Headed by Dirk Wintergrün
Historical epistemology, as it is pursued at the Institute, is to a large extent dependent on a great variety of sources that represent different fields of knowledge. The new information technologies offer a potential for dealing with this abundance that has scarcely been exploited by traditional scholarship in the humanities. The newly-founded Information Technology Group aims to make this potential available to the projects and the individual scholars at the Institute, adapting existing tools and developing new instruments to their specific research goals. Its efforts can be based on the considerable experience accumulated within the Institute by various projects using advanced digital technologies, partly undertaken in the context of international endeavors ( and ). The impact of these experiences will not reach its full potential unless the tools developed and used by such project groups are implemented on a large scale within the working
environments of the scholars. Such an implementation is now being realized by the new unit, which comprises three researchers combining scholarly expertise with technical competencies. Its foundation was made possible by an extraordinary effort of the Max Planck Society. The group was launched in November 2001 with Hartmut Kern and Dirk Wintergrün, who were joined by Robert Casties in the first half of 2002. In order to ensure the integration of the development of the IT group into the research practices of the Institute, the work undertaken will be accompanied by a task force of scholars from all three departments.
The future working environment of the scholar in the humanities, and in particular of the historian of science, will differ considerably from the traditional working place complemented by a desktop computer for text processing. The future scholars will have direct access to images and full texts of the sources relevant to their work, together with powerful searching and retrieval systems. In addition, they will also have tools like dictionaries and other language tools at their
disposal that make it possible to cross language barriers and to analyze the content of texts written in their original language. Furthermore, they can study, or compare these documents, and make annotations, or compare documents. All of this can be done in a web-based collaboration within a world-wide community of specialists.
In order to combine this revolutionary technical potential with the specific scholarly requirements of projects or scholars, the group has devised a concept according to which basic modules can be flexibly composed to form an individualized working environment:
1. The design of the work place comprises a unified access to all resources of the Institute, which is configurable according to personal interests and responsibilities within the Institute.
2. The introduction of a system of IT-based working environments will profoundly change the communication and cooperation structure of the Institute as well as of the scholarly community of which it is a part. In order to realize this transformation, a number of communicative modules will be introduced with the aim to help build up common resources such as data bases and archives; to support scientific exchange; to organize the design and realization of projects including the workflows following their implementation; to facilitate the production of publications; and to encourage in-service qualification, based on the exchange of experiences on technical facilities and solutions for technical problems.
3. The implementation of a number of technical modules supporting the following services:
In the first month the project began with a survey of existing research projects. A concrete project plan was developed in a series of meetings together with the task force. By summer 2002 the group will have realized a first pilot project to improve the usability of the Institute’s existing information infrastructure, in particular for the short-term visiting scholars. A new procedure for introducing scientists and visiting scholars to the Institute has been developed and is currently being tested.
A second pilot project, currently under preparation, concerns the use of the technical facilities at the Institute. It begins with the definition of computer-supported “workflows” determining fundamental procedures of scholarly work, e.g. the management of bibliographic data or the electronic acquisition of sources. These workflows will serve to shape the design of modules for the working environment. The technical implementation of these workflows will systematically include the cooperation of the recently founded Heinz Nixdorf Centre for Information Management of the MPG (CIM). In particular, the electronic document server developed by CIM will be integrated into the new workflows of the Institute. Furthermore, the group will develop the scholarly interface for the new archiving and backup system at the Institute.
An initial exchange of ideas for possible future cooperation has taken place with the project coordinators of the History of Recent Science and Technology Project at the Dibner Institute (Babak Ashrafi, Paul Warner).