May 2007
Socializing Cyberinfrastructure: Networking the Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences
Vernon Burton, Illinois Center for Computing in Humanities, Arts, and Social Science; NCSA; University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Simon J. Appleford, Illinois Center for Computing in Humanities, Arts, and Social Science; University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
James Onderdonk, Illinois Center for Computing in Humanities, Arts, and Social Science; University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign


The paradigm by which humanities and social science scholars conduct their research is rapidly changing. In a remarkably short period of time, digital technology has become essential to our intellectual processes, every bit as important as writing, and if humanists and social scientists do not embrace and study its potential they will not have access to a complete scholarly and pedagogical arsenal. This marvelously protean technology, which holds the potential to revolutionize teaching, outreach, and research across the humanities, arts, and social science disciplines, must be made available in its fullest for discovering, synthesizing, and sharing knowledge. In recognition of both this potential and of the challenges inherent in addressing these growing technological needs, there is a vital need for the development of a national cyberinfrastructure for humanities and social sciences. Indeed, this was the key recommendation of the American Council of Learned Society in its 2006 report Our Cultural Commonwealth, which urged universities, funding agencies, and the federal government to invest in such a cyberinfrastructure “as a matter of strategic priority.”1

The implications of this recommendation are startling, especially as the humanities, arts, and, to a somewhat lesser extent, the social sciences are notoriously under-funded, with many departments within these disciplines coming under increasing financial pressures. The resources required to implement even a basic level of support for digital humanities and social science scholarship—demanding extensive hardware and software purchases, as well as the acquisition of significant technical expertise as a basic requirement—is clearly beyond the means of most campus units; indeed, even if it were feasible from a budgetary standpoint, this approach would only result in the unnecessary duplication of resources. An effective cyberinfrastructure can, in truth, only be created through the establishment of a series of national centers at the university level dedicated to defining, implementing, and leading digital humanities, arts, and social science research needs across discipline- and unit-based boundaries, while simultaneously participating in a healthy dialogue that contributes to and exploits cyberinfrastructure. These centers will furthermore act as hubs that can provide stability within the community and allow long-term relationships to be forged between them and scholars at institutions that lack the resources to establish digital humanities centers. This article seeks to outline some of the benefits and challenges inherent in attempting to implement this agenda, as experienced by one recently founded center for digital humanities, arts, and social science research.

The Illinois Center for Computing in Humanities, Arts, and Social Science (I-CHASS) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign was founded in 2005 to serve the national research and education community, making resources and tools for high-end computing, data collection and analysis, geospatial inquiry, visualization, communication, and collaboration available to scholars. I-CHASS is envisioned as a nexus of scholarship, creativity, collaboration, outreach, and technical expertise—one hub among others in the growth of a vibrant community that spans both national and international collaborations and encompasses the humanities, arts, social sciences, and technology.

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Reference this article
Burton, V., Appleford, S. J., Onderdonk, J. "A Question of Centers: One Approach to Establishing a Cyberinfrastructure for the Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences," CTWatch Quarterly, Volume 3, Number 2, May 2007. http://www.ctwatch.org/quarterly/articles/2007/05/a-question-of-centers/

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