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This is not an existing tools project but rather a proposal for a tools project arising from the Digital Tools Summit at the University of Virginia. For more on the Summit see or notes at For research tips and guides see this Writing guide

The Tool_Summit_Conclusions on the Tool Summit are being written on this wiki.


A wide assortment of scholars met at a Summit on Digital Tools for the Humanities, convened at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Virginia, on September 28-30, 2005. Participants from a wide variety of disciplines, such as history, literature, archeology, linguistics, classics and philosophy as well as computer science and several social sciences attended. The common characteristic shared by the participants was the use of digital resources to enable and support scholarly activities. The Summit’s objectives were to explore how digital tools, digital resources and the underlying cyber-infrastructure could be used to accomplish several goals.

• Enable new and innovative approaches to humanistic scholarship.

• Provide scholars and students deeper and more sophisticated access to cultural materials.

• Bring innovative approaches to education in the humanities, thus enriching how material can be taught and experienced.

• Facilitate new forms of collaboration among all those who touch the digital representation of the human record.

The Summit did not follow the usual format of papers, posters, and panel discussions, but was conducted as a dialogue. Participants did not present their own research to the other participants, but instead they discussed and vigorously debated selected key issues related to advancing digitally enabled humanistic scholarship. Participants were chosen by the Organizing Committee based on the submission of a brief paper that described at least one crucial issue related to digital support for humanities scholarship and education. The original intent of the Organizing Committee was to restrict Summit attendance to 35-40 participants. The response was stronger than expected, however, and in the end more than 65 individuals were invited to participate.

The broad availability of digital tools is a major development that has grown over the last several decades but the use of digital tools in the humanities is, for the most part, still in its infancy. For example, Geographic Information System (GIS) was developed to perform spatial representation and analysis. GIS is robust and powerful and has clear applications to many humanities fields, but it was not developed with those applications in mind. The question is not whether to use this and similar tools but how we can adapt them to our purposes (or vice versa). The development of strategies to aid scholars in the use or re-use of existing tools is considered by some to be more important than the creation of wholly new tools that are specially designed for the humanities.

It was the consensus of participants that only about six percent of humanist scholars use digital tools and resources in their scholarship. This does not include use of general-purpose information technology tools, such as document editors, teleconferencing, spreadsheets, and slide presentation formatters (i.e. tools that are broadly used in academia as well as in business).

Summit participants addressed tools tailored to many purposes: analysis, creative development of new scholarly material, curation of digitally represented artifacts, as well as productivity enhancement. The Summit addressed text as well as non-textual media (audio, video, 3-D and 4-D visualization). Many tools and collections of resources are shared and are even interoperable to some degree. Hence, it is important for the community to consider a tool’s effectiveness for the individual as well as for an interactive community. Significant activity in the tool-building and tool-using community has raised new possibilities and new problems, and it is that activity that gave rise to this Summit.

Enormous efforts have been made over the past few years to digitize large amounts of text and images, establish digital libraries, share information using the Web, and communicate in new ways. Some scholars now wield information technology to help them work with greater ease and more speed. Nonetheless, there has not been a major shift in the definition of the scholarly process that is comparable to the revolutionary changes that have occurred in business and in scientific research.

When information technology is introduced into a discipline or some social activity there seem to be two stages. First, the technology is used to automate what users were already doing, but now doing it better, faster and hopefully cheaper. In the second stage (which does not always occur), a revolution takes place. Entirely new phenomena arise. Two examples illustrate this sort of revolutionary change.

The first involves inventory-based businesses. When information technology was first applied, it was used to track merchandise automatically, rather than manually. The merchandise was stored in the same warehouses, shipped in the same way, with the same relations among producers and retailers as before the application of information technology. Today, a revolution has taken place. There is a whole new concept of just-in-time inventory delivery. Some companies have eliminated warehouses altogether, and the inventory can be found at any instant in the trucks, planes, trains and ships delivering enough inventory to re-supply the consumer or vendor. The result of this is a new, tightly interdependent, relationship between suppliers and consumers, reduced costs, and dramatically more responsive service to the final consumer.

The second example involves scientific research. For centuries there were three modes of science: observation, experimentation and theory. Early applications of information technology merely automated what people were already doing. The first computers performed repetitive arithmetic computations, often more accurately than humans. The revolution was the rise of computational science. It is now accepted as the fourth and new mode of conducting research. Computational simulations permit astronomers who cannot perform experiments – say with galaxies – to embody their hypotheses in a computed simulation and then compare simulation results with actual astronomic observation to test the validity of their hypotheses. An astronomer can simulate the collision of two particular galaxies, hypothesize the outcome, and look to the sky for corroboration or rejection.

This illustrates the kind of revolutionary change that can be enabled by information technology, specifically by digital tools and the use of an information infrastructure. The hallmark of the second stage is that the basic processes change – what the people engaged in the area do actually changes.

It is the belief of the Organizing Committee that humanists are on the verge of such a revolutionary change in their scholarship, enabled by information technology. The objective of the Summit was to test that hypothesis and challenge some leading humanist scholars to enunciate what that revolutionary change might be and how to achieve it, if it has not occurred.

The consensus of the participants was that such a change has not yet happened. What emerged from Summit discussions was an identification of four processes of humanistic scholarship where innovative change was already occurring, and that, taken collectively, advancements in those areas could possibly lead to a new stage in humanistic scholarship. This report focuses on these processes, which will be dramatically changed if information technology enables a material advancement in humanistic scholarship. The processes are:

• Visualization of Time, Space, & Uncertainty

• Collaboration

• Exploration of Resources

• Interpretation

The Organizing Committee authored this document in order to record for others the future as we see it unfolding. It melds together the observations and conclusions of the vibrant discussions among Summit participants. Each chapter records the consensus among participants, but there remains some diversity of opinion. We offer this document as a record of the dialog and consensus that occurred. We believe that digitally enabled research in the humanities and in humanistic education will substantively change how the human race understands and interacts with the human record, because the technology – made properly useful – can aid the human mind in doing what it uniquely does, and that is to generate creative insight and new knowledge.

We wish to thank the National Science Foundation for their support of this Summit as well as the University of Virginia Office of the Vice Provost for Research and the Institute for Advanced Technologies in the Humanities.

Organizing Committee:

Bernie Frischer, Director, Institute for Advanced Technologies in the Humanities (IATH), University of Virginia (Summit Co-chair)

John Unsworth, Dean and Professor, Graduate School of Library and Information Science, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign (Summit Co-chair)

Arienne Dwyer, Anthropology, University of Kansas

Anita Jones, Professor of Computer Science, University of Virginia

Lew Lancaster, Director, Electronic Cultural Atlas Initiative (ECAI), University of California, Berkeley, and also President, University of the West

Geoffrey Rockwell, Director, Text Analysis Portal for Research (TAPoR), McMaster University

Roy Rosenzweig, Director, George Mason University Center for History and New Media, George Mason University

Appendix: Details on the Summit program

The Summit commenced on Wednesday evening, September 28 with a keynote speech by Brian Cantwell-Smith from the University of Toronto entitled xxxx <discuss>.

The Summit addressed issues that derived from the state of tool design and development. This included the proliferation of new data formats; effective markup language annotation; integration of multiple modes of media; tool interoperability, especially when tools are shared across multiple disciplines; open source for shared and evolving tools; tools with low (easily mastered by an untrained end user) and high (usable only by expert personnel) thresholds of usability; data mining; representation and visualization of data in the geo-spatial framework; measurement; game technology; and simulation.

The Organizing committee integrated across the accepted issue papers and structured the first morning of the Summit as two sessions of four parallel sessions, each on a different topic. A short description of each topic follows:

Session 1

a) Text Analysis, Corpora and Data Mining This discussion will focus on the needs for tools for the publication, searching, and study of electronic text collections. We will consider the special needs for making corpora available to researchers and how data mining techniques could be applied to electronic texts. We might also discuss issues around the development of text tools, their documentation for others, and their interoperability.

b) Authoring and Teaching Tools Digital technology has profoundly altered writing and teaching in the humanities over the past two decades. Yet the digital tools used by humanists for authoring and teaching remain surprisingly limited and generic; they are mostly limited to the commercial products offered by Microsoft (e.g., Word, PowerPoint), Macromedia (e.g., Dreamweaver), and Courseware vendors (e.g., Blackboard, WebCT). What kinds of teaching and authoring tools (including ones involved in organizing materials for teaching and writing) might be created with the humanities scholar specifically in mind?

c) Interface Design Good interface design requires a clear understanding of just what service an information system will provide and how users will want to use it. Information systems to support scholarly activities in the humanities are just now emerging. How should we design interfaces that serve both the expert and novice users?

d) Visualization and Virtual Reality For some years, visualization and especially virtual reality survived and flourished because of the "wow" factor: people were impressed by the astonishing things they saw. But more recently, the wow factor has not been enough. People want to understand what they are seeing; and scholars want to use visualizations to gain new insights, not simply to illustrate what they already know. Hence the importance of tools: we need tools that analysis as well as illustrate. Building a 3D environment is one thing; using it as the place where experiments can be run to gauge the functionality of a space in terms of heating, ventilation, lighting, and acoustics is more challenging.

Session 2

e) Metadata, ontologies, and mark up These three critical topics lurk in the background (at the very least) of every humanities computing project. This panel aims to discuss tools that facilitate the creation and harvesting of structured data about a resource (=metadata), annotation tools (predominantly those for content) to aid in the systematic definition, application, and querying of researcher tag sets (=markup), and ontology tools, to facilitate the specification of entities and their hierarchical relations, and the linking of these entities to idiosyncratic tag sets (=ontologies).

f) Research Methods Research methods constitute a core functional requirement for principled tool development. We will discuss research methods that may (or should) guide the development of future tools for humanities scholarship, having set the context by considering existing tools and the research methods they afford. Of course, available implementation techniques, technological and conceptual, greatly impact the fidelity of implementation, even occasionally keying a substantial evolution of the fundamental research method desired. Finally, we will discuss possible commonalities of research methods across humanities disciplines that might broaden the audience of scholars for the resulting tools.

g) Geospatial Information Systems The disciplines within the Humanities are recently discovering the value of using spatial and temporal systems for data. While GIS has been a well developed technology in other fields, the special tools for mapping and capturing information needed in the Humanities are still under development. Tools must be designed for: cultural heritage study; changing boundaries for empires and political divisions; map display of types of metadata categories; archiving and retrieval of images and other data linked to latitude and longitude; and biographical information mapped by place as well as networks of contact between individuals. Spatial tools will be needed for digital libraries and the cataloging and retrieval of large data sets.

h) Collaborative Software Development It is clear from looking at other disciplines that computers have the greatest impact in those disciplines with the capacity to build their own tools. In this regard, the humanities have far to go, but we are beginning to see emergent communities of tool-builders. This session will focus on the resources, opportunities, and challenges for collaborative software development in the humanities.

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