Carnegie Mellon University


August 29, 2017

CMU, Pitt Receive Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Grant To Plan Platform for Digital Scholarship

By Shilo Rea

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has awarded Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh a grant to research the development of a standardized platform for digital scholarship. The $60,000, 18-month grant will support “Digits,” a project that will explore how new technologies that make it increasingly easy to publish, share, reproduce and archive complex digital materials can be sustained in a unified and flexible way.

CMU’s Jessica Otis and Scott Weingart, digital humanities specialists, and Pitt’s Matt Burton, visiting assistant professor, and Matt Lavin, clinical assistant professor of English and director of the digital media lab, will lead the Digits project. Their goal is to deliver a solution to several limitations that advances in technology have placed on traditional research publications. Their approach will focus on “containerization,” a technology used to minimize software system administration costs while increasing scale and flexibility.

Currently, researchers invest countless time and resources creating interactive pieces and self-publishing them online.

“But scholars might change web hosts or let subscriptions expire,” said Lavin. “This leads to something called link rot. The responsibility of digital preservation needs to be shifted from individual researchers to journal publishers or university archives.”

Digits will also allow digital projects and small-scale work to be preserved and updated to remain current.

“It is often considered double-dipping or even cheating to publish nearly identical research as more data becomes available,” Weingart said. “Digits would provide infrastructure for regularly-updating publications, as with an article that relays perpetually current popular opinions about romance fiction based on a large-scale analysis of online reviews.”

In addition to the four principal researchers, an advisory board has been established for Digits and includes Dan Cohen, director of the Digital Public Library of America; Andrew Odewahn, chief technology officer of O’Reilly Media; Sharon Leon, director of public projects at the Center for History and New Media; and Martin Paul Eve, founding editor of the Open Library of the Humanities.

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation recently awarded CMU a five-year, $2 million grant to train humanities Ph.D. students in digital scholarship and the pedagogic use of technology-enhanced learning (TEL) tools.