Some time ago (probably mid-November 2009) I read a short article (Joseph Raben, Introducing Issues in Humanities Computing, DHQ 1:1 Spring 2007) in the first issue of Digital Humanities Quarterly which ends with a series of questions to be asked about humanities computing, its nature, outcomes, effects. I made a note to myself to answer these questions and have finally got round to having a go. Some I have no idea how to answer, some I can give a few opinions on, and some I know I need to say a lot more about.

Can software development, rather than conventional research, serve as a step up the promotion ladder?

So does software development count as a valid research output? This problem can be generalised to the concerns of practice-led research. Does the scholarly community accept work such as musical compositions, painting and sculpture, biographies, digital art, and fiction as valid research outputs? There are certainly structures in place which allow scholars up to and including doctoral level in arts and humanities areas to have evidence of their practice considered as part of their research. And disciplines which include engineering components such as computer science often produce doctoral theses which include substantial practical components. But beyond doctoral level the accepted product of research, in the arts and humanities at least, becomes homogeneous with the mode of its communication: journal articles, conference papers, book chapters, monographs. However, humanities computing stands at an interesting intersection between a humanist discipline and an engineering/science discipline. It's broad questions are likely humanistic (to make observations about the human condition based on evidence of human activity), but its methods may be more related to computer science (development and use of software). Which of these two components of the research (findings and methods) are the most publication worthy? My own opinion is increasingly that software is a means to capture and express procedure and that procedure in scholarship (as well as other areas) should be considered a valid object of study.

Are there better ways to organize our information than the current search programs provide?

How far should we trust simple information retrieval methods to tell us what is relevant and interesting? The idea of automatic relevance ranking based on keyword matching does seem a bit dry and inhuman, but it has certainly become commonplace. Computers are now relied upon to make judgements of similarity, and not just with text; there's a whole field of study which attempts to get computers to make judgements of musical similarity.

How do we confront the trend toward English as a universal scholarly language in the face of objections, such as those from France? How far need we go in accommodating other world languages---Spanish, Russian, Chinese?


How concerned should we be about the consequence of Web accessibility undermining the status of major research centers in or near metropolitan cities?

I've used access grid, I regularly talk with colleagues in IRC channels, I use Skype and instant messaging tools and, of course, make regular use of email. I've also watched/listened to recorded lectures. But I'm not convinced that any of these things really replace the nuances of human communication which may be vital for serious discussion and networking.

Has the availability of the Internet as a scholarly medium enhanced the academic status of women and



Will humanists' dependence on computer-generated data lead to a scientistic search for objective and reproducible results?

This, of course, assumes that humanists will become dependent on computer-generated data, and that they will interact with that data via computational means. I oppose this to mere digitisation, in which artifacts of scholarly interest (such as manuscripts, printed texts, paintings) are merely transcribed onto a digital medium and made more easily accessible; the mode of interaction with such digitised artifacts is often non-computational, it's just a more convenient way of looking at them. Genuine computational interaction with artifacts, on the other hand, may well call for new understandings amongst humanist scholars, and lead to new priorities and concerns in their research. I see two such potential major changes. Computational techniques may require that the tacit knowledge and implicit procedures that humanist scholars use become explicit and reproducible by being encoded and published in software, somewhat reminiscent of the necessarily pedantic detail used in "methods" sections of scientists' papers. The other change relates to humanists embracing the opposite of their typical close reading paradigm, adopting "distant reading" techniques. The question of what you can do with a million books requires that a scholar knows how to deal with the quantity of information contained in such a corpus. This includes learning to generate valid statistics and to draw legitimate conclusions from them. Whether or not any of this counts as objective is another matter.

Can we learn anything about today's resistance to new technologies from studying the reactions in the Renaissance to the introduction of printing?


Will digital libraries make today's libraries obsolete?

I can't imagine using a card index over an OPAC (online public access catalogue), and having online access to journal literature is infinitely more convenient than browsing through dusty old archives in library basements. I'm also very keen on digitisation projects as a way of opening up access to important (and maybe also seemingly not to important) artifacts to scholars. Access to information and resources from your desktop is certainly a major advantage. But we will still require institutions which foster and make use of information expertise. Catalogues are only as good as the people who design and maintain them. These are certainly the domains of expertise of libraries and, I imagine, will continue to be so. There is also the question of serendipity in library browsing; simply scanning the shelves can sometimes turn up items which would probably never have been the subject of a "relevant" keyword search.

Are the concepts and development of artificial intelligence relevant to humanistic scholarship?

Why ask this question? Is it because artificial intelligences may take on the status of human agents whose thoughts and actions could be argued to be in the domain of interest of humanist scholars? Is it because artificial intelligences may be able to perform the same functions, make the same judgements and arguments as human humanists? Or even that the whole artificial intelligence project (and its wider context of enquiry into the nature of human cognition and intelligence) could be the subject of a humanities study?