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Harvard-MIT Data Center (HMDC)
History and Background

About Us

The Harvard-MIT Data Center (HMDC), Directed by Gary King (David Florence Professor of Government at Harvard), manages technology platforms for the Institute for Quantitative Social Science (IQSS) on informatics and data sharing, statistical computing, and information technology. These and other technology platforms at IQSS develop and implement cutting-edge technologies and manage complex projects. They are run by senior non-faculty scientists or professionals, and are closely linked with IQSS scientific programs and driven by their missions.

HMDC is also the principal distributor of quantitative social science data from major international data consortia for Harvard and MIT. It also provides access to research computing facilities for several of Harvard''s social science departments, research centers, and schools, and maintains a popular fellowship program for visiting graduate students.

History

The Harvard-MIT Data Center was originally The Government Data Center, which was established in the early 1960''s as part of a movement across universities that led to what is now the ICPSR (the Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research), the largest collection of social science data in the world. Because political scientists originally created the ICPSR (then known as the ICPR), data centers were often housed in political science departments. In fact, the Harvard-MIT Data Center is still located in the same building as the Department of Government, although HMDC is now organizationally and budgetarily independent of the Department.

In its early days, the Data Center was primarily responsible for distributing ICPSR tapes, housed at the Office of Information Technology (a centralized Harvard computing facility that no longer exists). Associated with the Data Center has always been a community of users who share knowledge about sources of data, statistical methods, computer technology, and software.

In 1987, all of the holdings of the Center were moved to the Department of Government (in FAS) in Littauer Center in the North Yard. In recognition of the widespread use of our holdings by social scientists all across Harvard''s schools and departments, the name was changed to the Harvard Data Center. Because of the changing nature of social science quantitative research, we also established several of the earliest local computer networks here at about this time. These networks contained a wide array of statistical software and computing resources. We also moved most of our holdings off of tapes to many other media.

In the early 90s, we played a central role in a major National Science Foundation grant that established a Research Training program in political economy, a joint program of the Harvard Government Department, Kennedy School of Government, and MIT Economics Department, and similar ventures.

In 1996, we entered into an agreement with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to extend services to MIT users. Our name was then changed to the Harvard-MIT Data Center. In 1997, we completed the first world wide web version of our "Virtual Data Center" (VDC) project. In 1999, we were awarded a multi-million dollar grant by National Science Foundation (NSF) and five other funding agencies to develop an operational, open-source, digital library to enable the sharing of quantitative research data, and the development of distributed collections of data and documentation. We have since received other grants to extend our VDC system in order to make citations to data more robust, and research more replicable.

Over time, the Data Center became more of an intellectual center of research activity. Faculty, students, staff, and fellows with expertise in data, statistical methods, and social science scholarship share information in and around the Data Center. Since 1990, we have had a research fellows program that enables graduate students from other universities who specialize in social science methodology to spend a year working at Harvard and at the Data Center.

Over the years, the Data Center has also served as the local IT services provider to the Department of Government, and now services all residents and centers at CGIS (the Center for Government and International Studies), as well as other departments, centers, and schools at Harvard.   We moved to CGIS when it opened in the Summer of 2005.

In 2005, HMDC became a founding member of the Institute for Quantitative Social Science (IQSS).  It also manages technology platforms for the institue, which include informatics and data sharing, statistical computing, and information technology. These and other technology platforms at IQSS develop and implement cutting-edge technologies and manage complex projects that are closely linked with IQSS scientific programs and driven by their missions.
 

 
 
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