U.S. Humanities Endowment Funds High-Tech Solutions to Humanities Research Problems

WASHINGTON, (September 28, 2000)

The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) today announced five new information-technology projects providing high-tech solutions to research problems in the humanities.

Upon completion, the five projects will allow scholars to:

  • collate and compare various digital versions of classical music in both audio and score notation formats,
  • examine the world's major cuneiform collections at one site on the Internet,
  • ascertain at the click of a mouse the meaning of each word in online ancient Chinese texts,
  • locate, using an online index, individual words in digitized collections of handwritten manuscripts by American writers, and
    regularly update online encyclopedia articles.

The five projects, totaling $5 million, are being developed under the Digital Libraries Initiative, a federal program conducted by the National Science Foundation in partnership with NEH and other federal agencies. Funded in part by NEH, the initiative provides national leadership and support for the next generation of digital libraries. NEH's participation ensures that the initiative addresses critical preservation and access issues posed by the digitization of humanities collections.

"The Digital Libraries Initiative is developing new applications of digital technology in a number of fields, and the National Endowment for the Humanities is delighted to be the partner that is guiding these applications in the humanities," said NEH Chairman William R. Ferris. "The initiative's humanities projects will enable scholars to study primary research materials with unprecedented ease and to share new knowledge immediately through the Internet. These cutting-edge projects will advance knowledge of history, literature, philosophy and music -- areas of the humanities that are central to our understanding of human culture and creativity."

Descriptions of the five projects are:

Indiana University, Bloomington
Digital Music Library
Project director: Michael McRobbie, (812) 856-5596

Music presents unique challenges for the design of a digital library system. A single musical work is often represented in a wide range of formats. For example, a Beethoven piano sonata may exist in several dozen audio recordings by different performers, in several editions of printed scores issued by different publishers (or by the same publisher), and in a variety of digital score notation formats. A digital music library should provide coherent access to each of these formats, editions and performances of the piece. In addition, it should offer networked services, among and within universities that provide for classroom and research use. Copyrights must be taken into account in the design of user access facilities. The applicant will meet these challenges through the creation of an inter-university digital music library system. The system will expand the university's current digital library sound recording system, called VARIATIONS; develop new applications for educational use of music materials, including software for the representation of musical scores; and devise an approach to intellectual property issues that would help ensure broad access to the digital library's contents.

University of California, Los Angeles
Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative
Project director: Robert Englund, (310) 825-8506

The invention and early development of writing is credited to inhabitants of southern Mesopotamia who in the late 4th and in the 3rd millennium B.C. recorded first administrative and economic transactions, and later literary texts, on clay tablets, using a wedge-like script called cuneiform. Between 1850 and 1990 above all, British-American, French and German archaeological expeditions in the Near East unearthed hundreds of thousands of clay tablets documenting an uninterrupted written tradition stretching over three millennia. The source materials for the study of these ancient civilizations, however, remain widely scattered in museum collections in Europe, the Middle East, Russia and the United States. This project (http://cdli.ucla.edu/) will create a database of digital copies and electronic transliterations of digital copies of clay tablets from these collections. Graphics software will be created for the digital presentation of cuneiform script directly from the clay tablets, whose rounded forms present challenges for digital capture techniques. Tools will be devised for linguistic analysis. The project's staff has formed a partnership with the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin, based on a mutual interest in the evolution of quantitative thought and its relation to the emergence and development of writing in early Babylonia, and in the use of digital technology for creating access to historical source materials. In addition, the project has secured the cooperation of the British Museum, the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, the Louvre and the State Museum in Berlin. Subcontracts with Yale University and the University of Pennsylvania will ensure the inclusion of the largest cuneiform collections in North America. Maintenance of the collection within the California Digital Library, a comprehensive digital library under development by the University of California system, will ensure the collection's long-term accessibility. When completed, this project will offer scholars, teachers and lifelong learners an opportunity to view and study cuneiform texts on the Internet.

University of Hawai'i at Manoa
Classical Chinese Digital Database
Project directors: Roger Ames, (808) 956-7288, and Mary Tiles, (808) 956-8250

This project will develop a new tool for the translation and study of foreign languages. A team of specialists in classical Chinese language, ancient Chinese thought, distance education and computer programming will create a database of classical Chinese texts accessible on the Internet. Language students will, at the click of a mouse, be able to retrieve the meaning of every word in the texts, along with scholarly interpretations of the texts. To create the database, the project's staff will digitize copyright-free compilations of ten core works, including collected sayings of Confucius and Mencius; Daoist writings; folk songs and poetry; chronicles of Chinese sovereigns from the eighth to the fifth centuries B.C.; and texts of Chinese ritual practices and political commentary. This project's implementation will provide free access worldwide to core humanities resources in Chinese language and culture.

University of Massachusetts, Amherst
Indexing Handwritten Manuscripts
Project director: Raghavan Manmatha, (413) 545-3623

This project will develop techniques for indexing digitized copies of handwritten historical manuscripts composed by a single author. Using the Library of Congress's digitized corpus of George Washington's papers, comprising 6,400 scanned manuscript pages, the project's staff will develop a fast-indexing algorithm that will locate similarities in the images of handwritten words. The project will result in a prototype to search for individual words in digitized handwritten manuscript collections.

Stanford University
Creating standards and procedures for online encyclopedias
Project directors: John Perry and Edward N. Zalta, (650) 723-0488

With previous NEH support, Stanford University has developed an online encyclopedia of philosophy with entries providing an introduction for laypersons and specialized subtopics for scholars (http://plato.stanford.edu/). Each entry includes comprehensive bibliographies with cross-references and links to related Internet resources. Now this project's staff will develop procedures enabling contributors to regularly update their entries to reflect the latest knowledge and other scholars to provide critical commentaries on the entries. Project members will codify the flow of text from authors to editors and produce specifications for encoding online reference works using the Extensible Markup Language (XML). The project will be a prototype for development of online reference works in the humanities and sciences, with built-in processes for updating, refereeing and tracking deadlines.

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