Loners, Pathfinders, or Explorers? How are the Humanities Progressing in Open Science?

Image: Barcamp Open Science, organized by the Leibniz Research Alliance Open Science and hosted by Wikimedia Deutschland, 18 March, 2019, Berlin. Ralf Rebmann, CC BY 4.0 license.

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Citation format: The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th Edition

Tóth-Czifra, Erzsébet & Wuttke, Ulrike. ‘Loners, Pathfinders, or Explorers? How are the Humanities Progressing in Open Science?’, 2019. https://doi.org/10.25815/x516-wf23.

There is an ever-increasing number of people who are interested in — or practice — Open Science or Open Scholarship. Whatever it means to us individually, we all have a need from time to time to see the bigger picture and reflect on where are we in this space: what we hope to achieve through it, how others can help us, and reflect on what are the shared values in the open research culture for us and for the society at large.

The Open Science Barcamp, which was for the fifth year already a recurring pre-event for the more formal International Open Science Conference in Berlin, is all about this reflection. It brings together open-minded curious people from different countries, (disciplinary) background and level of involvement in Open Science for a full day of informal, but intensive and action-oriented exchange about how to take collaboration, transparency, reproducibility, and in general the development of an open culture to the next level.

Since we believe that Open Science works best when it is well-anchored in the different disciplinary settings and community practices, we proposed to dedicate a session in this incubator space to Open Humanities to start a conversation about:

  • How the values of Open Science manifest themselves in present-day humanities research practices, and how these values help to reassess and reshape our fundamental knowledge creation mechanisms?
  • What good practices are coming from individual disciplines?
  • Does Digital Humanities equal Open Science?
  • What are the barriers for establishing a culture of open sharing in the humanities? Where are the main gaps between positive attitudes towards openness versus actual scholarly practices?
  • What we want the future scholarly ecosystem of the humanities to be?

These questions allowed us to discuss the various pathways to the open research culture as they specifically pertain to research communities in the Arts and Humanities. Below you can read a recap of the most interesting discussion points.

Tweet: Yan Wang

The tip of the iceberg: Open Access in the humanities

Open Access to publications is a pivotal component of Open Humanities. In addition to the number one humanities challenge in this respect, that is, the transition of books to the open and digital scholarly communication ecosystem often overlooked in more STEM dominated discussions, we also reflected on the journal landscape. Due to the need for cultural nuance in many fields that fall under the big umbrella of the Arts and Humanities, scholarly outputs are less concentrated in big journals, instead, they are usually grounded in regional, national and language-specific communities. One of the challenges that comes with this prevalence of small niche journals is that they are facing difficulties and lack sustainable business models for the transitioning to Open Access (e.g., journals of scholarly societies). As a result, the topical selection choice of fully Open Access publication forums is not always satisfactory for scholars. This forces scholars in some cases to publish their work in closed but topically relevant publication forums. Given that a strikingly high proportion of these closed journals have no Green Open Access policy, it appears that we still have plenty to do to take Open Access in the Humanities to the next level.

Pro-tips from the audience:

  • By exploring your self-archiving options, you as an author often have the power to align your dissemination options with your open “quest” even if you decide for some reasons to publish in a closed venue. Sometimes it only takes a question to the publisher, for example by pointing at your funder’s requirements. You may ask for a Green Open Access option, or even more boldly for full Open Access by using the SPARC Author Addendum.
  • Some countries, like the Netherlands, are ahead in terms of helping authors to their self archiving rights. The Netherlands have recently established in their Copyright Law the right to share short scientific works independent from restrictive publishers guidelines and set up the pilot “You share, we take care” to make publishers’ versions available after six months via universities’ repositories. All the researcher has to do is to contact her/his university library to take care of the whole process. We cannot wait to see this initiative followed by other countries.

As examples of innovations on a more systemic level, we also collected instances of the emerging fee-to-publish Open Access scene in the Humanities such as: the Open Library of Humanities, Language Science Press, OpenEdition, Edizioni Ca’ Foscari (Venice), or national journal platforms such as the Polish Studies.Interdisciplinary, the Croatian HRCAK portal, or the numerous smaller no-APC journals that can be found via the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ).

Home-grown open scholarly practices emerging from disciplinary traditions/communities

Open access to publications is just the tip of the iceberg though. Today’s technology enables new approaches to sharing and reusing aspects of scholarly work, so that research can be viewed, managed, accessed, and assessed in terms of the integrity of processes, rather than only as end products. We have a broad range of good (research) practices from other disciplines at our disposal that offer plenty of opportunities for successfully adoption to humanities workflows. Some examples are the use of Git and open-notebook science for open source coding and digital humanities projects, the sharing of R packages, or the publication of course outlines and materials as Open Educational Resources (OER) via repositories such as Humanities Commons.

But maybe more importantly, often the best open tools and practices are not explicitly branded as parts of the Open Science toolkit, but are naturally emerging from doing collaborative research in a digital ecosystem — such as TEI, IIIF, or communities like The Programming Historian. You can check out collections like the OpenMethods metablog or the PARTHENOS Standardization Survival Kit to get an overview of good examples. These platforms not only help making such good practices findable but also contribute to raising peer recognition of them as valuable and significant contributions  to the open movement.

Last but not least, we also discussed that with the increasing digital transformation of research practices in the Arts and Humanities, digital collections, digital editions, and digital corpora play an ever important role, as our sources become more and more digital, either through digitization or because they are already born digital. Therefore, the aspect of open data is starting to play an important role in the Humanities, too. Currently, besides good examples of open data collections already available we discussed during the session (see below), we agreed that there is quite some work ahead to raise awareness for the topic of data publication, to provide support and tools for Research Data Management, and especially to align Arts and Humanities data practices to the FAIR principles.

We need to better integrate our cultural memory with Open Science

Speaking of data, we all agreed that improving access to and the reusability of the wide range of scholarly information — artefacts, pieces of arts, written documents of all sorts, recordings, annotations etc. — broadly referred to as cultural heritage data is a widely shared need of Humanities research communities. There are hardly any disciplines where source materials embedded in our cultural memory and in the cultural and social practices of the galleries, libraries, archives and museums (GLAM) that curate them are not widely used. Therefore, innovations enabling data fluidity and novel forms of cooperation between researchers and cultural heritage institutions are key to a healthy environment for humanities research. Our audience was quite optimistic as we have seen various good practices, championing a better integration of GLAM communities and institutions into the Open Science ecosystem emerging during the last couple of years. We mentioned for example the growing Linked Open Data and Wikidata/Wikipedia:GLAM communities and their crucial role in this respect. Besides, we have also seen a rising momentum in national or institutional-level projects enabling a greater circulation and reuse of heritage resources within the academic field, such as: the Coding da Vinci initiative, a German project where GLAM institutions share data that can be used in hackathons; the Egyptian Coffins project of the Fitzwilliam Museum where research outputs as enrichments are connected with the collection of more than two hundred ancient Egyptian coffins and coffin fragments, or; the Dutch Rijksmuseum which offers open access to its digital collections content for example providing an API.

Nevertheless, the state of digitization and the open availability of data will continue to affect working conditions and even research interests of humanities scholars. Maintaining a watchful awareness towards the epistemic markings of cultural heritage materials and knowledge structures sunken behind the digital horizon will remain essential if we want to avoid research being skewed towards easily available, easy to find online resources, generating further enrichment and even greater visibility, but only of this very small fraction of cultural heritage, thus re-enforcing the established canon.

Image: Ralf Rebmann, CC BY 4.0 license.

Everyone can be an Open Scholar

We came to the conclusion that it is extremely important to underline that there are several flavours of openness. Open practices can be applied to some degree by all humanists, not only more data-savvy Digital Humanities scholars. This means that, although leveraging on technical innovations may be regarded as a core component of an open research culture, being an Open Scholar does not mean that you have to acquire advanced computational and data science skills (though at least basic skills come in quite handy!). The equation between digital skills and openness threading through some discussions is problematic, because Open Scholarship is at its core a social practice. Therefore, you can deploy open practices to your research even if you are not a techie person and choose your own pace, every little step counts.

Tweet: Jon Tennant

We collected some truly open practices that often fall out of scope when Open Science is considered in a strictly technocratic sense. The main idea is to address different communities of audiences by choosing different formats and languages to share different parts of the research process and results, some example that were mentioned are:

  • sharing publications (Green) Open Access, so they accessible to all researchers and to the general public as well (think especially of journalists and decision makers),
  • sharing research ideas, musings, or results via blogs and social media (Twitter, Facebook etc.) with your peers and the broader public, and
  • sharing data (code, digital resources, underlying data) with your peers and especially for use by Digital Humanities researchers.

Even though, openness is much more than just tech and data science and transcends technology, technology is also an important part of some open workflows. We would strongly encourage less techy scholars to let themselves not be disheartened by “tech-talk”, but to start with baby-steps. If you get curious about more technologically-enabled workflows, as we hope you will be at some points, there are loads of possibilities to dive right into them (some pathways we have sketched out already above).


We strongly believe that the development of a more open culture could (and needs!) help to pave the way to new forms of value creation and visibility for humanities research(ers). However, nobody but humanists themselves will make an Open Science ecosystem that works for humanists. We need to participate in the overall Open Science discussion and make our needs heard. We are in the lucky situation that we have never had this wealth of tools, networks, and possibilities for cooperations at our fingertips before. Let’s use them to shape further an Open environment that works for the Humanities. And let’s meet in 2020 again and take a look at the progress we have made during this year towards this direction.

Follow the link to the Open Science Radio podcast episode OSR152 Open Humanities: the Black Sheep of Open Science? #oscibar [EN].

Follow the link to the session pad.


Innovations, 101. “Towards a Plan S Gap Analysis? (1) Open Access Potential across Disciplines.” Innovations in Scholarly Communication (blog), December 5, 2018. https://101innovations.wordpress.com/2018/12/05/oa-potential-journals-and-publications-across-disciplines/.

“SPARC Author Addendum to Publication Agreement | SPARC.” Accessed April 24, 2019. http://sparc.arl.org/resources/authors/addendum-2007.

“You Share, We Take Care!” Accessed April 24, 2019. https://www.openaccess.nl/en/you-share-we-take-care.

“OpenMethods.” OpenMethods. Accessed April 24, 2019. https://openmethods.dariah.eu/.

“SSK – Scenarios.” Accessed April 24, 2019. http://ssk.huma-num.fr/#/scenarios.“The FAIR Data Principles | FORCE11.” Accessed April 24, 2019. https://www.force11.org/group/fairgroup/fairprinciples.

Erzsebet Toth-Czifra & Ulrike Wuttke

Posted by Erzsebet Toth-Czifra & Ulrike Wuttke

Erzsébet Tóth-Czifra: linguist, agent, experiencer. Open science officer at @DARIAHeu. Strongly committed to democracy in science. @etothczifra https://orcid.org/0000-0003-2293-0631 - - - Ulrike Wuttke: DH | Research Data | Infrastructures | Open Science | @RDMOrganiser | @openmethods_dh | @gen_R_ | Middle Dutch | Textual Scholarship @UWuttke https://orcid.org/0000-0002-8217-4025

One Reply to “Loners, Pathfinders, or Explorers? How are the Humanities Progressing in Open Science?”

  1. […] Ulrike. ‘Loners, Pathfinders, or Explorers? How are the Humanities Progressing in Open Science?’, 2019. […]


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