Arts/Humanities on the Information Highway

by Ben Howell Davis

Report to the Working Group on Electronic Resources for the Ad Hoc Steering Committee for Humanities and Arts on the Information Highway: A National Initiative sponsored by the Getty Art History Information Program, the Coalition for Networked Information, and the American Council of Learned Societies. Submitted to the National Information Infrastructure (NII) Task Force June, 1994.

Copyright, 1994.

On May 3, 1994, the Working Group on Electronic Resources for Arts and Humanities met in Washington, DC, to discuss the following five quesitons in order to compile a report to the National Information Infrastructure (NII) Task Force. This report should serve to influence the NII's attitude toward valuing cul tural information on the Internet as a national resource for creativity and learning:

What are the representative resources in the humanities and arts on the Internet?

What five resources would you name as most exemplary of the humanities and artscomputing?

How are the resources currently available, on or off the network, utilized for teaching, research, and creative endeavor?

What are some of the resources (including scholarly and research programs, teaching programs, finding aids, catalogs, tools of the organization) that are not currently available and, if available, would enhance the utility of current and future resources, particularly on the network?

What is needed to inculcate wider knowledge of existing resources, and what steps are to be taken to build upon exisiting programs and tools to create a network of humanities and arts resources of national significance. Relationships to Literacy It is becoming clear that the use of the Internet for education should serve national interests. The Internet's origin in the scientific community has firmly established that the Internet serves the national educational interest in science and mathematics. It would seem that the use of the Internet for education in Arts and Humanites should serve a fundamental national interest in literacy, both for reading and writing text and understanding the role of visualization in learning.

Put another way, if the integrating factor for the scientific community is the exchange of data, what is the integrating factor for arts and humanities? The answer that comes to mind is text and image (images meaning still, motion, graphic, and sound structures).

This aspect of the support of the Arts and Humanities on the Information High way should not be underestimated. Literacy is a fundamental reason for supporting the presentation of more and more Arts and Humanities programming.

Higher order justifications like "cultural heritage", while important and necessary, are not as crucial or competitive as fundamental national interests like proficiency in science and math. Without basic literacy skills, there is no progress in math and science. The case could therefore be made that Arts and Humanities are the prerequites for math and science in that you must be able to have high order skills in reading and writing to do math and science.

With the advent of multimedia structures on the Internet, there is a growing necessity for exploring new forms of literacy. These forms have traditionally been the domain of artists and writers. It would seem important then to define "exhibition spaces" on the Internet where users could consistently find experiments in new information visualization structures and interface design.

The models for this type of information production and distribution are to be found in domains that are hybrids of publishing and communications. These domains rely on distribution as a reward for creative endeavor rather than on static achievements. Models like the music industry could provide interesting insight into the economics and potential structure of the Arts and Humanities on the Internet. Understanding music and the music industry requires that you know how to "read" music or at least know how to read about it.

Public Domains

Another interesting concept that came out of the May 3rd meeting in Washington was the notion of creating a "critical mass" of public domain multimedia material that educators could shape into educational experiences at little or no cost. If the Internet is conceptualized as a space rather than the road that runs through the space, it is easy to imagine public domains as places where commonly held cultural materials are stored and accessed.

The Library of Congress in whole or part could be considered a public domain architecture along the highway. In this kind of thinking the Internet becomes "national geography" for information rather than "national infrastructure". It raises all the questions of real estate law rather than publishing law. Or perhaps it is a combination of real estate, transportation, and copyright law?


The Center for Educational Computing Initiatives (CECI) was created in July, 1991 to advance the state-of-the-art and state-of-the-practice in the use of compu tation and communication technologies in education. In brief, CECI's mission is as follows: to undertake research in the application of computer and communica tions technologies directed towards the goal of improving the effectiveness and productivity of learning and education. Implicit in this mission is the hypothesis that new technologies can improve the quality of education in many areas and that a sustained research focus on such uses of technology will, over time, yield such improvements.

Projects in CECI focus on the three following areas: the development of technol ogies that enable educational applications, including authoring systems, toolkits or libraries of computer code that make the creation of effective networked multimedia computer applications easier and less expensive; the authoring of new educational multimedia applications that can be network accessible; studies of how various uses of computer technology affect education, particularly the extent to which innovations in computer applications improve the quality of education.

A major technical project at CECI sponsored by corporations and academic orga nizations in Europe, Japan, and the U.S. is the AthenaMuse Software Consortium which is producing the AthenaMuse distributed multimedia authoring language on PC, Macintosh, and UNIX platforms in networked environments.

Internet Projects of Interest

There are a variety of multimedia projects on the Internet currently that have been of interest to CECI and faculty at MIT related to the Arts and Humanities. These projects are important in terms of content and technical aspects.

The Arts and Humanities multimedia applications on the Internet have the most innovative interface designs, make the most use of integrated visual materials, push the limits of hypermedia design structures, mix stuctural metaphors like books and movies, simulation and visualization, and generally provide a space for new and exciting presentations of interactive information on the Internet. Most of them can be accessed through Mosaic and the World Wide Web Exhibit Organization EXPO Ticket Office.

ROME REBORN: THE VATICAN LIBRARY AND RENAISSANCE CULTURE presents some 200 of the Vatican Library's most precious manuscripts, books, and maps--many of which played a key role in the humanist recovery of the classical heritage of Greece and Rome. The exhibition presents the untold story of the Vatican Library as the intellectual driving force behind the emer gence of Rome as a political and scholarly superpower during the Renaissance.

The SOVIET ARCHIVE EXHIBIT is the first public display of the hithert highly secret internal record of Soviet Communist rule. The willingness of the new Russian Archival Committee under Pikhoia to cooperate in preparing this exhibit with the Library of Congress dramatizes the break that a newly democratic Rus sia is attempting to make with the entire Soviet past. This exhibit illustrates both the domestic and the foreign policy of Soviet rule.

1492: AN ONGOING VOYAGE examines the first sustained contacts between American people and European explorers, conquerors and settlers from 1492 to 1600. During this period, in the wake of Columbus' voyages, Africans also arrived in the hemisphere, usually as slaves. All of these encounters, some brutal and traumatic, others more gradual, irreversibly changed the way in which peo ples in the Americas led their lives. The dramatic events following 1492 set the stage for numerous cultural interactions in the Americas which are still in progress - a complex and ongoing voyage. Exhibit of the Library of Congress, Washington, DC.

The Museum of Paleontology, from the University of California, Berkeley has created a nice pavilion, which shows AN EXHIBITION OF FOSSIL LIFE. Pale ontologists study past life by understanding both the biology and evolution of organisms and the geology of where the organisms are found. These two lines of evidence help us to recreate the diversity of past life. This work helps to clarify major issues about large and small scale geologic events, large and small scale extinction and origination of groups of animals, and in general clarify the progression of life on earth. This exhibit presents some of the diversity of life that has existed in the past.

The exhibition SCROLLS FROM THE DEAD SEA: THE ANCIENT LIBRARY OF QUMRAN AND MODERN SCHOLARSHIP shows selections from the scrolls which have been the subject of intense public interest. Over the years, questions have been raised about the scrolls' authenticity, about the people who hid them away and the the period in which they lived, about the secrets the scrolls might reveal, and about the intentions of the scrolls' custodians in restrict ing access. The Library's exhibition describes the historical context of the scrolls and the Qumran community from whence they may have originated; it also relates the story of their discovery 2,000 years later. In addition, the exhibition encourages a better understanding of the challenges and complexities connected with scroll research. Exhibit at the Library of Congress, Washington, DC.

The exhibit THE "PALACE" OF DIOCLETIAN AT SPLIT describes a unique structure from the later Roman empire. The city of Spalato was founded by the emperor Diocletian; he made it his own dwelling place, and built within it a court and a palace. The importance of Spalato resides both in its state of preservation, and in the dearth of comparable examples from the Roman world. There are no coherent palace structures left in Italy. Architecture and history are some key words for this exhibit which shows more than 80 objects.

Other Sites of Interest The Krannert Art Museum and Kinkead Pavilion, located on the campus of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, has prepared an electronic sampler of the museum's permanent collection. Educational materials and other informa tion about the museum are also available.

The Electronic Visualization Laboratory at the University of Illinois at Chicago shows represent collaborative work between computer graphics graduate researchers at EVL and research scientists across the United States.

The World Wide Web exhibition of Ansel Adams: Fiat Lux. As part of the Uni versity of California, Irvine, twenty-fifth anniversary celebration in 1990-1991, UCI organized an exhibition of 100 prints from this collection. None of the prints had been exhibited previously. The world premier of "Ansel Adams: Fiat Lux" was held at the Irvine campus in January of 1991.

University of Virginia Library Renaissance and Baroque Architecture (Architectural History 102).

African Art: Aesthetics and Meaning. Electronic exhibition catalog.

Australian National University, 2800 images and short records (stored on CDROM and accessed using Mosaic) dealing with the history of printmaking and `Architecture in the Mediterranean Basin'.

MIT/CECI Projects

In addition to a variety of multimedia applications aimed at future use on the Internet, CECI is involved in a number of Internet projects that address specific technical issues.

CECI and the Engineering Research Center at Mississippi State University are collaborating to integrate AthenaMuse 2 and Mosaic to create a powerful soft ware tool that allows authors to integrate Mosaic documents directly into the multimedia applications they create and to develop tools within the AthenaMuse authoring environment that allow users to create Mosaic documents that offer a greater degree of interactivity and which can include powerful simulations.

CECI is also collaborating with the University of Maryland's Academic Computing Services of the College of Engineering and the Loral AeroSys Corporation on a proposal to NASA to create AthenaMuse interface support for delivering NASA Earth Orbit Satellite data directly to public K-12 schools via Internet. The tools created by this project will be extremely useful to museums and other kinds of humanities and arts organizations for delivering information to this level of school in the U.S.

The MIT Museum and CECI are collaborating to create an online multimedia database. This project, which uses a commercial object-oriented database, has several objectives including the ability to catalogue and manage musuem collec tions, facilitate inter-communication between archival institutions by providing support for the MARC that will allow users to search and access museum records remotely through the Internet, and display information on museum objects using multiple media (text, images, audio, graphics, etc.) to best represent the objects. This project represents a commitment by the MIT Museum and CECI to create software tools and systems that can be utilized by other institutions at low cost while providing maximum flexibility and extensibility.

These projects represent a nucleus of technical innovations directly aimed at using the Internet for educational creativity. The ability to access multimedia materials, create multimedia applications from these materials, and integrate these materials into educational experiences are primary concerns of CECI. At the core of this concern is the ability to facilitate distance learning for continuing, life-long education.

MIT Projects for Internet

LEA is Leonardo Electronic Almanac, a monthly electronic newsletter (now being called a journal) distributed over the Internet to subscribers of the journal Leonardo and to non-subscribers for an additional fee of $25/year. (Subscribers of Leonardo will have to pay $15/year to get LEA starting July 1, 1994.) The editor is Craig Harris ( Back and current issues reside there, as well as various related files.

Anonymous ftp to: cd pub/Leonardo.

An "under construction" WWW area for the MIT Press . The complete Journals 1994 catalogue is available for browsing, along with a few of its Fall 93 books.

The following projects in the Arts and Humanities at MIT are being created in association with various levels of support from CECI and are being done as full scale multimedia projects for curriculum development. All or parts of these applications are destined for residence on the Internet within the next three years.


The Edgerton Project is a joint effort of CECI, the MIT Museum, and the Interna tional Museum of Photography at the George Eastman House in Rochester, New York. Funded by the Edgerton Foundation, the project will document the life and work of Professor Harold (Doc) Edgerton. A subset of the collection is already being prototyped for Mosaic display.

The MIT Museum Architecture Project demonstrates how multimedia can be used to increase access to the MIT Museum's Architectural Drawings Collection and to convey the history of MIT's School of Architecture, which was the first of its kind in the United States. This prototype consists of collection modules which allows users to browse the full collection, study collection, or student collection.


Kidder-Smith: archive of digital images using a selection from the Kidder-Smith Slide Archive, an important collection of 3,400 color slides of American archi tecture. Many of these images represent color documentation of black & white illustrations found in the 3, "The Architecture of the United States: An Illustrated Guide to Notable Buildings, Open to the Public.," authored by archi tect and architectural photographer, G.E. Kidder-Smith. The slide archive sys tematically covers 805 buildings from the pre-Columbian period to 1978 and includes sequences of 3-8 slides for some buildings. Approx.2,000 slides docu ment mid- and late-20th c. buildings, with special attention to the 1950s and 1960s.

Boston Suburbs, planned communities: Documentation of 38 Boston area neigh- borhoods that exemplify suburban development in America. A videodisc collec tion of over 7,000 images currently supported on the Sun platform using CECI's AthenaMuse I. Boston Suburbs is arranged in chronological periods from pre-1865 to post-1960 and features two videotaped interviews with subdivision designers. Funded by grant monies, the project was directed by Lois Craig, assisted by Merrill Smith, Nishan Bichajian and graduate students Julie Johnson and Shakeel Hossain.

Boston Project images: A collection of nearly 7,000 images of Boston docu- menting historic and contemporary maps, plans and views of the city's business district and neighborhoods captured on videodisc and including a searchable database of image records. Undertaken as part of Project Athena this project was directed by Merrill Smith and featured innovations such as a lighttable for manipulation of images.

Digital Image Prototype: project to design on MOSAIC a core collection of images for use in 2 HTC survey courses, Introduction to Art History, 4.601, and Introduction to History and Theory of Architecture, 4.605, taught by Profs. Leila Kinney and David Friedman, respectively. A collaborative venture of the MIT Libraries and the School of Architecture and Planning.

Kepes-Lynch: This collection consists of 1,850 mounted black & white photo- graphs of Boston and Environs, 1954-56, commissioned by MIT Professors Georgy Kepes and Kevin Lynch, photographed by Nishan Bichajian and funded by a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation. The collection documents, by series of photographs, the spatial relationship of buildings and streets and the uses made of the city by pedestrians and vehicles. Sequences include Copley Square, Back Bay, Boston Common, South Station and Scollay Square as well as a section devoted to thematic photographs: graffiti, signs and symbols by day and night, weathervanes and traffic intersections.


Direction Paris A la rencontre de Philippe: This is an interactive narrative filmed in Paris for learning French, from the elementary to the advanced level. The student helps Philippe, a young journalist, through a difficult day that includes romantic prob lems and apartment-hunting.

Dans le quartier St. Gervais: Dans le quartier St. Gervais is an interactive documentary filmed in Paris with extensive historical materials. It was designed for learning the French language and culture from the elementary to the advanced level through a simulated visit to a neighborhood in Paris. Students nav igate through the neighborhood and view documentary video segments, related photographs, and archival information.

Fourth of July

Filmed in Boston, this interactive documentary is for intermediate to advanced level individuals learning English as a second language. Currently a prototype is expected to be completed by the summer of 1994.

No recuerdo

This is an interactive narrative with documentary extensions set in Bogota, Colombia for learning Spanish from the intermediate to advanced level. The student plays the role of a journalist who explores contemporary Bogota and reports on the mysterious amnesia and possible kidnapping of a distinguished Colombian scientist. It is under negotiation for publication in early 1995.

Paradox of Women in Developing Countries

A Spanish language learning project, Paradox of Women in Developing Coun tries is based on documentary footage from a television program broadcasted in South America and then repurposed into an interactive multimedia learning environment. Focusing on the Miss Universe Pageant that took place in Lima, Peru, in 1982, this project investigates complex issues relating to the impact of such a widely viewed media event in a South American country struggling with poverty, terrorism, and other social issues. The project links women's studies, native cultures, international markets and commerce, local events, and the personal aspira tions of the pageant participants.

Shakespeare Interactive Archive Project

Although this application will not be ready for release until the fall of 1994 (Phase I), it is an electronic archive and classroom presentation system linking important performances of Shakespeare's plays with multiple versions of the texts, performance and film commentary, and flexible presentation and annota tion aids.

Tanabata: The Star Festival

This interactive documentary was filmed in Hiratsuka, Japan, for learning the Japanese language and culture from the intermediate to the advanced level by contrasting culture and language using the celebrations of two holidays, one in Japan and one in the United States. A prototype was developed in the spring of 1993, and further work continues.

Media Literacy

CECI has an interest in media literacy because it is fundamental to the unde standing of multimedia technologies. In 1991, CECI began collaborating with the Universidad Nacional de Educacion A Distancia (The National University of Distance Learning in Madrid, Spain -- UNED) to create a prototype media literacy multimedia program using the AthenaMuse authoring language and audio- video materials from UNED's "Reading and Mass Media" course.


Project ECUT (Educational Computing-UTdanningsinformatickk) is a research and development projected started in March of 1992. It receives its funding from the Norwegian Research Council, the University of Bergen, Norway, the L. Meltzer Fund, and the Faculty of the Arts at the University of Bergen. The University of Bergen is one of the sponsors of the design and development of AthenaMuse 2 software and ECUT is writing the Macintosh implementation of AthenaMuse 2 and is developing five educational applications.

Ritual y Fiesta en Mompox

An historical and cultural application showing the celebration of Easter in the small former slave town of Mompax, Columbia. The Easter celebration has its roots in the medieval Spanish traditions.

Operacion Futuro

A language and learning interactive story videotaped in Latin America. This stand-alone project includes classroom activities and laboratory versions for learning Spanish.

Tropical Horn of Plenty

A visual database of 40 tropical fruits depicted in photographs and video clips. It contains scientific botanical descriptions, an account of market opportunities, medicinal and pharmacological use and comments on cultural importance.

Point of Sale: The City

An advertising application containing a collection of television and radio com mercials. Communications strategies in both mediums are analyzed along with descriptions of the products and sponsoring industries.

Elektronisk Humaniora

A documentary with an overview of the use of technology in teaching and re search at the Faculty of the Arts at the University of Bergen from 1988 through 1995.