Humanities Computing and Internet 2: Institutional support for Networking Humanities Computing at New York University

  1. 1. Lorna Hughes

    New York University

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It has been claimed that what is missing in institutional support for humanities computing is the provision of a "bridge" between networked initiatives and the research community. In this paper I will present an overview of NYU's humanities computing group and its involvement with a successful application to NSF for funding for the infrastructure for Internet 2. This was a process that gave us valuable insights into the benefits of our support infrastructure, and demonstrated a way to work across disciplines and facilitate collaboration, both within the humanities and between the humanities and sciences. It also allowed the research needs of the humanities community to actively inform decisions about the next wave of networked technologies.
1. Institutional support for Humanities Computing at New York University
The Academic Computing Facility (ACF) is the central academic computing organization at New York University. The organizational structure of ACF is that of a fairly typical centralized computing service with a director at its head and with managers in charge of the core support areas of network support, user services, and information systems. However, there are also assistant directors in charge of four discipline support groups, providing specialist support for Scientific Computing, Arts echnology, Social Sciences Computing, and Humanities Computing, listed in the order in which the groups were established.
This model of support for specific academic disciplines grew out of the work with the faculty and graduate students in the various departments. There was a need for academic support for computer initiatives at all levels, in terms of project planning and implementation, software support, training, and consultation.
Originally, the science departments needed the high-performance computing support offered by the ACF. These needs grew into a regular demand for scientific visualization support, typesetting, and programming. The scientific computing group grew to hire four support staff. The next discipline specific group to be established was Arts Technology, which supported the creation of visual resources by the art and film programs in NYU's Tisch School of the Arts. This group hired three support staff, and focuses on the digital tools used by artists. Social Sciences Computing has three staff who support the use of "number crunching" applications, working with the department of statistics and with other subjects which have a quantitative focus.Humanities Computing is the most recently established group, set up in January 1997. The group was established in response to a report compiled by a working party of representatives from humanities faculty and senior administration at NYU, who also concluded that the central Academic Computing Facility should be the site for any Humanities Computing group, rather than placing such a group within a humanities department or working from the office of a humanities Dean (both typical locations for humanities computing support groups at US universities).
Adopting a centralized location as the fourth discipline support group within ACF has many advantages for Humanities Computing group, and being centrally located and centrally funded allows us to work within a framework for support already established for the sciences, arts and social sciences. First and most importantly, it affords the humanities computing group a "birds eye" view of academic computing in general at NYU. It means that we are able to see humanities computing activities in the context of computing initiatives in the sciences, arts, and social sciences. Working with core support groups like network services also allows us to see these activities in the context of broader computing infrastructure issues, a situation which means that the needs of the disciplines can inform network support decisions directly, and that changes in networking infrastructures can be made with a view to how they will affect, improve and facilitate academic research and teaching.
From the perspective of the humanities faculty, our group can provide support where it is lacking in their departments. In turn, interaction with the humanities faculty provides our group with the academic content we need to drive our initiative.
Most practically, in budget ary terms, it is to our great advantage that we are centrally located, rather than based in a humanities department. In this respect we do not have to compete with academic requirements for funding each year - when a department has to chose between a new member of faculty and a new computer lab, or extra technical support, they invariably - and understandably - chose the former.
The areas which the humanities computing group has supported since its establishment are facilitating (on a project basis) initiatives such as textual scholarship using computers, the development of image databases, and multimedia based research and teaching in the humanities. It was apparent that the area of growth in almost all of the humanities computing projects that we were supporting was the use of the Internet and on-line materials for research and teaching. It was no longer the case that humanities computing projects were based around using locally available software to create projects that would produce a locally available resource. Most projects now began from the standpoint of creating a resource that could be created, stored and accessed on-line.Some examples include the development of language teaching resources, where language teachers sought to put whole courses on a collection of web pages, available over the World Wide Web, with links to a rich selection of multi-lingual cultural resources. Placement tests, pop quizzes and exams could be accessed on-line by students using passwords to access their courses (To the same end, copyright restricted material could be put on-line for students and accessed only by using a password).
Similarly, our art historians wanted to create a new catalog of their slide collections, to be used in the first instance by researchers at the institute of fine arts and accessible from their four locations at NYU. An on-line catalogue was the obvious area to begin investigations into this area. Archival projects investigated the development on on-line archives. This kind of development at the local level was paralleled and reinforced by larger national initiatives such as the establishment of the Coalition for Networked Information (CNI) and its humanities division, the National Initiative for Networked Cultural Heritage (NINCH).
2. Internet 2
Early in 1997, ACF was able to invite the active participation of all schools at NYU in the implementation of Internet 2 for instruction and research.
Internet 2 is a collaborative effort by over 100 United States researchuniversities to define and build a prototype of the so called Next Generation Internet (NGI). This initiative will ultimately enable a new generation of network applications in support of academic research,distance education, and digital libraries: cutting edge, bandwidth intensive activities which are not possible on the presently congested Internet.
New York University had a strong initial position as both a charter memberof the national Internet 2 Project, and a full partner in the regional (New York State) NYSERNet Next Generation Internet project, called NYSERNet 2000. We were able to commit a large amount of our networking funding to making the network and equipment upgrades to support development of Internet 2.
The next step was to apply for the matching funds available from NSF, whichwere awarded on the basis of supporting "meritorious applications" that required a new level of information and communications technology. Although NSF indicated the general areas they were interested in hearing about applications development - telemedicine, digital libraries, distance education and moving large datasets - they made it clear that this was an opportunity for all disciplines to be involved, as long as they were developing projects that were innovative and required the fullest capacity of presently available networked resources.
We began the process by putting together an applications working groupwithin NSERnet 2000, as we intended to submit our proposal to NSF as a joint initiative with other universities in New York State. Locally, the directors of all the discipline groups at NYU gathered information about projects within their constituencies that were network intensive and which would benefit from improved Internet connectivity. The key word here was "applications" - we were interested in all academic activities using networked resources, not just the traditional areas of the sciences and medicine, the areas which would also typically have pursued NSF funding. It was possible for the humanities computing group to identify several areas in the humanities where faculty and researchers were already using technology to its fullest capacity.
In this presentation, there will be description and demonstrations of some of the following applications: the development of on-line databases of catalog collections by the fine arts department; establishing multimediadatabases in the anthropology department; interactive performances by the drama and film schools; and development of large digital archives by several research centers.
In addition, it became clear that almost all humanities departments would benefit from the establishment of "generic" Internet 2 type resources such as remote collaboration for "virtual" academic conferences; the development of Internet 2 "auditoriums"; and immersive digital environments with high speed connections allowing individuals at different locations to share asingle virtual reality.
3. Conclusions of this process:
In compiling our application, we collected information about approximately 30 projects at NYU that were using networked technologies and which would benefit from the improved connectivity of Internet 2. Within this application, taking a seat at the table amongst scientific and medicalprojects, we ultimately presented three humanities projects - an on-line catalog project, an archival project, and a multi-site teaching proposal.
Our application for NSF funding for infrastructure was successful. In addition to the acquisition of this external funding, there were some important insights to be gained from this process. Firstly, it was possible to work across disciplines in a way that is not usually possible in the humanities, resulting in the sharing of expertise. Scientific applications emerged that could be applied to humanities projects fostering unlikely links, such as those between a computer science project for an image finding aid that we were able to apply to the art history department image database.
It was also a chance to demonstrate what many of us had suspected - that almost all development in humanities computing at NYU was already Internet 2 aware. Throughout the disciplines, applications were being developed with a view the creation and delivery of resources on-line. By showing that these computer intensive humanities projects were at the cutting edge in this respect, it is to be hoped that the awarding of NSF Internet 2 funding to NYU will enable these projects to be more competitive when they apply for additional external funding.
The process also showed that the institutional infrastructure for thesupport of humanities computing at NYU was indeed favorable to linking networked initiatives and the research community. We were only able to complete this initiative because we were centrally located, working across disciplines, and facilitating interdisciplinary collaboration - all aspects of future research initiatives which will be crucial in the world of Internet 2.

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Conference Info

In review

"Virtual Communities"

Hosted at Debreceni Egyetem (University of Debrecen) (Lajos Kossuth University)

Debrecen, Hungary

July 5, 1998 - July 10, 1998

109 works by 129 authors indexed

Series: ACH/ALLC (10), ACH/ICCH (18), ALLC/EADH (25)

Organizers: ACH, ALLC