Recent transformations in communication and information exchange have created new opportunities for researchers in the humanities and social sciences. It is not self-evident, however, in what ways scholars can best use these possibilities while maintaining and further developing their specific roles in academia and society.
In May 2004, the KNAW published a call for proposals for a research programme aimed at stimulating the development of e-science in the humanities and social sciences (KNAW 2004). The new program is part of a broader KNAW policy "aiming at significant advances in the effective use of ICT in the humanities and social sciences". This new policy includes actions on different levels: principles of open access to research output and data, investments in ICT infrastructure, and the establishment of data archiving networked services (jointly with the Netherlands Research Council NWO). With this new e-science research program, the KNAW seeks to "fuel the development of this emerging field in the Netherlands and achieve a leading position internationally".
We wish to realise these goals by creating The Virtual Knowledge Studio for the Humanities and Social Sciences, which is both a novel multidisciplinary research programme with intellectual merits of its own, and a new intellectual and technological infrastructure for the communities of researchers and scholars in the humanities and social sciences. The Studio aims to support researchers in the humanities and social sciences in the Netherlands in the creation of new scholarly practices, termed here e-research, as well as in their reflection on e-research in relation to the development of their fields.
This programme builds upon decades of research in the humanities, social sciences, information science, and science & technology studies about new forms of knowledge creation. It also elaborates on the results of the current NIWI-KNAW research programme, "Networked Research and Digital Information 2001-2005". Not only has this programme led to a better understanding of the informational turn in academic research, it has also made clear that the role of the new media and of information and communication technologies in the creation of scholarly and scientific knowledge is indeed a problematic relevant, interesting and complex enough to merit the focused attention of a multi-disciplinary research program. In efforts to study these topics, the humanities and social sciences are often underrepresented. Attention tends to follow the flow of funding and most research in science & technology studies has therefore been conducted on the physical and natural sciences. We see the decision to focus a new research program on the humanities and social sciences as a welcome opportunity to at least partly redress this imbalance and to put the practices and problems of researchers in the humanities and social sciences squarely central. We also see it as an opportunity to strengthen the ties between researchers of the humanities and social sciences and researchers in those fields.