Public Release: 

How social scientists, humanists can better use computers is book focus

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- The editor of a new book about computing thinks of his publication as a bridge for colleagues who are wary of the far side of technology.

Orville Vernon Burton hopes that "Computing in the Social Sciences and Humanities" (University of Illinois Press) will help those who are still uncomfortable with digital media understand where they are in terms of computer know-how and show them where they might be. He concedes that while the larger computing world has been galloping at a furious pace of change, humanists and social scientists are creeping along in their "technological adoption and adaptation."

In the book, Burton and 10 other computer-savvy scholars attempt not only to demystify the ongoing computing revolution, but also to raise consciousness about some of the larger challenges of the revolution, for example, intellectual property protection and sexism on the Internet.

Burton is an appropriate architect for such a bridge -- and an appropriate guide into the world of digital technology. A professor of history and sociology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, he harnessed the power of computers 20 years ago for his book "In My FatherÕs House Are Many Mansions," which drew heavily on census data from Edgefield County, S.C. Today he heads the initiative for humanities and social sciences at the UI-based National Center for Supercomputing Applications.

Accompanying the book is a CD-ROM, "Wayfarer: Charting Advances in Social Science and Humanities Computing," an interactive overview of the state of computing in the humanities and social sciences. Capable of being updated through the World Wide Web, it has been called a "seminar on a disk."

According to Burton, the CD contains "some of the most important ideas, programs, models and demonstrations in humanities and social science computing and papers more suited to presentation on a CD-ROM than in a printed volume. It expresses, in ways that scholarly papers alone cannot, the energetic quality of current computer-based and digital media-based experimentation and exploration of the social sciences and humanities."

One of the topics on the CD is "Global Jukebox," described as "an intelligent museum of expressive behavior in which the whole world sings, dances and converses." "Global Jukebox" was developed by Alan Lomax, a renowned ethnomusicologist at Hunter College in New York. Lomax died July 19.

Using lively audio-visuals, "Global Jukebox" classifies and correlates the song and dance traditions of the world. One can do independent research with it or take "guided tours," including a tour that compares the Blues of the Mississippi Delta to song styles of African kingdoms and the Orient. Lomax began developing "Global Jukebox" in 1992, basing it on his 30-year cross-cultural research on the relationships among song, dance and society. He envisioned the jukebox as a powerful tool for advanced scientific research on human expressive behavior and also "as a means of empowering local cultures by promoting equal access to the main traditions of the world through multi-media channels."


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