These remarks were presented October 25, 2013 at the Michigan State University Cyberinfrastructure Days conference. I have removed and modified some comments which were relevant to the local context of the conference, and I have removed some of the explanatory footnotes.

“You may ask yourself, well, how did I get here?
Letting the days go by, let the water hold me down
Letting the days go by, water flowing underground
Into the blue again, after the money’s gone
Once in a lifetime, water flowing underground
Same as it ever was, same as it ever was . . . ”
Talking Heads, 1980

Good afternoon. Thank you for inviting me to the Cyberinfrastructure Days at Michigan State. Shelton Waggener’s fascinating keynote this morning hits on some of the same themes I have this afternoon: just as he suggested that IT needs to change its culture in higher education, I suggest that we need a change of practice in the liberal arts; and just as he has suggested that higher education IT should move toward iterative releases, perhaps most controversially, I will suggest that in the humanities especially we need to shift our expectations about the fixity of scholarship, and move to a similar model–continuously releasing our scholarship.

Based on the sessions at Cyberinfrastructure Days, I have been struck by how many of the questions and concerns of scientists match those of humanists. Fred Dyer’s presentation on computational biology emphasized the lack of adequate training for current students in the computational, statistical, and mathematical techniques that will be absolutely necessary for future research. We face a similar problem in the humanities. Dyer also discussed the vast increase in the number and size of digital images for research in the biological sciences, a problem that humanities scholars now face as well. Imaging, he noted, “freezes the phenotype,” and the processing, analyzing, and archiving of digital imaging has presented new challenges and opportunities. While humanities scholars use images differently, we have a similar problem of scale–hundreds of thousands, even millions, of newspaper page images, for example, capture a complex mixture of temporal and locational information, yet we have few ways of freely accessing and analyzing these images. I think this conference has been extremely helpful in exposing many of these commonly shared issues. It’s time for the liberal arts disciplines to come together on common solutions.
Read more