Humanities research moving toward digital data

Article dated: 14 December 2010

Two initiatives that are building the European research infrastructure for the humanities and related disciplines came together in Vienna in October 2010 to share the knowledge and tools they are creating.

The event was a joint conference for those involved in the Common Language Resources and Technology Infrastructure (CLARIN) and Digital Research Infrastructure for the Arts and Humanities (DARIAH).

Speakers and posters discussed results, obstacles and opportunities for digitallysupported humanities research in addition to providing honest assessments of some of the intellectual problems and practical barriers they face.

The challenging issues are no different to those we encounter at the Archive: agreeing on descriptive and structural metadata standards; and agreeing and implementing accessible tools for webbased data sources.

Louise Corti participated in a session on oral history and secondary analysis of qualitative research data, which described providing research access to life story collections on experiences of war. The humanities seem to have rolled ahead of social scientists in their ability to showcase oral history materials on the web. The collections are more likely to be of heritage value and have much wider public appeal.

There has been similar progress in the field of socio-economic history in recent years, for example providing greater online access to historical population data, particularly census data. Richard Deswarte participated in a panel that explored the challenges and successes in creating and expanding such resources, including for example the UK Data Archive's Histpop (Online Historical Population Reports) website.

Working with heritage digital humanities collections has attracted public money for researchers to move ahead with web-based access. The Archive is keen to collaborate with these groups on methods to make some of its larger 'heritage' audio/visual material collections more visible and interactive.