Disciplined: Using Curriculum Studies to Define 'Humanities Computing'

  1. 1. Melissa Terras

    School of Library, Archive and Information Studies - University College London

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Humanities Computing remains an emergent discipline.
Although it has been a full half-century since the work
of Roberto Busa, and the activities described as 'Humanities
Computing' continue to expand in number, sophistication, and
scholarly importance, the field is continually changing,
developing, and defining itself. Most introspection regarding
the role, meaning, and focus of 'Humanities Computing' as a
discipline has come from a practical and pragmatic perspective
from scholars and educators within the field itself. This paper
aims to appropriate techniques from Education and Curriculum
Studies to provide an alternative, externalised, viewpoint of
the history and focus of Humanities Computing, by analysing
the discipline through its teaching programs and message they
deliver, either consciously or unconsciously, about the focus
and scope of the discipline.
It is now over thirty years since the Association of Literary and
Linguistic Computing was founded (in 1973), and almost twenty
years since the first issue of Literary and Linguistic Computing
was issued in 1986.1 Attempts have been made to discuss how
Humanities Computing as a field should be defined (McCarty
1998, Unsworth), how it relates to other disciplines (McCarty
1999), and how it should support the activities with which it is
associated, both on an institutional (McCarty et al. 1997) and
scholarly level (Orlandi). Histories of and companions to the
discipline have begun to emerge (Fraser 1996, Schreibman et
al. 2004), from both research, scholarly, and institutional
perspectives (Warwick). Attention to these issues is intrinsic
to such a multi-disciplinary field; the emergence of related
discussions was a major reason for the creation of the Humanist
discussion list in 1987,2 and associated issues continue to appear
on its postings.
Humanities Computing may now be pursued as part of
undergraduate degree courses, and there are now various
graduate programmes in the humanities, in both European and
North American Universities, in which a computing component
has a significant role. Humanities Computing can therefore be
seen to exist as an independent academic subject, with
undergraduate and graduate students, specialist faculty and research staff, and coherent systems of communication,
publication, peer review, and funding criteria, as well as
reflective historical and academic analysis which has been
undertaken by practitioners in the field.
From the viewpoint of Educational Studies, teaching can be
seen to be at the heart of a discipline (Maskell and Robinson
2001), and the curriculum, or "content of a particular subject
or area of study" (Kelly 3) shapes the field. Moreover, the
curriculum can be seen to define the field in the way the
publication record cannot: it is the 'hidden' history of the subject,
the core skill set practitioners have chosen to pass on to younger
scholars, and describes the purposes of the transmission of
knowledge content, and an exploration of the effects that
exposure to knowledge is likely to have (Kelly). An awareness
of the complexity of the relationship between content,
application, and intention of the curriculum is necessary to
create coherent teaching practices and develop a homogeneous
definition of an academic discipline (Knight). Additionally, the
writing styles and practices stressed and encouraged within a
curriculum can in themselves define the field (Monroe). The
curriculum can be taken, therefore, to define what a particular
discipline represents (Becher et al.).
Discussion of the curriculum of Humanities Computing is not
novel. Indeed, there was an entire conference devoted to The
Humanities Computing Curriculum: The Computing Curriculum
in the Arts and Humanities (2001), at Malaspina University
College, Nanaimo, British Columbia, Canada.3 Most papers
necessarily described the practical aspects of setting up
Humanities Computing programs and courses, and defining an
overview of the contents of courses. For example, Gilfillan and
Musick outlined the practicalities involved in promoting the
use of computing in humanities based teaching and research at
the University of Oregon, and Hockey examined the role of
computing in the humanities curriculum at both postgraduate
and undergraduate levels. Additionally, there was also a seminar
series which was undertaken to define and generate a syllabus
for a graduate course in knowledge representation for humanists
at the University of Virginia, which resulted in a comprehensive
syllabus for a Master's Degree in Digital Humanities (Drucker
et al.). The accompanying report and proposed syllabus serves
as a reference to those who may undertake the teaching of
similar masters programs in the future. More generally, the
Aco*hum project produced a study on how Computing was,
is, and could be used in Humanities subjects (de Smedt). These
studies all serve to illustrate how important defining the
curriculum is to Humanities Computing, and how, as a nascent
subject, much is still being done to define the teaching program,
and the field: although their focus is mostly (and necessarily)
a practical approach to how teaching programs can be
implemented and integrated into academic departments and
scholarly frameworks.
However, from an Educational and Curriculum studies
perspective, the term 'curriculum' applies not only to the content
of a particular subject are of study, but refers to the total
programme of an educational institution: being
the overall rationale for any educational programme, including
those more subtle features of curriculum change and development
and especially those underlying elements [explanation and
justification] — which are the most crucial element in Curriculum
(Kelly 3)
This paper will report on an analysis of the Humanities
Computing curriculum from an Educational, and Curriculum,
Studies holistic perspective, to be carried out between
November 2004 and May 2005 in the department of Education
and Professional Development, at University College London.
A study of Humanities Computing in this manner will be useful
and interesting for a number or reasons. Firstly, as a nascent
discipline, much of the documentation regarding the
development of the curriculum is still available, and many
practitioners and educators, who have seen the curriculum
develop, are still working in the community, making access to
such material relatively easy. Secondly, from the point of view
of Curriculum Studies, it is quite rare to be able to study a field
which is at this point of breakthrough into becoming an accepted
academic discipline: compare this to more established academic
subjects, where early development of the curriculum are all but
lost. Thirdly, by focussing on the whole curriculum, an
alternative viewpoint can be propagated as to what Humanities
Computing is, and what it does. By rationalising the Humanities
Computing curriculum in terms of Educational Theory, it may
be possible to provide an alternative overview and definition
of the discipline which is not merely limited to describing the
content of courses, or programme syllabuses, but embraces the
curriculum as a totality of purpose and content, including its
formal, informal, planned, received, and hidden agendas.
This research will be carried out by undertaking an analysis of
all available material gathered from the established teaching
programs in the field (from both the UK and the USA),
discussion lists, and educators, combined with surveys and
interviews with leading practitioners (both teachers and
researchers) and computational and content analysis of
published, survey and interview material. Findings will be
related to current theory and practice in Curriculum Studies.
In doing so, it will be a sustained professional enquiry into the
teaching and learning process of Humanities Computing,
adopting the standard techniques from Curriculum Studies to
analyse and understand the disciplinarity of the subject
(Rowland 1993, Rowland 2000).
Questions asked in this study will include: can an analysis of
the curriculum aid in defining Humanities Computing? How
does the curriculum currently on offer differ from the research agenda, as demonstrated through conference and publication
records? Is there a common curriculum in existence between
individual institutions and programs? How can the definition
and rationalisation of the curriculum of this nascent discipline
aid it in becoming entrenched in more traditional academic
disciplines? How does the intention of Humanities Computing
as a teaching discipline differ from the reality? What hidden
implications and definitions are propagated about Humanities
Computing through its curriculum? How does the role of
computing in the discipline detract from the centralized control
of the teacher necessary for steering the curriculum? What
strategies for curriculum change, control, assessment,
evaluation, appraisal, and accountability have been implemented
in the Humanities Computing community? How do the writing
styles promoted by Humanities Computing, through its
curriculum, define and shape the field? If a common curriculum
cannot be defined, does Humanities Computing as a subject
really exist?
As this research will be carried out throughout late 2004 / early
2005, it is impossible to summarise its findings here: however,
the fact that this is a novel and alternative approach to
answering the perennial question "What is Humanities
Computing?" , this research should yield useful insights. As
Kelly notes:
A study of curriculum, while not offering us spurious answers to
questions of values, will... draw our attention to important
questions that need to be asked about policies and practices and
help us achieve the kind of clarity which will enable us to see
underlying ideologies more clearly.
Viewing Humanities Computing from another perspective may
aid us in defining and steering the direction of the discipline,
whilst propagating a useful and alternative definition of the
1. The Association of Literary and Linguistic Computing published
their journal twice yearly from 1980 to 1985, when this was
merged with ALLC bulletin to become Literary and Linguistic
Computing (1986).
2. <http://www.princeton.edu/~mccarty/humanist
3. The Humanities Computing Curriculum: The Computing
Curriculum in the Arts and Humanities, Malaspina University
College, Nanaimo, British Columbia, Canada. November 9-10,
2001. <http://web.mala.bc.ca/siemensr/HCCurri
culum/> .
Becher, T., and P.R. Trowler. Higher Education: A Critical
Business. Buckingham: Open University Press/SRHE, 2001.
de Smedt, K., H. Gardiner, E. Ore, T. Orlandi, H. Short, J.
Souillot, and J. Vaughan, eds. Computing in Humanities
Education, a European Perspective. Bergen: University of
Bergen, 1999. Accessed 2005-03-03. <http://helmer.a
Drucker, J., J. Unsworth, and A. Laue. Final Report for Digital
Humanities Curriculum Seminar. Media Studies Program,
College of Arts and Science, University of Virginia, 2002.
Accessed 2005-03-03. <http://www.iath.virginia
Fraser, M. A Hypertextual History of Humanities Computing.
Oxford University, 1996. Accessed 2005-03-03. <http://
Fung, Glenn, and Olvi L. Mangasarian. "What is Humanities
Computing and What is Not?" Talk delivered in the
Distinguished Speakers Series of the Maryland Institute for
Technology in the Humanities at the University of Maryland,
College Park MD. 5 October 2000.
Gilfillan, D., and J. Musick. "Wiring the Humanities at the
University of Oregon: Experiences from Year 3." Paper
delivered at The Humanities Computing Curriculum: The
Computing Curriculum in the Arts and Humanities, November
9-10, 2001, Malaspina University College, Nanaimo, British
Columbia, Canada. November 9-10, 2001. <http://web.
Hockey, D. "Towards a Curriculum for Humanities Computing:
Theoretical Goals and Practical Outcomes." Paper delivered at
The Humanities Computing Curriculum: The Computing
Curriculum in the Arts and Humanities, November 9-10, 2001,
Malaspina University College, Nanaimo, British Columbia,
Canada. November 9-10, 2001. <http://web.mala.bc
Kelly, A.V. The Curriculum: Theory and Practice. 4th ed.
London: Paul Chapman, 1999.
Knight, P.T. "Complexity and Curriculum: A process approach
to curriculum-making." Teaching in Higher Education 6.3
(2001): 369-381.
Maskell, D., and I. Robinson. The New Idea of a University.
London: Haven Books, 2001.
McCarty, Willard. What is humanities computing? Toward a
definition of the field. . Accessed 2005-03-21. <http://ww
t/> McCarty, Willard. "Humanities computing as interdiscipline.
Is Humanities Computing an Academic Discipline?" Paper
delivered at IATH, University of Virginia. 5 November 1999.
McCarty, Willard, L. Burnard, M. Deegan, J. Anderson, and
H. Short. "Root, trunk, and branch: institutional and
infrastructural models for humanities computing in the U.K."
Panel session at the Joint International Conference of the
Association for Computers and the Humanities and the
Association for Literary & Linguistic Computing, Queen's
University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada. 3-7 June 1997.
McCarty, Willard, and H. Short. A Roadmap for humanities
computing. 2002. Accessed 2005-03-21. <http://www.k
Monroe, J. "Introduction: The shapes of fields." In "Writing
and Revising the Disciplines. Ed. J. Monroe. Ithaca: Cornell
University Press, 2002. 1-12.
Orlandi, T. The Scholarly Environment of Humanities
Computing: A Reaction to Willard McCarty's talk on The
computational transformation of the humanities. Accessed
2005-03-21. <http://rmcisadu.let.uniroma1.it
Rowland, S. The Enquiring University Teacher. : Milton
Keynes: Society for Research into Higher Education and Open
University Press, 2000.
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learning." The Enquiring Tutor: Exploring the Process of
Professional Learning. Ed. S. Rowland. Learning: Falmer Press,
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Companion to Digital Humanities. : Blackwell Publishing,
Warwick, Claire. "No Such Thing as Humanities Computing?
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in the humanities." Paper presented at ALLC/ACH 2004,
Gothenburg. 2004.

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Conference Info

In review


Hosted at University of Victoria

Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

June 15, 2005 - June 18, 2005

139 works by 236 authors indexed

Affiliations need to be double checked.

Conference website: http://web.archive.org/web/20071215042001/http://web.uvic.ca/hrd/achallc2005/

Series: ACH/ICCH (25), ALLC/EADH (32), ACH/ALLC (17)

Organizers: ACH, ALLC

  • Keywords: None
  • Language: English
  • Topics: None