As documented in Our Cultural Commonwealth: The Report of the American Council of Learned Societies Commission on Cyberinfrastructure for the Humanities and Social Sciences, we are witnessing an extraordinary moment in cultural history when the humanities and social sciences are undergoing a foundational transformation. Tools are one essential element of this transformation (along with access to cultural data in digital form). The need to “develop and maintain open standards and robust tools” was one of eight key recommendations in the ACLS report, itself inspired by the NSF’s 2003 Atkins report on cyberinfrastructure. Indeed, many humanities scholars and social scientists have already built valuable digital tools over the years, including software and systems for text processing, markup, visualization, metadata generation, cataloging, GIS, and a number of other humanities-related tasks. Such digital tools, though broadly categorized as ‘humanities-related,’ would also be of great use to many scientific disciplines as well. By the same token, many science tools funded by the NSF, Department of Energy, and others would certainly be of great interest to humanists. One of the goals of this meeting is to bring these groups together.

In 2005, the NSF sponsored a Summit on Digital Tools for the Humanities in conjunction with the University of Virginia’s Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities. This new meeting is explicitly conceived as an opportunity to build on that earlier effort and advance progress toward some of the challenges raised. Likewise, the need for tools infrastructure was a recurring theme at a recent “summit” of directors of digital humanities centers and major funders convened in April 2007 by MITH and NEH. At this event, a discussion began among several of the funding agencies about the idea of putting together a workshop to further explore the issue. In particular, Brett Bobley of the NEH, Joyce Ray of the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), and Terry Langendoen (and later Steve Griffin) of the National Science Foundation, indicated that this was a worthy idea to pursue. All three of these agencies have been instrumental in funding digital tools for the humanities and social sciences and believe that some kind of curated infrastructure that supported sharing and reuse would help to make existing tools more widely available and new tools more viable and sustainable.

The anticipated product of the workshop is a report that discusses the needs of tools developers and users; sets forth objectives for addressing those needs; proposes infrastructure for accomplishing these objectives; and makes suggestions for a possible RFP.