U.S. and Italian Cultural Agencies Inaugurate Scholarly Collaboration

WASHINGTON, (October 10, 2007)

Conference Unites American and Italian Experts to Examine Cultural Heritage

The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche (National Research Council, or “CNR”) of Italy held the first of two conferences encouraging the exchange of information and scholarly research in the humanities between Italy and the United States. The conference, “Using New Technologies to Explore Cultural Heritage,” hosted Oct. 5 at NEH headquarters, brought together American and Italian scholars and technology experts to discuss the use of digital tools to preserve and study cultural heritage.

The conference is the result of a June 2007 memorandum of understanding signed by NEH Chairman Dr. Bruce Cole and CNR Member of the Board of Directors, Prof. Roberto de Mattei. The memorandum aims to encourage scholarly collaboration in the humanities and provides for a second conference next spring in Rome.

A series of panel sessions at the conference highlighted the expertise of top U.S. and Italian scholars and experts who are using new digital tools to research, recover, and reconstruct cultural achievements in human history. These experts spoke on how digital technologies can, for example, construct a 3-D modeling of a lost ancient city, transcribe ancient texts, or develop interactive digital materials that aid our understanding of historic events and ideas.

“Digital technology is transforming the way that scholars research, archive, and present the humanities,” said NEH Chairman Bruce Cole. “Today’s conference participants are doing some of the best and most exciting work in the area of the digital humanities.” Chairman Cole lauded the efforts of these scholars to shed new light on a vital topic today in the scholarly community and in the broader culture—how we can use digital tools to better understand ourselves, our history, and our cultural heritage.

The panels also focused on the concepts and motives behind using these new technologies. Prof. Roberto de Mattei of CNR remarked on the possibilities new technologies afford to create a new, virtual space of cultural heritage. “One can imagine a virtual route which links monuments, archaeological finds, castles, abbeys, and even museums and libraries of the same area, not according to geographical itineraries, but rather following a conceptual system of relations and symbols,” stated Prof. de Mattei.

“I am confident that this is just the beginning of what will be a long and productive collaboration between our two agencies” stated Chairman Cole at an evening reception on Thursday, Oct. 4, hosted by Ambassador Giovanni Castellaneta and the Embassy of Italy. Prof. de Mattei emphasized “the importance of international collaboration, not merely for economic purposes but for purposes of culture.”

The reception honoring the collaboration of these Italian and American cultural agencies featured a keynote address from Steven Johnson. A best-selling author on the intersection of technology and personal experiences, Johnson spoke to guests on the nature of books and text in the digital age. “New technologies give the book great opportunities and avenues it can channel into,” said Johnson. “Let us keep the book at the center of learning, but open the book and make it connect to other forms of media,” which he said encourage collaboration, expansion, and the possibility for discovery.

The papers on the findings of the participating academics will be published in follow-up to the conference. All of the American scholars participating in the first conference have received Endowment funding for their scholarship.

This conference is part of the NEH's participation in the President’s Global Cultural Initiative, a major public-private initiative launched in 2006 to coordinate, enhance, and expand America’s cultural diplomacy efforts worldwide. The Endowment places special emphasis on the impact of digital technology on the humanities through its Digital Humanities Initiative (DHI). Further information about DHI, as well as a detailed conference agenda and list of speakers, is available on the NEH Web site.

The NEH and CNR gratefully acknowledge the President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities for its generous support.

Italy’s National Research Council (CNR) is a public organization; its duty is to carry out, promote, spread, transfer and improve research activities in the main sectors of knowledge growth and of its applications for the scientific, technological, economic, and social development of Italy. To this end, the activities of the organization are divided into macro areas of interdisciplinary scientific and technological research, concerning several sectors: biotechnology, medicine, materials, environment and land, information and communications, advanced systems of production, judicial and socio-economic sciences, classical studies, and arts. CNR is distributed all over Italy through a network of institutes aiming at promoting a wide diffusion of its competences throughout the national territory and at facilitating contacts and cooperation with local firms and organizations. For more information about the CNR of Italy, visit: www.cnr.it/sitocnr/Englishversion/Englishversion.html.

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