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DigiCULT
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Info
14
NINCH A
NNOUNCEMENT
T
RANSFORMING
D
ISCIPLINES
: C
OMPUTER
S
CIENCES AND THE
H
UMANITIES
C
ONFERENCE
Reprinted with permission of David
Green, Executive Director NINCH
Humanities Scholars, Scientists, and
Engineers Explore Common Ground
in the New World of Digital Technology.
H
umanities scholars, museum admini-
strators, librarians, publishers, computer
and information scientists, technologists,
and engineers met at the National Academies
in Washington, DC, January 17-18, 2003,
to celebrate pioneering models of scholar-
ship that employ digital technology and to
address the considerable challenges to
further progress.
A
s the conference, `Transforming
Disciplines: Computer Science and
the Humanities,' convened,William Wulf
(National Academy of Engineering)
suggested that humanists and engineers
shared the problem of creating `macro
scale' systems out of billions of minuscule
components - with unpredictable results.
If humanists could resolve this problem for
themselves and for engineers, they would
usher in a revolution comparable to the
development of Einstein's theories and
quantum mechanics at the beginning of
the twentieth century.The necessity - and
revolutionary potential - of cooperative
working relationships between humanists
and computer scientists and engineers, and
the notion that they might be able to help
answer essential questions in each other's
disciplines, became an important theme of
the conference.
P
resenters included historians, classicists,
art historians, engineers, media studies
professors, computer scientists, and repre-
sentatives of cultural and educational insti-
tutions.Will Thomas (University of Virginia)
discussed his work with the American
`husband doubt, rather than suffocating in
knowingness.' Janet Murray (Georgia Insti-
tute of Technology) argued that perhaps lack
of total understanding between computer
specialists and humanists is useful, creating
a space of play and adaptation in which
both are able to formulate overly ambi-
tious and creatively valuable projects.
B
y the time the meeting adjourned,
participants had developed a wish list
of new tools, training, and cooperation,
but recognised that they must balance the
desire to experiment creatively with the
constraints of existing tools and models,
limited departmental support, and looming
cuts in federal, state, university, and foun-
dation budgets.
`T
ransforming Disciplines: Computer
Science and the Humanities'
evolved from the 1997 Computer Science
and Humanities Initiative and a subsequent
September 2000 workshop that began
exploring cross-disciplinary cooperation.
The Initiative is supported by the American
Council of Learned Societies (ACLS), the
Coalition for Networked Information
(CNI), the National Initiative for a
Networked Cultural Heritage (NINCH),
the National Academies, and Princeton
and Rice Universities and is funded by
generous grants from the Carnegie
Corporation.
M
ore information about the
Computing and Humanities
Initiative is available on the NINCH
Web site:
http://www.ninch.org/programs/science.
Historical Review to create a new genre
of scholarship, playfully titled `a work for-
merly known as an article.'
I
n the related arenas of teaching and
textbook publishing, Richard Baraniuk
(Rice University) offered an ambitious
vision of the cooperative development of a
`commons of free teaching materials,'
based on the collaborative model of Linux
software development.
T
aking advantage of the computer as a
visual medium, art historian Stephen
Murray (Columbia University) presented a
graphic simulation of the construction of
Amiens Cathedral, and Douglas Greenberg
(Survivors of the Shoah Visual History
Foundation) gave conference participants a
glimpse of the complexities of indexing
and making accessible the videotaped
testimonies of more than 52,000 survivors
of the Holocaust.
A
ll of the projects examined during
the conference demonstrated both
the rich possibilities and the limits of cur-
rent technology and led to speculation
about new tools, training, and shifts in
disciplinary thinking that might allow more
fruitful relationships between the humanities
and computer science. Participants frequently
returned to the problem of inertia within
disciplines particularly in expectations for
promotion and tenure, minimal training in
technology for graduate students, and the
lack of adequate cooperation with univer-
sity libraries and librarians.
R
esisting the general tide of multi-
and cross-disciplinarity, Michael
Joyce (Vassar College) sounded a call in
favour of the traditional disciplines and the
need to explore all that is not known
within those disciplinary bounds to