Venturing into Computational Humanities: New Field Seeks to Bring Advanced Computing to Humanities, Social Science Research. (Tech Talk)

Article excerpt

It's natural to expect that a significant degree of contemporary scientific discoveries stem from the application of high-performance computing and supercomputers to complex problems. Given that high-performance computing has exclusively been serving science for some time, a California-based researcher and administrator is looking to change all that by bringing advanced computing power to the aid of humanities and social science research.

Dr. Kevin Franklin, the assistant director of the University of California Humanities Research Institute (UCHRI), promotes the term "computational humanities" as a way of describing his work, which is developing the infrastructure so that researchers in the social sciences and humanities can access the computational power of high-performance computer networks and supercomputers.

"We're trying to pull together humanities research centers and supercomputing organizations into a conversation on how to apply high-performance computing to the humanities and the social sciences," Franklin says.

Currently, Franklin is pushing two projects as the basis of the computational humanities field he hopes will emerge with the collaboration among the humanities, social science and high-performance computing communities in the United States.

The first project is being led by his organization, UCHRI, and the Duke University John Hope Franklin Center. The effort, titled the Humanities Research Core, is promoting the widespread adoption of interoperable standards and scientific technology within the humanities and social science fields. It also will develop specialized networks and systems for knowledge discovery and communications across the humanities and theoretical social sciences, according to Franklin. The first workshop for the Humanities Research Core will be held in Irvine, Calif., June 6-7.

The second initiative has UCHRI developing a computer system to be known as the Humanities Grid. The system will serve the University of California campuses. Computing grids are computer systems that connect together multiple servers, storage systems, databases and applications over a single network, and provide its users access to computing power that is on par with a supercomputer. Grid computing typically involves coordinated resource-sharing and problem solving with computers spread across numerous institutions. …