Humanists Can Benefit From Intelligence

South of the Border, the Council on Library in Information Resources has received a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to explore what de-classified intelligence gathering and analysis techniques have to offer the humanities, and especially humanities computing.

From the press release:

The confluence of digital conversion activities and technological advances allows researchers in the humanities to examine questions that require scale and computational power. Intelligence-gathering agencies are a potentially excellent source for tools, resources, and methodologies that have direct bearing on and applicability to contemporary digital humanities research because of the similarity in the methodological challenges, namely, dealing with diverse source material at a scale that exceeds the capacity of humans.

And just a couple of weeks ago in the June 12 TLS there was a book review describing how a Yale-educated proponent of the New Criticism, James Angleton, helped MI6 Counter-Intelligence “turn” WWII double agents i.e., use them for the Allies’ purposes. As the reviewer Terence Hawkes puts it,

By sifting and ordering the information that the enemy’s agents transmit, it analyses the questions that they are aiming to answer, obtains evidence of their plans and intentions as a result, and then tries to influence or supplant these by the answers that it carefully supplies

The heart of the system was, apparently, a huge bank of card indexes. The text-based approach that put “a crucial emphasis on the recognition of structural and thematic patterns” made sense to a New Critic, and he developed the system, with some successes, but also some failures.

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