Data Management Plan Recommendation

Today I deposited a Data Management Plan Recommendation for Social Science and Humanities Funding Agencies ( our institutional repository ERA. This report/recommendation was written by Sonja Sapach with help from me and Catherine Middleton. We recommended that:

Agencies that fund social science and humanities (SSH) research should move towards requiring a Data Management Plan (DMP) as part of their application processes in cases where research data will be gathered, generated, or curated. In developing policies, funding agencies should consult the community on the values of stewardship and research that would be strengthened by requiring DMPs. Funding agencies should also gather examples and data about reuse of archived data in the social sciences and humanities and encourage due diligence among researchers to make themselves aware of reusable data.

On the surface the recommendation seems rather bland. SSHRC has required the deposit of research data they fund for decades. The problem, however, is that few of us pay attention because it is one more thing to do, and something that shares hard-won data with others that you may want to continue milking for research. What we lack is a culture of thinking of the deposit of research data as a scholarly contribution the way the translation and edition of important cultural texts is. We need a culture of stewardship as a TC3+ (tri-council)  document put it. See Capitalizing on Big Data: Toward a Policy Framework for Advancing Digital Scholarship in Canada (PDF).

Given the potential resistance of colleagues it is important that we understand the arguments for requiring planning around data management and that is one of the things we do in this report. Another issue is how to effectively require at the funding proposal end something (like a Data Management Plan) that would show how the researchers are thinking through the issue. To that end we document the approaches of other funding bodies. The point is that this is not actually that new and some research communities are further ahead.

At the end of the day, what we really need is a recognition that depositing data so that it can be used by other researchers is a form of scholarship. Such scholarship can be assessed like any other scholarship. What is the data deposited and what is its quality? How is the data deposited? How is it documented? Can it have an impact?

You can find this document also at Catherine Middleton’s web site and Sonja Sapach’s web site.


What Ever Happened to Project Bamboo?

What Ever Happened to Project Bamboo? by Quinn Dombrowski is one of the few honest discussions about the end of a project. I’ve been meaning to blog this essay which follows on her important conference paper at DH 2013 in Nebraska (see my conference report here which comments on her paper.) The issue of how projects fail or end rarely gets dealt with and Dombrowski deserves credit for having the courage to document the end of a project that promised so much.

I blog about this now as I just finished a day-long meeting of the Leadership Council for Digital Infrastructure where we discussed a submission to Industry Canada that calls for coordinated digital research infrastructure. While the situation is different, we need to learn from projects like Bamboo when we imagine massive investment in research infrastructure. We all know it is important, but doing it right is not as easy as it sounds.

Which brings me back to failure. There are three types of failure:

  • The simple type we are happy to talk about where you ran an experiment based on a hypothesis and didn’t get positive results. This type is based on a simplistic model of the scientific process which pretends to value negative results as much as positive ones. We all know the reality is not that simple and, for that matter, that the science model doesn’t really apply to the humanities.
  • The messy type where you don’t know why you failed or what exactly failed. This is the type where you promised something in a research or infrastructure proposal and didn’t deliver. This type is harder to report because it reflects badly on you. It is an admission that you were confused or oversold your project.
  • The third and bitter type is the project that succeeds on its own terms, but is surpassed by the disciplines. It is when you find your research isn’t current any longer and no one is interested in your results. It is when you find yourself ideologically stranded doing something that someone important has declared critically flawed. It is a failure of assumptions, or theory, or positioning and no one wants to hear about this failure, they just want to avoid it.

When people like Willard McCarty and John Unsworth call for a discussion of failure in the digital humanities they describe the first type, but often mean the second. The idea is to describe a form of failure reporting similar to negative results – or to encourage people to describe their failure as simply negative results. What we need, however, is honest description of the second and third types of failure, because those are expensive. To pretend some expensive project that slowly disappeared in missunderstanding was simply an experiment is missing what was at stake. This is doubly true of infrastructure because infrastructure is not supposed to be experimental. No one pays for roads and their maintenance as an experiment to see if people will take the road. You should be sure the road is needed before building.

Instead, I think we need to value research into infrastructure as something independent of the project owners. We need to do in Canada what the NSF did – bring together research on the history and theory of infrastructure.

Digital Pedagogy Institute


Robert Jay Glickman and Geoffrey Rockwell

Last week I participated in the Digital Pedagogy Institute that was organized by the University of Toronto Scarborough, Brock University and Ryerson University. I kept my Conference Report here.

This Institute focused not only technology in learning but also on important issues around the ethics of different learning models that involve technology. Ways of using technology to get active participation rather than just broadcasting video came up. Ways of thinking about students in collaborative projects came up – we need to get beyond the apprentice model and think of them as “citizen scholars.”

Continue reading Digital Pedagogy Institute

Towards monocultural (digital) Humanities?

Domenico Fiormonte has written a nice essay on how the humanities (and digital humanities) run the risk of becoming monolingual, Towards monocultural (digital) Humanities?. The essay is a response to Greg Crane’s The Big Humanities, National Identity and the Digital Humanities in Germany and Greg responds then to Domenico here. The numbers are depressing (see the graphs from Domenico above). As he puts it (drawing on research with a colleague into DH journals):

These data show that the real problem is not that English is the dominant language of academic publications (and of DH), but that both Anglophone and a high percentage of non-Anglophone colleagues barely use/quote non-Anglophone sources in their research.

I can’t help thinking that the internet has allowed the big to get even bigger. The dominance of English in academic circles is exacerbated by the instant availability of English research. National languages don’t even have location as an advantage on the internet.

What can we do about it? Miran had a nice reply on Humanist (to the original posting by Greg Crane that was also on Humanist.) Domenico suggests that we all have to take some responsibility, especially those of us who have the “free ride” of being native English writers.

It is the responsibility of dominant languages and cultures to translate from marginal or less influential languages.

Ted Hewitt speaks at University of Alberta

Text Hewitt spoke today on “The Perils and Prospects of Digital Scholarship in the 21st Century Canada: Tri-Agency Research Data Initiative” at our Research Data Management week. Some of the things he talked about follow.

Canada is not leading on data stewardship. We need to catch up so that we can take advantage of what the world has to offer and we need to offer what Canada has to the world. Data management capacity is increasingly linked to Canada’s international competitiveness.

We used to do a literature review when starting a project. Now we also look for data sets that we can use so we aren’t re-searching to create useful data.

Continue reading Ted Hewitt speaks at University of Alberta

Around the World Conference


Last week we held our third Around the World Conference on the subject of “Big Data”. We had some fabulous panels from countries including Ireland, Canada, Israel, Nigeria, Japan, China, Australia, USA, Belgium, Italy, and Brazil.

The Around the World Conference streams speakers and panels from around the world out to everyone on the net. We also edit and archive the video clips. This model allows for a sustainable conversation across continents that doesn’t involve flying people around. It allows a lot people who wouldn’t usually be included to speak. We also find there are technical hiccups, but that happens in on-site conferences too.

Science 2.0 and Citizen Research

This week I attended the second Science 2.0 conference held in Hamburg, Germany. (You can see my research notes here.) The conference dealt with issues around open access, open data, citizen science, and network enabled science. I was one of two Canadian digital humanists presenting. Matthew Hiebert from the University of Victoria talked about the social edition and work from the Electronic Textual Cultures Lab and Iter. It should be noted that in Europe the word “science” is more inclusive and can include the humanities. This conference wasn’t just about how open data and crowdsourcing could help the natural sciences – it was about how research across the disciplines could be supported with virtual labs and infrastructure.

I gave a paper on “New Publics for the Humanities” that started by noting that the humanities no longer engage the public. The social contract with the public that supports us has been neglected. I worry that if the university is disaggregated and the humanities unbundled from the other faculties (the way newspapers have been hit by the internet and the unbundling of services) then people will stop paying for the humanities and much of the research we do. We will end up with cheaper, research poor, colleges that provide lots of higher education without the research, or climbing walls. Only in the elite private universities will the humanities survive, and in those they will survive as a marker of their class status. You will be able to study ancient languages at elite schools because any degree is good from an elite school provides.

Of course, the humanities will survive outside the university, and may become healthier with the downsizing of the professional (or professorial) humanities, but we run the danger of unthinkingly losing a long tradition of thinking critically and ethically. An irony to be sure – losing thinking traditions through the lack of public reflection on the consequences of disruptive change.

Drawing on Greg Crane, I then argued that citizen research (forms of crowdsourcing) can re-engage the publics we need to support us and reflect with us. Citizen research can provide an alternative way of structuring research in anticipation of defunding of the humanities research function. I illustrated my point by showing a number of examples of humanities crowdsourcing projects from the OED (pre-computer volunteer research) to the Dictionary of Words in the Wild. If I can find the time I will write up the argument to see where it goes.

My talk was followed by thorough one on citizen science in environmental studies by Professor Aletta Bonn of the Citizens create knowledge project – a German platform for citizen science. We need to learn from people like Dr. Bonn who are studying and experimenting with the deployment of citizen research. One point she made was the importance of citizen co-design. Most projects enlist citizens in repetitive micro-tasks designed by researchers. What if the research project were designed from the beginning with citizens? What would that mean? How would that work?

Building Research Capacity Across the Humanities

On Monday I gave a talk at the German Institute for International Educational Research (DIPF) on:

Building Research Capacity Across the Humanities and Social Sciences: Social Innovation, Community Engagement and Citizen Science

The talk began with the sorry state of public support for the humanities. We frequently read how students shouldn’t major in the humanities because there are no jobs and we worry about dropping enrolments. The social contract between our publics (whose taxes pay for public universities) and the humanities seems broken or forgotten. We need to imagine how to re-engage the local and international communities interested in what we do. To that end I proposed that we:

  • We need to know ourselves better so we can better present our work to the community. It is difficult in a university like the University of Alberta to know what research and teaching is happening in the social sciences and humanities. We are spread out over 10 different faculties and don’t maintain any sort of shared research presence.
  • We need to learn to listen to the research needs of the local community and to collaborate with the community researchers who are working on these problems. How many people in the university know what the mayor’s priorities are? Who bothers to connect the research needs of the local community to the incredible capacity of our university? How do we collaborate and support the applied researchers who typically do the work identified by major stakeholders like the city. Institutes like the Kule Institute can help document the research agenda of major community stakeholders and then connect university and community researchers to solve them.
  • We need to learn to connect through the internet to communities of interest. Everything we study is of interest to amateurs if we bother to involve them. Crowdsourcing or “citizen science” techniques can bring amateurs into research in a way that engages them and enriches our projects.

In all three of these areas I described projects that are trying to better connect humanities research with our publics. In particular I showed various crowdsourcing projects in the humanities ending with the work we are now doing through the Text Mining the Novel project to imagine ways to crowdsource the tagging of social networks in literature.

One point that resonated with the audience at DIPF was around the types of relationships we need to develop with our publics. I argued that we have to learn to co-create research projects rather than “trickle down” results. We need to develop questions, methods and answers together with community researchers rather think that do the “real” research and then trickle results down to the community. This means learning new and humble ways of doing research.

Terry Eagleton: The death of universities

The Guardian has an essay by Terry Eagleton on The death of universities. The article asks (and answers),

Are the humanities about to disappear from our universities? The question is absurd. It would be like asking whether alcohol is about to disappear from pubs, or egoism from Hollywood. Just as there cannot be a pub without alcohol, so there cannot be a university without the humanities. If history, philosophy and so on vanish from academic life, what they leave in their wake may be a technical training facility or corporate research institute. But it will not be a university in the classical sense of the term, and it would be deceptive to call it one.

I wish I were so sure of this logical argument, but I fear that people are quite willing to call something a university even without many of the humanities just as the university in centuries past was just as much a university for not having many of the fields now seen as essential (like Computer Science, Cognitive Science, Bioinformatics, even Engineering.)

I can imagine a university where many of the humanities end up in the Faculty of Education (which does prepare people for jobs as teachers.) We would have the department of English Education, for example. Would people bemoan the loss of the humanities if many of its questions ended up housed elsewhere?

For that matter there are some that argue that preserving the humanities may be a cloak for preserving a particular idea of humanism. For example, here is Tony Davies at the end of his excellent short book Humanism:

All humanisms, until now, have been imperial. They speak of the human in the accents and the interests of a class, a sex, a race, a genome. Their embrace suffocates those whom it does not ignore. (p. 141; location 2372 in Kindle)

To claim that a university would not be a university if it didn’t maintain a particular collection of intellectual traditions would be begging the question (actually begging all sorts of questions). We simply can’t expect a historical definition to save what we care for. We must be part of the ongoing definition whether as collaborators or critics, which raises the question of how far to collaborate and when to dig in heels and yell like hell?