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The humanities, as lonely as a cloud

Portrait of William Wordsworth, a famous English poet, by artist Benjamin Robert Haydon. Image courtesy National Portrait Gallery, London.

"I wandered lonely as a cloud" is a poem by William Wordsworth, an English poet who helped start the 18th century Romanticism era in British literature. It was used by Sheila Anderson at the recent ISGC conference in Taipei with an irony Wordsworth himself could never have anticipated.

Anderson, from the Centre for e-Research at the King's College London, wants the ability to have on-demand grid services. A humanities academic - or 'humanist,' as she called them - should be able to dip in and out of grid resources at their convenience, to help them study Wordsworth, as well as archaeology, ancient history, literature, and the great range of disciplines that are pulled under the banner of humanities.

The humanities are often more neglected from a distributed computing perspective than the sciences, including particle physics, genomics, and medicine, but they have just as much data to process. Their data, though, is dispersed around the world in archives, galleries, libraries, and museums. And it's stored in a variety of formats: manuscripts, books, objects, and artifacts.

How can they work with analogue and digital data in one streamlined environment? Grids are a realistic option for a 'spatial humanities,' she said, where scholars can virtually share and update research together and publish results in an academic hub.

There is no one humanities, Anderson said, but a number of disciplines under one roof. As such, there is no single standard for recording and analyzing data. Anderson's priority is not really growing the software or hardware, but on building a 'collective intelligence' for humanities researchers. As the data deluge continues, all practitioners involved should be able to exchange expertise, make informed decisions and learn together. Undeniably, a robust computing infrastructure will enable cross-disciplinary dialog.

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