Humanist and me

I’m a long-term reader of the Humanist email list, going back to about Volume 4! I wonder how many others go back that far? Probably quite a few.

Curiously, I was introduced to Humanist by a mathematician friend. He’d spotted that (like him) I was interested in using computers to play around with text, and thought some of the content might interest me. At that time, Humanist was also used for a forum for scholarly queries, especially interdisciplinary ones, that did not especially relate to computing, such as unidentified quotations.

Actually, at the time I joined, Humanist was falling into a rather fallow phase (someone described it around then as ‘once terrific, now mostly announcements’). It subsequently revived, and now has a mix of discussion among all the calls for papers, job adverts and conference announcements.

Relatively few people contribute to the discussions and as I am not usually among them and don’t have a job to advertise or a conference to promote, I’m one of the ‘lurkers’ on the list. But over the years I have posted to it occasionally. Mostly just to report a relevant fact (7.387, 8.128, 17.347, 24.35, 26.198), but also to draw attention to the work of my then colleagues (17.336, 25.70), or sites I’ve contributed to (23.574, 26.750) Or drawing on my background in Classics to make a relevant point (6.521, 6.717, 7.562, 17.038). Occasionally they are purely my own opinions (25.381(+25.411), 25.837). My factoids contributed to Humanist have been on subjects as varied as Scots dialect, the omnipotence of God, the Viennese Skandalkonzert of 1913 (off-list, to the poster of 14.0139), machine translation of Ozymandias (off list, but quoted at 11.586) and the belief that an image seen at conception can affect the appearance of the resulting child. Perhaps my favourite post is in 22.472, on the subject of anti-spam software detecting rude words where none exist, with examples.

Why do I still read Humanist? (I estimate that I spend 5-10 minutes a day doing so most days). Interesting discussions (or links to them), a desire to keep abreast of what’s going on in digital humanities, and possible work openings. I’d just put in a plea; it’s taken me quite a while to write this article because results of an archive search are a mess; the issues are returned in a variety of formats with titles that are often unhelpful (‘Folder Contents – Humanist Discussion Group’) and posts for the last few years are threaded so that the issue number at the top of the page returned isn’t the issue in which my contribution appears. It would be easier if the archive were one page per issue throughout; a thread could be followed by searching on the issue number in which it started, which is quoted in replies, or on the subject header. The Humanist archives are potentially such a knowledge base, as well as a record of how thinking about digital humanities (the term wasn’t in use when I started reading it!) has developed over the years. They deserve to be easily citable.

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