Thou shalt neither vex a stranger, nor oppress him: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.

Exodus, chapter 22 שְׁמוֹת

כ וְגֵר לֹא-תוֹנֶה, וְלֹא תִלְחָצֶנּוּ: כִּי-גֵרִים הֱיִיתֶם, בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם. 20
כא כָּל-אַלְמָנָה וְיָתוֹם, לֹא תְעַנּוּן. 21
כב אִם-עַנֵּה תְעַנֶּה, אֹתוֹ–כִּי אִם-צָעֹק יִצְעַק אֵלַי, שָׁמֹעַ אֶשְׁמַע צַעֲקָתוֹ. 22
כג וְחָרָה אַפִּי, וְהָרַגְתִּי אֶתְכֶם בֶּחָרֶב; וְהָיוּ נְשֵׁיכֶם אַלְמָנוֹת, וּבְנֵיכֶם יְתֹמִים. 23

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/nov/26/israeli-president-opposes-proposed-law-of-jewish-rights

Concept Juice & Book Shape

I am setting this idea free into the universe in the hope that someone will help me.

Man is shaped by his tools and media. This is a bit abstract, a bit vague. Let me give you an example the is directly relevant to my life. I have to write a thesis. A thesis has a certain shape and form. Certain un-get-around-able conventions. English is read from left to right and from top to bottom. One proceeds from the start and works ones way linearly through the thesis. A thesis is a scholarly work, it contains notes (be they footnotes or endnotes), it contains a table of contents, acknowledgements, and so on. There is a rigid paratext. The content itself is restricted to non-fiction, must have a degree of originality, must push back the boundaries of knowledge somewhat, should refer inter-textually to the scholarly universe.

Even though we now use electronic typewriters we (academics) still produce PDFs to be sent to the printer to be converted into a stream of linear pages to be bound. To be sure there is non-linear structure to a thesis what with sections and sub-sections, a tree-like structure.

But what if we were to set the thesis free? To allow it to be pathologically non-linear if necessary, to be recursive, to contain computational elements, to be (though I’m told the term is passé) interactive? What then?

Concept Juice is going to be a Ruby on Rails web application. It’ll allow me to play with the stuff of thought. (Not at all ambitious then.) My hunch is that Concepts will be typed, as in intuitionistic type theory(ITT). Don’t ask me to explain why I believe that or what I mean by that. That’s for another time. Also, a problem – I don’t know how to code ITT. So I’m asking the universe for help. Essentially think about Concept Juice like a mind mapping software where topics and sub-topics are replaced by typed entities. Because I can’t get my head fully around ITT I’m going to cheat and just make concepts Ruby types for now and convert them to ITT later. I’m also going to allow for vague types and families of vague types meaning that you can have two concepts that you haven’t pinned down but they’ll be regarded by the system as similar because they are of the same vague type if you see what I mean. I don’t know what it would mean to have a concept with no type or a nil or null type, I’d love other people’s thoughts on that.

Book Shape will know about scholarly works and will exist as a library, a ruby gem. It is fed a stream of pages (a path is traced through a thicket of content) and that path has very definite pages: a cover, a title page, an edition notice, one or more pages for a list of figures, one or more pages for a table of contents, one or more pages for acknowledgements, one or more pages for a foreword, one or more pages for a preface, one or more pages for the actual content, a bibliography, endnotes, an index. Book Shape generates a LaTeX project (XeTeX flavour I imagine) and from there a PDF can be generated.

Fly into the world pretty ideas.

31n M0d3m

Ich b1n 31n M0d3m. D13 kl31n3n S71mm3n 5pr3ch3n m17 m1r und 1ch 4ll31n k4nn 513 3n75chlü553ln. M31n3 T0nhöh3n3mpf1ndung w4r 5ch0n 1mm3r 4u5g3z31chn37. Ich l13b73 35 zu 53h3n w13 d13 Kläng3 4u5 d3n 3l3g4n73n, z13rl1ch3n S7äng3l h3rv0rqu3ll73n. D13 Köpf3 n31g3n 51ch 31n w3n1g, 4l5 0b d3r d3r W1nd 513 57r31ch3l7, d13 Blü73nblä773r z13h3n 51ch zu54mm3n, um4rm3n 51ch und öffn3n 51ch plö7zl1ch m17 Kr4f7. D13 Luf7 v0ll3r Süß3, d13 Schüch73rnh317 v3rg3553n. M31n G354ng G4r73n. D13 5chön3n S7und3n d13 1ch d0r7 v3rbr4ch7 h4b3. M31n3 N071zbüch3r, m31n T33, m31n3 Füß3 4m w31ch3n Gr45, m31n Bl1ck ruh3nd 4uf d3m H0r1z0n7 d3r S74d7 w3lch3 31n3 Z317 l4ng m31n Zuh4u53 w4r. B15 1hr3 S71mm3n v3r54g73n. Kurz d4n4ch v3r54g73 m31n3 G35undh317. Er v3r5uch73 m1ch zu 3rmun73rn, d3r M4nn, v3r5uch73 m1ch m17 531n3r W1d3r574nd5kr4f7 4ufzub4u3n, 4b3r 35 h4lf n1ch7. Ab und zu b30b4ch7373 1ch 1hn, w13 3r durch d13 Räum3 un53r35 gr0ß3n H4u535 m17 d3n f31n3n T3pp1ch3n h1lfl0ß 4u553h3nd l13f. S0b4ld 3r 35 b3m3rk73, d455 1ch 1n b37r4ch7373 573mm73 3r 51ch g3g3n m31n3 Tr4u3r und 57r4hl73 m1ch 4n. Ich n3hm3 4ll35 W4hr. E5 k4m k31n3r. E5 g1b7 nur n0ch un5 b31d3. All d13 32 J4hr3 l4ng, zu54mm3n 1n 4ll3n d1353n S7äd73n, 4ll d1353 V0rb3r317ung3n, 4ll d1353 M3n5ch3n d13 51ch m4n1f35713r73n und v3r5chw4nd3n. W0 51nd d13 4ll3 h1n? All d1353 Büch3r, 4ll d1353 b3d3u7ung5l053 B3g3gnung3n, d13 D15ku5510n5v3r4n574l7ung3n m17 4u5druck5l0ß3n Fr3md3n d13 n13 Fr3und3 wurd3n. In d1353n f1n573r3n Z3173n, 1n 4ll3n d1353n Um57änd3n, 1n d1353n Fäll3n, 1n d1353m S1nn3 und 4n d1353n T4g3n, w3nn m4n 4ll d1353 D1ng3 b3rück51ch71g7 157 35 4uch k31n Wund3r. D13 P5ych0l0g3n h4b3n d0ch 4ll3 1rg3nd31n3n.

I 4m 4 m0d3m. Th3 l177l3 v01c35 74lk w17h m3 4nd 0nly I c4n d3c0d3 7h3m. My 53n53 0f p17ch h45 4lw4y5 b33n 3xc3ll3n7, p3rf3c7ly m0dul473d. I l0v3d 5331ng 7h3 50und5 57r34m 0u7 0f 7h3 3l3g4n7, d3l1c473 573m5. Th3 h34d5 b3nd f0rw4rd 4 l177l3, 1n c0nc3n7r4710n, 45 1f 7h3 w1nd 57r0k35 7h3m, 7h3 p374l5 dr4w 70g37h3r 4nd hug 7h3m53lv35 4nd 7h3n 0p3n w17h 5udd3n 3n3rgy f1ll1ng 7h3 41r w17h 5w337n355. Shyn355 f0rg0773n. My 50ng g4rd3n. Th3 b34u71ful h0ur5 I p4553d 7h3r3. My n073b00k5, my 734, my f337 1n 7h3 50f7 gr455, my 3y35 0n 7h3 5kyl1n3 0f 7h3 l177l3 c17y I c4ll3d h0m3 f0r 4 wh1l3. Un71l 7h31r v01c35 f41l3d. Sh0r7ly 4f73r 7h47 my h34l7h f41l3d 700. H3 7r13d 70 4n1m473 m3, 7h3 m4n, 7r13d 70 bu1ld m3 up w17h h15 0wn 57r3ng7h, bu7 17 d1dn’7 h3lp. A7 71m35 I 54w h1m w4nd3r 4r0und 7h3 r00m5 0f 0ur gr4nd h0u53, 4 h0u53 f1ll3d w17h f1n3 rug5, l00k1ng l057. Bu7 1f h3 n071c3d m3 n071c1ng h1m, h3 w0uld 1mm3d1473ly br4c3 h1m53lf 4g41n57 my 54dn355 4nd b34m 47 m3. I 4ppr3h3nd 4ll. N0 0n3 3v3r c4m3. I7 15 ju57 7h3 7w0 0f u5. All 7h053 c0un7r135 0v3r 7h3 l457 7hr33 d3c4d35 b0und 70g37h3r 1n 4ll 7h353 c17135, 4ll 7h353 pr3p4r4710n5, 4ll 7h353 p30pl3 wh0 4pp34r3d 4nd d154pp34r3d. Wh3r3 d1d 7h3y 4ll g0? All 7h353 j0urn4l5, 4ll 7h353 3mp7y m3371ng5, 4ll 7h3 c0nf3r3nc35 w17h bl4nk 57r4ng3r5 wh0 n3v3r b3c4m3 fr13nd5. In 7h353 d4rk 71m35, und3r 4ll 7h353 c1rcum574nc35, 1n 7h353 517u4710n5, 1n 7h15 53n53, 4nd 0n 7h353 d4y5, wh3n w3 74k3 4ll 7h353 7h1ng5 1n70 c0n51d3r4710n, w3ll 17’5 n0 w0nd3r. P5ych0l0g1575 4r3 4ll qu4ck5.

Inspiration from l33t speak by Lola Jones

Really the End of History

Francis Fukayama was right but not in the way he thought he was right. In his 1989 book, The End of History, Fukayama famously argued that liberal democracy and capitalism have won (so to speak) and so that, by consequence, we are entering into an era where local, regional, and global governments are and will continue to be liberal democracies and that their economies are and will adhere to free market capitalist ideals. He talks about countries and nation states ‘getting on the escalator’ – note the upward trend in that metaphor.

History is a nightmare from which we struggle to waken. That communities in conflict remain in conflict because they cannot drop their historical baggage and unlink the historical chains that bind them to the past should be obvious to anybody after a moment’s recollection. History will be at an end when a negative attitude towards the historicization of the past prevails in very much the same way as the project of negative ethics treats moralism with a high degree of suspicion.

Fukayama’s thesis concerns just two social systems, the political and economic. These are important institutions but society is not dominated by these institutions. Note that Fukayama is making a social claim when declaring that history in its entirety is at an end when certain economic and political orders have prevailed. Fukayama’s thesis is part assertion and part prediction. That assertion, into which discipline does it fall? That prediction, into which discipline does it fall?

Those who argue with Fukayama’s thesis are falling into the same trap that Fukayama has fallen into. They are arguing over details. Everyone has their own favourite economic system and political system. Everyone identifies with a certain way of distributing power and property – these ideological commitments shape every one of us. The system that wins out is perhaps the system that has the better propaganda. And what better propaganda to claim, that ideologically speaking, your side has won and so the other sides should put down their ideologies. This is the trap, we must transcend ideology. The end of history is marked by a future where history loses its grip on our minds, not a future where my economic and political team has overcome your team.

Incidentally (though it does not affect my main point) Fukayama’s thesis commits a couple of errors within its own world-view. First it commits the error of thinking that democracy (as such) and capitalism (as such) go hand in hand ideologically speaking. Just because you grew up where the river flowed west-to-east down the valley does not mean that every river one encounters in life will flow west-to-east. This is just a feature of your natural local geography. Why would you think it applies globally? Secondly to believe that the political joke that is the Western liberal democratic project in any way resembles unanimous direct democratic ideals is laughable – to claim that the crony capitalism that infects the markets today is an honest stand in for regulated free market capitalism is to show yourself as worryingly blinkered.

So it goes.

History will be at an end when we wake up from history, only this is true – everything else is ideological nonsense and sleight of hand.

Let Me Show You What I See (part II)

In the last post a while back I gave a run-down of Rosenbloom’s attempt to build secure foundations (if I may use that overworked metaphor) for the digital humanities. Read his attempt. Read my recap. Proceed.

First off, what have we learnt? We have learnt that in order to be heard at all one must be published in Digital Humanities Quarterly, uh, this is obviously the first take home point.

But seriously … the first point of criticism that I will make is that though Rosenbloom leans heavily on the philosophy of science it is interesting that philosophy itself must necessarily fall outside of the four great scientific domains as he conceives them. But I’m sure Rosenbloom would agree that the philosophy of science has helped increase his understanding of this problem space and was in some way a bridge to his conceptual framework. If this is the case then philosophy is at once scientific (using Rosenbloom’s definition of scientific) and yet outside every great scientific domain. What are we to make of this?

Second off, the contrasting of understanding versus shaping seems to have echoes in the more standard contrasting of theoretical with practical or in another way the formal with the applied. Again, what are we to make of this? The formal sciences are often seen as a great scientific domain, but in Rosenbloom’s conception of things they all seem to fall under computing science. I’m not saying that he is wrong, I’m just saying that in the usual way of seeing things, they are seen as their own separate thing.

Third, and this is more of a meta-point. It occurs to me that really we should settle these debates in the digital humanities using methods from humanities computing if we were to stay true to our motto, “shine a computational light on problems in the humanities”. I have an idea how that might happen but that is for another day. The debates in the digital humanities inhabit a problem space in the humanities surely, traverse this problem space with computational methods I say.

Let’s proceed the more traditional route for now though. Which is words on a page, digital and virtual though that page may be. What exactly is the problem? Why is Rosenbloom even putting forward a conceptual framework in the first place? It is because institutionally and methodologically digital or computational methods challenge, or at the very least cause us to revisit the methodological issues of the humanities. This feeds into the perennial crisis in the humanities. I will demonstrate how I make that link. Whatever the purported crisis in the humanities is claimed to be I claim that really what the humanities suffers from is a deep-rooted methodological and epistemological angst. In less highfalutin and less obscurantist jargon the humanities does not know how it must know what it must know.

If you think that a strange viewpoint let me present to you the birth of the humanities. Because it is here we should look. It is here where the Rosenbloom’s of the world should look. I asked our coordinator, Brendan Dooley, in a kind of jokey aside at a tedious academic meet n greet, “where-from the humanities”. I did not at all expect the answer I got. Chalk it down to my endless ignorance, my dismay at which drives me to dithering procrastination. Dooley said Petrarch. I had not expected Petrarch. But Dooley is a professor of Renaissance History and this is exactly the factoid that should reside in his nonce. Curiously though, as coordinator of the digital humanities programme here I do not recall Dooley having ever shared this salient factoid. But then again, maybe nobody had asked, “where-from the humanities”.

What the majority (that’s a hedge, I’m guessing that it’s actually all) of the arguments in the debates in the digital humanities fail to do is enquire into the origins of the humanities. Granted we must give an account of the digital but we must also give an account of the humanities and that means giving an account of the origins of the humanities. That is the way to proceed. That it took me two years to ask the question myself is worrying. Maybe humanities scholars (I dislike the term ‘humanists’ for some unknown reason) are so acquainted with the origins of their own meta-discipline that my enquiry is seen as trite or pointless. But sometimes the best questions are exceedingly obvious, at least superficially.

It turns out that Petrarch is called the “father of humanism”. This is interesting. It makes us realise that the humanities hasn’t always been a feature of the academy and that there was a period when it came into being. I won’t dig too deeply into the historical intricacies (me, a historian? never) but I will say that up until Petrarch or thereabout what was thought to be the proper object of study was theology or law or logic: things of this nature, austere, absolute, you get the idea. A change occurs around this time: man is deemed to be worthy of study in his own right. How to do this? By studying the works and history of man. And how does one do this? Mainly by literary and artistic criticism and the compilation and study of histories. I really should read up more on this era but it is my feeling that what could be called the humanist turn which eventually led to secular humanism and the loosening of the grip of religious temperament in Europe at least had its origins in ideas that crystallised around about the time of Petrarch. This is important. Petrarch also coined the term, “the Dark Ages” which enabled the term Renaissance. This is how meta-narratives are built. And meta-narratives, like most narratives, are fictions.

Crisis, what crisis? Really? Is there a crisis in the first place? Yes. But don’t focus on percentages or totals graduating or any of that. Crisis, which etymologically speaking derives from decision is an apt designator in this instance as it highlights the indecision that has in part debilitated the humanities project and by extension an indecision which the digital humanities has inherited. What is significant about the digital is not some kind of paradigmatic revolution. What is significant about the digital in the context of the perennial crisis in the humanities is that this refocussing on methodology gives us a space in which we can step back and look at what it is exactly the humanities is meant to be all about in the first place and how it is meant to be going at what it is about. All this requires philosophical insights. Strange then that philosophy departments are housed administratively and institutionally with humanities departments.

Science went through the same wringer. Of course it did. I am most emphatically not setting up that tired dualism. If something proceeds by the scientific method it is scientific. Up until now I am guessing that the methodological crisis in the humanities has been located by commentators within the qualitative/quantitative debate. Where qualitative is a shorthand for the human and messy and quantitative is a shorthand for the numeric/machinic and precise. I reject this duality, again this is talk for another day — this is not how I would characterise the science/humanities debate.

Nowadays we reject theological explanations. We demand scientific explanations. The same tectonic move in the history of ideas that can bring about these altered worldviews and demands also allows us to consider man as worthy of scrutiny. If we are to take the scientific approach however we would study man and his relations and society with a ruthless objective dehumanising gaze. But that is not how we go about things. What we have done is assert that we can “know man” or in other words “explain ourselves to ourselves” by looking at our literary, artistic, architectural and historical works. Generally, this was done initially by reading verse and history. The practise developed from there. Take note that the novel form was developed after the humanist turn. This is not a coincidence, nothing in the history of ideas happens out of coincidence.

For one who does philosophy I am mentioning history a lot. I have become as deeply suspicious of the historical project as Plato was suspicious of the poets. I think Plato missed a beat though, the poets never claimed to stand in for the reality they were imitating whereas historians (all hand-waving aside) do. History, narrative history is as much a product of literature as the novel is. I am not denying that things happen and that in happening they can be recorded. I merely want to point out that the story that I construct about my own life is just that, it is a story, it is not me. It’s just a nice fiction that I overlay on my actual being whatever that is. History is an accumulation of memoir and purported event. For the longest time I held fiction and reality in opposition such that reality partakes of the real or true and thus fiction must partake of the unreal or untrue. But fictions are neither true nor false. Fictions are as real as reality is real, they just generally have less footnotes.

My point is (to crib from Rorty’s playful characterisation of philosophy as “a literary genre”) that history is not something very far removed from the rest of literature. It is a literary genre that pretends to strut about the stage as fact. Mostly what history-as-narrative does is create and sustain collective identities. This is what I do when I construct the story of my own life, I create a narrative thread upon which to hang my identity.

Properly when we speak of history we should say which history: political history, economic history, history of ideas, popular history, and so on like this. That history until Marx was predominantly aristocratic history is undeniable in retrospect. The science of the past is archaeology, not history; the science of man is anthropology, not sociology.

What is undeniable also is that the digital humanities have finally breached this methodological beachhead. That disciplines like computational stylistics use wads of raw text as their proximate object of study highlights the textual nature of the humanities. We were always meant to use the text as a vehicle to get to the “human condition”. That is the entire methodological premise behind what happens in the humanities. We study Holden Caulfield and Lolita in the same way we study Julius Caesar. And not only that, we recognise now that a mere sliver of actual-existing humanity is immortalised in text. And only a sliver of all fictions become canonised. Characters like Holden Caulfied and Lolita are the emperors of our time.

I don’t deny that the desire to turn the microscope on ourselves is very powerful. I would question however our deci-millennial attempt. Literature does many things. I think the humanities has always fudged the many different functions of literature and art architecture. There is much consolation and despair and beauty and ugliness to be mined in the word- and art- and built-hoard of humanity.

I thought I could say what I wanted to say and I see now that I couldn’t. Oh well.

Dear Belated #DayOfDH , Let Me Show You What I See

Been reading over what I believe is one of the better stabs at getting to the essence of the digital humanities. It’s a piece called “Towards a Conceptual Framework for the Digital Humanities” (scroll down) by Paul S. Rosenbloom. It has appeared in a couple of places — in an issue of Digital Humanities Quarterly (DHQ 6,2) and in Defining Digital Humanities: A Reader edited by Melissa Terras, Julianne Nyhan and Edward Vanhoutte.

He says that his enterprise

requires some understanding of computing, the humanities, and the philosophy of science

Without coming across as too arrogant, it has long been obvious to me that the definitional debates in the digital humanities will progress nowhere until philosophy and philosophers are engaged; and similarly that philosophy will remain adrift until it engages with the impact of the digital on our world. It is great to see Rosenbloom acknowledge this in part — few seem to. Considering that the entirety of science used to be called natural philosophy not so long ago you’d think this much would have been obvious to almost any academic, but apparently not.

His definition of scientific is

any enterprise that tends to increase our understanding of the world over time

and this definition is a lot looser than and shifts the focus away from the idea of science as synonymous with the scientific method and falsifiability and what have you; away from Popper basically. Witness, “This is more akin to Lakatos’s concept of a progressive research programme [Lakatos 1978] than to Popper’s focus on falsifiability [Popper 1959]” In his essay there is then some clarification and sculpting, the details are unnecessary here. Go read it. He name checks Kuhn and Feyerabend — Kuhn with approval, Feyerabend with disapproval. Because Rosenbloom focuses on the increase to our understanding (what would we call this focus?) and not on the scientific method he is comfortable with an, as he calls it, methodological pluralism but states that he stops short of epistemological anarchy. A lovely phrase.

Rosenbloom distinguishes four great scientific domains, the physical sciences, the life sciences, the social sciences and computing science. The notion of shaping comes into play here, a notion that moves beyond understanding. He goes on to say,

Broadly, a great scientific domain concerns the understanding and shaping of the interactions among a coherent, distinctive, and extensive body of structures and processes.

There’s a lot to take in here. The physical sciences have as their concern matter and energy. The life sciences focus on living beings. The social sciences concern themselves with, as he says,

humans, their products, and their cognitive and social processes

Finally, computing focuses on information in its various guises.

For him the humanities is seen as a subdomain of the larger domain of social sciences. (Mathematics is a part of theoretical computing, by the way, in this view of things.) In a similar way the digital is a feature of computing science. So for Rosenbloom the digital humanities can best be conceptually analysed through how these two great scientific domains interact.

I have skipped a lot already — we are about a half way through the essay. I have neglected much of Rosenbloom’s discussion on method. He claims that each domain has methods particular to it, that methods can be ranked and so on. I won’t go into the details or we’ll be here all day, have a look at them yourself. Let’s move on to what Rosenbloom calls a relational analysis of the digital humanities. The quote in full,

The relational architecture provides a means of analyzing scientific topics and disciplines in terms of the great scientific domains they involve and the relationships among these domains that are implicated. It also provides a vehicle for systematically investigating the space of interdisciplinary overlaps that can occur among domains.

He has developed something quite formal and novel, what he calls the Metascience Expression Language. We have the variables:

  • P denotes physical
  • L denotes life
  • S denotes social
  • C denotes computing
  • H denotes humanities. As he says, “H understood to be a subdomain of S (H ⊂ S)”

and operations:

  • + denotes a generic relationship of some sort or type, it is not really used, instead we use
  • / which denotes implementation, and
  • ↔ which denotes (bidirectional) interaction

Be combinatorial manipulation you can see that we’ll get [1] H/C and [2] C/H; and H↔C (or equivalently C↔H) which decompose into [3] (H→C) and [4] (C→H). What do these four distinct operations mean?

[1]

When computing implements the humanities (H/C) we get digital cultural artifacts, such as digital paintings, sculptures in virtual environments, immersive experiences, and digital books. […] In addition, all computing artifacts can themselves be viewed as (implementing) cultural artifacts even if there was no such intention when they were constructed. The area of critical code studies, for example, views conventional computer programs as cultural artifacts, and applies the humanities’ analytical methods to aid in deriving a more complete contextual understanding of them [Marino 2006]

[2]

the largely static nature of the humanities means that it cannot generally yield a full implementation of computing (C/H) — a book or a painting simply cannot compute all by itself

Again, I’m omitting a whole swathe of arguments in order to make speedy progress.

[3]

In the digital humanities, flow from the humanities to computing represents the automated computational analysis of cultural artifacts (H→C); for example, determining clustering of authors based on their literary styles [Luyckx, Daelemans and Vanhoutte 2006]. It could even be considered to include recent work on machine reading, where computers automatically extract meaning from text [Etzioni 2007].

[4]

In the reverse direction, a flow from computing to the humanities represents computational composition (C→H). This is an area still in its infancy, but that already includes, for example, computational composition of simple poems [Manurung 2000], stories [Pérez y Pérez 2007] and drawings [McCorduck 1990]

Rosenbloom finishes with a comparison with Svennson’s “five major modes of engagement between computing and the humanities” from Svennson’s 2010 essay “The Landscape of Digital Humanities” which appeared (again) in Digital Humanities Quarterly (DHQ 4,1). I won’t go into the comparison here.

This piece is already quite long — because I want to keep it brief I fear I may have introduced many an imprecision and not done it justice. This is important but unfortunate because now I am going to offer a little critique of the piece and put forward a conceptual analysis of my own.

But that is for another day.

Entering the Digital Humanities

Three semesters ago (September 2012) I entered the Digital Arts & Humanities PhD programme here at UCC. I guess I should have blogged about that change in my life back then but I didn’t, I’m doing it now.

It is as if the reality of what I am pursuing has taken 15 months to go from action to reflection. First the purely factual. The DAH Phd programme in Ireland is an all Ireland inter-institutional programme. It is a collaboration between the Royal Irish Academy, University College Cork, Trinity College Dublin, National University of Ireland, Maynooth, National University of Ireland, Galway, and as an associate University of Ulster.

I am in the digital humanities strand of the programme. I suppose this is where I should talk about what the digital humanities is all about. But I’m not going to. The truth is, the digital humanities is a new term and it is a term in flux. Part of what I hope to achieve as part of my research is to bring clarity to the ongoing and perennial definitional debates in the digital humanities.

There are two parts to my research. Firstly I must build a digital archive to virtually house the Boole Papers from UCC’s Special Collections. This involves digitally scanning, transcribing, semantically annotating, and finally hosting the papers. In addition it will be necessary to connect this digital archive to larger portals like Europeana via metadata. A neat twist on this fairly straight-forward series of steps is to harness the wisdom of the masses and get others involved in the transcription. So-called crowd-sourced transcription à la Transcribe Bentham’s Transcription Desk and Letters of 1916. A piece of cake for any halway competent software engineer. Well out of reach for all but a few humanities graduates. But this is to do the humanities an injustice. A good humanities scholar would take this as an opportunity for reflection. A humanities scholar would ask herself, “how many collections like this must there be the world over?” and, “where is the originality in what I am doing?” and, “why is it that a library archivist is not tasked with this project?” and, “how can I adequately documant the route I take so that others can build on my work?” A piece of cake for any halfway competent humanities graduate. Out of reach for most software engineers. And so immediately we can see that the DAH programme both highlights the technical ansd scholarly rift in academia and also provides a space within which to shore up that rift. That is what is most exciting about the DAH and leads me to the second part of my research.

The Robot Epistles. Initially I was asked to ground my research in the Boole Papers material. I imagined (indeed, I proposed and got accepted to the programme on the back of) using the personal correspondence, lecture notes and other material of George Boole and co. to focus on Boole’s place in mathematical history, Irish society, his teaching experience at the then Queen’s College Cork, and so on. All good humanities scholarship. Critical analysis and all that.

Except my background is a mix of code and philosophy. Historical scholarship does not really move me unless it is the History of Ideas we are talking about. The significance of working on Boole’s material nearly exactly 150 years after his death, as part of a digital humanities programme that seems philosophically adrift is not lost on me. Slowly the idea of the Robot Epistles has come to me. The Robot Epistles is to be a series of essays. Each essay will deal with the impact of the digital on each functional segment of society, on each social institution as it were. There will be a corresponding prelude which will elaborate a philosophy of the digital. This to my mind has not been done before, I would be delighted to hear otherwise. I imagine this prelude to be called Early Forms of Robot Life. That is not to say that nobody has done any work in this area. Of course that is not the case. There have been many who have written about technology and society. Castells springs immediately to mind (though I have not read his work, and frankly do not intend to) but there are many others. There are philosophers and thinkers who grapple with various aspects of technology: Heidegger, Benjamin, McLuhan, Aarseth, Hayles, Manovich, Chun, Turkle, Baudrillard, Lessig, and again many others. Then there are the technologists who have written about what this ongoing digital revolution means and what the likely impacts are: Lanier, Bush, Turing, Wiener, Engelbart, Kay, Joy, and so on. Their names are familiar.

I would like to take the following approach and see how it pans out. First one must start out with a decent theory of society. And I only know of one. That of Niklass Luhmann. I only see a theory as decent if it can be turned into a model. Show me another theory of society that can be turned into a model and I’m with you. Luhmann’s theory claims that modern society is functionally differentiated into autopoietic social systems. These social systems line up with the regular social institutions of sociology, And also strangely enough Althusser’s ideologicalal state apparatuses. (But that’s another day’s work). So the idea is to take each Luhmannian social system and inspect it from the perspective of the digital. These are the epistles and I am the digital prophet. In order to do that of course we need to have a worked out philosophy of the digital, which is why there must be a prelude to the epistles proper. The reason I use the language of religion (epistles, apostle, …) is because I want to subvert, or perhaps invert the rhetoric of ideology.

I realise that this all sounds very hand-wavy but it kind of has to be by necessity because this is just a heads-up as to what I’m about these days. I am putting together the final pieces of the software puzzle so that should see the light of day soon. I have already began fashioning the Robot Epistles but have taken a break from that writing in order to bring all my attention to bear on the Boole Papers archive. (In truth, I am an awful multi-tasker.)

Using SSH over the UCC wireless network

Most ports are blocked here. Took me ages to figure this out. This works on MacOSX. I guess for Linux it is the same. You can figure out Putty on Windows by yourself.

Edit your .ssh/config



Host short_description
    Hostname my_server.my_domain.tld
    ProxyCommand/usr/bin/nc -X 5 -x socks-proxy:1080  %h %p


So if you normally remote login by


ssh username@my_server.my_domain.tld

Now just


ssh username@short_description

when on the UCC wireless network. Hope this helps someone!

I know I said a long long time ago

that I’d write a post on Kateryna Lohvynivna Yushchenko.

I can’t remember how I stumbled across the her Wikipedia page but imagine my surprise when I read that she is considered to be the

author of the world’s first high-level programming language «Address Programming Language»

As anyone with any familiarity of the orthodox history of computer hardware and software will know it is common knowledge (in the West at least) that the world’s first (general-purpose) high-level language is said to be FORTRAN. Naturally I was intrigued.

To paraphrase Wikipedia it seems that Kateryna Lohvynivna Yushchenko (Ukranian Ющенко Катерина Логвинівна) was born December 8th 1919 and died August 15th 2001. She was a member of USSR Academy of Sciences (1976). Seems her name can also be written Ekaterina Logvinovna Yushchenko as can be seen here on a page of a list of her publications by the scientific and technical library, an archival division of the Odessa national polytechnical university.

She apparently graduated from the Central Asian University (where is this, does anyone know?) in 1942. She worked in Lviv at a department of the Institute of Mathematics (here?) on probability theory (1946–50), was a senior researcher of the Institute of Mathematics (1950–57), and was head of the Institute of Cybernetics (from 1957) which seems to have been in Kiev.

And it is here under the direction of S. Lebedeva in 1948-1951 where her team created the first computer in continental Europe – the MEVM. On this machine through research and development they created «Address Programming Language». Said to be the first fundamental achievement of Kiev school in the theory of programming, predating FORTRAN (1958), COBOL (1959), ALGOL-60 (1960).

There is a nice page about her at the History of development of information technologies in Ukraine museum written by Boris Malinovsky that goes into a little more detail but cites no sources.

Any more details about her, her work, the cybernetic institute, and this mysterious «Address Programming Language» would be greatly welcome. I think it speaks to the tremendous bias in the Anglo-sphere that the histories of computing/cybernetics is so US and UK centric. Though to be fair apparently the USSR kept a lot of the work secret for a while but enough time has elapsed to remedy that situation.

Here is a page listing books about the history of computer science and technology in the former USSR.

And finally before a bid thee good day here is a page about a book which describes the Kiev computer. Good day!