Report: 'Beyond e-Science: Methodological Commons and Practical Applications for Advanced Computing in the Humanities'
Thursday, April 15, 9:30-10:45am
Abstract: The UKs Arts and Humanities e-Science Initiatives projects are now either finished or in their final research phases. This programme acted as laboratory environment for the collaborative application of advanced computational technologies across the arts and humanities domains (seehttp://www.ahessc.ac.uk/initiative-projects). In general terms, e-Science broadly equivalent to cyberinfrastructure in the US. Although broad conclusions inevitably risk oversimplification, it has become clear that if we are to move beyond the serendipity that usually characterizes successful e-Science applications in the Arts and Humanities (A&H), and embed advanced technology in every day research, then a formal means of expressing how the interaction works is needed. This double-headed presentation will offer a perspective on what common attributes or fundamentals have emerged in this cross-disciplinary nexus, and how a formalized, ontological understanding of these can guide our approach to humanities research agendas in the future - an approach long recognized and used in the so-called Digital Humanities. The keynote will be comprise of a short presentation outlining this framework, which we have termed a methodological commons, and a demonstration of a project which demonstrates how such technologies are applied in practice. The event will be delivered from the surroundings of KCLs Anatomy Theatre and Museum (http://www.anatomytheatreandmuseum.kcl.ac.uk/), a state of the art digital research and performance facility co-curated by KCLs Centre for e-Research, and Department of English Studies; a space which itself exemplifies the coming together of technology and the humanities.
Report on the panel discussion:
The ensuing discussion via Google wave essentially touched on three aspects of e-research. First, there was the question as to how e-science, a notion that originated in the natural sciences and that emphasizes data-intensive quantitative methods, relates to qualitative fields of research like the humanities. Stuart Dunn remarked that he sees the notion of e-research to be rather about everyday research *and* generating new ideas and questions at the same time, i.e. (if I interpret correctly) a more experimental way of applying digital tools to research than the mere processing of data that is at the heart of e-science per se.
Another thread of the discussion focused on funding. Asked about the differences in funding for e-science in the UK and the US, Stuart suggested that american policy aims at large scale infrastructural investments (cf. the american notion of cyberINFRASTRUCTURE) while British investments are more project-based. A problem symptomatic of project-based funding is that in spite of the talk about international collaboration that is prominent in the e-science discourse, individual digital humanities applications are often not interoperable. As Jennifer Giuliano remarked, the continued emphasis on individual projects fails to take into account potential collaboration both intellectually and computationally. The dependance of individual projects on the whims of our paymasters, as Stuart put it, makes international strategic co-ordination of e-research efforts impossible. Yet the project-based structure can also be a strength. The newness and undeniable originality in approaches that can be seen in e-research partly derives also from the coming together of researchers from different disciplinary and institutional backgrounds. E-research in that sense can be said to challenge the traditional institutional framework of humanistic research in a productive way.
This last point leads over to the third thread of the discussion, the question as to how e-research is related to changes in the disciplinary skill set required for a future e-research environment. E-research does not mean that humanists will need to have degrees in computer science to exploit the opportunities of digital applications, but they will have to possess elementary knowledge about the development of computational tools. In turn, programmers of applications will need to gain basic understanding of humanities research problems in order to formalize helpful algorithms etc. Again, communication between different fields, humanities and computer science as well as different fields within the humanities, is key.