Conference Report: Digital Infrastructure Summit 2014

I have just finished participating in and writing up a conference report on the Digital Infrastructure Summit 2014 in Ottawa. This summit brought some 140 people together from across Canada and across the stakeholders to discuss how to develop leading digital infrastructure in Canada. This was organized by the Digital Infrastructure Leadership Council. For this Summit the Council (working with Janet Halliwell and colleagues) developed a fabulous set of reference materials that paint a picture of the state of digital infrastructure in Canada.

You can see my longer conference report for details, but here are some of the highlights:

  • Infrastructure has been redefined, largely because of SSRHC’s leadership, as big and long data. This redefinition from infrastructure as tubes to focus on research data for new knowledge has all sorts of interesting effects. In brings libraries in, among other things.
  • Chad Gaffield (President of SSRHC) made the point that there is a paradigm shift taking place across many disciplines as we deal with the digital in research. As we create more and more research evidence in digital form it is vital that we build the infrastructure that can preserve and make useful this evidence over the long term.
  • We have a peculiarly Canadian problem that most of the stakeholders are more than willing to contribute to any coalition, but no one is jumping in to lead. Everyone is too polite. No one wants a new body, but no existing body seems to want to take the lead.
  • There is a lot of infrastructure already in place, but they are often not bundled as services that researchers understand. Much could be made of the infrastructure in place if there were a training layer and “concierge” layer that connects to researchers.

Supporting Digital Scholarship

The Tri-Council Agencies (Research councils of Canada) and selected other institutions (going under the rubric TC3+) have released an important Consultation Document titled Capitalizing on Big Data: Toward a Policy Framework for Advancing Digital Scholarship in Canada. You can see a summary blog entry from the CommerceLab, How big data is reshaping the future of digital scholarship in Canada. The document suggest that we have many of the components of a “well-functioning digital infrastructure ecosystem for research and innovation”, but that these are not coordinated and Canada is not keeping up. They propose three initiatives:

  • Establishing a Culture of Stewardship
  • Coordination of Stakeholder Engagement
  • Developing Capacity and Future Funding Parameters

The first initiative is about research data management and something we have been working on the digital humanities for some time. It is great to see a call from our funding agencies.

Virtual Research Worlds: New Technology in the Humanities – YouTube

The folk at TextGrid have created a neat video about new technology in the humanities, Virtual Research Worlds: New Technology in the Humanities. The video shows the connection between archives and supercomputers (grid computing). At around 2:20 you will see a number of visualizations from Voyant that they have connected into TextGrid. I love the links tools spawning words before a bronze statue. Who is represented by the statue?

Continue reading Virtual Research Worlds: New Technology in the Humanities – YouTube

Compute/Calcul Canada Works with Humanities

Compute/Calcul Canada has partnered with Super Micro to offer a High-Performance Computing platform for humanities researchers. Super Micro has kindly donated a HPC system that Compute Canada will make available with support to humanists. To get access you have to apply through the National Resource Allocation process. It isn’t clear what you do as a humanist.

Continue reading Compute/Calcul Canada Works with Humanities

Old Bailey Trials Are Tabulated for Scholars Online

The New York Times now has an article on the Criminal Intent project I was part of. See, Old Bailey Trials Are Tabulated for Scholars Online. They quote a historian who is sceptical of the results of mining, though he appreciates the resource.

“The Old Bailey Online project has done a great service in making those sources widely (and costlessly) available,” Mr. Langbein wrote in an e-mail. But he complained that the claims about data mining have “a breathless quality: ‘you can expect big things from us,’ but as yet it’s all method and no results.” He said that the new findings belittle the work of a generation of scholars who focused on the 18th century as the turning point in the evolution of the criminal justice system.

Alas, he seems didn’t read our report, but the summary in the Chronicle. It is easy to use cute phrases like “breathless quality”, but is he right? Time will tell, but I think the historians on our team have backed up the results found with mining and they never belittled the work of previous scholars – we saw ourselves building on it.

What can mining do? I think mining can give you a big picture so that you see the forest rather than trees in a way that no one could before. Conclusions about the shape of the forest have to be checked against other evidence, but the results of mining is evidence that is not breathless even if it takes your breath away. As Bill Turkel put it,

Mr. Turkel, who developed some of the digital tools, said that data mining reveals unexpected trends and connections that no one would have thought to look for before. Previous scholars “tended to cherry-pick anecdotes without having a sense that it was possible to measure all of that text and treat the whole archive as a single unit,” he said.

Of course, if you then leverage traditional evidence to buttress your argument then the mining is forgotten or trivialized.

Globe: Supercomputers seek to ‘model humanity’

Supercomputers seek to ‘model humanity’ (Omar El Akkad, Focus Seciton, F4). The online version of the story, unlike the print version, includes a screen shot of the Conjecturator that Patrick Juola is leading.

The article quotes me extensively from an interview after the Mind the Gap workshop. The article focuses on the Digging into Data projects in Canada including the With Criminal Intent project. At least one quote attributed to me, however, must be from someone in the classics Digging project.