Second-guessing Project Bamboo

How can we advance arts and humanities research through the development of shared technology services?

This is the question that the Bamboo Project seeks to answer. Last week, colleagues and folks I met at THATCamp were at the second Bamboo workshop, and I've been following their comments on Twitter. Count me as a skeptic. Keep in mind that I'm also a bit of a carpetbagger: a programmer with a math and physics background working in the humanities, not a humanities researcher. Unlike most digital humanities researchers, however, I have had experience working with broken legacy architectures.

The creation of computer network architectures is fraught with social and technical difficulties and architects are almost certain to get it wrong the first time (Gopher, for example). They might even get it wrong the second time around (WS-*, for example). The GIS community's standard service architecture (OGC W*S) is terribly wrong for the Web, and I fear a repeat in the digital humanities. It's not that the designers lack for domain expertise or goodwill, just that it's a perilous enterprise. The architectures we design today will likely be wrong for, or feel wrong for, or smell wrong to, the digital humanities programmers and integrators of the future. There's a lot of risk for Bamboo here, especially if the disdain for the "Wild West" Web evident in the proposal leads to needless reinvention.

More important than service infrastructure for the advancement of these fields is education and skills. Let's graduate students and future scholars with competency in computing, including:

  • XML
  • High level programming languages (Python, Ruby, etc)
  • Web architecture, HTTP, HTML
  • Formal logic
  • RDF (and RDFa)

They'll be perfectly equipped to design exactly the services they need based on proven architectures like the Web.

Update (2008-10-20): via Tom Elliot, I realize I've rediscovered some of the skill set proposed by Lisa Spiro.

Update (2008-10-21): Hugh Cayless reports on the second workshop.