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  • eScience, eResearch and Computational Problem Solving

    This module is included inLens: eScience, eResearch and Computational Problem Solving
    By: Jan E. OdegardAs a part of collection: ""Our Cultural Commonwealth" The Report of the American Council of Learned Societies Commission on Cyberinfrastructure for the Humanities and Social Sciences "

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Decades of Accelerating Change

The recent transition to an Internet culture is documented by a series of surveys and reports by the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) and the Research Libraries Group (RLG). In the mid-1980s, the ACLS surveyed almost four thousand scholars in the humanities and social sciences to learn what they “think about a wide range of issues of greatest concern to their careers, their disciplines, and higher education in general.” The survey’s first finding was the “rapid increase in computer use.” “In 1980,” the report notes, only “about 2 percent of all respondents either owned a computer or had one on loan for their exclusive use.” But by 1985, it observes with obvious excitement, “the number was 45 percent, most of whom used it not only for routine word processing but for other purposes as well.” Those “other purposes” were, however, clearly minority pursuits. Only about one in five scholars reported using online library catalogs or databases; only one in ten used e-mail; just 7 percent (most of them in classics or linguistics) said that they had used a computer for “theme, text, semantic, or language analysis.” 1

In 1988 RLG published a detailed assessment of information needs in the humanities and social sciences. 2The responses of the humanists interviewed were consistent across disciplines: they wanted more machine-readable catalogs, indexes, and other finding aids. There was little interest in making full texts available in digital form, partly because the technology was new and untested, but also because scholars were accustomed to the informal, book-based, and often serendipitous browsing methods of research that had been fundamental to humanities scholarship for centuries. Image databases for two- and three-dimensional objects were largely beyond the capacities of the technology― and the budgets―of the time.

The RLG report showed the social sciences to be more dependent on technology than were the humanities; almost every social science discipline in 1988 had a trusted machine-readable index associated with scholarship and research in the relevant academic fields. The social sciences were interested in the availability of electronic databases and datasets for research support; for example, the census and Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR) materials were already well established in several disciplines. Scholars in the social sciences also expressed interest in using technology to improve access to conference papers, unpublished research, and technical reports.

In 1997 the ACLS issued a study focusing on information technology in the humanities. 3Published fewer than ten years after the RLG report, it revealed greater acceptance of technology in the humanities, greater technical knowledge, and a belief that information technology could enrich and influence research. Its chief recommendations included a call for a national strategy for digitizing texts, images, sound, and other media pertinent to the cultural heritage as well as for coordinated large-scale projects to effect this digitization; more pervasive technical standards; greater attention to the challenges of preservation of digital information over time; and a need to promote within the universities a more hospitable environment for computer-supported arts and humanities.

The findings and recommendations of the 1988 RLG report seemed almost quaint to those scholars interviewed less than a decade later, underscoring revolutionary advances in information technology now taken for granted. Almost every scholar regards a computer as basic equipment. Information is increasingly created and delivered in electronic form. E-mail and instant messaging have broadened circles of communication and increased the amount and, arguably, the quality of debate among dispersed scholarly communities. These changes were the result of the availability and usefulness of first-generation cyberinfrastructure.

Networked access to information sources in the humanities and social sciences has increased dramatically in recent years, largely because of the widespread adoption of the Web as a kind of first-generation, all-purpose cyberinfrastructure. Through the Web, Project MUSE 4offers more than 250 online, full-text contemporary journals in the humanities, arts, and social sciences. The journals can be searched by keywords, and the reader can follow links to relevant footnotes and other related journal articles. JSTOR 5(an abbreviated designation for Journal Storage) is a large archive of older publications, some extending back a hundred years. Currently JSTOR contains 614 journals from 375 publishers, with more than fourteen million pages. Another project, ARTStor, 6modeled on JSTOR, focuses on art images drawn from many time periods and cultures. ARTStor holds hundreds of thousands of images contributed by museums, archeological teams, and photo archives, as well as tools and indexes that facilitate productive use of this vast collection. InteLex Past Masters 7is a large dataset of full texts, usually in the form of complete works of major thinkers in the social sciences—particularly economics, political thought and theory, and sociology. Social scientists and students often turn to this Web site for trusted editions of, for example, Charles Darwin, Herbert Spencer, or Adam Smith. For authors who wrote in languages other than English, an English translation is provided. Cogprints 8is often the first place scholars go for information pertinent to the study of cognition: psychology, anthropology, and other social sciences that include elements of cognitive study are represented by a wealth of digitized research.

Footnotes

  1. Herbert Charles Morton, Anne J. Price, and Robert Cameron Mitchell, The ACLS Survey of Scholars: Final Report of Views on Publications, Computers, and Libraries (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1989).
  2. Constance Gould, Information Needs in the Humanities: An Assessment (Mountain View, CA: Research Libraries Group, 1988).
  3. Pamela Pavliscak, Seamus Ross, and Charles Henry, “Information Technology in Humanities Scholarship: Achievements, Prospects, and Challenges—The United States Focus”. (New York: American Council of Learned Societies, 1997). ACLS Occasional Paper No. 37 http://www.acls.org/op37.htm.
  4. Johns Hopkins University http://muse.jhu.edu/.
  5. http://www.jstor.org/.
  6. http://www.artstor.org/.
  7. http://library.nlx.com/.
  8. Cognitive Sciences Eprint Archive http://cogprints.org/.

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Definition of a lens

Lenses

A lens is a custom view of the content in the repository. You can think of it as a fancy kind of list that will let you see content through the eyes of organizations and people you trust.

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Lens makers point to materials (modules and collections), creating a guide that includes their own comments and descriptive tags about the content.

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What are tags? tag icon

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