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Data Management for the Humanities

What Is Data Curation?

There are a number of competing terms used to describe the activity of managing digital materials for research: digital curation, digital stewardship, data curation, digital archiving. As a compact and provisional definition, data curation is "the active and ongoing management of data throughout its entire lifecycle of interest and usefulness to scholarship" (Cragin et al. 2007). To expand on this definition, the above terms are defined as:

  • active and ongoing management: Data curators intervene in the research process in order to translate or migrate data into new formats, to enhance it through additional layers of context or markup, to create connections between data sets, and to otherwise ensure that data is maintained in as highly-functional a form as possible.
  • entire lifecycle: As we enter the era of thoroughly digital research, the full lifecycle of digital research data is still not yet known to us. However, we can anticipate that some data (particularly data collected through destructive means, such as archaeological data) will have a very long horizon of usefulness (in addition to increased evidentiary value for historical analysis and stewardship of our cultural heritage). The uses of data will likely change over time and with different stages of research.
  • interest and usefulness to scholarship: The term "scholarship" should be construed broadly, especially since data creation, use, and curation are not limited to the academy. Data curation seeks to retain the interest and usefulness of any data that has a serious purpose to fulfill. Furthermore, even for data created and curated within the academy, it is worth remarking that there may be potential user communities outside the academy that could provide valuable motivation and even resources for the curation process. Especially given the recent and increasing emphasis on crowd-sourcing, community-driven data, and the permeability of the boundary between the academy and the public sphere, it is reasonable to anticipate that definitions of "scholarship" may continue to broaden rather than narrow over time.

Adapted from:

Julia Flanders, Center for Digital Scholarship, Brown University
Trevor Muñoz, University of Maryland 

Unique Features of Humanities Data Curation

Although the field of humanities data is growing steadily, at present we can identify several major types of research objects and collections that present distinctive forms of data and distinctive curation challenges.

  • Scholarly editions
  • Text corpora
  • Text with markup
  • Thematic research collections
  • Data with accompanying analysis or annotation
  • Finding aids 

In addition to these distinctive kinds of humanities data, there are also a few strategic points concerning the treatment of this data that need to be stressed:

  • The importance of interpretive layering
  • The importance of information about how the data is captured and prepared
  • The importance of capturing responsibility, editorial voice, and debate

Adapted from:

“An Introduction to Humanities Data Curation”
Julia Flanders, Center for Digital Scholarship, Brown University
Trevor Muñoz, University of Maryland

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