We were ‘woken up’ in yesterday morning’s ISGC presentation by a loud alarm in the conference room. One of the organisers then walked in and said that its purpose was just to get our attention. What actually got my interest was a talk about the Humanities and Grids by Sheila Anderson. Her first slide poignantly introduced the words, “I wandered lonely as a cloud”; a poem by William Wordsworth, an English poet who helped start the UK’s 18th century ‘Romanticism’ age.
Sheila continued that Humanities has a unique approach to using Grids. As a scholar she wants the ability to have on-demand Grid services. This means that a Humanities academic should be able to dip-in and out of Grid resources at their convenience. But, for a subject that is often more neglected –from a Grid perspective - compared to Particle Physics or Medicine, ‘Humanists’, as she described, have to shout louder in the academic world.
Humanities data is highly dispersed in archives, galleries, libraries and museums. Another problematic dimension for the field is large quantities of data are stored in an analogue format; i.e. Manuscripts, books, objects and artefacts. How can they work with analogue and digital data in one streamlined environment?
Grids are a realistic option for a ‘spatial humanities’, where scholars can virtually share and update research together and publish results in an academic hub.
Interestingly, Sheila mentioned has been influenced by computers since the 1940s and that her department, at King’s College, has had an e-Research department for the past 30 years.
She emphasises that there is no one Humanities, but a number of disciplines under one umbrella term. There is no one standard for recording and analysing data. Shelia’s priority is not really the software or hardware, but on building a ‘collective intelligence’. All researchers involved should be able to exchange expertise, make informed decisions and learn together. Undeniably, a robust computing infrastructure will enable cross-disciplinary dialogue.