Digital Arts and Humanities Spring Semester Kickoff

Late holiday gift, perhaps you missed it under the tree, but we have a Cray supercomputer (well, ITC does, but they are encouraging us to think of ways to use it). Gwen Jacobs, the UH systemwide Director of Cyberinfrastructure, will give us a walk through of the capabilities and possibilities. Now is the time to make the arts and humanities a presence, since ITC are looking for projects to make use of the new computer. If you have ideas for how you would use high performance computing for a project, propose it to David Goldberg ( and we will work with you to make it happen.


The location will be different from our usual meeting in the history Library. We will meet at ITC 410, the new Information Tech Center Building behind Kennedy Theater. The meeting will be at the usual time, Monday, January 12, from noon to 1:15. Your name will need to be at the door, so if you would like to come, please RSVP to David by Thursday noon. If you are not sure, give us your name anyway. It does not obligate you to come, but it gets you upstairs if you do.


Gwen’s presentation will be a great forum for finding out what you can do and asking any questions. With that in mind, I have put together a few quotes and links apropos A&H supercomputing to save your googling and perhaps stir your imagination:


A CNN Money report on our supercomputer pulled from the press releases.

Probably the most developed user of HPC for Humanities is I-CHASS, Institute for Computing in the Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences, at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications, at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

A definition of supercomputing for the humanities from the NEH:

 So what do we mean by “HHPC?” Humanities High-Performance Computing (HHPC) refers to the use of high-performance machines for humanities and social science projects. Currently, only a small number of humanities scholars are taking advantage of high-performance computing. But just as the sciences have, over time, begun to tap the enormous potential of HPC, the humanities are beginning to as well. Humanities scholars often deal with large sets of unstructured data. This might take the form of historical newspapers, books, election data, archaeological fragments, audio or video contents, or a host of others. HHPC offers the humanist opportunities to sort through, mine, and better understand and visualize this data.


3 supercomputing humanities projects briefly described (2008)


And a few more ideas along with a caveat from SharcNet:

Humanities researchers have identified two potential application areas for HPC: text analysis and rich media.

Researchers interested in text analysis point out that the Internet now presents humanities researchers with datasets that are orders of magnitude greater than anything they have ever had before, numbering in the billions of pages. …

Researchers interested in rich media suggest that HPC will support humanities research directed toward the development of Massive Multi-user Online Environments (MMOs), and equivalent platforms. An MMO is a repository of information spatially arranged. It supports the generation, instantiation, dissemination and documentation of content of all sorts. In many ways, its functions are equivalent to that of the book. It is distinguished, however, by the forms of representation it supports. Instead of text and number, it will support heterogeneous forms of representation that combine text, sound, 2D, 3D and 4D objects. These forms will be used to represent objects such as cities, creating extremely large datasets that will require HPC clusters to support their operation. If humanities scholars mean to exploit the analytical and expressive potentials that multimedia MMO environments present, they will need to do two things. They will need to create expressive and attestive conventions to govern the use of multi-media objects in 4D environments. They will also need to create workflows to govern the generation, documentation and peer review of scholarly content. Both tasks will require research.


Project Project Description Discipline Type of HPC
MONK Growing out of the NORA Project, Monk is a collaborative effort through several North American universities, focused on expanding the possibilities of text analysis through visualization of text in a 3-dimensional space. Text Analysis Visualization
Gridcast The Belfast e-Science Centre (BESC) and the BBC are finding solutions to storing and organizing vast archives of video content Media & Communications Mass Storage, Parallel Processing
Spirited Ruins Boston University’s HiPArt project utilizes HPC to generate this interactive 3-D space. Visual Art Visualization


More Project Examples


What constraints hinder effective exploitation of HPC in the humanities?

In HPC computing, projects are traditionally run on a queued batch basis, meaning you submit your project, the HPC cluster or clusters compute it, and then the results are returned to you. There are humanities scholars who could operate comfortably in such an HPC regime.  Humanities researchers who wish to undertake meaningful research in MMO environments or aggregated text collections, however, will require interactive access to HPC resources on a long-term basis.  To realize such a research vision, HPC networks will need to work with the digital humanitists to develop the cyberinfrastructure to support long-term interaction with virtual environments and digital text copora, in addition to batch processing of research projects.