The Future of Data Sharing in the Humanities
As the National Endowment for the Humanities updates its policies in response to last year’s announcement of new federal guidelines issued by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) regarding public access to research publications and data, humanists will face urgent questions about how their scholarly practices within the global trends towards mandatory data sharing. When should the evidence humanists collect be considered data, and when is it appropriate to share those data? How might humanists adapt STEM-oriented norms around data sharing, and what might humanists bring to the table that would help other fields improve their data sharing practices?
These will be new questions for many humanists, who are accustomed to thinking of their evidence as sources rather than data. This distinction is a valuable and fundamental part of what makes humanistic ways of knowing distinct from those of other fields: humanists seldom transform their sources into structured data in the ways familiar to researchers in other disciplines Indeed, many humanistic research questions would be hindered by such a transformation. However, the inclusion of the humanities within the OSTP guidelines is a clear signal that funders are ready to consider at least some sources as data. If humanists do not articulate community norms and practices around data sharing and reuse, they risk having those norms set for them.
Today, Ithaka S+R is publishing an issue brief exploring the current state of data sharing in the humanities and what a productive engagement with data might look like. Our findings are based on semi-structured interviews with key personnel at several humanities projects with strong data components, a review of relevant literature, and insights gained through previous work exploring data-intensive research practices and data-sharing challenges across fields.
What have we learned?
- Humanists have much they can learn from how other fields have worked over the past several decades to build momentum towards data sharing.
- The work and experiences of digital humanists provide useful starting points for engaging with data in the humanities.
- Figuring out what reproducibility and replicability mean in humanities contexts, and how they relate to professional values about research integrity in the humanities should be a priority for humanists. Likewise, there is an urgent need for humanists—who are adept at reusing familiar sources to generate new knowledge—to develop capacities for understanding how to ask new questions of existing structured data.
- The domain repositories that have fostered data sharing communities in STEM fields do not exist in the humanities, leaving existing humanities datasets vulnerable to disappearing as project websites become obsolete and exacerbating discovery challenges.
- The humanities have a uniquely well-developed infrastructure for the public sharing of knowledge creation, exemplified in the many public humanities initiatives that are a highly visible and vibrant part of humanities scholarship.
What’s next for Ithaka S+R?
Ithaka S+R is continuing to develop research projects that explore data practices across fields and consider how technological change shapes academic research.
This fall, we will launch a new cohort project to assess the immediate and emerging AI applications most likely to disrupt teaching, learning, and research activities and explore the needs of institutions, instructors, and scholars as they navigate this environment.
We are also developing a new program to assess instructor support needs. This will include a US-wide survey of instructors adapted from our long-standing US faculty survey. As part of that effort we are seeking partner schools interested in taking a deep dive into how their instructors are leveraging course content in rapidly evolving formats and teaching skills in growing demand.
If your institution is interested in participating in either project, please contact Danielle Miriam Cooper (firstname.lastname@example.org).