Faculty Forum

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Faculty Forum on Monday, September 20, 2004
at Hardin Hall, Rebecca Crown Center, 633 Clark Street


Daniel Garrison, Professor of Classics
Jerry Goldman, Professor of Political Science
Martin Mueller, Professor of English and Classics
Carl Smith, Professor of English, American Studies, and History
Patrick Ryan Williams, Assistant Curator, Archaeological Science Department of Anthropology, The Field Museum of Natural History & Adjunct Assistant Professor, Northwestern University


Widening the Horizon of Humanities Research
Presenter: Daniel Garrison

The canon wars of recent decades, though sometimes interesting as a sideshow, threw little light on literature, the history of ideas, or the arts. Much basic research in the humanities now looks at writing and images formerly neglected as not deserving academic scrutiny. With the aid of computer technology, the collection, on-line presentation, and investigation of large text and visual archives has allowed students of the humanities to cast their net farther than ever before (and much faster) to make fresh approaches and new insights previously unimagined. Scholars in training whose horizons are not limited to those of their professors will find new opportunities in the creation of computer-accessible materials and the development of search methods. They are also finding that the questions being asked and the answers found in academia today are shaped by the resources employed. Instead of imitating past methods, successful future scholars will create new lines of inquiry that exploit vastly larger, more diverse materials from the past. Never before has the creative use of technology been more important to the scholar in training.

Northwestern’s Vesalius website is an example of how a library and a research team have collaborated to create a scholarly product that crosses traditional academic boundaries and presents a historic work of Renaissance science in new ways.

Oyez! Oyez! Oyez! or "You can hear a lot by listening"
Presenter: Jerry Goldman

With the cost of information quickly approaching zero, value lies not in the information but what we do with it. We call that transformation 'knowledge.' But to achieve knowledge from information we need some basic -- and advanced -- steps. First, we need to find information; then we need to process it in some fashion (interpret, analyze, synthesize). When information was only text, it was relatively easy to index and find it. But with information increasingly in non-text form (audio, video, images), finding information has proved a more daunting task. And once it is found, how do we use it for scholarly or instructional purposes? How do we bookmark, annotate, share, and integrate information?

Such puzzles require the collaboration among diverse fields. The OYEZ Project <www.oyez.org>--supported by a major grant from the National Science Foundation--is a collaboration with computer scientists, computational linguists, psychologists, and political scientists. One aim is to create a complete archive of U. S. Supreme Court audio (about 6000 hours) and enable listeners to annotate and share commentary, bookmark and save subsets of the collection for their scholarly and pedagogical objectives. The tools created from this enterprise apply with equal or greater force to disciplines that rely on video and images as part or all of their disciplinary canons. Such tools will form the basis for research in any number of fields, especially when all the knowledge of humankind will be available from any networked computer.

Professor Goldman has received the Teaching and Mentoring Award from the Law and Courts Section of the American Political Science Association in the week of August 29, 2004 in Chicago. Congratulations!

What every graduate student should know about text technology and why it matters
Presenter: Martin Mueller

We use tools for doing things. For any project, our sense of what we can do with the tools at hand establishes our calculus of the possible. Not knowing about our tools can lead to costly mistakes: it may tempt us to do things that cannot be done, keep us from doing that can be done, or it may lead us to spend days and weeks on what could be done in hours or minutes.

Scholars work with documents containing text, and whatever else they do or use, working with texts is what all scholars do much of the time. There are tools for working with texts in a manuscript or print world, and we are so familiar with them that we may not think of them as tools or as part of a technology. For the past few decades, and with increasing rapidity, the documentary infrastructure of scholarship has gone digital. Whether we like it or not, this has begun, and will continue, to change the way we read and write. A digital text file is a very different thing from a printed page, and it comes with tools that lets you manipulate hundreds or thousands of them in seconds. These tools cannot be mastered in minutes or hours, but one can acquire a useful command of them in days or weeks. For many projects, it will pay off to learn something about these tools. It is certainly helpful to have a rough idea of what is there, because it expands your calculus of the possible.

Can You Do Serious Scholarship on the Web?
Presenter: Carl Smith

We have reached the point when the Internet has proven itself to be an indispensable archival resource for humanities and social science research. Vast amounts of information, much of it previously available only to those who were able to travel to certain repositories, are now accessible anywhere and at any time to individuals with a network connection. In addition, much of this information can be conveniently searched and queried in ways previously not readily possible.

But what are the possibilities of the Web as a medium for original scholarly analysis, i.e., beyond making traditional print scholarship available in digital form? This presentation will reflect on this question in relation to a small group of recent projects done at Northwestern.

Envisioning the Invisible: Tools for Modeling Humanistic Landscapes using GIS
Presenter: Patrick Ryan Williams

Digital Technologies are becoming ever more important in the Humanities and Social Sciences as tools for analysis and means of presenting our research to colleagues and the public. One of the most powerful tools for organizing and analyzing data that has a spatial component is GIS, or Geographic Information Systems. Humanists and social scientists share people and their creations as the product of study, and people inevitably carry out their activities on complex spatial stages. New research tools in computing technologies allow us as never before to make sense of these complex spatial datasets and analyze them in ways never before possible.

One example of the application of this technology to the humanistic disciplines is the Cerro Baul Archaeological Research Program, designed to study the interaction between ancient states of the Andes. Sponsored by the National Science Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities, this research is yielding new insights into ancient Andean statecraft through the recreation of the cultural landscapes inhabited by these bygone peoples. The expansion of the Wari state of Peru around AD 600 heralded in a new era of agrarian expansion into the high sierra zones of the South-Central Andes. The systemic changes high sierra terraced agriculture brought to the landscape is crucial for understanding the long-term history and ecology of the region. A Geographic Information System is used to analyze the taphonomy of the landscape around the Wari center of Cerro Baul between AD 600 and 1000, recreating the patterns of land use from over 1000 years ago. Reconstructions of social land use and the generation of potential conflicts between land holding elements of these societies are analyzed using computer models. The research demonstrates the potential of applying digital technologies to enhance the scientific understanding of the evolution of these agrarian systems and the historical processes that created them.