Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities


The University of Virginia, with a major grant from I.B.M., established the Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities in 1992, in order to foster computer-based humanities research. I returned from NC State to head the Institute in the fall of 1993. Since that time, the Institute's staff has expanded from three FTEs to nine, our budget has quadrupled, and our list of fellows has grown from two to forty.

During the six months prior to my arrival, the Institute was run by its steering committee, and fellows Jerome McGann and Ed Ayers had commenced work on their projects (the Rossetti Archive and the Valley of the Shadow, respectively). Upon arriving at the Institute, I found a place with excellent people and equipment, but very little in the way of administrative or office infrastructure--no account codes, no letterhead, no local area network for printing, no secretary, etc.. I also found that, while the work that had been done on the research projects was very well conceived at the data-collection end, there was essentially no plan for data dissemination--no idea of how we would deliver our research results to the academic community.

Before I left NCSU, I had begun to look at the World-Wide Web, then in its infancy and not widely used. Since it appeared that we could use the Web effectively to publish our work, we began (in October of 1993) to build the IATH Web Site, where one can now find a wide range of humanities and technical information, including the annual series of research reports I co-edited with Thornton Staples and Daniel Pitti, the Institute's Project Directors:

The Institute's World-Wide Web server currently receives about 50,000 hits a day, or about one request every five seconds, from readers all over the world.

The Research Reports, the Work in Progress and the General Publications represent long-term, major research projects in literary studies, history, art history, architectural history, landscape architecture, archaeology, religious studies, history of science, linguistics, bibliographical studies, and cultural studies. Mellon, NEH, NSF, and other grants have been received in support of several of these projects, television and popular press reports have focused on our work, and well over a hundred humanities scholars, editors, librarians, and computer scientists have visited the Institute to see its research at first hand.

Starting in 1994, the Institute began to host networked associate fellows, as a way of reaching scholars outside of the University of Virginia, in particular scholars at geographically disparate institutions who wished to work together over the network. Since the beginning of this program, it has been part of our purpose to cultivate grant opportunities that would bring these networked associate fellows to campus. The first such grant received by the Institute is a three-year, $250,000 grant to support the work of three scholars (Joe Viscomi from UNC-Chapel Hill, Morris Eaves from the University of Rochester, and Bob Essick from UC Riverside) in the production of a complete electronic edition of all of William Blake's illuminated works, and many of his commercial illustrations. A preliminary sample of the project is available here. I am currently supervising the production of grant proposals for the Sixties Project and I plan to begin work soon on proposals in support of the Emily Dickinson project. The Institute also maintains (and I edit) a list of Related Readings, which functions as a selected index of humanities resources on the internet.

In addition to the humanities research it fosters and collects, the Institute also produces some software to support networked humanities research. To date, we have produced two major products, an image-annotation tool called Inote, and a synoptic text-viewer for multilingual text-browsing over the internet, called Babble. Both of these are Java-based software packages. More information on these and other IATH software projects is available here.

The Institute is a unique organization: it brings together scholars in disparate disciplines (archaeology, architecture, art, history, linguistics, literature, music, religion, and others), and it brings these scholars together with computer professionals, most of whom have backgrounds and active interests in the humanities. The Institute provides a base for the development of special-purpose software to serve the needs of humanities researchers (for example, our image-annotation software and our multilingual, synoptic text browser). In some ways, the Institute is an attempt to find common ground between the humanities and the world of commerce, at a time when government funding agencies are being dismantled and humanists are forced to think in new ways about their skills and their audiences.

In terms of its position within the University, the Institute is the equivalent of a small academic department: we have a staff of nine, and we serve several dozen researchers. Our space comes from the library, our staff and operating funds from the Provost's office and outside sources, and faculty release time from various academic departments. In my capacity as director, I report to Gene Block, the Vice-Provost for Research. The Institute is not part of the College of Arts and Sciences, and although we have good relations with the College's development office, and with the University Development Office, we are responsible for our own grant-writing and fund-raising activities.

One of my primary roles, and one of my foremost goals, at the Institute is to steer research projects in the direction of publishers, and to use those projects to change the way in publishers do business. In particular, I am anxious to see traditional academic and commercial publishers begin to grapple with networked publishing, and go beyond CDs when they consider electronic projects. So far, three of the Institute's projects have found publishers--two with the University of Michigan, and one with W.W. Norton. In all three cases, the publisher will produce a site-licensed networked database in addition to publishing portions of the project in CD format.

Although many of my activities as Director fit comfortably under the heading of administrative duties, and others belong in the categories of development, outreach, or consulting; still, the job is defined by the intellectual and professional challenges it presents. I spend several days each month travelling and speaking to audiences interested in the work of the Institute and in the general approach to electronic information at the University of Virginia: many other days I spend with visitors to the Institute, explaining our organization and its work. But the most interesting part of my job, without question, is the concrete work of transformation: working with my colleagues in different disciplines to expand their repertoire of research methods and to develop new ways of thinking about what they do; working with publishers to introduce new models for the dissemination of scholarly information and for cost recovery; working with students who are interested in the intersection of new tools with old values. In each of these areas, my postion at the Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities provides me with the opportunity to have specific and tangible impact on scholarship in the humanities.


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