Calling for data publication workshops in historical research

by Fabian Cremer

This September, an online workshop on the publication of research data in the fields of History, which we offered for the first time, exceeded our expectations. The overwhelming interest, the engaging participants and the smooth flow of the event led us to a better understanding and (three) notable thoughts we would like to share. The event took place on the 2nd and 3rd of September 2020 and was offered by Michael Czolkoß-Hettwer (Berlin State Library – Prussian Cultural Foundation) and the IEG DH Lab, namely Anna Aschauer and Fabian Cremer.

1) The time is now

The publication of research data is a rising topic in many fields, including History. Research data management and the sharing of datasets aims for more transparency of the research process and a better reusability of the results. Therefore, acquiring basic skills about and assessing the potentials of this new publication format is crucial for early career researchers and (post-)graduate training. As research data management or data literacy more general (or even Open Access) is still absent in many curricula of History, we assumed a workshop on data publication could draw some interest from early career researchers. We got overrun and were booked within days. Out of the several factors of this rush we identified two points, that reveal a supply/demand mismatch:

  • There are very few, if any training offers for subject-specific RDM in the field(s) of History (unless you have been to Paris last June). The same is true for training materials. There is a growing collection of generic slides and content (e.g. this zenodo community, curated by dcc), but the lack of “RDM-Material for Historians” is in fact a Problem Story (German story, global problem).
  • There is already an awareness for the growing importance of RDM – driven by both external conditions and inner motivation. From the statements of the participants, data publication emerged as a particular interesting topic, because it has the potential to impact academic careers directly (citations, reuse or funding requirements) and the idea of sharing research through standardized publishing formats is already a common principle.

The need for RDM training has been identified earlier, particularly by funding agencies and research organizations, but coupled with genuine interest from researchers, both create a relevant demand that must be met. Occasions for learning must be created, and the RDM landscape had better not miss this moment.

2) Discussion fuels development

A subject-specific research data management for History is not yet elaborated. There is no common practice in historical research for publishing the datasets nor is a there a reliable digital infrastructures landscape with disciplinary repositories and data centers, aside from pioneering approaches and pilot projects. As long as RDM is built primarily on recommendations and not yet on lived practices, training should not be limited to teaching the recommendations, but should promote the development of practices. The concept of “training” should include much more discussion and reflection on the status quo. A critical examination of the guidelines and conditions in the own discipline offers an opportunity for this, especially in the humanities. Moreover, in a discipline like History, which requires scholars to publish (printed) monographs to be taken seriously, awareness raising on Open Science practices and FAIR data principles works better if you critically discuss RDM measures with the researchers rather than talking them into it.

3) Practice what you preach

Originally designed as a hands-on and in-person meeting, the workshop had to be converted to an online event. A significant part of the positive feedback pointed out aspects outside of the actual online meeting: structured planning, preparation of materials, provision of infrastructure, steady communication. This leads to a very basic recommendation for RDM Trainings: practice what you preach. We tried to improve this for our workshop, where we put more effort into documentation: enriching the presentation material, writing questions and answers, collecting bibliography and links, updating the workshop concept based on feedback, and publishing everything under an open license (on github, in German). A detailed syllabus is also in preparation.

In Germany, hopes are currently pinned on the new national funding for research data infrastructures (NFDI), for which an initiative for the historically oriented humanities is also applying (NFDI4Memory). Our workshop, which took place within the DARIAH-DE consortium, indicates that large infrastructure projects can have an impact right up to the researchers. But our workshop also showed that train-the-trainer offers can only be a starting point and must be accompanied with a broad discussion in the discipline – on occasions like a workshop for data publication, for instance.

Cite this article as: Fabian Cremer, "Calling for data publication workshops in historical research," in Digital Humanities Lab, 06/11/2020, https://dhlab.hypotheses.org/1695.

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