National Support for Humanities Computing: Different Achievements, Needs and Prospects

panel / roundtable
  1. 1. David Robey

    University of Reading

  2. 2. John Unsworth

    University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

  3. 3. Geoffrey Rockwell

    McMaster University

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Different countries vary greatly in the kinds of national
structures, services and funding resources they provide
for humanities computing. Most if not all of us involved in the
field are faced by similar challenges, though in different ways
and varying degrees: lack of IT awareness in our subject
communities, shortage of technical support, insufficient
academic recognition, the need to take advantage of new
technological developments in other fields, the need for more,
or better, digital data resources and tools, problems of standards,
and much more. The purpose of this session is to explore the
ways different countries have met and are meeting these
challenges: differences in existing provision at national level,
whether publicly or privately funded; different national needs
and procedures for identifying them; new strategies and
initiatives for the future.
Three panellists represent Canada, the UK and the USA, and
each occupies a key position in humanities computing in their
country. Between now and the conference we shall recruit at
least one further panellist, from a non-English-speaking country
[our planned fourth contributor has had to withdraw]. Even on
their own, however, these three English-speaking countries
show striking differences. Each speaker will make a brief
presentation in respect of his own country on:
• national-level support structures, services and funding
• new and forthcoming strategic initiatives;
• national needs: how are they or can they be identified, and
how far have they not yet been met?
The ensuing discussion will invite relevant input about other
countries, seek to identify the different issues and problems raised by different forms of support, consider how far national
needs differ, and explore the scope for new forms of
international collaboration in the area.
David Robey (Director, AHRB ICT
in Arts and Humanities Research
Programme): the UK
The UK has latterly developed a strong system of support
by national public funding bodies for humanities
computing. Two funding bodies are involved: the Arts and
Humanities Research Board (AHRB), and the Joint Information
Systems Committee (JISC). Each has provided substantial
support for data-creation projects, generally through open
competition: out of over £100m spent by the AHRB on research
project awards since 1999, about half has been given to projects
with some kind of digital output. Some limited support has also
been given to the creation of software tools and systems of
specifically humanities interest. As far as services are
concerned, the AHRB and JISC jointly fund the Arts and
Humanities Data Service, to the extent of some £1m p.a., with
a brief to provide national support for data creation and
preservation, including a national repository for the digital
output of publicly funded research. JISC and the AHRB jointly
fund Humbul, the humanities hub of the Resource Discovery
Network, providing portal access to on-line resources in the
UK and internationally. JISC has also funded a new suite of
on-line introductory training resources in the use of ICT for
humanities researchers who have not progressed beyond the
elementary use of word-processing, email and web-browsers
Launched last year, the ICT in Arts and Humanities Research
Programme, a major new initiative by the AHRB, is funding
two new initiatives: the ICT Methods Network, a centre for the
exchange and dissemination of advanced ICT methodologies
in arts and humanities research, which will complement the
AHDS by focussing on methods, processes and uses of data;
and a scheme of ICT Strategy Projects, which will partly gather
knowledge about ICT uses and needs in the arts and humanities,
and partly develop generic ICT resources and tools in the area.
The Programme is also promoting and developing an arts and
humanities e-science, or e-research, agenda, taking advantage
of the high-profile activities currently taking place under this
heading in other domains. All these public supports are funded
for the medium term only, until 2007. In 2006 the AHRB will
conduct a fundamental strategic review of ICT support provision
and the related needs of the arts and humanities research
communities, with a view to determining longer-term systems
of provision.
The UK therefore has some strong support structures in place,
and plans have been laid for better determining future needs.
Nevertheless a lot of problems remain at the level of the
individual humanities researcher. There is insufficient
awareness in the research community of the potential of digital
methods and resources; most importantly generic, low-level
and specialist technical support are inadquate except in a very
small number of institutions. The programme of public activites
that is now being funded will be able to do something about
the first problem, but it will be a long time before the second
one is solved.
Geoffrey Rockwell (Project Leader
for the Text Analysis Portal for
Research project funded by the
Canada Foundation for Innovation):
This discussion will offer a brief history of the major
centres and organizations of humanities computing in
Canada, with special attention to the emergence of a national
society; an overview of the new and coming programs, both
undergraduate and graduate, and the types of research positions
being created to support them; and a survey of some of the
major research projects and how Canadian researchers have
worked with provincial and federal funding agencies like OIT
(Ontario Innovation Trust), SSHRC (Social Science and
Humanities Research Council) and CFI (Canada Foundation
for Innovation. Special attention will be given to some current
projects including the TAPoR (Text Analysis Portal for
Research) project, and a new initiative, iMatter, that is
developing the case for a national digital arts and humanities
research institute--an initiative which is working within the
context of a major transformation of our research council.
The presentation will be aimed primarily at describing strategies
that have worked and may be applicable elsewhere, and at
describing opportunities for transnational funding. Humanities
computing in Canada has developed a national network around
a society with annual meetings, we have developed a network
of programs, centres and research faculty positions. What is
One relationship that is stronger in other countries is the
connection with the library and information science community.
Another relationship is with media studies and journalism. A
third and important next step is to make strategic alliances that
will allow us to develop contextualized knowledge, especially
theory, that reflects the pragmatics of digital humanities work.
In this we can work with the digital artists, especially those
working in university contexts who also do research and creation. Research/creation, a term drawn from the UK AHRB
for a new grant program, is a unique form of academic practice
that combines the communicative, the critical and the creative.
In other words, it is time to think systematically and together
about doing and making, and to think through doing and
making. In such an endeavor we can also reach forward into
the emerging games studies or interactive arts community
which, we believe, will develop along similar lines that weave
research and creation together. We are beginning to tell each
other stories of what learning and research will look like in the
next generation of institutes.
John Unsworth (Chair, ACLS
Commission on Cyberinfrastructure
for Humanities and Social Sciences):
the USA
I n the United States, there is no single source of funding for
humanities computing activities. The National Endowment
for the Humanities has, over the past decade, funded a number
of important humanities computing projects, especially in the
realm of editorial work, and more recently in the online state
encyclopedias. The Institute for Museum and Library Services
(now more well-funded than NEH) will also sometimes provide
funding for digital scholarly projects, if they include library,
archive, or museum participation. The National Science
Foundation has been a more difficult source from which to fund
humanities computing projects, but some--especially those that
have something to do with speech recognition or natural
language processing--have gotten funded.
Probably the most consistent source of support for humanities
computing in higher education has been the Andrew W. Mellon
foundation, which has supported large collaborative projects
across a number of disciplines (literature, archaeology, art
history, music, linguistics, etc.). Other private foundations have
been involved as well, but none so prominently as Mellon.
Mellon is also responsible for some of the most significant
non-commercial infrastructure projects, where infrastructure
refers to shared resources: JSTOR, the social science journals
project, is a Mellon creation, as is the more recent ArtStor,
which brings together images useful for teaching and research
in art, art history, archaeology, and other areas. Mellon has also
funded Bibliovault, at the University of Chicago Press (for
converting print backlist books to print-on-demand, for
university presses), the TORCH project at Oxford UP (for
delivering university press materials to individual and
institutional subscribers in electronic form), and the electronic
imprint at the University of Virginia Press, for publishing
born-digital humanities scholarship. Mellon's also been a
persistent funder of digital library research, for example the
FEDORA project (to develop digital object repository
architecture for complex digital content), the Making of America
project, and many others.
While this history is admirable, and the digital library and
humanities computing community owes much to the Andrew
W. Mellon foundation, the leadership of that foundation is about
to change hands, and that makes it an appropriate time to think
about how the base of support for this activity might be
broadened, among private foundations and government agencies
alike. The recent NSF commission on cyberinfrastructure, led
by Dan Atkins, produced a report whose recommendations are
also an occasion for self-examination and strategic planning in
the humanities and social science communities, as we consider
what free-rider benefits there might be, for these communities,
from the work that will be done in the computational sciences,
and as we consider also what work is not likely to be done in
those fields that will be important to the humanities and social
sciences. To address those questions, the American Council of
Learned Societies has assembled its own commission (with
funding from Mellon), and that commission has held public
meetings and private information-gathering and working
sessions throughout 2004. A report from the commission is
forthcoming in 2005, and this presenter, as chair of the
commission, can offer a preview of the results of that process,
and the conclusions of the report.

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Conference Info

In review


Hosted at University of Victoria

Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

June 15, 2005 - June 18, 2005

139 works by 236 authors indexed

Affiliations need to be double checked.

Conference website:

Series: ACH/ICCH (25), ALLC/EADH (32), ACH/ALLC (17)

Organizers: ACH, ALLC

  • Keywords: None
  • Language: English
  • Topics: None