The humanities and the arts must be represented on the nation’s electronic highways not only because they serve as the repository of our civilized values, but also – from a more pragmatic perspective – because they are the producers of the intellectual property that will be one of the nation’s most valuable economic resources in the new information economy.
These recommendations of the Electronic Resources Working Group concern the development of critical capabilities and resources that are necessary for the humanities and the arts to participate fully in the electronic environment. They focus on the policies, intellectual commitments and financial support necessary to amass comprehensive electronic data resources. This information content is crucial for the humanities and the arts to serve the highly diverse members of their potential public.
The group’s recommendations state that it will be necessary to:
- Build a critical mass of digitized and networked information in the humanities and the arts.
- Encourage a public/private partnership to encourage the humanities and the arts’ unique potential for developing collaborative space in the networked environment.
- Attract enough public and private funds to build the resources needed.
- Secure representation in strategic national decision-making forums.
Report of the Working Group on Electronic Resources
Although the scientific, technological and economic value of the information revolution has become increasingly apparent to the public, so far the equally significant contributions of the humanities and the arts to this revolution have remained less well known. But far from being merely the documenters, commentators and decorators of our existence, historians, humanities scholars and artists are among the essential guardians of civilization and the human spirit. To quote John Ruskin, “Art represents a social necessity that no nation can neglect without endangering its intellectual existence.”
In fact, the humanities and the arts constitute significant intellectual property interests in the new information economy, where information and intellectual property will be one of the nation’s most valuable economic resources. The Clinton administration has recognized that the information highway can “empower citizens and help reinvigorate [our] public institutions,” and “will create unprecedented opportunities and new challenges for our arts and cultural industries.” (National Institute for Standards and Technology, Putting the Information Infrastructure to Work, Vol. 1, May 1993; and Vice President Gore’s statement to the International Artist’s Rights Symposium, April, 28 1994).
The initial phases of the establishment of a national information infrastructure have largely focused on technology: equipment, interconnectivity and access. Great strides have been made in these areas, and further refinements and advances will continue as we build upon this foundation and learn from experience. Now, the focus must turn to content. It is in this growing concern for content, and the technical challenges it entails, that the humanities and the arts present new opportunities to the future course of the information revolution.
Recommendations of the Working Group
The Working Group on Electronic Resources established that, to meet those challenges, it will be necessary to:
1) Build a significant mass of digitized and networked information in the humanities and the arts
A rich variety of projects developing electronic databases, publications, software tools, services and communication systems in the humanities and the arts has begun, some of them through substantial private-sector initiative and effort. Nevertheless, these projects merely hint at the range and scope of what needs to be done to accumulate the comprehensive data necessary if the nation is to realize the potential contribution of the humanities and the arts in the information age.
Achieving such a critical mass of digitized information will require a significant expansion of the number and type of data conversion and data creation projects undertaken so far. Greater investment in the development of additional and more powerful tools would encourage collaborative work, improve the ability to retrieve data, and make possible the creative manipulation of complex multimedia information. Agreement must be reached on standards for describing and encoding images and text, on extending the protocols of peer review and validation to the networked environment, and on issues of copyright, privacy and access.
If the current litter of autonomous projects is to evolve into the building blocks of national data sets in the humanities and the arts, the federal government must work with representatives of the humanities and the arts to clarify priorities and articulate a plan of action. The federal government has given impetus and focus to complex scientific ventures; it should now join with humanities scholars and artists to develop equally ambitious goals for the electronic conservation of and access to our cultural heritage.
2) Encourage a public/private partnership for developing the potential of collaborative space in the networked environment
A networked environment can help bridge the gap between the knowledge of experts and that of ordinary individuals, which will ultimately result in a better-informed and more engaged citizenry. It can help mobilize specialized knowledge to solve public problems. In a networked environment there is room for many voices and viewpoints, many different types of publication and attribution, and different levels of privacy and control. Unique information resources can be shared simultaneously, repeatedly and quickly, at low cost.
The scope, complexity and contextually sensitive character of much activity in the humanities and the arts require a public/private commitment to further research and development aimed at achieving the interactive potential of networked space. More sophisticated electronic tools and communication methods will help the humanities and the arts to re-invent a networked commons for public debate in our modern, multicultural society.
3) Attract the necessary public and private funding
As mentioned above, the humanities and the arts face the formidable task of accumulating the critical mass of electronic information that will allow them to participate fully in the networked environment in meaningful and creative ways. The process of converting extensive and historic information resources from other media and formats into digitized form has only just begun, and the process of developing adequate storage, retrieval and manipulation tools for complex multimedia information is still in its infancy. The marketplace is unlikely to provide the financial resources required for these tasks; instead, the combined investment of public and private funds will be necessary.
It is time for the federal government to provide financial support for building electronic information capacity in the humanities and arts that is comparable to what is now devoted to projects in the sciences. Currently, the Human Genome Project and the Global Climate Change and Biological Diversity initiatives receive substantial support from the federal government for the creation of national data sets in the sciences. Our cultural heritage needs similar support to function effectively in the coming age of networked information.
In addition to federal support earmarked for developing the networked infrastructure for cultural heritage, the humanities and the arts should be not only eligible but also motivated to compete for support for other projects concerned with information technology. For example, software development projects sponsored by the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST), Department of Commerce programs like the National Information Infrastructure Applied Projects, as well as the Digital Library Initiative jointly supported by the NSF, Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA), and National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), should encourage representatives from the humanities and the arts to submit applications and include appropriate authorities in their awards committees.
4) Secure representation in strategic national decision-making forums
The humanities and the arts constitute significant intellectual property interests in the new information economy. Their educational, social, and cultural resources merit a voice in government forums. As information technology initiatives spread through government and society, representatives of the humanities and the arts should be included at strategic policy discussions. Not only is this the democratically appropriate course of action, but it is in the public’s interest to include humanistic and artistic perspectives in decisions that will affect all of our lives in the coming century.
The federal government should invite representatives of the humanities and the arts to participate in all advisory and decision-making bodies debating information technology issues, such as the peer review panels of agencies as diverse as the NIST, the High Performance Computing and Communications Initiative, the NSF Computing and Engineering directorate, and joint ventures such as the NSF/ARPA/NASA (as well as NEH and NEA) digital library initiatives. Representatives from the humanities and the arts should also participate in the deliberations of such entities as the NII Task Forces; the Office of Science and Technology Policy; the Federal Coordinating Council for Science, Engineering and Technology; the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs in the Office of Management and Budget; the Federal Communications Commission; the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA); and various committees and working groups of the Commerce Department-headed Interagency Information Task Force (IITF), especially the Advisory Council on the NII, the Telecommunications Policy Committee and the Information Policy Committee, specifically its Working Group on Intellectual Property.
The humanities and the arts can bring significant cultural capital and informational assets to the networked environment. However, much must be done if they are to continue to fulfill their historic missions in the new electronic era. Certainly, the cultural heritage fields must enjoy approximate parity with the financial and policy opportunities accorded the electronic information capacities developing in other areas, such as the sciences, finance and economics, law, media and public opinion, and medicine. Both public and private funding and effort must be committed to incorporating our cultural heritage into the National Information Infrastructure. Professional associations in the humanities and the arts also have a critical role to play in these efforts.