About the Project

Mind the Gap (MtG) was a one week workshop run at the University of Alberta from May 10th to May 14th. The workshop was designed to:

  1. •To advance real research projects with intensive support from HPC personnel so that they are able to continue working with WestGrid and apply for funding.

  2. •To develop an interdisciplinary community of researchers, both at the University of Alberta and across Canada, looking at the application of HPC techniques to Humanities research. To encourage the community to learn from each other and to support each other.

  3. •To define an agenda of interesting Humanities research problems that are tractable using the HPC facilities at hand, notably WestGrid.

  4. •To train researchers in the Humanities in the skills needed to use HPC facilities like WestGrid.

  5. •To engage WestGrid staff and computer scientists with Humanities problems in order to develop opportunities for interdisciplinary research.

  6. •To develop ideas for next steps that can develop the research community and strengthen ties with the HPC community.

We proposed the workshop as a way of bridging the research cultures of the Humanities and HPC. The two cultures are currently too far apart for humanists to easily imagine using HPC methods, technologies or facilities like WestGrid, let alone applying for grants to do HPC research. HPC facilities are typically set up for batch-style computing where very large problems are programmed so they can be queued up and submitted for processing by compute clusters. Humanists by contrast tend to use computing to publish electronic texts and other forms of evidence to the web where the resources are “always-on” and searchable for reading. The first step therefore to using HPC methods and facilities for Humanities research is bridging the cultural differences and learning from each other. Further, humanists typically don’t have the preparation or access to programmers to use HPC clusters or visualization tools. MtG therefore offered a workshop designed to train Humanities researchers so they can collaboratively prototype research problems using local facilities. It was a seed project that brought Humanities researchers together from across Canada (and even the US and UK) to develop prototypes. The workshop had the further advantage of starting a dialogue between researchers in the Humanities, researchers from computing science, and staff with supporting HPC.

Mind the Gap was organized as an "unconference" or unworkshop culminating in presentations from research teams that were supported to prototype real projects. Instead of having preplanned training sessions, MtG was organized around lots of team time. The idea was not to (only) talk about HPC and the Humanities, but to "do it". In order to "do it" we invited teams that had the right mix of programmers and researchers. The invited teams were then set up with access to WestGrid HPC facilities and provided support all week in a flexible meeting space. The support came from HPC staff from AICT, WestGrid and Sharcnet. Woven around the time for teams were invited talks including two talks by invited speakers from outside Canada.


For a summary of what High-Performance Computing is and how it can be used by humanists see the web site  “High Performance Computing in the Arts & Humanities”