SHANTI at the University of Virginia

Activities / Overview

SHANTI’s Contributions to an Evolving UVa Digital Ecology

The mission of SHANTI is to promote a culture of innovation and excellence in humanities, sciences and arts within the academic life of the University of Virginia. SHANTI believes information technology offers uniquely powerful tools to facilitate such innovation and excellence in research, learning, publication, and community engagement.

The challenge all institutions of higher education must meet is that of creating sustainable digital ecologies that can empower individual faculty, staff, and students to take advantage of these tools, and the scholarly innovations and efficiencies they enable, without having to secure large amounts of funding or become programmers. Such a digital ecology should be dynamically evolving, as well, so that sites and collections are carried forward automatically with new changes, instead of slowly degrading when funding and time behind their technologies dries up. Finally, a true ecology means that its diverse elements are deeply interdependent and capable of complex and flexible exchanges. SHANTI has thus focused above all else on working with others at UVa on creating the basis of precisely such a digital ecology.

Necessary elements of a digital ecology include: (i) media-specific repositories (texts, images, audio-video), (ii) indexing services (geographic, temporal, semantic) linking media together on the basis of shared characteristics; (iii) visualization services that allow for dynamic and complex visualizations (charts, maps, timelines, etc.); (iv) the easy creation of structured data; (v) cultural and environmental databases that enable the rapid  creation of structured descriptions of places, events, agents, and topics; and (vi) learning management systems and content management systems that allow for the use of the preceding to create powerful learning environments and public web sites.  We are addressing this at UVa in close consultation with hundreds of faculty, staff, and students at UVa to ensure that these tools would meet the widespread needs of this academic community. As we move forward and build on these accomplishments, we are increasingly focused on social engagement to help facilitate the widespread adoption of these technologies to enable further innovation in teaching, learning, research, publication, and engagement.

The UVa OM Initiative: Four Aspects of a Transformative Digital Ecology for Higher Education

Led by SHANTI, and in close partnership with ITS and the UVa Library, the OM Initiative aims to open up our University’s digital ecology to the vitality of the World Wide Web. Playfully invoking Omniscient Metaframework and the most sacred of Indian syllables, the OM initiative signifies our intent to think holistically about our smaller community as embedded within the broader social, intellectual, and digital universe.

Reflected in these four aspects, the OM Initiative seeks to maintain the advantages of our current computing environment, security, consistency, ease of maintenance, common space, while opening the gates to the most powerful and exciting tools available to scholars on the Web for new levels of innovation and efficiency.

1. The Mandala Project

SHANTI’s Mandala Framework is a suite of  interconnected digital applications supporting the creation and dissemination of scholarly content on the Web. Based upon the Drupal content management system, it allows scholars across from the spectrum – from the Luddite to expert user – to easily store, structure, visualize, network, and publish scholarly content without special grants or programming assistance. The system is designed for to be usable by neophytes as soon as they are introduced to it, and yet create content that expresses sophisticated ideas.

  1. Store:  to upload, store, describe, interrelate, and present rich media in small to large collections (texts, photos, audio-video)
  2. Structure: to create easy structured data of any type in the form of online spreadsheets requiring minimal training
  3. Visualize: to creatively analyze and visualize that data in profoundly interactive ways – maps, charts, timelines, networks, slide-shows, videos, and dynamic interactive combinations.
  4. Network: to describe the basic constituents of human culture – agents, places, events, topics – in structured and networked ways.
  5. Publish: to deploy all of the above within the context of an overall framework allowing rapid creation of multimedia essays which can be fluidly combined and recombined in diverse ways with each other and all of the above content.

Scholars can thus manage complex collections of diverse digital objects, create visualizations, describe the intricate networks of human culture, publish essays, building and build websites. In particular, MANDALA aims to provide one framework that can support a broad range of scholarly interests in online publication: (i) media intensive collections, such as a massive video collection; (ii) fluid streams of content (such as, (iii) long-form scholarly articles, (iv) cultural network documentation, and visualizations and interactional content. The beta release is slated for August 2012, but we welcome interested parties to contact us now.

2. UVa Community Tools and Platforms

The UVa Knowledge Base and Community Tools work in coordination to support scholarly innovation that embraces the latest developments in digital technologies. The Advanced Technology Group of ITS, the UVa Library and other UVa partners aligned with SHANTI have developed a plan to support academics at UVa through  eight categories of tools dealing with: Audio-Video, Collaboration, Language Learning, Place, Reference, Text, Visualizations, and Websites. Each offers powerful capacity, adaptation of academic needs, integration with UVa IDs, and increasing levels of interlinkage.

Please refer to the UVa Knowledge Base for further info.

3.  The UVa Knowledge Base

Stuck? Want to share your new insights? Go to, where you will find a user-driven, community-based repository of documentation written by and for UVa people. Just sign in using your UVa computing ID to solve your problems and contribute your solutions.

4. SHANTI Consultations

Interested in scheduling a consultation about using SHANTI supported digital tools in your teaching or research? Click here, to contact us.

How to Participate

  • Contribute to the ever-expanding UVa Knowledge Base.
  • Go to UVaCollab and start exploring new tools there: WordPress, Confluence, NowComment, and Kaltura.
  • If you are a technologist and want to partner with us, contact us with your interests and ideas.

Who Are We?

We’re greater than the sum of our parts. SHANTI stresses working partnerships across organizational units and sectors of the University community, such as UVa’s central Information Technology group (ITS), the UVa Library, technology groups in other schools such as Engineering, faculty centers like NINES and the Tibetan and Himalayan Library, ASCIT, and faculty, staff, and graduate students. These working partnerships, in general, make this work possible and open up new opportunities for everyone.

The SHANTI Experiment thus offers sustainable, relevant, and academically adapted digital technologies with institutional support and community engagement models to a University community in order to accomplish rapid and transformative innovation on a broad scale. With its fifteen-year history of inventing and exploring innovative uses of digital technology, UVa is recognized as a global pioneer in the field that has come to be known as “digital humanities”; SHANTI aims to build upon that success to bring the same transformative impact to the mainstream of faculty, students, and staff. SHANTI is an ancient Sanskrit invocation and prayer for well-being, and reflects our goal to address the overall vitality and well-being of the UVa community in the context of our educational mission to serve society; it also decodes as Sciences, Humanities and Arts Network of Technological Initiatives. SHANTI is a core initiative of UVa’s Commission on the Future of the University (COFU) and is strongly supported by the VP-CIO Office, ITS, and the Library at UVa.

The UVa SHANTI Experiment deploys integrated digital technology with a community-based support and engagement program to facilitate fundamental innovation and improved efficiency in research, teaching, learning, performance, communication and engagement at the University, with a focus on the humanities, sciences and arts. Once a broad-based community of digital producers and creators is built at UVa, our goal is then to sustain that community while creating a dynamic flow between this freshly minted digital mainstream and the smaller community of those involved with experimentation at the innovative bleeding edge of digital technology. In this way, SHANTI programs of engagement and promotion will gradually scale to more sophisticated tools, technologies, and methodologies over the coming years. SHANTI itself is not another self-contained organizational unit, but rather is intended to be a collective expression of faculty, graduate students, and staff outside of their other organizational affiliations. In addition, it is focused on building alliances and synergies between other UVa organizational units, starting with the Library and ITS, and others.