History and new directions

Strictly speaking very little on the map shown above is new: nearly everything existed and was known ten years ago. As we have suggested, however, it is the activity of mapping itself, in the form it has taken here, that is a fundamentally new direction in our second order (or meta-) thinking about the field.

A decade ago we knew enough to relate common techniques to the various disciplines: we first suspected, then partly knew that humanities computing was concerned with a methodological commons within which disciplinary boundaries did not apply. Indeed, about then it became possible to draw a map relating abstractions of computing and basic types of software to ordinary aspects of research in the humanities. At the time imaging (except for OCR) was not important enough to put on the map, so its addition is new. "Communications" then did not yet centrally imply the Web, as it certainly does now.

Recent experience, say within the last 5 years, has increasingly involved multi-technology/multi-media work on the basis of large-scale resources, with pronounced multidisciplinary results and discovery of further potentials. In effect networked resources have begun to manifest the ancient model of the research library, in which singular and relatively unchanging resources are separated from their manifold and highly changeable uses, allowing for indefinite recontextualization across the many fields of study to which each resource is relevant. The emergence of this multidisciplinary digital library has served not to fragment the methodological commons but to emphasize its centrality and extend its breadth. In turn the centrality and breadth of the commons have made it increasingly clear that in applying the technologies we are in fact drawing on those "clouds of knowing", whose methodological import we need to explore much more systematically.

The map illustrates the fundamental role of humanities computing as agent of the commons, mediating through the shared techniques between the clouds of knowing and specific research projects in the humanities. Among other things, this mediation fosters the engagement of the clouds of knowing in the humanities research enterprise.

The future directions for humanities computing therefore involve systematic exploration of the methodological commons to ensure that developments are coherent, cohesive and responsible to its cultural inheritance. What is new is the holistic overview of the commons and the future research agendas that it graphically indicates.