HuNI awared $1.3mil: Humanities Networked Infrastructure: Unlocking and Uniting Australia’s Cultural Data

HuNI or the Humanities Network Infrastructure was recently awarded $1.3 million by NeCTAR (National eResearch Collaboration Tools and Resources).  The project will allow:

…arts and humanities researchers to access and, through appropriate tools and services, work with the combined resources of the nation’s major cultural datasets and information assets. This will yield new scholarly outcomes and create an enduring exemplar of national cultural infrastructure to suit the needs of future generations of researchers.

Arguably, the HuNI project is the first serious, large scale inroad into eResearch infrastructure for the humanities in Australia and promises to act as an exemplar for other projects in the region. Of particular note is that the project will also build what is termed a Virtual Research Environment’ (VRE);  an online environment of tools and services to allow specialist researchers to come together to perform certain computational research tasks with the possibility of uncovering new insights about Australia’s cultural landscape. It is this possibility that makes the project of interest to the Digital Humanities community that has a long track record of serious scholarship that both utilises and advances computing within the humanities to help us understand the human condition.

The project has a number of partners with various ‘cultural data-sets’ and differing means to collect and analyse data (and indeed different conceptual frameworks as to the notion of data).  Bringing them together will be an exciting and challenging endeavor. The partners and datasets include:

1) Datasets to be linked

2) Tools to be incorporated into the HuNI Virtual Research Environment

As you can see, there is an extraordinarily diverse collection of  data from lots of different collection agencies and fields.  The HuNI architecture will consists of a Linked Data Service and a Semantic Mediation and Mapping Service and will allow researchers to do something like this:

Image produced by Stephen Hayes at Arts eResearch, University of Sydney


Image produced by Stephen Hayes at Arts eResearch, University of Sydney

The strong argument for the need for such infrastructure is outlined as follows:

The need for such systems is outlined in the Cultural data is extremely laborious to collect. Once collected, however, its scholarly value does not diminish over time as it is highly re-usable and retains relevance in a number of research domains. The cultural datasets represented in this proposal exhibit the fruits of many decades of painstaking documentation of the human cultural record in Australia. The consortium proposing the HuNI VL are custodians of over 2 million rich, interrelated records relating to Australian cultural heritage creators, objects and events. Much of this authoritative data is problematically held within disciplinary silos, often unexplored by researchers in related disciplines. Once these datasets are linked within the HuNI VL the breadth and depth of Australian cultural content will expand exponentially and a new level of comprehensive and multi-disciplinary research on Australian culture will become possible.

Due to a range of funding and institutional factors, these datasets have been constrained in their ability to establish robust interoperability protocols that would enable new avenues of enquiry and reduce duplication of effort. The recent rise of more data-centric research in the humanities, and the plethora of new tools to facilitate this, has meant that many data-rich resources in the humanities need to adapt to increasing demands from the arts and humanities community for support for the rapidly emerging discipline of ‘digital humanities’. Achieving the requisite level of financial support for this, however, has eluded many in the humanities leading to piecemeal and only partially successful collaborations. Some early exemplars have demonstrated the ability for digitally enabled research practices in the humanities to reveal deeper understandings of cultural expressions over time. It is the aim of the CDC to develop a fully integrated, multi-disciplinary research space to exploit the enormous potential for new levels of scholarly engagement suggested Humanities Networked Infrastructure (HuNI) VL by the combination of content and tools for cross-dataset analysis and interpretation. Whilst cultural data integration is the core function of the HuNI VL, we have identified a number of research tools that have relevance and ready potential to be modified and ‘plugged in’ to the HuNI VL. These tools will underpin the VL as a workspace for processing cultural data and support its core function.

The project will begin shortly and has a two year time-line.  The project will have a web-site where many of the technical approaches and outcomes will be published. Stay tuned!

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