American Council of Learned Societies
John Unsworth
Graduate School of Library and Information Science, UIUC

Cyberinfrastructure for Humanities and Social Sciences

ACLS Report

“Commonwealth” is defined both as “a body or number of persons united by a common interest,” and as the “public welfare, general good or advantage.” With this report the former meaning, as represented by the Commission and ACLS, presents a framework for action that, we believe, will advance the latter, the general good.

Pauline Yu
American Council of Learned Societies

What is Cyberinfrastructure?

It is more than the network and digital storage, more than discipline-specific software applications and project-specific data collections: it is also the intangible layer of expertise, best practices, and standards, and it is tools, collections and collaborative environments that can be broadly shared across communities of inquiry. As the 2003 NSF/Atkins commission noted, “if infrastructure is required for an industrial economy, then we could say that cyberinfrastructure is required for a knowledge economy.”

Why Do We Need It?

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Charge to the Commission

ATU 3, pl. 036, W 12139: List of Swine.  Englund and Nissen, 1993.

1. describe and analyze the current state of humanities and social science cyberinfrastructure

2. articulate the requirements and potential contributions of the humanities and social sciences in developing a cyberinfrastructure

3. recommend areas of emphasis and coordination for the various agencies and institutions, public and private, that contribute to the development of cyberinfrastructure

Commission Members Piers Plowman

Paul N. Courant
University of Michigan

Sarah E. Fraser
Northwestern University

Michael F. Goodchild
University of California, Santa Barbara

Margaret Hedstrom
University of Michigan

Charles Henry
Rice University

Peter B. Kaufman
Intelligent Television
Jerome McGann
University of Virginia

Roy Rosenzweig
George Mason University

John Unsworth (Chair)
University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

Bruce Zuckerman
University of Southern California

ACLS Liaison:
Steve Wheatley

Editor: Marlo Welshons
University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

Public Meetings and Comments

'Examination of a Witch' Thompkins H. Matteson, 1853, from the Salem Witch Trials Documentary Archive and Transcription Project

Washington, DC: 4/27/2004
Chicago: 5/22/2004
New York: 6/19/2004
Berkeley: 8/21/2004
Los Angeles: 9/18/2004
Baltimore: 10/26/2004

“Human interpretation is the heart of the humanities. . . . devising computer-assisted ways for humans to interpret more effectively vast arrays of the human enterprise is the major challenge.”
(Michael Jensen, National Academies Press)

Drafts & Comments

William Blake, Marriage of Heaven and Hell, copy D, 1795 (Library of Congress),  electronic edition from the William lake Archive, object 10 (Bentley 10, Erdman 10, Keynes 10)

1st draft to Commission: 3/5/2005
2nd draft to Commission: 8/10/2005
3rd draft, public comment: 11/9/2005
4th draft, funders' review: 6/8/2006
Final Draft posted: 7/27/2006
Printed and shipped: 12/1/2006

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"thorough" (vs.) "superficial"
"a wonderful document, but you forgot to mention my project"

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, chalk drawing of Alexa Wilding. Surtees 531 -- from the Rossetti Archive

Intended Audience

  1. Senior scholars, who have the power to change scholarly practice and the responsibility to exercise that power
  2. Leaders of national academies, scholarly societies, university presses, and research libraries, museums, and archives.
  3. University provosts, presidents, and boards of trustees
  4. Legislators at the local, state, and national level
  5. Federal agencies and private foundations that promote research in the humanities and social sciences
  6. Lifelong learners outside the academy

Effective Cyberinfrastructure Will:

  1. be accessible as a public good
  2. be sustainable
  3. provide interoperability
  4. facilitate collaboration
  5. support experimentation
Library of Congress American Memory, Variety Stage Motion Pictures

2. It will be sustainable

William Blake, 'Songs of Innocence and Experience' copy Z, 1826 (Library of Congress), electronic edition from the William Blake Archive, object 28 (Bentley 28, Erdman 28, Keynes 28) Many humanists may have first encountered the concept of sustainability in discussions with potential funders of digital projects. . . . Although funding is critical to a program's viability, sustainability goes beyond simply paying the bills: intellectual sustainability requires human capital.

Digital projects need to draw on a pool of trained and engaged personnel, and therefore universities need to develop the programs and the opportunities that produce people with this kind of expertise. As Kevin Guthrie, the first director of JSTOR and now president of Ithaka, remarked to the Commission, “individual experience is not scalable.”


In European countries and in Canada and Australia, humanities and social science cyberinfrastructure is more generously funded (relative to the size of the population) than in the United States, and research frameworks integrate the support of humanities and social sciences with the support of science and engineering.

Splash screen from the Valley of the Shadow project

Recommendation 1

Salisbury Cathedral computer model by Chris Jessee, IATH Invest in cyberinfrastructure for the humanities and social sciences, as a matter of strategic priority.
Addressed to: Universities and colleges; federal and private funding agencies

Implementation: coordinate the goals of CI funding; increase coordination and funding, including commercial investments that complement the educational community's agenda.

Recommendation 2

Salisbury Cathedral computer model by Chris Jessee, IATH Develop public and institutional policies that foster openness and access.
Addressed to: University presidents, trustees, provosts, and counsels; university presses; funding agencies; libraries; scholarly societies; Congress.

Implementation: The leadership of the humanities and social sciences should develop, adopt, and advocate for public and institutional polices that foster openness and access.

Recommendation 3

Salisbury Cathedral computer model by Chris Jessee, IATH Promote cooperation between the public and private sectors.
Addressed to: Universities; federal and private funding agencies; Internet-oriented companies.

Implementation: A private foundation, a federal funding agency, an Internet business, and one or more university partners should cosponsor recurring annual summits to explore new models for commercial/nonprofit partnerships and discuss opportunities to create digital resources with high educational value and high public impact.

Recommendation 4

Salisbury Cathedral computer model by Chris Jessee, IATH Cultivate leadership in support of cyberinfrastructure from within the humanities and social sciences.
Addressed to: Senior scholars; scholarly societies; federal funding agencies; private foundations (and others)

Implementation: Fund humanities and social science computing organizations to work with ACLS member organizations to set priorities for CI development, raise awareness of research and partnership opportunities, and coordinate the evolution of tools.

Recommendation 5

Salisbury Cathedral computer model by Chris Jessee, IATH Encourage digital scholarship.
Addressed to: Universities and colleges; major federal funders; major private foundations; major scholarly societies; individual leaders in the humanities and social sciences(and others)

Implementation: Funders should establish programs that develop and support expertise in digital humanities and social sciences. The ACLS should encourage discussion among its member societies with respect to evaluating digital scholarship in tenure and promotion decisions.

Recommendation 6

Salisbury Cathedral computer model by Chris Jessee, IATH Establish national centers to support scholarship that contributes to and exploits cyberinfrastructure.
Addressed to: Universities; Congress; state legislatures; public funding agencies; private foundations

Implementation: Universities and university consortia should develop new and support existing humanities and social science computing centers. These centers should provide for advanced training and research and curate collections of unique materials.

Recommendation 7

Salisbury Cathedral computer model by Chris Jessee, IATH Develop and maintain open standards and robust tools.
Addressed to: Funders; scholars; librarians; curators; publishers; technologists

Implementation: University consortia should provide infrastructure for open-source software development. Funders should support community-based standards such as TEI, EAD, and METS, as well as the development of tools for the analysis of digital content.

Recommendation 8

Salisbury Cathedral computer model by Chris Jessee, IATH Create extensive and reusable digital collections.
Addressed to: Funders; scholars; research libraries and librarians; university presses; commercial publishers

Implementation: National centers can organize a certain amount of scholar-driven digitization. Library organizations should sponsor discipline-based focus groups to discuss digitization priorities. Once established, these priorities should be considered in grantmaking by federal agencies and private foundations.

Results coming into focus:

photo by John Unsworth "[S]ome of the recommendations of the report already are being acted upon. . . . ACLS has begun offering Digital Innovation Fellowships designed to advance digital scholarship. . . the Digital Humanities Initiative of the National Endowment for the Humanities . . . a new partnership between the Endowment and the Institute for Museum and Library Services to help teachers, scholars, museums, and libraries work together to advance digital scholarship and present it to the widest possible public. The John D. And Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation has begun a major new effort to understand and develop digital technologies for learning in early education." (Pauline Yu)


Thank you.