Susan Brown leaning against a concrete wall
Prof. Susan Brown

A unique University of Guelph-based network designed to enhance the usefulness of online materials in cultural research has received a $2-million grant from the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI).

The Linked Infrastructure for Networked Cultural Scholarship (LINCS) project is led by Susan Brown, a professor in the School of English and Theatre Studies and Canada Research Chair in Collaborative Digital Scholarship.

She said LINCS will convert large datasets into an organized, interconnected, machine-processable set of resources for Canadian cultural research.

“LINCS will provide context for the cultural material that currently floats around online, interlink it, ground it in its sources and help to make the World Wide Web a trusted resource for scholarly knowledge production,” said Brown. “LINCS will expose the hidden connections between people, places, events and culture across time, space and media.”

The award is part of $33.2 million provided by CFI and partners to fund seven digital infrastructure projects at five Canadian universities, through its Cyberinfrastructure Initiative. This initiative supports universities in creating integrated data resources for leading-edge research on important scientific, social and economic questions.

“Through these significant investments in state-of-the-art computational and state storage facilities, the CFI is supporting Canadian researchers with the key resources they need to continue pushing the boundaries of innovation,” said CFI president and CEO Roseann O’Reilly Runte.

Initially, the LINCS national infrastructure will benefit nearly 50 leading researchers in music, Indigenous, environmental, performance and literary studies who will investigate historical and contemporary cultural phenomena, using scalable tools suited to the whole spectrum of researchers.

“The range of domains indicates the broad and international impact that LINCS will have in providing new means of advancing Canadian cultural studies,” said Brown. She said it will become more broadly available later.

LINCS tools and workflows will integrate and enrich research data, and ultimately link data storage nationally. As well, a user-friendly access system will allow researchers and the public to browse, search, filter, analyze and visualize cultural materials online. The system will enable validation by experts of algorithmically produced semantic annotations. It will also support further linked data production, conversion, and enhancement through an array of conversion tools.

Malcolm Campbell, vice-president (research), said this award is a tremendous investment in the infrastructure that supports Brown’s research.

“Dr. Brown’s world-class research, which uses state-of-the-art digital analysis to study the interwoven elements that make up culture, helps us to better understand the fabric that holds society together,” he said. “Dr. Brown and her colleagues will now have tools to more deeply explore culture, and enhance how we comprehend relationships with each other, to improve life.”

Brown said scholars have unprecedented quantities of data for addressing complex social processes but are hampered by the lack of meaningful connections between, and compatibility of, online materials. Most researchers work with cultural data only through reading rather than by leveraging algorithmic processes to answer major questions about human culture.

“Humanities researchers need a smarter, ‘semantic’ web whose links will elucidate the diverse causes, effects and significance of human action and expression,” she said.

The CFI announcement of the Cyberinfrastructure awards can be found here.

Institutional partners for the grant are McGill University, the University of Alberta, the University of Ottawa, the University of Toronto and the University of Victoria.

Lead researcher institutions are Simon Fraser University, Université de Montréal, the University of Saskatchewan, Texas A&M University and York University.

Prof. Susan Brown
519-824-4120, Ext. 53266.