Defining an International Humanities Portal

panel / roundtable
  1. 1. Neil Fraistat

    Maryland Institute for Technology and Humanities (MITH) - University of Maryland, College Park

  2. 2. Domenico Fiormonte

    Università Roma Tre

  3. 3. Ian Johnson

    University Of Sydney

  4. 4. Jan Christoph Meister

    Universität Hamburg (University of Hamburg)

  5. 5. John Unsworth

    University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

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What would a portal for humanists look like? Who would it
serve and what services would it provide?
centerNet, an international network of digital humanities
centers, proposes a panel to discuss an ongoing conversation
about the need for an International Humanities Portal (IHP)
to serve students and researchers. The panelists will present
different perspectives a number of questions we have posed
to the larger network. The panel will both present their own
positions on the case for a Portal and will report back on the
collaborative development of a common Needs Analysis that
identifi es the need and the potential scope of such a portal.
We propose a panel as a way to refl ect back to the community
the discussions so far and to solicit further input on the need
and case for a common infrastructure. The participants bring
an international perspective to the discussion that is central
to what we imagine.
Some of the questions the panelists will address are:
1. Who would be the users of a humanities portal? Would
a portal serve only researchers or would it serve students
and anyone else interested in the humanities? Would a
portal serve primarily digital humanists or would it serve all
1. The need for a portal starts with the defi nition of the
audience and how a portal might serve their interests. As
the title suggests and the participants in the panel represent,
we have also started from the position that research
crosses national and linguistic boundaries and that we
should therefore imagine an international portal that can be
multilingual and support the needs of international research.
2. Who might support such a portal? How might the
development of such a portal be funded and how would
it be maintained? centerNet includes centers with access
to development and support resources, but no center has
the capacity to support a successful international portal.
We therefore imagine a distributed model that will draw
on expertise and support from the centerNet community
and beyond. We also imagine that the development of
a consensus about the need and scope of a portal by
centerNet could help individual centers to secure support
from national and other funding bodies to develop and
maintain components. Ultimately we hope the support
needed at any one center will be easier to secure and easier
to maintain if backed up by an articulated Need Analysis
from a larger body like centerNet.
3 What a humanities portal might look like? Will it actually
be a portal or should we imagine providing services to
existing university portals? Many universities are developing
student and faculty portals as are scholarly associations and
projects. Portals now seem dated in light of Web 2.0 social
technologies. For this reason we imagine that an IHP will
need to interoperate with other portals through “portlets”
or OpenSocial ( plug-ins
that can be added to project sites. The IHP will itself need to
play well with other resources rather than aim to organize
4. What services might it provide? What services are already
provided by centers and projects? Can the portal provide
an entry point into the richness of existing resources?
The panelists will survey the variety of resources already
available to their communities and discuss what new
resources are needed. Above all a portal should be a door
into an area of inquiry -- panelists will refl ect on what they
and their community would expect to have easy access
to from something that promised to be an International
Humanities Portal.
5. Just as important as defi ning the services is imagining
how services might interoperate. A humanist familiar with
the web will know of resources from Voice of the Shuttle
to Intute: Arts and Humanities, but can we imagine how
these services might be brought together so that one can
search across them? Can we imagine a mashup of services
providing new and unanticipated possibilities?
6. What are the next steps? How can the case for an IHP be
strengthened? How can centerNet help, not hinder, projects
that want to develop and support components that meet
the needs of the community? One of the purposes of this
panel is to solicit feedback from the larger digital humanities
Portals are typically characterized by two features. First, their
users can customize their account to show or hide particular
resources.. Thus users of the TAPoR portal, for example, can
define texts and tools that they want to use and ignore the rest.
The ease of customization and the depth of customization are
important to users if they use portals regularly. Second, users
expect that a portal provides access to the breadth of services
and resources they need for a domain of inquiry. Thus students
expect a student portal to provide access to all the online
resources they need as a student, from the library account
to their course information. A portal should be just that -- a
door into a domain. Is it possible for an IHP to be on the one
hand easy to use (and customizable), and on the other hand
truly provide broad access to resources? Is it possible that an
IHP is too ambitious and would either be to complicated for
humanists to use or not broad enough in scope to be useful?
The answer in part lies in imagining an initial audience and
conducting the usability studies needed to understand what
they would expect. Thus we imagine an iterative process of
designing for a fi rst set of users and redesigning as we learn
more. This means a long term development commitment
which is beyond most project funding. The challenges are
enormous and we may be overtaken by commercial portals
like Google or Yahoo that provide most of what humanists
need. We believe, however, that the process of defi ning the
opportunities and challenges is a way to recognize what is
useful and move in a direction of collaboration. We hope that
in the discussion modest fi rst steps will emerge.
Detlor, Brian. Towards knowledge portals: From human issues
to intelligent agents. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Kluwer
Academic Publishers, 2004.
Intute: Arts and Humanities:
TAPoR: Text Analysis Portal for Research: http://portal.tapor.
VoS: Voice of the Shuttle:

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Conference Info


ADHO - 2008

Hosted at University of Oulu

Oulu, Finland

June 25, 2008 - June 29, 2008

135 works by 231 authors indexed

Conference website:

Series: ADHO (3)

Organizers: ADHO

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