Big Data in the Humanities and Social Siences? Yes – there’s a bunch of it!

Posted: June 13th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Projects, Report | Tags: , , | Comments Off on Big Data in the Humanities and Social Siences? Yes – there’s a bunch of it!

The Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) issued the first public appraisal of the Digging into Data Challenge, an international grant programme first funded by JISC, the US National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), the US National Science Foundation and the Canadian Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.

Their findings are presented in a report called One Culture Computationally Intensive Research in the Humanities and Social Sciences, along with a series of recommendations for researchers, administrators, scholarly societies, academic publishers, research libraries, and funding agencies.

The report was made public today at the Joint Conference on Digital Libraries JCDL 2012 conference in Washington, DC. This report culminates two years of work by CLIR staff involving extensive interviews and site visits with scholars engaged in international research collaborations involving computational analysis of large data corpora.

The Digging into Data Challenge was launched in 2009 to better understand how ‘big data’ changes the research landscape for the humanities and social sciences. Scholars in these disciplines now use massive databases of materials that range from digitized books, newspapers, and music to transactional data such as web searches, sensor data, or mobile phone records. The Challenge seeks to discover what new, computationally based research methods might be applied to these sources.

In its first year, the Digging into Data Challenge made awards to eight teams of scholars, librarians, and computer and information scientists. Over the following two years, report authors Christa Williford and Charles Henry conducted site visits, interviews, and focus groups to understand how these complex international projects were being managed, what challenges they faced, and what project teams were learning from the experience.

Brett Bobley, chief information officer and director of the NEH Office of Digital Humanities, heads the Digging into Data Challenge.

“Do we have big data in the humanities and social sciences? Yes—buckets of it,” he says. “But our ability to produce huge quantities of digital data has outstripped our ability to analyze and understand it. One Culture helps us to see not only why we would want a computer to assist us with our work, but how big data is changing the very nature of traditional humanistic research.”

In 2011, four additional funding bodies joined the four original cooperating agencies in support of fourteen new international collaborative research projects. These funders include the Institute of Museum and Library Services (US); the Arts and Humanities Research Council (UK); the Economic and Social Research Council (UK); and the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research.

The report is available online in pdf format; an extended version with case studies is also available in html format. Print copies are available for ordering through the website: <>

Photo: Kevin Krejci  /

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