Is humanities computing an academic discipline?

This question is important for a number of reasons.  In the most general terms, the traditional scholarly fields that comprise the humanities have, over the last decade, become increasingly involved with information technology, and humanities computing has begun to present itself as a discipline in its own right -- the most recent MLA job list, for example, included tenure-track humanities computing jobs in English departments.  In more local terms, the University of Virginia is already internationally recognized as a leader in the field of humanities computing, but at present the University offers no graduate (or undergraduate) degree in this field.  This seems a good time to ask whether we should be offering such a degree -- but before we can answer that question, we need to have a clear idea of what the field is, and whether it is, in fact, a field of scholary inquiry.

This seminar ties into, and capitalizes on, activities already underway in the University's Libraries (in particular, the Library Digital Centers), its division of Information Technology and Communication (in particular, the Teaching + Technology Initiative), its individual departments and Colleges, and several of its research institutes (in particular, the Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities and the Virginia Center for Digital History).  Moreover, it continues, in a narrower and more sustained discussion, the Faculty Senate's 1998-99 discussion of information technology's impact on the University.

Issues to be Addressed:

In "What is Humanities Computing?" Willard McCarty offers the following answer to his question:

Humanities computing is an academic field concerned with the application of computing tools to arts and humanities data or to their use in the creation of these data. It is methodological in nature and interdisciplinary in scope. It works at the intersection of computing with the arts and humanities, focusing both on the pragmatic issues of how computing assists scholarship and teaching in the disciplines and on the theoretical problems of shift in perspective brought about by computing. It seeks to define the common ground of techniques and approaches to data, and how scholarly processes may be understood and mechanised. It studies the sociology and epistemology of knowledge as these are affected by computing as well as the fundamental cognitive problem of how we know what we know. Its tools are derived from practical work in computer science, but like that work its application of them uses models of intelligence developed in cognitive science and philosophy of mind. It tests the utility of these models to illuminate particular objects of study by direct involvement in the fields of application. Its object of knowledge is all the source material of the arts and humanities viewed as data. Like comparative literature it takes its subject matter from other disciplines and is guided by their concerns, but it returns to them ever more challenging questions and new ways of thinking through old problems.
On the other hand, as Stanley Fish has pointed out, "being interdisciplinary" is difficult, if not impossible, especially with respect to graduate education, and more especially when the disciplinary mix ranges from Computer Science to Art History.  There are significant issues to be addressed when one contemplates an interdisciplinary graduate degree: for example, how would one teach a graduate student whose background is in music, in a graduate humanities computing course whose focus was architecture?  And how, more abstractly, would one structure a graduate education in humanities computing so that it covered the breadth of issues, applications, and processes that would constitute training worthy of a degree, while still providing training in courses that also addressed a student body training in other, more discrete, academic fields?

Perhaps there are "common... approaches to data" and common cognitive problems that only appear clearly in the field of humanities computing but, by definition, we won't know what these problems or insights might be if we rest within the boundaries of our established scholarly domains, departments, and specialties.  We need to come together in an extended discussion in order to discover whether we believe that humanities computing is, in fact, scholarly, and -- if it is -- what that scholarship consists in, and how it might best be cultivated and transmitted.

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