HTRC receives $500,000 from Andrew W. Mellon Foundation

Stephen Downie
J. Stephen Downie, Professor, Associate Dean for Research, and Co-Director of the HathiTrust Research Center

The HathiTrust Research Center (HTRC) has received a $500,000 grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to fund a project that will develop new methods for creating and analyzing digital collections, with an emphasis on content related to historically under-resourced and marginalized textual communities. Principal investigators are based at the School of Information Sciences (iSchool) at the University of Illinois, Indiana University, and the University of Kansas.

The project, Scholar-Curated Worksets for Analysis, Reuse & Dissemination (SCWAReD, pronounced "squared"), will allow the HTRC to develop reusable worksets and research models, curated by experts, for analyzing texts from the 17-million-volume HathiTrust Digital Library.

The HTRC's general mission is to provide tools and services to support computational research on the HathiTrust corpus, an ever-growing collection of digital texts. SCWAReD pairs human expertise with advanced technologies in the service of identifying, recovering, and curating texts by writers that are hidden among vast digital library collections. The project will explore processes for curating and digitally preserving a variety of research artifacts (methods, collections, derived data, and research reports) that can serve as reusable models for the entire digital research lifecycle.

John A. Walsh, director of the HTRC and associate professor at Indiana University's Luddy School of Informatics, Computing, and Engineering, affirms the project's commitment to expanding public knowledge.

"Our focus on historically under-resourced and marginalized texts and communities will allow us to highlight the diversity of the collection and identify gaps where that diversity may be lacking. We expect that the reusable worksets and research models will facilitate outreach and extend the use of HTRC tools and services into new research communities and in the classroom," said Walsh.

iSchool Professor and Associate Dean for Research J. Stephen Downie, co-director of the HTRC, will lead the Illinois team, which is responsible for research support and tool development, and will contribute to collaborations in the workset-curation grants to be administered under the SCWAReD project.

Downie oversees the development of new HTRC tools and data products and will lead efforts to incorporate newly derived data and worksets into the HTRC's existing infrastructure.

"Because the SCWAReD project encourages scholars to preserve and document their most significant research artifacts—from their worksets and the principles that went into creating and curating them, to the algorithms that are used to interrogate them, as well as the data that is derived or produced during analysis—reviewers and other researchers will be in a much better position to replicate, refute, or build on their findings," explained Downie. "The work produced as part of SCWAReD will have a clear and transparent provenance and rigor that are rare in contemporary digital textual scholarship."

For its flagship and initial curated collection and research model, SCWAReD will partner with the University of Kansas' Project on the History of Black Writing (HBW), founded by Maryemma Graham in 1983. After compiling the first dedicated archive of Black Fiction, HBW created the Black Book Interactive Project (BBIP) as a way to increase the visibility of and research on Black-authored materials. The University of Kansas BBIP team will work closely with HTRC to develop a workset on the HBW corpus, and to perform the associated analysis, generation of derived data, documentation, and project white paper. Graham will likewise have a principal role in the selection of three other competitively chosen scholar-curated collections to be funded under SCWAReD.

"Through HTRC's collaboration with Professor Graham and other scholars who will be invited to participate in the SCWAReD project, HTRC will demonstrate the possibilities of digital research using HTRC tools and services and the HathiTrust's massive digital library," Walsh said.

"This partnership allows us to realize the original intent of what many call the ‘digital turn:’ an ability to share knowledge more broadly and to advance scholarship through collaborative opportunities enhanced by technology," Graham said. "Unfortunately, the legacy of racialized practices has followed us and made too much of our knowledge invisible. While it might not be possible to start on a level playing field, we can work together to develop a model for building more inclusive databases and content specific worksets that derive from them. This is an unusual, but much needed partnership that can be replicated across the digital landscape: we both bring something to the table, we both care about research, and we both care about what a rigorous investigation into a more diverse knowledge network can tell us."

The HathiTrust Research Center (HTRC) is a collaborative research center launched jointly by Indiana University and the University of Illinois, along with HathiTrust, to help meet the technical challenges researchers face when dealing with massive amounts of digital text. In addition to enabling the computational analysis of the HathiTrust corpus, the center develops cutting-edge software tools and cyberinfrastructure to enable advanced computational access to the growing digital record of human knowledge.

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