Computing in Masters-level courses in the Humanities

Harold Short
Centre for Computing in the Humanities
King's College London
Strand, London WC2R 2LS, UK

Panel session

The importance of computing to scholarship in the humanities is widely recognised. Conceived originally as a mechanical aid, the computer has extended human abilities for manipulating data so that very few kinds of research, even in the humanities, are now unaffected. At the simplest level, access to information has in many fields become radically easier, for beginners and non-specialists as well as experts, thus encouraging cross-disciplinary work. At the same time, computerisation has begun to change how scholars think about the cultural artifacts they study. The translation of source materials into electronic data and the modeling of research methods in software have altered our perspective, and so have begun to stimulate new questions as well as new approaches to old ones. The computer also touches nearly every aspect of life outside the academy, in the larger society for which we prepare our students. Basic computer-literacy is obviously a necessary skill, but even more importantly we also need to train our more advanced students how to think with a computer, to develop their critical and analytical skills in relation to the use of computing tools and resources, whatever career-path they may take.

Masters-level courses operate according to different principles in the various European countries.  At the same time, whatever the differences in terms of structure and format, in general such courses are conceived as providing on the one hand the intitial methodological training required by those who intend to become involved in serious research and on the other a useful training in critical thinking which will benefit those intending to follow many careers outside academia.

This panel will address a range issues related to the incorporation of computing tools and techniques in Masters-level courses in the humanities disciplines.  The proposed format is for each of five panelists to speak for 10-12 minutes on on a particular aspect of the subject, leaving at least 30 minutes for open discussion.

Among the issues to be addressed are:
- is computing now sufficiently integral to the humanities disciplines that it should become a compulsory element in Masters courses?
- the Masters programme as a training for research, and the role of computing in this;
- the Masters programme as a preparation for careers outside academia, and the role of computing in this;
- the wider social aspects of computing in a Masters programme, i.e. how a humanities training that includes computing should help to create citizens with an intelligent understanding of a rapidly changing society where C&IT is an important driving force in these changes;
- aspects of commonality and difference between the various education systems across Europe, and scope for common action;
- prototypes for the computing and methodology components of a Masters programme.

The panelists cover the disciplines of textual scholarship, historical studies, speech and language, and humanities computing more broadly. They are: Espen Ore, University of Bergen; Jan Oldervoll, University of Bergen; Gerrit Bloothooft, University of Utrecht ; Elisabeth Burr, University of Duisburg; Lou Burnard, University of Oxford.