Orion: Cyberinfrastructure for the Humanities

Yesterday I gave a talk at the Orion conference Powering Research and Innovation: A National Summit on a panel on Cyberinfrastructure on “Cyberinfrastructure in the Humanities: Back to Supercomputing.” Alas Michael Macy from Cornell, who was supposed to also talk didn’t make it. (It is always more interesting to hear others than yourself.) I was asked to try to summarize the humanities needs/perspectives on cyberinfrastructure for research which I did by pointing people to the ACLS Commission on Cyberinfrastructure report “Our Cultural Commonwealth.” One of the points worth making over an over is that we have a pretty good idea now what researchers in the humanities need as a base level of infrastructure (labs, servers and support). The interesting question is how our needs are evolving and I think that is what the Bamboo project is trying to document. Another way to put it is that research computing support units need strategies for handling the evolution of cyberinfrastructure. They need ways of knowing what infrastructure should be treated like a utility (and therefore be free, always on and funded by the institution) and what infrastructure should be funded through competitions, requests or not at all. We would all love to have everything before we thought of it, but institutions can’t afford expensive stuff no one needs. My hope for Bamboo is that it will develop a baseline of what researchers can be shown to need (and use) and then develop strategies for consensually evolving that baseline in ways that help support units. High Performance Computing access is a case in point as it is very expensive and what is available is usually structured for science research. How can we explore HPC in the humanities and how would we know when it is time to provide general access?