25, No. 12, Dec. 15, 2005
links computing and humanities, arts and social science
Sharita Forrest, Assistant Editor
photo to enlarge
by L. Brian Stauffer
the digital divide
Distinguished Teacher/Scholar Vernon Burton, a professor
of history and of sociology, is director of the Center
for Computing in the Humanities, Arts and Social Science,
a joint initiative of the UI’s Urbana campus
and the National Center for Supercomputing Applications.
CHASS aims to democratize access to information and
high-speed computing and communications.
Scholars from an
array of disciplines converged at the National Center for
on Dec. 9 to discuss how advanced digital tools used by scientists might
be applied to research and teaching in the humanities, arts and social
The occasion was the first Center for Computing in Humanities, Arts
and Social Science Conference, which was held at NCSA. The Center for
Computing in Humanities, Arts and Social Science is a joint initiative
of the UI and NCSA that began Oct. 21.
CHASS was formed
to foster innovation by engaging humanists, artists and social scientists
with their colleagues in computer science, engineering and high-performance
computing and communications to develop tools that will accelerate research
and education in the humanities, arts and social sciences.
Vernon Burton, director of CHASS and leader of NCSA’s Arts and
Humanities Division, is a UI Distinguished Teacher/Scholar and a professor
of history and of sociology. Burton, who began using computers in his
research many years ago, also is the author of the book, “Computing
in the Social Sciences and Humanities” and the accompanying CD,
“Wayfarer: Charting Advances in Social Science and Humanities
Computing,” published by the UI Press in 2002.
arts and social sciences have an important role to play in today’s
science and technology discovery,” Burton said. “Critical,
sustained and engaged thinking about concrete problems with broad cultural
impact can illuminate new areas when information technology research
and development are needed. Bringing together the expertise and experience
of humanists and information technology specialists is critical to the
future development of science and technology, and to the engagement
of a much broader community, including many who as yet do not have access
to emerging technologies. A new world of information is evolving, and
it’s imperative that technology should not widen the gap between
those who have access to new information and tools and those who do
Burton and NCSA director Thom Dunning think the center will help democratize
the technological world and “free information from the dark corners
of archives and open it up for all citizens,” a goal that coincides
with Dunning’s vision for NCSA.
“Bringing together the experience of humanists and the expertise
of information technology specialist will immeasurably benefit all participants.
It’s vital that those in the arts, humanities and social science
be able to tap the benefits of technology, and they also have much to
contribute to the development, deployment, and understanding of information
technology,” Dunning said.
At the conference, speakers from the UI faculty and scholars from other
institutions showed digital tools that they have integrated into their
research. Michael Welge, director of the automated learning group at
NCSA, demonstrated M2K, an environment for music information retrieval
and analysis that can analyze a musical piece being played and identify
its genre – whether it is classical, rock, blues or another variety.
M2K is an adaptation of another brainchild developed by NCSA staffers,
Data to Knowledge, or D2K, a flexible, visual programming environment
with a set of 6,000 modules that researchers can link together to build
analytical tools without having to write extensive computer code.
M2K is a key component of a project that Welge is collaborating on with
J. Stephen Downie, a professor of library and information science, who
is building the International Music Information Retrieval Systems Evaluation
Laboratory – the world’s first internally accessible, searchable,
large-scale collection of music materials in audio, text and metadata
forms. The project, which is being funded by the National Science Foundation
and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, also involves researchers from
the Graduate School of Library and Information Science and the College
The CHASS conference was broadcast over the Access Grid, a high-speed
audio-visual network, so that scholars from around the world could participate
via the Web.
CHASS also is planning a biennial, multi-track conference that will
be held at the Urbana campus in 2007, then biennially, alternating with