Tuesday, 13 May 2008


Interesting rumblings in the digital humanities community about the University of Chicago's Project Bamboo: a Mellon funded, new project, described on their website:

a multi-institutional, interdisciplinary, and inter-organizational effort that brings together researchers in arts and humanities, computer scientists, information scientists, librarians, and campus information technologists to tackle the question:
How can we advance arts and humanities research through the development of shared technology services?

Looks interesting. Read the proposal which sets out their aims and objectives. A lot of money for an 18 month project to discover, you know, how we can help those arts and humanities scholarly types actually use these darn computery digitally things, and provide some infrastructure to help them. (I'm particularly loving the line:
"is the state of arts and humanities technology akin to driving in the 1890s? For many in the humanities, computers are like horseless carriages of the late 19th century..."

This may be true for some, and its an interesting proposal to sort out What Needs To Be Done to aid scholars in using computational power and tools in their research. But there is very little evidence that they've done their homework to what efforts have gone into this before, and no mention of the digital humanities community/communities (such as ADHO, ALLC, ACH, SDH/SEMI, TEI) and the hundreds of scholars already treading this path or trying to deal with the concerns raised in the proposal. No mention of things like the Methods Network, or AHDS, or any other initiatives in this area (including evidence for success, and reasons for failure). Those listed on the proposal are not the scholars you would expect, who have been working on this for years. There is no real mention on users, use, and usefulness - you can ask a bunch of academics what they *need* or *want* till they are blue in the face, but actually what they will use is generally different.

Which is not to say that this project wont come up with some interesting, and useful findings. It may very well jolt us out of our cosy digital humanities burrow, so its a case of watch this space. But its the first many of us have heard about it, and for many reasons, the words "wheel" and "reinvent" come to mind. But I'm willing to be proved wrong on that one.

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