e-Science in the Arts and Humanities - A methodological perspective

  1. 1. Tobias Blanke

    King's College London

  2. 2. Stuart Dunn

    King's College London

  3. 3. Lorna Hughes

    King's College London

  4. 4. Mark Hedges

    King's College London

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The aim of this paper is to provide an overview of e-Science
and e-Research activities for the arts and humanities in the UK.
It will focus on research projects and trends and will not cover
the institutional infrastructure to support them. In particular,
we shall explore the methodological discussions laid out in
the Arts and Humanities e-Science Theme, jointly organised
by the Arts and Humanities e-Science Support Centre and the
e-Science Institute in Edinburgh (http://www.nesc.ac.uk/esi/
themes/theme_06/). The second focus of the paper will be the
current and future activities within the Arts and Humanities
e-Science Initiative in the UK and their methodological
consequences (http://www.ahessc.ac.uk).
The projects presented so far are all good indicators of what
the future might deliver, as ‘grand challenges’ for the arts and
humanities e-Science programme such as the emerging data
deluge (Hey and Trefethen 2003). The Bush administration will
have produced over 100 million emails by the end of its term
(Unsworth 2006). These can provide the basis for new types of
historical and socio-political research that will take advantage
of computational methods to deal with digital data. However,
for arts and humanities research an information is not just an
information. Complicated semantics underlie the archives of
human reports. As a simple example, it cannot be clear from
the email alone which Bush administration or even which Iraq
war are under consideration. Moreover, new retrieval methods
for such data must be intuitive for the user and not based on
complicated metadata schemes. They have to be specifi c in
their return and deliver exactly that piece of information the
researcher is interested in. This is fairly straightforward for
structured information if it is correctly described, but highly
complex for unstructured information. Arts and humanities
additionally need the means to on-demand reconfi gure the
retrieval process by using computational power that changes
the set of information items available from texts, images,
movies, etc. This paper argues that a specifi c methodological
agenda in arts and humanities e-Science has been developing
over the past two years and explores some of its main tenets.
We offer a chronological discussion of two phases in the
methodological debates about the applicability of e-science
and e-research to arts and humanities.
The fi rst phase concerns the methodological discussions
that took place during the early activities of the Theme. A
series of workshops and presentations about the role of e-
Science for arts and humanities purported to make existing
e-science methodologies applicable to this new fi eld and
consider the challenges that might ensue (http://www.nesc.
ac.uk/esi/themes/theme_06/community.htm). Several events
brought together computer scientists and arts and humanities
researchers. Further events (fi nished by the time of Digital
Humanities 2008) will include training events for postgraduate
students and architectural studies on building a national einfrastructure
for the arts and humanities.
Due to space limitations, we cannot cover all the early
methodological discussions during the Theme here, but
focus on two, which have been fruitful in uptake in arts and
humanities: Access Grid and Ontological Engineering. A
workshop discussed alternatives for video-conferencing in
the arts and humanities in order to establish virtual research
communities. The Access Grid has already proven to be of
interest in arts and humanities research. This is not surprising,
as researchers in these domains often need to collaborate
with other researchers around the globe. Arts and humanities
research often takes place in highly specialised domains and
subdisciplines, niche subjects with expertise spread across
universities. The Access Grid can provide a cheaper alternative
to face-to-face meetings.
However, online collaboration technologies like the Access
Grid need to be better adapted to the specifi c needs of
humanities researchers by e.g. including tools to collaboratively
edit and annotate documents. The Access Grid might be a good
substitute to some face-to-face meetings, but lacks innovative
means of collaboration, which can be especially important in
arts and humanities research. We should aim to realise real
multicast interaction, as it has been done in VNC technology
or basic wiki technology. These could support new models of
collaboration in which the physical organisation of the Access
Grid suite can be accommodated to specifi c needs that would
e.g. allow participants to walk around. The procedure of
Access Grid sessions could also be changed, away from static
meetings towards more dynamic collaborations.
Humanities scholars and performers have priorities and
concerns that are often different from those of scientists and
engineers (Nentwich 2003). With growing size of data resources
the need arises to use recent methodological frameworks
such as ontologies to increase the semantic interoperability of
data. Building ontologies in the humanities is a challenge, which
was the topic of the Theme workshop on ‘Ontologies and
Semantic Interoperability for Humanities Data’. While semantic
integration has been a hot topic in business and computing research, there are few existing examples for ontologies in the
Humanities, and they are generally quite limited, lacking the
richness that full-blown ontologies promise. The workshop
clearly pointed at problems mapping highly contextual data as
in the humanities to highly formalized conceptualization and
specifi cations of domains.
The activities within the UK’s arts and humanities e-Science
community demonstrate the specifi c needs that have to be
addressed to make e-Science work within these disciplines
(Blanke and Dunn 2006). The early experimentation phase,
which included the Theme events presented supra, delivered
projects that were mostly trying out existing approaches in e-
Science. They demonstrated the need for a new methodology
to meet the requirements of humanities data that is particularly
fuzzy and inconsistent, as it is not automatically produced, but
is the result of human effort. It is fragile and its presentation
often diffi cult, as e.g. data in performing arts that only exists
as an event.
The second phase of arts and humanities e-Science began
in September 2007 with seven 3-4 years projects that are
moving away from ad hoc experimentation towards a more
systematic investigation of methodologies and technologies
that could provide answers to grand challenges in arts and
humanities research. This second phase could be put in a
nutshell as e-science methodology-led innovative research in
arts and humanity.
Next to performance, music research e.g. plays an important
vanguard function at adopting e-Science methodologies,
mostly because many music resources are already available
in digital formats. At Goldsmiths, University of London,
the project ‘Purcell Plus’ e.g. will build upon the successful
collaboration ‘Online Musical Recognition and Searching
(OMRAS)’ (http://www.omras.org/), which has just achieved
a second phase of funding by the EPSRC. With OMRAS, it will
be possible to effi ciently search large-scale distributed digital
music collections for related passages, etc. The project uses
grid technologies to index the very large distributed music
resources. ‘Purcell Plus’ will make use of the latest explosion in
digital data for music research. It uses Purcell’s autograph MS
of ‘Fantazies and In Nomines for instrumental ensemble’ and
will investigate the methodology problems for using toolkits
like OMRAS for musicology research. ‘Purcell Plus’ will adopt
the new technologies emerging from music information
retrieval, without the demand to change completely proven
to be good methodologies in musicology. The aim is to suggest
that new technologies can help existing research and open
new research domains in terms of the quantity of music and
new quantitative methods of evaluation.
Building on the earlier investigations into the data deluge and
how to deal with it, many of the second-phase projects look
into the so-called ‘knowledge technologies’ that help with data
and text mining as well as simulations in decision support for
arts and humanities research. One example is the ‘Medieval
Warfare on the Grid: The Case of Manzikert’ project in
Birmingham, which will investigate the need for medieval states
to sustain armies by organising and distributing resources.
A grid-based framework shall virtually reenact the Battle of
Manzikert in 1071, a key historic event in Byzantine history.
Agent-based modelling technologies will attempt to fi nd out
more about the reasons why the Byzantine army was so
heavily defeated by the Seljurk Turks. Grid environments offer
the chance to solve such complex human problems through
distributed simultaneous computing.
In all the new projects, we can identify a clear trend towards
investigating new methodologies for arts and humanities
research, possible only because grid technologies offer
unknown data and computational resources. We could see how
e-Science in the arts and humanities has matured towards the
development of concrete tools that systematically investigate
the use of e-Science for research. Whether it is simulation of
past battles or musicology using state-of-the-art information
retrieval techniques, this research would have not been
possible before the shift in methodology towards e-Science
and e-Research.
Blanke, T. and S. Dunn (2006). The Arts and Humanities e-
Science Initiative in the UK. E-Science ‘06: Proceedings of the
Second IEEE International Conference on e-Science and Grid
Computing, Amsterdam, IEEE Computer Society.
Hey, T. and A. Trefethen (2003). The data deluge: an e-Science
perspective. In F. Berman, A. Hey and G. Fox (eds) Grid
Computing: Making the Global Infrastructure a Reality. Hoboken,
NJ, John Wiley & Sons.
Nentwich, M. (2003). Cyberscience. Research in the Age of the
Internet. Vienna, Austrian Academy of Science Press.
Unsworth, J. (2006). “The Draft Report of the American
Council of Learned Societies’ Commission on
Cyberinfrastructure for Humanities and Social Sciences.”
from http://www.acls.org/cyberinfrastructure/

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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: http://www.ekl.oulu.fi/dh2008/

Series: ADHO (3)

Organizers: ADHO

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