May 2007
Socializing Cyberinfrastructure: Networking the Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences
Cathy N. Davidson, Duke University


Thus, in terms of next-generation cyberinfrastructure, we need to start at the most foundational level and envision and implement a globalized semantic web. The linguistic choices embedded in semantics-based searches must incorporate a humanistic and culturally-motivated understanding that terms themselves embody cultural ideologies and that concepts formulated in slightly different ways in different languages encode different epistemologies, ontologies, taxonomies, and histories. Moving from indexical to semantic searches has to be undertaken with a cultural awareness of what is or is not included in “semantics.”

That brings me to another point, which may appear tangential but which is at the heart of the matter. New ways of thinking need support. If, at present, academic rewards go to the author of a monograph, especially one that posits a different analytical or interpretive hypothesis, for Human Sciences 2.0 we need to think of ways to reward teams of scholars working cross-culturally on collaborative projects. Collaborative work should count, and here humanists can use models that scientists have developed for determining credit in co-authored projects with multiple investigators.

Bibliographic work, translation, and indexical scholarship should also have a place in the reward system of the humanities, as they did in the nineteenth century. The split between “interpretation” or “theoretical” or “analytical” work on the one hand and, on the other, “archival work” or “editing” falls apart when we consider the theoretical, interpretive choices that go into decisions about what will be digitized and how. Do we go with taxonomy (formal categorizing systems as evolved by trained archivists)? Or folksonomy (categories arrived at by users, many of which offer less precise organization than professional indexes but often more interesting ones that point out ambiguities and variabilities of usage and application)?

We also need to rethink paper as the gold standard of the humanities. If scholarship is better presented in an interactive 3-D data base, why does the scholar need to translate that work to a printed page in order for it to “count” towards tenure and promotion? It makes no sense at all if our academic infrastructures are so rigid that they require a “dumbing down” of our research in order for it to be visible enough for tenure and promotion committees.

As colleagues in the sciences and engineering will acknowledge, these are not simply humanistic issues by any means. Which brings me to a final point. Once we have changed what we value as scholarship, we need to think through the departmental and disciplinary systems within our universities. Unless we find ways to “link” the different kinds of knowledge and analysis offered by different disciplines, we will be generating data but not really understanding the implications and import of that data. This is exactly why HASTAC (“haystack”) was created. A voluntary network of crossdisciplinary scholars realized that we had to form a “virtual university” across disciplines where scholars could think together, without institutional boundaries, about what cyberinfrastructure is needed. We needed to conceive better collaborative models of participation, implementation, and interpretation.11

We are in an oddly contradictory age where revelations in the computational, natural, and biological sciences evoke the deepest issues about what it means to be human. And yet the present-day academy seems determined to undervalue exactly those disciplines—the humanities, arts, and interpretive social sciences—that offer the most sustained and rigorous methods and insights into the category of the “human.” In different areas across the human sciences, we have addressed the deeply contested definitions and applications of the “human” in ways that can challenge (and thus make better) and also support new scientific work. More and more of our nationally funded grants are requiring a social and ethical component in studies, precisely because so much work in science is moving into areas with implications that are profound (in hopeful or disturbing ways) for the future of humanity. Yet, within our universities, humanists are often not at the table when major scientific projects with humanistic implications are proposed. And when they are, the work they do in tandem with scientists often does not count towards tenure and promotion within their humanistic departments. This, too, is an academic infrastructure issue that can only impede the development of cyberinfrastructure. We must attend to these social, institutional, and infrastructural arrangements and make them as flexible—as interoperable—as other aspects of cyberinfrastructure.

1 “Our Cultural Commonwealth: The Final Report of the American Council of Learned Societies Commission on Cyberinfrastructure for the Humanities and Social Sciences,” December 13, 2006. www.acls.org/cyberinfrastructure/
2 Millennium Ecosystem Assessment - www.maweb.org/en/index.aspx
3 O’Reilly, T. “What is Web 2.0? Design Patterns and Business Models for the Next Generation of Software,” September 30, 2005. www.oreillynet.com/pub/a/oreilly/tim/news/2005/09/30/what-is-web-20.ht...
4 Davidson, C. N. Revolution and the Word: The Rise of the Novel in America (1986; New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press; Expanded Edition, 2004); and Davidson, ed., Reading in America: Literature and Social History (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989; Second Edition, 1992).
5 International Dunhuang Project - idp.bl.uk/
6 The Law in Slavery and Freedom - sitemaker.umich.edu/law.slavery.freedom/
7 Sloan Digital Sky Survey - www.sdss.org/
8 USC Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and education www.usc.edu/schools/college/vhi/
9 The Museum of Television and Radio - www.mtr.org/
10 Lenoir, T. “Emerging from the Digital Dark Ages: Challenges and Opportunities for the History of Science and Technology in the Information Age,” in Roland Ris, ed., Technikforschung: Zwischen Reflexion und Dokumentation, Bern: Swiss Academy of Humanities and Social Sciences, 2004: 11-26; and “Making Studies in New Media Critical,” in Oliver Grau, ed.,MediaArtHistories, Cambridge, Mass.; MIT Press, 2007, pp. 355-380.
11 HASTAC (Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Advanced Collaboratory) - www.hastac.org/

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Reference this article
Davidson, C. N. "Data Mining, Collaboration, and Institutional Infrastructure for Transforming Research and Teaching in the Human Sciences and Beyond," CTWatch Quarterly, Volume 3, Number 2, May 2007. http://www.ctwatch.org/quarterly/articles/2007/05/data-mining-collaboration-and-institutional-infrastructure/

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