Reshaping humanities and arts information for distribution over electronic networks can provide many dividends, among them the following:
- Enriching a sense of community through active participation in a networked environment.
- Improving the quality of teaching, and the learning of critical thinking, visual literacy, and analytical skills.
- Fostering intellectual and artistic collaborations that will result in new resources in the arts and humanities.
- Preserving the full complexities and quality of cultural information for the use of future generations while making it accessible to more people today.
If the NII were to offer access to everything found in the nation’s libraries, museums, theaters, auditoriums, and archives, it could help dissolve the boundaries that now separate communities, social classes, people of different economic levels, the highly educated and the broad public, and the peoples of different nations. Networks and new multimedia formats for information can reverse current inequities in access to resources. Some resources that broaden such access already exist, such as these:
- The Global Jukebox, a multimedia database that provides audio, video and textual information on international music, dance and cultural traditions across time and geography. The Global Jukebox, funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), among others, provides a research and teaching resource for anthropologists, ethnomusicologists, dance and theater historians, and sociologists as well as for choreographers, composers and other creative artists.
- Save Outdoor Sculpture (SOS), a national inventory effort to catalog outdoor works of public art, jointly sponsored by the National Museum of American Art, the Smithsonian Institution, and the National Institute for the Conservation of Cultural Property.
- The Making of America: 1860-1960, a project initiated by Cornell University to preserve a significant record of our national heritage as digital images and to make those materials available on the Internet.
- Variations, a project at Indiana University’s Music Library, that provides an online listing of music resources worldwide, and also serves as a testbed for the application of emerging technology to the distribution of digital audio and full-motion video across networks.
- The Perseus project, which brings the world of Greek classical antiquity to the public’s fingertips through images, literary texts, historic documents and maps, published on interactive compact disc (CD-ROM) and videodisc by Yale University Press.
Electronic networks are unparalleled teaching tools, making research findings, educational materials and original sources available to any teacher and any student. Examples of just a few of the projects currently online and in development demonstrate this potential:
- The National Geographic Society’s Kids Network provides students in grades 4 through 6 an opportunity to participate in a telecommunications-based science and geography curriculum where they can investigate new ideas and exchange information with students around the world. This network allows students in all 50 states and 38 countries to collect information and draw conclusions from data exchanged electronically.
- Direction Paris and Dans le Quartier St. Gervais, housed the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Laboratory in the Humanities in the Department of Humanities and the Center for Educational Computing Initiatives, are multimedia interactive language teaching programs.
- The American Founding Fathers Project and the Packard Humanities Institute are digitizing the unedited manuscripts of Franklin, Adams, Washington, Madison and Jefferson to produce a CD-ROM that will be distributed to public libraries.
- The Cleopatra Project, being developed by the Art Institute of Chicago on CD-ROM, will relate objects through an information matrix and high-resolution images. This multidimensional teaching resource will have the capacity to view multiple sides and details of objects and connect the works to related illustrations of maps, photographs and other illustrations.
Networks can facilitate artistic or scholarly collaboration, lowering the barriers posed by geography and specialization. Some examples are interactive fiction writing done in Storyspace, or the collaborative forum for poets provided by Poet-L. The electronic highway has created new “virtual” public spaces, such as the bulletin board dialogues that PacerForum makes possible, where communication, debate, exhibitions and other novel forms of electronic interaction occur.
Interpretation, discovery and experimentation in the arts and humanities can be enormously quickened and expanded by electronic networks. Conference papers, for example, become accessible immediately, instead of many months after the event. Publishers already use the Internet to circulate electronic catalogs of new titles. University presses have begun experimenting with the electronic distribution of scholarly journals, and trade publishers are investigating the custom-tailoring of classroom texts for specific audiences. Examples of specific projects in this area are the following:
- H-NET, an international initiative, is a collection of lists of affinity groups (listservs) specifically for historians that is operated on a voluntary basis by scholars in the United States, Canada, Australia and Italy. With the financial support of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), and hosted by the University of Illinois at Chicago, H-NET sponsors 37 electronic scholarly discussion groups with a rapidly expanding list of more than 10,000 subscribers who communicate research, teaching methods, analytical approaches and shared interests. Each list features topical dialogues, and publishes book reviews, job announcements, syllabi, bibliographies, guides to online library catalogs and archives, and reports on new software, data sets and CD-ROMs.
- Pre-press networks in philosophy, economics, communications and philology provide early access to scholarly conference papers.
- Humanist is the longest-running listserv for humanities scholars, while Arts Wire offers a range of services to artists and arts organizations.
- TULIP, an acronym for The University Licensing Project, is a three-year project being conducted by Elsevier Science Publishers and nine university library systems. It provides online versions of all project titles and a total of 42 serial titles to review. The information in this project will be used to answer technical, service and marketing questions relating to the creation, delivery and use of current, core science journals in online form.
Projects such as the MicroGallery of the National Gallery (London), distributed on CD-ROM, demonstrate that the entire holdings of museums and archives — not merely what can be displayed at any one moment — could be available as both visual and text catalogs. In addition, records referring to works, artifacts and texts now physically scattered in separate collections can be brought together in electronic databases, as is being done in the following projects:
- The Leonard Bernstein Archives Project, undertaken by the Library of Congress, a consortium of institutions across the country, and the Leonard Bernstein estate, to digitize electronic facsimiles of letters, scores, books and audio recordings that constitute the archive of this composer, musician and educator.
- The Census of Antique Art and Architecture Known to the Renaissance, an electronic archive that reconstitutes Renaissance sketchbooks, texts and drawings dispersed in museums and libraries around the world.
- The Global Jewish Database, an online database containing a collection of material for scholars of Jewish history and culture.
- The Thesaurus Musicarum Latinarum (TML), an evolving database, centered at Indiana University-Bloomington, that will eventually contain the entire corpus of Latin music theory written during the Middle Ages and the early Renaissance.
- The Provenance Documentation Collaborative, a consortium that has amassed inventories and sales records of works of art from European archives and auction catalogs.
These projects, and the many others like them, form the building blocks of national data sets in the humanities and arts (see pp. 16, 36). What is missing is the greater cooperation, both national and international, needed to avoid duplication of effort and to ensure that resources can be adapted to global networks. Such coordination stands to improve not only the understanding of American culture in foreign countries, but also Americans’ appreciation of their own cultural heritages.
Attention to the automation of these resources into national data sets could open new markets for America’s cultural wealth. The United States holds masterpieces from many civilizations and societies as well as the unique riches of Native American artifacts. The worldwide market for cultural heritage information is, on balance, a trade asset to the U.S. Networked information also generates a positive synergy; the more people have access to it, the more people will use it and find new uses for it, thus attracting more users. In addition, stimulated demand will lower costs.
Humanities and arts computing also has a unique contribution to make to the technical achievements of the NII. The technical challenges posed by assembling cultural heritage information in electronic form will offer complexities of a different order from the sciences.
If the potential benefits of the information revolution are to be realized, the humanities and the arts will need to make vital contributions. At the moment, financial under-capitalization, technological underdevelopment, and political neglect combine to hinder their doing so. The sections that follow describe the specific steps that must be taken if the humanities and arts are to occupy their rightful place on the information highway.