History


Beginnings

Matrix moved from Morrill Hall to the Auditorium Building in 1998.

Matrix moved from Morrill Hall to the Auditorium Building in 1998.

Matrix began small. When Professor Mark Kornbluh came to Michigan State University in September 1994, the College of Arts and Letters agreed to host key services of H-Net: Humanities and Social Sciences Online, an independent scholarly initiative by humanists and social scientists to utilize the Internet. MSU provided office space in the basement of Morrill Hall, plus support to host H-Net's digital teaching initiative and to launch H-Net Reviews in the Humanities and Social Sciences , a pioneering online book review journal. This arrangement proved beneficial to both H-Net and MSU. Within two years, Professor Kornbluh had obtained two important grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities to support H-Net activities at MSU. H-Net Reviews was a striking success and in 1997 MSU hosted a major national conference, Envisioning the Future: Humanities Teaching in the Digital Age. (Today, H-Net Reviews is the largest online scholarly book review journal in the world.) As a result, the H-Net Council agreed to locate all of H-Net's computing activities at Michigan State and urged Professor Kornbluh to establish a Center at MSU to house them.

With the support of MSU faculty, the College of Arts and Letters, and the H-Net Council, a Center was established to host all of H-Net's computing and administrative facilities at Michigan State and to pursue a broad research program in humanities computing. From the start, Matrix was to be fundamentally interdisciplinary, spanning not just the arts, humanities, and social sciences, but also education, computer science, and communications. Matrix's mission extended far beyond hosting H-Net; Matrix would be involved in fundamental research, educational applications, new scholarship, networking, publications, and outreach.

The infrastructure of Matrix, however, was limited at the start. The Provost's office committed a small amount of start-up funds for three years to launch the Center, and the College of Arts and Letters provided administrative and infrastructure support. Matrix was located in small offices and depended on a mostly student labor force. Yet Matrix thrived under the new institutional structure as the Center began to attract outside funding for a growing range of projects locally and internationally. By the spring of 1998, Matrix had outgrown the maze of offices in Morrill and was in desperate need of contiguous space and deeper organizational professionalization. Matrix had proven its capacity to obtain outside funding and was poised to move beyond a mostly student labor force and informal operating structure.

Institutionalization

Matrix office space at the Natural Science Building

Matrix office space at the Natural Science Building

With the assistance of the Provost's office, the College of Arts and Letters was able to obtain the third and fourth floors of the Auditorium building for Matrix. With the new space and a small infusion of resources, the challenge was whether the Center could move from a few episodic projects to develop a sustained research portfolio and a professional staff necessary to meet its mission. Two developments in particular signified the center's more formal institutional presence in its field and at the University: the awarding of a major National Science Foundation Digital Libraries II grant of $3.5 million in 1998 to develop a National Gallery of the Spoken Word, and the creation of a Graduate Certificate Program in Humanities Computing in the College of Arts and Letters. The NSF Digital Libraries grant positioned Matrix at the center of a community of science practitioners and a global movement toward standardized, interoperable digital repositories of humanities content, and therefore opened a new avenue of training, capacitation, exchange, and skills development for professional and student staff. It also unlocked access to NSF, which previously had rarely funded humanities-based projects. The Certificate program integrated humanities technology skills into the College's graduate training options, created a pool of skilled labor that Matrix could tap for projects, and nurtured a cadre of technology-aware graduate students with strong portfolios for an otherwise tepid job market. The program combines online course materials with hands-on workshops to
capacitate College of Arts and Letters graduate students in uses, practices, and pedagogy of Internet technologies.

A flurry of grants, projects, and infusions of staff and resources followed these initial successes. Funding from the Mellon and Ford Foundations, the US State Department, and USAID has projected the Center into an international arena to work with colleagues to research crucial international development IT issues and apply the fruits of its research in countries who stand to benefit the most from the digital revolution. At the same time, the continued success of H-Net has engaged Matrix staff with leaders in digital communication throughout the world, while partnerships with the Center for Great Lakes Culture, the College of Education , the Michigan State University Museum , and the Michigan Humanities Council continue to involve us close at home.

By all accounts, Matrix has been an unqualified success. It certainly is the leading humanities technology center in the country in terms of research dollars awarded. In the last four years, since June 1998, Matrix has won grants totaling over $8.4 million (another $1.8 million has been approved and will be awarded over the next two months.) Matrix now has fourteen full time employees, a Director, three Associate Directors, six academic specialists, three administrative professionals, one clerical-technical staff member, and an annual budget of close to $200,000 for graduate and undergraduate student researchers and trainees.

In pursuing this research portfolio, Matrix's academic staff has been guided by basic principles that have positioned the Center as a national and international leader. First, we have been committed to the best practices of the academic digital community. Matrix staff is directly engaged in wide-reaching national and international discussions of standards and is pioneering the application of emerging standards to digital collections and projects. Second, our work is also deeply informed by a commitment to work with developing countries and poorly resourced partners. Matrix's solutions are built upon open-source, inexpensive hardware and software and backed by our commitment to train and prepare partners for sustained use of these resources. Third, as scholars, publishers, and teachers, producers and consumers of digital objects, we are committed both to the free flow of ideas and to respect for intellectual property. As a result, Matrix has developed a solid technological and organizational infrastructure that facilitates collaboration, project development and further research.

At the end of its first five years, Matrix, therefore, finds itself exceptionally well positioned for the future. A strong professional staff, a solid technological base, a proven track record for raising and managing research funds, and a project portfolio that stretches ahead for five years, all place us at the forefront of an exciting new field.