Posted by: bluesyemre | November 26, 2021

Data sharing in the humanities: translating policies into practice

image of archival documents

Do standard data sharing policies work for humanities authors? Here, Dr. Rebecca Grant, Head of Data at F1000, questions how we can adapt current policies to reflect the working practices of humanities scholars. Plus, she shares how a group of academic publishers is coming together to tackle this challenge.

Data sharing can be somewhat of a foreign concept for many humanities researchers. Some fall into the trap of believing that they have no data to share. Others recognize that the material underpinning their research is data. It’s just the sharing aspect that raises questions. 

Over recent years, academic publishers have introduced standardized research data sharing policies. Subsequently, the Research Data Alliance has sought to align data policy requirements across journals and publishing platforms.  

F1000Research has a robust open data policy, which requires authors to share all datasets underpinning their publication. Although intended to be relevant to researchers in every discipline, publishers’ data sharing policies tend to focus on life science. These policies recommend (or require) that authors create data citations, apply open licenses to data, draft data availability statements, and/or deposit data into repositories. 

But are these requirements meaningful to researchers in the humanities?

Benefits of open data in the humanities

Open data policies are central to the global movement towards open research. But the motivations for sharing data in the sciences don’t necessarily align with the humanities. There has been discussion, for example, around the value (and feasibility) of producing replicable humanities research.

Reproducibility may not be front of mind, but they are various other reasons why data sharing elevates humanities research. Firstly, sharing explicit links to the data underpinning a publication supports transparency and enhances understanding. Moreover, sharing data allows for new directions in research and greater discovery of source material. Not to mention that research shows data sharing can increase citations—a compelling benefit across disciplines.

But what does data look like in the humanities?

Well, a review of the research methods of Taylor & Francis’ humanities authors revealed a range of potential data to be deposited, described, shared, and cited.

  • “This article uses archival resources located in British banks.
  • “An examination of [the band’s] concert appearances, musical output and printed matter….”
  • Digitised materials from The Times and The Economist were analysed.”

Authors describe a range of data including archival documents, newspaper clippings, band concert appearances lists, and field notes on art therapy practice.

From barrier to opportunity 

The humanities might share the same open research principles as the sciences but putting these principles into practice is a whole other story. For authors who have not encountered data sharing policies before, a requirement to “cite” a list of concert appearances could represent a barrier to publication. 

The humanities need their own data sharing requirements that address the points of difference between humanities data and data in the sciences. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Different research methods
  • Definitions of data
  • Data collection practices
  • Ownership and licensing of data
  • Data life cycle and longevity
  • Repository coverage and features
  • Cultural attitudes and sharing practices

From policies to practice

Academic publishers sit at the interface between research articles and research data, and they also provide an interface between best practice data sharing ideals and published data outputs. As a result, it’s publishers who are responsible for supporting humanities researchers in sharing, linking, and citing research data.

As part of the STM Association’s Research Data Program, we have joined five other academic publishers in the Humanities-focused Sub-Group.

Rather than attempting to align humanities data sharing methods with a scientific data sharing approach, the group is undertaking a research project to establish current practice and potential challenges in humanities data sharing. This work begins with a series of editor interviews and an author survey. The intention is to establish the key challenges which arise when humanities journals implement robust data sharing policies. Based on the findings, the Humanities Group will create resources and guidance to assist authors and editors in interpreting and complying with these policies. 

Join the conversation

At F1000, we’re excited to expand on the work of groups such as DARIAH and contribute to ongoing conversations around data sharing in the humanities. If you’re a humanities researcher with ideas around how we can provide helpful policy text and practice guidance, we’d love to hear from you! 

Please get in touch today or comment below.

This blog post is an adaptation of a talk presented at the DARIAH 2021 conference by Rebecca Grant (Head of Data and Software Publishing, F1000) and Matt Cannon (Head of Open Research, Taylor & Francis). Slides from the talk, “Academic publishers and humanities data sharing: the interface between theory and practice,” are available to read online here.


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