Humanist must serve an existing
function or it is simply a waste of time for everyone.
The significant fact here is negative: despite the proliferation of discussion
groups for the conventional academic disciplines, none other has arisen to
serve humanities computing as such. This fact suggests a real question for
Humanists to consider: is there any need for humanities computing as a distinct
pursuit now that computing has penetrated the conventional disciplines? Can we
say about it what Ole Johan Dahl said about computer science, that "One may
wonder whether [it] is really a discipline of its own, or whether it is merely
a set of loosely connected techniques drawn together from different sources"
(in <t>Linguaggi nella societa\ e nella tecnica</t>, Milano 1970, p. 371). If
humanities computing is merely a rag-bag collection of techniques, then why
spend precious resources on it? If it is not, then what forms its core?
Answering the question requires that we examine what we have been doing across
the disciplines to see where the common ground lies.
There are other (and, for some, more serious) questions the new Humanist has to
deal with. These arise out of the social and institutional setting in which the
new Humanist operates.
As Stanley Katz pointed out in his keynote speech at the recent ACH/ALLC
conference in Santa Barbara, computing is transforming how we think about and
organize learning. In consequence, we are beginning to see a shift in the power
to distribute knowledge, from universities into the commercial sector, with its
very different (and sometimes inimical) agendas. At the same time,
applications of the technology shed fresh light on ancient problems. The
mechanical efficiency of computers is the advertised benefit, but the real
revolution in thought has far more to do with the computer as cognitive model
and genuinely new means of scholarly research, teaching, and publication. The
effects of this model are ubiquitous and powerful but largely go unexamined,
and imitation of older means still muddies the waters. Our job in the academy
is precisely to examine these effects, discover what is new about computing,
and so both improve the model and refurbish our cultural heritage. The
principal mandate this suggests for the new Humanist, then, is to put the job
before the community most qualified to undertake it.
High-level scholarly discussion of computing in the humanities will address one
aspect of a much broader need. We in the academy have not done a good job
communicating our raison de^tre to the rest of the world -- arguably because
so many of us do not ourselves know what it is. Within the university, as
outside it, fundamental questions are seldom asked, but our fault is more
serious because asking such questions is our principal justification. The
profound impact of computing on all aspects of modern life provides therefore a
great opportunity to engage in a long-overdue re-examination of what
universities do for the society of which they are a part. Humanist cannot take
on the whole of this re-examination, of course, but it does have a role in it
-- potentially a crucial role.
How to join.
Humanist has a homepage on the WorldWideWeb, at the URL
where information is supplied about how to apply for membership, search the
archives, and manage one's subscription. The only requirement for membership
is that one complete the subscription form, giving some biographical
information as well as addresses and the like. Experience has shown that the
"Humanist biographies" furnish a valuable means of building the sense of
community and introducing like-minded people to each other.