Number 65 • September/October 2008
ISSN 1944-7639 (online version)
Symposium Examines Research Topics at Nexus of Digital Humanities and Computing
by Kathlin Smith
NEW MEDIA AND technologies are providing opportunities to transform research, teaching, and learning in the humanities. An art historian can reconstruct an ancient site in digital form and test alternative theories about its history. A professor of Romance languages can create a dynamic map to demonstrate the spread of Spanish language and culture over time. A linguist might use social network tools to study language variation and change. Students and researchers alike are using simulation and interactive model-based learning. Mass digitization makes it possible to query large corpora of heterogeneous source materials, synthesize information across disciplines, and perform new types of analysis.
While employing new methodologies, these digital pioneers are simultaneously struggling with problems of organizing, engineering, and deploying the technologies they need to operate at very large scale. These are familiar issues in the sciences, where for years researchers have grappled with problems of managing staggering amounts of data. As scholarship becomes increasingly digital and interdisciplinary, digital humanists’ search for solutions will require collaboration across disciplines—in the humanities, humanistic social sciences, and technology.
On September 15, CLIR, in cooperation with the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), hosted an invitational symposium to explore research topics arising at the intersection of humanities, social sciences, and computer science. The symposium, “Promoting Digital Scholarship: Formulating Research Challenges in the Humanities, Social Sciences, and Computation,” was attended by some 30 leading scholars, technologists, and foundation representatives.
The meeting had two goals: (1) to understand and imagine how the new media advance and transform the interpretation and analysis of text, image, and other sources of interest to the humanities and social sciences and enable new expression and pedagogy; and (2) to understand how those processes of inquiry pose questions and challenges for research in computer science as well as in humanities and social sciences.
“This symposium continues a discussion that is taking place in many venues,” said CLIR Director of Programs Amy Friedlander in her opening remarks. She noted that bringing scholars and technologists together around a set of goals that forge working partnerships with computer scientists and engineers was an explicit recommendation of the American Council of Learned Societies’ report Our Cultural Commonwealth, released in 2006. NEH Senior Program Officer Joel Wurl added that the discussion is of central interest to NEH and will help inform and nurture the future of its digital humanities programs.
A series of background papers on information visualization, language processing, social networking, architecture, classics, history, and literature helped frame the morning discussion, focusing on how the new environment, or media, shape evidence, methods, and questions by discipline or across disciplines. The papers will be included in a final report of the symposium, scheduled for release in late 2008.
Challenges and Opportunities
The afternoon discussion focused on challenges and opportunities for research, teaching, and learning. Participants acknowledged the fundamental challenge of sharing resources when so many exist in incompatible formats. We need ways to take better advantage of digital resources already available, such as through federated searching, and to make scholarly resources interoperable so they can be used in other work.
Better tools are needed for search and discovery across disciplines. Several tools do exist for digital scholarship, but many of them are hard to use. We need to ensure that critical tools, such as for making ontologies, are designed for broad use.
We must also build a system that can accommodate varying connectivity and technical skills; otherwise, we will broaden the digital divide. How do we build better connections between cutting-edge and general users of digital technology?
Participants noted several challenges relating to academic culture and practice. For example, humanities disciplines have been slow to legitimize new forms of scholarly research. How do we change faculty members’ ideas of publication from traditional forms to a services model? Rather than a monograph, the primary product of faculty research could be streams of data that are agnostic to their host. Standards and specifications such as Open GIS are making this technically possible for some kinds of data, but such practice is rare in the humanities. Also, we have not solved the problems with authoring systems. We need better ways to collaboratively track contributions and to protect their integrity and authenticity.
In the more collaborative environment typical of the digital humanities, students will need to expand existing skills and develop new ones. While often technologically savvy, many graduate students in the humanities do not know how to work effectively in teams. New models of education are needed that teach them to collaborate for project-based learning and critical synthesis.
New types of training will also be needed to educate students in visual literacy for the humanities. Increasingly, data are represented visually, but traditional training has not prepared people to “read pictures.” “This needs to be a fundamental literacy,” observed one participant.
Areas for Research and Collaboration
On the basis of these discussions, participants identified several areas for research at the intersection of humanities and computing:
- language representation and computation to isolate characteristics of patterns in data;
- methods for visualizing uncertainty and annotating premises behind conclusions, which are especially complicated in the humanities;
- exploration of whether validation techniques used in computer science communities may be applied to some humanistic data applications;
- problems of authoring systems; and
- improved methods for searching and retrieving still and moving images, including video.
Participants noted several opportunities for collaboration, including the following:
- Pair domain experts with computer scientists to create ontologies for a domain.
- Form consortia of institutions, with each promising to maintain a certain type of tool for the long term. This is a goal of Project Bamboo.
- Explore approaches to preserving data and tools through collaborations among supercomputing partners, digital humanities partners, and the National Archives and Records Administration.
- Expand opportunities for collaboration between scholars and the visualization community. For example, researchers at the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago are developing archaeological site modeling to visualize ancient sites using historical, architectural, and environmental data.
“The intellectual capital and diversity of perspectives brought together for this discussion were highly impressive,” noted Wurl at the meeting’s conclusion. “The outcome, I believe, is going to be a touchstone that we and many others will be employing in various ways for advancing humanities scholarship in the digital age.”
Postdoc Program Enters Its Fifth Year: Why Your Institution Should Join
by Elliott Shore
OVER THE PAST five years, the CLIR Postdoctoral Fellowship in Academic Libraries for Humanists program has placed 37 individuals at 18 colleges, universities, and consortia in the United States. These fellows, recent Ph.D.s in the humanities, have undertaken a range of work in their host institutions: developing teaching and learning initiatives, writing grant proposals, curating exhibitions, lending subject expertise to special projects, and more. Their presence has greatly enriched their host institutions, and their influence is being felt broadly as they help libraries build new collaborations with faculties and contribute to digital humanities projects. With their academic and library expertise, this group of dynamic scholars is becoming a key human component of the emerging cyberinfrastructure.
Why Host a Fellow?
CLIR is seeking hosts for postdoctoral fellows in 2009-10. There are many reasons to host a fellow—the sidebar [below] shows how previous host institutions have benefited. In addition to gaining expertise and staff resources, host institutions make a difference in the lives of young scholars who are poised to help us rethink what we do as they learn what we do. Fellows bring valuable perspective to the national and worldwide conversation about what the changes of the past decade mean for the future of scholarship, teaching, and libraries. For example, when CLIR was developing its plan for The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation-funded Hidden Collections project, President Chuck Henry consulted with fellows about how to make the program a powerful agent for change in the collections community. The fellows offered several suggestions that sharpened the program’s focus and deepened the reach of the funding.
Each year, Bryn Mawr College hosts a 10-day seminar to prepare new fellows for the year ahead. To cap off this summer’s seminar, CLIR invited all cohorts of fellows to come together for the first time. Unsure as to what would come out of this “collegium,” CLIR was enormously gratified by the results. In a weekend that featured conversations with Don Waters of the Mellon Foundation, Bryn Mawr College President Jane McAuliffe, Deanna Marcum of the Library of Congress, and Joyce Ray and Kevin Cherry of the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the fellows not only learned a great deal but were asked for advice on global educational initiatives and the role of libraries in them.
Fellows’ Enduring Impact
Nine former fellows are now permanently employed in libraries in positions ranging from administration to special collections to reference and collection development. Ten are teaching in colleges and universities—six in tenure-track positions—from which they are leading advocates for collaborations with libraries. Several of these faculty members are leading efforts on their campuses in the digital humanities. Five fellows have or are now completing MLIS degrees. Seven are current fellows. Eighteen of the fellows stayed at their fellowships for two years or more.
A sampling of fellows’ activities and accomplishments shows the ongoing impact of their fellowship experience. Marta Brunner, a two-year fellow at the University of California, Los Angeles, is now a member of the library staff at the Young Research Library at UCLA. She has partnered with the Open Humanities Press and is helping it move into the world of digital monograph publishing to complement its fine work in publishing open-access online journals. Tim Stinson, a fellow at Johns Hopkins for two years, is now a member of the English Department at North Carolina State University, where he is organizing its digital humanities program. Tim has helped develop and write a major grant proposal for CLIR and worked to organize Mellon funding for a groundbreaking investigation of the relationships between and among medieval manuscripts. Kelly Miller, a fellow at the University of Virginia, has taken on increasingly responsible administrative roles at UVa, recently accepting the position of head of programs and public outreach at the Mary and David Harrison Institute for American History, Literature, and Culture. In this role, she manages and develops programs, including lectures, symposia, and fellowships, that promote the use of the library’s resources by University of Virginia faculty and students and the public. A group of current and former fellows is now developing a study of best practices for engaging faculty interest in hidden and newly cataloged special collections and archives.
For more information on the fellowship program, please contact Alice Bishop at CLIR (firstname.lastname@example.org). We hope you will join the libraries of the institutions listed below in this program that benefits early-career scholars, our libraries, and the wider academic community.
What Do Fellows Do?
—Explore new personnel models in the library before filling a position permanently
Participating Institutions 2004-2008
Appalachian College Association
CLIR Is Now Accepting Applications for . . .
Frye Leadership Institute
The Frye Leadership Institute is accepting nominations for the 2009 session, to be held May 31-June 11 at Emory University. Nominations are due November 14 and must be submitted online at http://www.fryeinstitute.org/application_form.asp.
The Frye Leadership Institute is sponsored by CLIR, EDUCAUSE, and Emory University. The program provides continuing education opportunities for individuals who currently hold, or will one day assume, positions that make them responsible for transforming the management of scholarly information in institutions of higher education. For more information, visit http://www.fryeinstitute.org.
Postdoctoral Fellowship in
Academic Libraries for Humanists
The Postdoctoral Fellowship in Academic Libraries for Humanists (formerly called the Postdoctoral Fellowship for Scholarly Information Resources for Humanists) offers one- and two-year fellowships to individuals who believe that there are opportunities to develop meaningful linkages among disciplinary scholarship, libraries, archives, and evolving digital tools. The program offers scholars the chance to develop new research models, collaborate with information specialists, and explore new career opportunities. Participating libraries benefit from the expertise of accomplished humanists who can invigorate their approaches to collection use and teaching, contribute field-specific knowledge, and provide insight into the future of scholarship.
Applicants must have either earned a postdoctoral degree in the humanities within the past five years, or have earned such a degree before starting their fellowship program. Scholars with interdisciplinary backgrounds, especially in the digital humanities, are particularly encouraged to apply.
Fellows must reside at their sponsoring institution for the duration of the fellowship. The amount of the fellowship award varies among institutions; all institutions offer benefits and some travel expenses. For more information about the fellowship and application procedures, visit https://www.clir.org/fellowships/postdoc/postdoc.html. (See also story, [above, in] this newsletter.)
Applications must be submitted online by December 30, 2008.
Mellon Fellowship Program for Dissertation Research in the
Humanities in Original Sources
This year, CLIR will award about 15 fellowships to support dissertation research in original source material. Each fellowship lasts between 9 to 12 months and carries a stipend of up to $25,000. Applicants must be enrolled in a doctoral program in a graduate school in the United States. They must have completed all doctoral requirements except their dissertation research and be ready to start that research between June 1 and September 1, 2009. Their dissertation proposals must have been accepted by April 1, 2009.
Complete applications must be submitted using CLIR’s online application form by 5:00 p.m. EST November 14, 2008. Reference and certification letters must also be submitted electronically by that deadline. Transcripts must be originals, submitted to CLIR in hard copy and postmarked by November 14, 2008.
Fellowship awards will be announced on April 1, 2009.
More information on eligibility and application forms are available at https://www.clir.org/fellowships/mellon/mellon.html.
in International Librarianship
CLIR awards one Rovelstad Scholarship each year to enable a student of library and information science to attend the World Library and Information Congress of the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA). The scholarship gives students who have an interest in international library work an opportunity to participate in IFLA early in their careers. The 2009 IFLA annual meeting will take place in Milan, Italy, in August.
Applicants must be enrolled in an accredited school of library and information sciences at the time of the 2009 IFLA meeting. They must be citizens or permanent residents of the United States. Applicants should have an interest in cooperative endeavors with international libraries, international standards, or other international library and information issues.
Applications may be made online at https://www.clir.org/fellowships/rovelstad/rovelstad.html. The application deadline is January 23, 2009.
CLIR to Receive 2008 Award for Outstanding Support of Archives
CLIR has been selected winner of the Archivists Round Table of Metropolitan New York, Inc. (ART) 2008 Award for Outstanding Support of Archives.
“By convening librarians, archivists and researchers, CLIR functions as a forum and laboratory where new and improved means of access are developed,” notes the citation. “In particular, the Round Table commends CLIR for its new grant program, Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives: Building a New Research Environment.” The citation acknowledges CLIR “for enlarging the vision of libraries and archives, and for seeking structured, creative and collaborative strategies for challenges facing our community.”
CLIR President Chuck Henry will receive the award at a ceremony in New York on November 17.
CLIR Receives Kress Award
The Samuel H. Kress Foundation has awarded CLIR $25,000 for a series of symposia on scholarly methods and publication models in art history. CLIR will partner with Rice University Press to convene three symposia, held across the United States, that will focus on topics ranging from traditional aspects of art history to the adoption of new digital technologies and their implications. The proceedings of each symposium will be edited and published through Rice University Press and CLIR.
CLIR Joins NISO
CLIR has joined the National Information Standards Organization (NISO) as a voting member. A nonprofit association accredited by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), NISO fosters the development and maintenance of standards that facilitate the creation, persistent management, and effective interchange of information so that it can be trusted for use in research and learning.
SCI 6 Report Now Available Online
The executive summary and full report of Scholarly Communication Institute (SCI) 6 are now available at http://www.uvasci.org/archive/humanities-research-centers-2008/sci-6-report/.
This year’s institute, held at the University of Virginia in mid-July, was designed to determine what collaborative actions a group of humanities research centers might undertake that would promote technology-enabled scholarly communication. The report includes a summary of the major points of discussion from SCI, as well as a framework for next steps.
Welcome New Sponsors!
CLIR welcomes the following new sponsors for 2008-09 . . .
The Clark Art Institute
Ohio Wesleyan University
Sarah Lawrence College
Southern Methodist University
Texas Tech University
University of British Columbia
University of Cincinnati
University of Mary Washington
University of Wisconsin, Madison
. . . and thanks the institutions renewing their sponsorship this year. A list of all current sponsors is available at https://www.clir.org/about/sponsors.html.
Our Americas Archive Partnership
IN 2007, THE Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS) awarded a grant to the University of Maryland and Rice University to digitize and federate the institutions’ significant Spanish and English language archives of North, Central, and South America from 1492-1920. Called “Our Americas Archive Partnership” (OAAP), the effort focuses on a historical period that transcends categorization by nation states and relegates the collection to one of genuinely hemispheric significance.
In early October, CLIR hosted a meeting of field experts focused on the OAAP and the potential of applying more sophisticated technologies and new informational layers to the archive. The addition of data pertaining to epidemiology and climatology, as well as geospatial information and linguistic, agricultural, and ecological data were discussed. The use of more sophisticated search and visualization tools was also explored. The archives remain at the core but now may anchor a rich set of scholarly resources that may facilitate new insights. For more information on the OAAP, visit http://oaap.rice.edu.