American Council of Learned Societies
Occasional Paper No. 37

Information Technology in Humanities Scholarship:
Achievements, Prospects, and Challenges—
The United States Focus


Action is required on many fronts if the potential advances in research described in this brief survey are to become the norm throughout the humanities. This will depend in part on action by scholars in the humanities, for surveys have revealed a culture of low expectations in terms of funding for equipment, maintenance, and support and a consequent under-representation on university computing and equipment committees. Although this situation is beginning to change with the growing awareness of the benefits of information technology, humanities scholars must make their needs explicit and press for representation. Unfortunately, this change is taking place at a time of acute pressure on funding in higher education in general, and hence shortages even among established users of information technology.

Those responsible for the allocation of funds must ensure that support for information technology in the humanities matches that expected in science and social science faculties, and that the true costs of using such technology are recognized. Similarly, scholars in the humanities must have opportunities to develop skills in the application of information technology, especially those with little experience in the field.

A national strategy is needed for the conversion of analogue material into digital form, for the holding of research material that will maintain comprehensive coverage, and for the provision of user-friendly systems to ensure that such material will be made available over the Internet. The use of information in electronic form also requires attention to copyright issues and to the development and promotion of standards for the documentation and transfer of material in electronic form.

This report will be most useful if, in conclusion, it recapitulates some of the priorities articulated at a number of meetings of humanists, technical experts, librarians, and administrators over the last five years. These priorities include:

• establishing an annual review of arts and humanities computing, whether a conference or electronic list, where progress can be reported and assessed.

• greater support for standardization requirements and computing needs in the humanities and arts, in the context of ongoing corporate and industrial discussions.

• the promotion by scholars, administrators, and librarians of the institutional and social change required for the creation of a hospitable environment for computer-supported arts and humanities.

• progress by humanists in the coming decade in developing shared methods of knowledge representation.

• the creation of a significant mass of digitized networked information in the humanities and arts that can enrich a sense of community, foster intellectual collaboration, preserve cultural information, and improve the quality of teaching and learning.

Added to these are the more technical issues of ensuring the highest fidelity of representation of original works; the preservation of integrity over time of digital information; and the promotion of detailed description and commentary of objects and documents to assure accurate provenance and future access.

Preface | I. Background
II. Information Technology and Scholarship | III. New Developments and Change
IV. To Challenge and Invigorate Future Scholarship | V. Principal Recommendations and Follow-up Activities