From Data to Wisdom: Humanities Research and Online Content

by Michael Lesk, Rutgers University

Originally Posted December 16th, 2007

1. Introduction
President Clinton’s 1998 State of the Union Address called for “an America where every child can stretch a hand across a keyboard and reach every book ever written, every painting ever painted, every symphony ever composed.”[1] If that dream is realized, we would have the resources for all humanistic research online. What difference would that make for the humanities?

The widespread availability of online data has already changed scholarship in many fields, and in scientific research the entire paradigm is changing, with experiments now being conducted before rather than after hypotheses are proposed, simply because of the massive amounts of available data. But what is likely to happen in the humanities? So far, much of the work on “cyberinfrastructure” in the humanities has been about accumulating data. This is an essential part of the process, to be sure, but one would like to see more research on the resulting files. At the moment, we have a library that accumulates more books than are read. T. S. Eliot wrote “Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?”[2] Modern computer scientists have tended to turn this into a four-stage process, from data to information to knowledge to wisdom. We are mostly still at the stage of having only data.

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Cyberinfrastructure as Cognitive Scaffolding: The Role of Genre Creation in Knowledge Making

by Janet Murray, Georgia Tech

Originally Posted December 16th, 2007 

Professor Janet H. Murray is an internationally recognized interactive designer, the director of Georgia Tech’s Masters Degree Program in Information Design and Technology and Ph.D. in Digital Media, and a member of Georgia Tech’s interdisciplinary GVU Center. She is the author of Hamlet on the Holodeck: The Future of Narrative in Cyberspace (Free Press, 1997; MIT Press 1998), which has been translated into 5 languages, and is widely used as a roadmap to the coming broadband art, information, and entertainment environments. She is currently working on a textbook for MIT Press, Inventing the Medium: A Principled Approach to Interactive Design and on a digital edition of the Warner Brothers classic, Casablanca, funded by NEH and in collaboration with the American Film Institute. In addition, she directs an eTV Prototyping Group, which has worked on interactive television applications for PBS, ABC, and other networks. She is also a member Georgia Tech’s Experimental Game Lab. Murray has played an active role in the development of two new degree programs at Georgia Tech, both 0f which were launched in Fall 2004: the Ph.D. in Digital Media, and the B.S. in Computational Media. In spring 2000 Janet Murray was named a Trustee of the American Film Institute, where she has alsoserved as a mentor in the Enhanced TV Workshop a program of the AFI Digital Content Lab. She holds a Ph.D. in English from Harvard University, and before coming to Georgia Tech in 1999 taught humanities and led advanced interactive design projects at MIT. Murray’s primary fields of interest are digital media curricula, interactive narrative, story/games, interactive television, and large-scale multimedia information spaces. Her projects have been funded by IBM, Apple Computer, the Annenberg-CPB Project, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Humanities.


Information infrastructure is a network of cultural artifacts and practices.[1] A database is not merely a technical construct; it represents a set of values and it also shapes what we see and how we see it. Every time we name something and itemize its attributes, we make some things visible and others invisible. We sometimes think of infrastructure, like computer networks, as outside of culture. But pathways, whether made of stone, optical fiber or radio waves, are built because of cultural connections. How they are built reflects the traditions and values as well as the technical skills of their creators. Infrastructure in turn shapes culture. Making some information hard to obtain creates a need for an expert class. Counting or not counting something changes the way it can be used. Increasingly it is the digital infrastructure that shapes our access to information and we are just beginning to understand how the pathways and containers and practices we build in cyberspace shape knowledge itself.

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The Future of Art History: Roundtable

by Jennifer Curran,

Originally Posted December 16th, 2007

Introduction: David Green

Principal, Knowledge Culture
Three art historians were invited to think about how their discipline, and their teaching and research within that discipline, might evolve with access to a rich cyberinfrastructure.

Participants were encouraged to think through what might happen to their practice of art history if:
–they had easy access to high-quality, copyright-cleared material in all media;
–they could share research and teaching with whomever they wanted;
–they had unrestricted access to instructional technologists who could assist with technical problems, inspire with teaching ideas and suggest resources they might not otherwise have known about.

What would they do with this freedom and largesse? What kinds of new levels of research would  be possible (either solo or in collaborative teams); what new kinds of questions might they be able to answer; how would they most want to distribute the results of their scholarship; who would the audience be; and would there be a new dynamic relationship with students in and out of the classroom?

Panelist 1: Guy Hedreen, Professor of Art History, Williams College
On The Next Generation of Digital Images Available to Art Historians

Panelist 2: Dana Leibsohn, Associate Professor of Art, Smith College
On the Technologies of Art History

Panelist 3: Amelia Carr, Associate Professor of Art History, Allegheny College
Overcoming the Practice of Visual Scarcity

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