Cultural Heritage and Informatics Initiative

Hosted by the Department of Anthropology in partnership with Matrix, the Cultural Heritage Informatics Initiative is a platform for interdisciplinary scholarly collaboration and communication in the domain of Cultural Heritage Informatics at Michigan State University. In addition, the initiative strives to equip students (both graduate and undergraduate) in the many cultural heritage focused disciplines at MSU (Anthropology, History, Art History, Classics, Museum Studies, Historical & Cultural Geography, etc.) with the practical and analytical skills necessary creatively to apply information, communication, and computing technologies to cultural heritage materials, influence the current state of cultural heritage informatics, and become thought leaders for the future of cultural heritage informatics.

What is “Cultural Heritage Informatics”?

In recent years, the term “informatics” has become popular to describe a wide variety of content domains: music informatics, chemical informatics, community informatics, bio-informatics, social informatics just to name a few.  At its simplest (and most inclusive), the term “informatics” is used to describe the creative application of information, communication, and computing technologies (broadly defined) to address the needs, challenges, and content of a specific domain.  Cultural heritage informatics, then, refers to the creative application of information and computing technologies to the domain of cultural heritage.

Collaboration at the Core

The idea that interdisciplinary collaboration is beneficial, even necessary, for cultural heritage informatics is embraced in all aspects of the initiative.  Participating scholars come from a wide variety of background and disciplines, and all recognize that cultural heritage (and therefor cultural heritage informatics) is an interdisciplinary undertaking.  In addition, all of the initiative’s educational efforts deeply stress the importance of interdisciplinary collaboration.  Cultural Heritage Informatics Fellows are drawn from a broad array of departments and programs at MSU, and are provided an environment in which they can work together on projects whose importance extends beyond one specific discipline or department.

Building as a Way of Knowing

In recent years, the philosophy of “building as a way of knowing” (or “hacking as a way of knowing” as some call it) has taken firm root in the Digital Humanities.  The idea that one can acquire a far deeper understanding of tools, technologies, platforms, and systems (both in terms of applications and broader implications) through development is an important perspective, and one that is embraced by the Cultural Heritage Informatics Initiative.  This perspective is especially important in our educational efforts.  Both the CHI Fellowships and the CHI Fieldschool are built firmly on the principle that students develop a far better understanding of cultural heritage informatics by actually building tools, applications, and digital user experiences than they do with passive analysis and commentary. The added benefit is that by building tools, applications, and digital user experiences, students are also given the opportunity to make a tangible and potentially significant contribution to the scholarly community.