May 2007
Socializing Cyberinfrastructure: Networking the Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences
Suzy Beemer, University of California Humanities Research Institute
Richard Marciano, San Diego Supercomputer Center, UC San Diego
Todd Presner, UCLA


Developing CI or advanced digital projects necessitates a kind of collaboration atypical of academic HASS culture. These disciplines emphasize and reward individual work. Collaborative teaching is not unheard of but is not the norm. Collaborative research can put one at risk of not receiving tenure, which is generally awarded for single-authored books. The topics of research are very specific, often unique to the individual researcher, which is the usual route to establishing oneself as a scholar. These structures have been in place for so long that, even if they were changed, many faculty would likely have a hard time knowing just how to divide labor and reconstitute it, as collaboration requires.

There is also the issue of collaboration with the computer science engineers (CSEs) who can realize digital projects for HASS. While there have been successful collaborations across these disciplines, there is also a cultural divide that can prevent productive work. This is new territory. In 2006, the University of California Humanities Research Institute and the San Diego Supercomputer Center offered the first CI HASS Summer Institute, which interfaced CSEs and HASS researchers to explore in depth the CI needs of HASS communities. The cultural divide between the fields was acknowledged by workshop participants, but more prominent was the strong desire to bridge it. Evaluations of CI HASS were unequivocal in expressing a need for this field interface in increasing CI capabilities and usership. Working together, CSEs and HASS researchers can think in new ways about what data is valuable and how it can be accessed for comparative analysis.

HASTAC (“haystack,” the Humanities, Arts, Science, Technology Advanced Collaboratory) has made considerable inroads in cybertechnology and HASS collaboration. The organization was formed specifically to bridge disciplinary structures that prevent necessary cooperation as well as networks scholars and practitioners from many disciplines and institutions both nationally and internationally. The proliferation of digital humanities centers suddenly springing up on campuses across the US has also promoted the collaboration with CSEs that is needed for successful digital HASS projects. This will undoubtedly increase as the centers and their projects gain more attention.


Lack of resources for HASS research in any form is a perpetual problem. The tide is starting to turn somewhat for digital HASS projects, which until recently were largely neglected by the traditional funders of these disciplines. The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), American Council of Learned Societies, Mellon Foundation, and MacArthur Foundation all have new initiatives funding digital media. NEH and the Maryland Institute for Technology at the University of Maryland recently held a summit meeting to plan a national coalition of digital humanities centers. NEH wants to encourage national collaboration between the centers and funding organizations, which is a hopeful sign.

Thus far, none of the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) programs have supported technological humanities or arts research. This is understandable, given that NSF’s mission is to support science and engineering and that its counterparts, NEH and the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), were founded to support these disciplines. Unfortunately, the funding levels of NEH and NEA are grossly inferior to that of NSF and, in real dollars, are lower than they were in the 1970s. It would not be unreasonable for NSF to allocate at least some of its “broadening participation” funds to HASS projects utilizing advanced technology. This would be an effective way to broaden participation outside the traditional science and engineering sectors and perhaps to attract new converts to the science and engineering fields.

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Reference this article
Beemer, S., Marciano, R., Presner, T. "Seeing Urban Spaces Anew at the University of California," CTWatch Quarterly, Volume 3, Number 2, May 2007. http://www.ctwatch.org/quarterly/articles/2007/05/seeing-urban-spaces-anew/

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