After 30 years investigating the social and economic significance of cinema, Professor Richard Maltby is welcoming the digital capabilities of eResearch SA to the stage.
The Executive Dean of the Faculty of Education, Humanities and Law at Flinders University says new collaboration opportunities are building stronger links between researchers and changing how his discipline conducts research.
“Digital technology has presented researchers in Humanities and Social Sciences with a tsunami of data. We’re going to spend the next few years exploring the new research questions we can ask through this technology. Curating and sharing data among research teams will be crucial to this work,” Richard explains.
The first national research cloud, developed through the federally-funded National eResearch Collaboration Tools and Resources project (NeCTAR) in partnership with Australian institutions and research organisations will make this data sharing possible.
eResearch SA was awarded $1m of NeCTAR funding to host the South Australian node of the national research cloud, so it plays an integral role in providing a platform for researchers to share knowledge and manage their data deluge.
A project linked to the cloud is the Humanities Networked Infrastructure (HuNI), a virtual laboratory which will give research teams around the world access to the combined resources of Australia’s major cultural datasets.
HuNI is a consortium of research institutes (including Flinders University) supported by eResearch SA and equivalent bodies in other states.
“HuNI has received $1.3 million NeCTAR funding to make these databases interoperable,” Richard explains. “One of the challenges is developing the ontology so researchers can interrogate information across the databases.”
Richard has a long history of collaboration with eResearch SA.
eResearch SA is the South Australian partner of the Australian National Data Service program, which has funded Richard’s cinema projects through its mission to transform Australia’s research data into a cohesive body of research resources.
Richard has also hosted two eResearch SA Summer Scholarship students. The most recent student was tasked with developing a geodatabase of Australian cinemas from 1948 to 1971, as part of a wider investigation of the significance of these venues as sites of social and economic activity.
“The Australian Cinemas Map combines archival, social and spatial data with oral histories to construct a GIS database of cinema venues and their neighbourhoods. eResearch SA’s collaboration services have been invaluable in developing a generic open source geodatabase for use by digital humanities researchers,” Richard says.
“Humanities and Social Science researchers have questions we want addressed through computation, but most of us can’t write code. It is very helpful to have a state based resource like eResearch SA whose staff not only understand our technical requirements better than we do, but also understand our language and methodologies.
“Virtual libraries allow more efficient research, as researchers can access new networks and big data to answer questions we haven’t been able to ask before. The challenge is how to utilise digital resources while still working within our disciplinary frameworks.”
Richard says research outputs will also look different in the future, as researchers harness digital tools such as visualisation.