The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation is interested in promoting the application of digital technologies to academic research as well as learning and teaching. The Foundation also supports investigations of new technical approaches to the archiving of textual and multimedia materials that require improved search and storage techniques and improvements in user-interfaces.
At the April 17 Lunch ‘n Learn session, Ira Fuchs summarized several of the most recent Foundation technology initiatives. He began by showing a diagram that illustrates the interrelationships among many of the Mellon-funded technology initiatives. Each node in the diagram represents a specific initiative. The lines reflect relationships between and among the nodes.
Early Foundation efforts notably included:
• JSTOR, which digitizes and makes available scholarly journals in dozens of academic discipline and is now an independent, self-sustaining, not-for profit organization serving more than 2,000 institutions worldwide.
• ArtSTOR, a parallel to JSTOR that creates, maintains, and distributes an electronic library of digital works of art, architecture, cultural objects, manuscripts, and related scholarly materials.
• OpenCourseWare, an initiative to encourage colleges and universities to make their instructional materials available online under licenses that permit free and open use by others.
• The Open Knowledge Initiative (OKI), an effort among several institutions of higher education to facilitate the development and delivery of learning management and educational software applications.
• Sakai, a collaborate effort among more than 50 institutions of higher education to integrate and synchronize the best features of their course management systems, the tools that faculty use to post course requirements, readings, and assignments and to facilitate students within courses to share their ideas and their work.
The interconnections among the applications reflect Mellon’s purposeful efforts to seek projects that build upon existing work, and to foster actively collaboration and synergies among the efforts. The VUE [Visual Understanding Environment] software that supports such concept mapping was developed at Tufts University and is itself a Mellon Foundation-supported application. The most recent version 3 is incorporating PowerPoint-like features that support presentations within the classroom.
Thematically linked applications in the diagram are clustered. For example, administrative applications that provide functions common to most institutions of higher education occupy the lower left quadrant. These new systems are being written by and for colleges and universities under open source licenses for administering research projects, financial systems, student systems, and the like.
The Foundation recently funded OpenCollection, an application developed by the Museum for the Moving Image that aims to assist small and mid-sized museums to manage increasingly robust types of holdings. The Museum maintains objects of all sorts, from traditional drawing and paintings through film costumes and audio and multi-media files.
Fuchs demonstrated several newly developed Mellon Foundation-supported software applications.
Sophie attempts to redefine the future of the book or academic paper. Rather than treat such works as a series of linear, textual pages, Sophie treats books and papers as multimedia objects, facilitating the integration of text with rich media and encouraging reader feedback and conversations. Sophie runs in a virtual machine called Squeak (a variant of the Smalltalk language), so it can operate on any platform on which Squeak is supported, including Windows, the MacOS, and Linux. More importantly, such books can move from machine to machine without affecting the actual contents of the book or the way those contents are integrated and displayed.
Sophie is intuitive and relatively to ease, and far easier to use than comparable tools such as Flash. From a reader’s perspective, Sophie books can be artistically formatted, incorporate audio and video, and they offer the unprecedented opportunity to add personal annotations or even to share thoughts about the work with an online community of other readers.
Zotero is a free, open-source, easy-to-use Firefox plug-in that permits users to integrate many traditional academic activities such as word processing, bibliographic management, and online archival access into a single application. Like commercial bibliographic management tools such as Endnote and RefWorks, Zotero supports common bibliographic formats and it obviously eases the chore of populating bibliographies and citation collections, but Zotero has the advantage of directly supporting Web-based research as well. For example, when you load a web page, Zotero can detect relevant bibliographic information, and will permit you to add the citation and even the page contents to your digital collection. Fuchs demonstrated one unique new feature: After Zotero automatically brought in a YouTube video, Fuchs was able to clip and annotate a segment. Zotero then saved an exact citation to that segment. Fuchs noted that, for the second year in a row, Zotero has won PC Magazine‘s award for the best free software and that the software has been downloaded now more than 750,000 times, and is growing at a current rate of more than 75,000 new users per month.
The Internet Archive has stored billions of pages in an effort to preserve the information as well as the look and feel of the World Wide Web. A Mellon-supported effort at George Mason University’s Center for History and New Media (CHNM) uses Zotero to create a URI, [Uniform Resource Identifier] and has the Internet Archive store a copy of the page. The result is a guarantee that your web-citation will persist. To share citations and comment, CHNM is also working on a Zotero Commons that will permit researchers to save citations, content, and indeed, any digital object that you want to share with other scholars.
Another Andrew W. Mellon Foundation-funded project, SEASR (Software Environment for the Advancement of Scholarly Research) is creating a modular research and development environment in support of leading digital initiatives in the humanities. SEASR will permit researchers to build interesting research environments; it will help scholars to access existing large, multimedia data stores; it will provide enhanced data synthesis and query analysis; and it will enable sophisticated collaboration among scholars.
Fuchs demonstrated the use of the SEASR environment for music information retrieval and classification, sending a piece of music through different classifiers to assess both the genre and the mood of the piece. The result is that it’s possible to classify large repositories of music data for discovery and comparative analysis.
About the Speaker:
Ira Fuchs joined The Andrew W. Foundation in July 2000 in the newly created position of Vice President for Research in Information Technology and began directing the Foundation’s investigations of digital technologies. Prior to joining The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Mr. Fuchs served as the Vice President for Computing and Information Technology at Princeton University (1985-2000), where he was responsible for the overall management of the University’s academic and administrative computing services, electronic communications, media, intranet, and printing services.
He was Vice Chancellor for University Systems at the City University of New York (1980-1985) and Executive Director of the CUNY Computer Center (1973-1980). In 1981 he founded the BITNET Network, the first and world’s largest academic telecommunications network, and later served as president of its successor, the Corporation for Research and Educational Networking (CREN).
Fuchs currently serves on the board of trustees of JSTOR, Sarah Lawrence College, and the Princeton Public Library. He received his M.S. in Computer Science and B.S. in Physics at Columbia University.
A podcast is available.