This report articulates the technical requirements for networking humanities and arts information. The needs of the humanities and arts often overlap those of the sciences, but their priorities and emphases are for the most part different. The needs of the humanities and arts must also not be confused with the demands of entertainment and commerce. Although these needs may overlap (indeed may be synergistic in certain areas), the latter largely consist of broadcast transmissions requiring only passive involvement from the viewer, while the former require active participation and two-way and multi-way collaboration.
The recommendations of the Technical Requirements Working Group focus on the needs for specific items of technical support to serve creators and users of humanities and arts data, including artists and authors; students of the humanities and arts, from scholars to schoolchildren; and the general public.
If these requirements are not addressed at the outset of NII planning, the NII’s full potential will not be realized. In the humanities and arts, it will be necessary to:
- Guide standards as they evolve to ensure that humanities and arts information will retain its quality and remain viable over time.
- Encourage the development of appropriate new tools and methods of knowledge representation, as well as shareable libraries of software tool
- Establish ways to connect holders and creators of the cultural heritage with those seeking access to it, through interactive, multivalent, collaborative communication and protection of intellectual property, so that creators can be consumers and consumers can become provider.
- Foster international cooperation, particularly with respect to access to cultural heritage information across international boundaries.
Report of the Working Group on Technical Requirements
As has often been quoted, John Adams wrote that he studied war and diplomacy so that his children could study commerce and agriculture, and their children could study art and poetry. It is now time for the evolving Internet to move from its military, scientific and commercial stages to become a means for individuals throughout the country to create, communicate and participate in their culture. Choices being made today regarding the NII will affect the representation, storage, distribution and use of humanities information as it applies to nearly all areas of life, including university teaching and scholarship, K-12 education and life enrichment for the general public.
The humanities and arts depend on representations of texts, artifacts and performances. In the future, it will be possible to store and transmit reproductions of all texts and forms of expression as digital data. Subsequent digital reproductions, made from digital data, could be accomplished without degradation, provided the proper compression algorithms are used. (Some compression algorithms that are commonly used in the entertainment and communications industries would not be acceptable for humanities and arts data.) Electronic media and tools will make it possible to create new forms of art in electronic modes. Given the ability to access and manipulate remote archives of digital materials, passive viewers can be turned into active participants and creators.
Knowledge in the humanities depends on access to a huge range of cultural evidence distributed around the world, and on the communication of ideas and the expression of opinions. Specialists and the general public may make different uses of this knowledge and engage in different discussions, but both need to be able to retrieve relevant texts, images, and sound, to link them meaningfully, and to append their own views. A distributed cultural heritage knowledge-base is essential if the humanities and arts are to flourish in the networked environment.
The humanities and arts have particular characteristics that impose special technical requirements, or particular priorities for general technical requirements. These can be classified into three main categories. First, the character of the NII will be inescapably shaped by how cultural materials are represented, how they can be viewed, and the ways in which they can be manipulated. Because in the humanities and arts texts and artifacts are often the object of study in themselves, representations must retain the essential qualities of the original: for example, high fidelity in sound and image, and original layouts and typography in text. Representations must enable scholars to endow objects with logical structures, analyze linguistic characteristics, and identify shifts in perspectives or views. For a universe of objects as old and as widespread as human civilization, layered representations of original objects and their interpretation are required to gain new access from a variety of intellectual perspectives. Humanists and artists require access at a fine grain of detail (whether in a single frame of film or a stanza of poetry) and from many points of entry. They need to view a work in multiple versions and to contextualize, index and present it in new ways.
Second, the humanities and arts are deeply concerned with the contextual significance of the objects under study. A researcher needs, along with the object, the context in which it was created, used, traded or worshipped. Past commentary and analysis, in many languages (and therefore character sets), is vital to understanding. Humanities scholars demand of the information they use a simultaneous precision of reference and preservation of context that cannot be satisfied by retrieving items of information in isolation.
Third, the humanities and arts user is an active shaper of objects of study, creating new objects in the process of transformation. The artist, musician or writer fashions from the cultural fabric new works that draw on a vast cultural memory. To craft works from and responses to our cultural heritage, one needs open systems, widely accepted standards, access to collaborative workspaces and tools, and new methods of knowledge representation.
Recommendations of the Working Group
The humanities and arts give high priority to the following specific technical issues:
1) Guide evolving standards
One of the barriers to the creation and use of essential electronic archives is the absence of standards for capturing, documenting and preserving humanities and arts information. Standards in the digital world are continuously evolving: archives must survive in an environment that mingles working with evolving standards. Nevertheless, it is vital that such de facto and de jure standards are able to:
- Enable the highest fidelity of representation of originals so that distant users and future generations have access to resources that are worthy of study.
- Preserve integrity through technical methods such as color matching and compensation, preservation of special character sets, and document authentication (all of which require further development)
- Ensure survival over time. Encoding, representation and compression standards, when developed, must be maintained; and material will need to migrate through future standards as these evolve.
- Support rich documentation of object provenance, history of versions and modifications, and history of use of documents and artifacts. The provision of multiple representations and versions is especially crucial. For example, a play is both text and performance: the Zeffirelli film and videotaped Royal Shakespeare Company performance of a Shakespeare play are as importantly different as are the many editions of the play.
- Support rich description of and commentary on objects and documents, their logical structure, and their components and relationships. This parallel “layer of text” must accommodate any kind of annotations, including commentary, results of tests, linkages between representations in several languages, and multimedia.
2) Encourage the development of new tools
Some of the major categories of new tools needed in humanities and arts computing are:
- Authoring tools and compositional environments that exploit networked resources and are suited to production, presentation and exploration of content.
- Collaboration tools and systems for sharing workspace and creative environments.
- Tools for archiving objects, versions and derivations.
The tools required for creating, representing, storing, retrieving and comparing cultural information should be able to:
- Capture text, image and sound and its editing and mark-up while capturing the history of different versions.
- Annotate videoclips, images, oral interviews, music, dance and other cultural heritage information.
- Support annotation systems that allow not only for personal commentary, but also for additions to the cumulative scholarly record.
- Modify documents and object representations by addition, deletion and revision while creating/preserving credit for creation or authorship, and preserving an historic audit trail for reasons of provenance.
- Link versions, editions in foreign languages, and commentaries with the objects of commentary.
- Navigate through vast amounts of diverse and complex verbal, visual and aural information.
- Retrieve using a variety of intellectual perspectives by means of tools that go beyond keyword/Boolean searches to exploit image and voice recognition, or natural language processing.
At present very little funding supports the development of tools that meet the particular needs of the humanities and the arts. We strongly urge organizations in the public and private sectors to develop such tools, maintain shared libraries of software tools, and train as many people as possible in their use.
3) Support open and equitable access
Because culture is universal and cultural heritage is therefore of general interest, knowledge of the achievements of our culture should be widely accessible to people not only in museums, libraries, and schools, but also in offices and homes.
To satisfy this requirement, the NII must be an open system with full access to all citizens. Culture is not an abstraction; it essential to the quality of life. The NII will be the 21st century’s primary medium for disseminating our culture. The goal of the humanities and the arts on the NII is to create dialogue among individuals and communities employing original texts, high-resolution images, video, music and speech. This requires multivalent access in which everyone may be a creator and consumer, and many individuals may collaborate or debate simultaneously. A successful NII would allow students to read source texts and incorporate them into new documents, view representations of art and directly create or disseminate derivative or new works, hear a debate and comment directly on the various points of view. A successful NII could enable interested citizens to explore their cultural heritage through searching genealogical databases, seeing images of ancestral home towns, hearing music their grandparents enjoyed or even composed, and entering into discussions with others who share their interests. To satisfy these requirements the NII must be truly multidimensional and fully interactive.
Content needs to be accessible. Institutions holding public collections of source materials in the arts and humanities or dedicated to the documentation of our cultural heritage must be connected to the NII and be helped to provide access to the knowledge stored in their holdings. Substantial funds will be required to enable archives, performing arts centers, libraries, galleries and museums to mount servers on the networks and maintain systems and quality controls required for a “logical archive” of distributed cultural resources. Even if content is captured and connected to the networks, mechanisms for assuring protection of intellectual property and enabling potential users to easily license parts of intellectual property for re-use are essential. A variety of mechanisms which provide for appropriate protection of intellectual property rights, and for ease of access to resources and their subsequent use, need to be tested in the near future. In each case, the needs of humanities and arts for the use of very small portions of larger works, as well as works in their entirety, must be recognized.
4) Foster international cooperation
The development of technology and tools to support access to, and use of, cultural heritage information for the humanities and arts cannot be pursued by nations in isolation. From the outset cooperation in both standards and technology development must be international. Not only are the primary resources required by arts and humanities international in scope and distribution, but the dialogue in which humanists and artists are engaged is necessarily multinational. Government will be required to ensure that no restrictions are imposed on the flow of cultural data across borders. The establishment of sizable, international, public-domain test databases to encourage the development, testing and evaluation of tools would contribute greatly to demonstrating the desirability of humanities and arts information on the NII and to the evolution of standards and tools.
The humanities and arts require investment in the technologies that will permit consistent, reliable and widespread digital representation of our cultural heritage and enable that resource to be exploited with ease. This in turn requires understanding of the special characteristics of humanities and arts information (which demands precision of reference, preservation of context, and multiplicity of viewpoints) and appreciation of the barriers to its access (including connectivity of institutions holding such information, methods for protecting intellectual property, and open systems).
Technological research and development is required to resolve some of these issues. Many of these needs can be addressed if funding is forthcoming from public and private sources to develop appropriate standards and tools. Additional support will be required to capture the vast cultural heritage resources and provide the public with mediated access.
Appropriate policy frameworks will also assist in satisfying some of these objectives. The NII should foster the production, transmission and manipulation of cultural heritage resources provided by diverse communities. It must not foreclose future options. It must use the standards process to ensure that it will be extensible and open. It must proceed with international cooperation, and it must strive to provide global access.