What are the Computational Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences?

Posted on Aug 29, 2013 | No Comments

The Computational Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences (CHASS) is an emerging area of research that refers to the investigation of humanities, arts, and social science research questions through advanced computing technologies. A social scientist who analyses a large dataset of census information using a supercomputer is engaging in CHASS, as is a historian who investigates historical texts using visual analytic software. The use of computational methods is more than a bridging of disciplines – it is an increasingly necessary methodological approach for researchers who wish to investigate the numerous human activities that result in digital information.

CHASS is at the intersection of computing and the disciplines of the humanities, arts, and social sciences in that it leads to new and innovative ways of doing research, transforming learning experiences, and connecting through engaged scholarship. An important distinction to make is that CHASS isn’t only humanities, arts, and social science scholars using technology. Computational methods also enable scholars to ask entirely new research questions and study their data in new ways, thereby moving beyond the limitations of traditional research methods in order to meet the grand challenges of our time. Additionally, engaging in CHASS creates opportunities for interdisciplinary collaboration that can result in discoveries in the humanities, arts, and social sciences as well as to the development of new computational products and applications. The following example illustrates how a humanities scholar and a computer scientist could collaborate on a mutually beneficial CHASS research project.

A potential path for a CHASS collaborative project 

There are several paths that scholars can take to engage in CHASS, and the Institute for Computing in Humanities, Arts, and Social Science (I-CHASS) works to guide researchers who want to explore computational methods. I-CHASS in an integrative research center at the University of Illinois that stands at the intersection of the digital humanities (computing in the humanities) and computational social science (computing in the social sciences). I-CHASS attempts to develop new frontiers in these areas by engaging with “big data,” computational methods of inquiry, data driven discovery, and new models for social science and humanistic inquiry. I-CHASS also works to bring technology and the traditional sensibilities of the humanities and the social sciences together in ways that advance both.

A common path by which a researcher begins to work with I-CHASS is by approaching I-CHASS after hearing about a new technology like augmented reality. A social scientist might believe that augmented reality could be useful to her research, but not know how to get started. I-CHASS sets up a meeting between the social scientist and an expert in the technology. The expert could train the social scientist in how to use an existing augmented reality app or, as described earlier, their research interests might overlap and lead to a collaborative research project. I-CHASS might also direct the social scientist to the institute’s upcoming workshop about augmented reality that would provide enough training for the social scientist to pursue augmented reality on her own. Or, the social scientist might be most interested in meeting other scholars around the world to engage in a larger conversation about augmented reality and similar research questions. I-CHASS has an international network of contacts and frequently promotes engaged scholarship that is both educational and a means of bringing people together to get projects started.

The Four CHASS Paths: Proving Resources, Facilitating Interdisciplinary Research, Education and Training Opportunities, Encouraging Engaged Scolarship

The way that people live their lives, do their work, and connect with friends is changing rapidly as technology advances, and research methods need to incorporate the digital artifacts of life in order to avoid representing only part of what it is to be human. Additionally, computational methods offer new ways of answering research questions that examine larger amounts and new types of data. Large-scale data is already being collected and analyzed by businesses and governments, and a great need exists for scholars who can become literate in computational data analysis tools in order for there to be commentary on what personal data collection may mean for society.

I-CHASS’ goal is to help researchers obtain the resources, training, contacts, and engaged scholarship that they need to enter into the arena of computational analysis. I-CHASS projects have already made significant and visible social impacts around the world. Researchers from any background who are interested in learning how CHASS could apply to their work are invited to contact I-CHASS through our contact page.

To see examples of computational humanities, arts, and social sciences projects done through I-CHASS, see our Projects page.

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