With ten billion digital objects being created every day, for those who work in the humanities, for those who deal with the human record, it cannot be a question of whether computer tools will be an important part of the humanistic disciplines-they will need to be. This will require re-imagining the humanities, rethinking and re-envisioning the way humanists go about their work.
-Dean Rehberger, Digging into Image Data to Answer
One Culture documents the promising consequences of innovative, and sometimes surprising, partnerships. These partnerships cross disciplines-most frequently humanities, computer science, and engineering; create genuine interdependencies; and provide a framework for new kinds of research and inquiry, new methods of execution, and exciting discovery that would not be possible if the partnering experts remained incurious of one another. This report does not endorse a wholesale blending of academic departments and fields, but is confident that strategically planned instances of collaboration can indeed yield compelling insight concerning both our cultural legacy and the digital tools, applications, and resources used in the search for new knowledge.
The various components of higher education, from universities to departments, centers, and support services, often define themselves by exclusivity and singularity of purpose. We compete one with one other; we measure ourselves in comparison and contrast with one another; and we hold tightly to our idiosyncrasies as defining elements of status. There is a palpable tension between these inherited conceptual notions of separate, particular, and solitary, and a tripartite, networked infrastructure of information, modes of delivery, and human expertise that has no “place.”
The future successes of these and subsequent Digging into Data projects rests in part on our willingness to conceive ourselves less in traditional slots and silos and more as a flexible and imaginative cohort. Librarians, information technology specialists, computer scientists, scholars, administrators, and publishers who represent the various components of scholarly information-discovering, reconstituting, publishing, and sharing knowledge, and keeping its various manifestations securely preserved and accessible-are more interrelated and interdependent. The inherited norms, customs, traditions, and institutions that have structured research and teaching now need to be constructively challenged, redefined, and reassembled. Higher education could make enormous contributions to assure its vitality, expanding its capacity for future discovery while not compromising its exactitude and rigor; the prized idiosyncrasies and powerful identities would remain intact.
The multitude of stakeholders represented within these projects is encompassing and vital, and there are still others whose contributions are sorely needed. We observed groups of young scholars conducting completely new modes of research, usually in concert with tenured, established faculty, academic technologists, and librarians. Specialists in advanced programs in preservation and interpretation have clear roles to play, as do the creators of new digital tools and resources, data curation professionals and archivists, scholarly societies, liberal arts centers, programs in support of pedagogy, foundations, government document centers, supercomputer centers, and library and information schools. The complexity of the Digging into Data projects, despite their small number, offers an enormous opportunity for, and essentially requires, this array of stakeholders to build new bases of support, reach new constituencies, cultivate funding streams, and develop lasting, mutually sustaining connections between traditionally disparate sectors, to seek together effective and efficient means of support and continuity for the humanities and social sciences in a digital era.
For case studies describing each of the eight 2009 Digging into Data projects, visit the web-based version of this report at http://staging-clir.wordpress.clir.org/pubs/reports/pub151.