shutterstock_71064001[1]This post takes a quick look at some of the things that the School of Advanced Study is doing to enable researchers to think about the research process and to consider their underlying ‘data’ as a commodity in its own right.

What is ‘data’ and why should we care about it? In the humanities ‘data’ is a term often restricted in our thoughts as relevant only to research outputs in statistical form. If a Database is created to manage and interpret evidence then that is considered data. If a series of index cards are used or a series of text documents or images are produced, that is often thought of as our evidence, but not as data as such. Yet, in essence our underlying research is data and what we do with that ‘data’ is equally important as what we do with the publications that result from it.

I wear two hats at the School of Advanced Study but both concern the research process. The first is as manager of SAS Space and SAS Open Journals. These services provide online spaces for researchers to share and preserve their underlying ‘data’ and opens up a space for Open Access publication. The second hat focuses on training as a means to better enable researchers to make use of such tools (and to understand why they are useful and necessary) and (hopefully) to help them manage their own research more efficiently for their own benefit and for the benefit of the humanities community in general.

The School of Advanced Study (SAS) recognises the importance of enabling humanities researchers to manage, preserve, and share their underlying research, but it also realises that tools need to be made easily available to help researchers to do this well. It also recognises the importance of training specifically tailored to the concerns of humanities researchers.

Over the last few years SAS has been working hard to provide the tools and guidance that students and academics require to better manage their own research; to ensure that it is backed up and preserved for themselves and for future generations; and to enable them to share that ‘data’ with their peers and the public so that it has the greatest exposure and impact. These include:

  • SAS-Space: an online repository for SAS staff and students to preserve and make available their underlying research materials, pre-publication articles and monographs, and their doctorate thesis.
  • SAS Open Journals: an Open Access journal system that any member of SAS or external body can use to develop a digital journal either from a pre-existing print journal or as born-digital. SAS Open Journals offers journal articles in pdf format free of subscription charges.
  • Research Training: The Institute of Historical Research is currently in the process of developing a free online training course with the universities of Hull and Sheffield that will help historians and other humanities scholars to manage their data properly. This course will help students to create their own data management plan and to consider all aspects of data management. Three workshops on the subject have already been held and the online course should be available by July 2014.

How we, as humanities researchers, look at our research outputs is important. How we gather, create and structure that research is equally vital. The UK Data Archive emphasises that ‘data’ is a valuable, but often under-recognised, resource. Where once humanities researchers considered their underlying research as nothing more than the backend of their publications, today that research (or ‘data’) is an output in its own right.

It is true that this trend has been driven largely by funding bodies who wish to demonstrate a better return on their investment, but it is a consideration and a skill that we should all think about. The wider trend toward openness in research means that we all must become efficient managers of our own research. This is no bad thing.

This post was written by Dr Matt Phillpott (SAS). Matt is manager of SAS Space and SAS Open Journals. He initially managed the Institute of Historical Research’s History SPOT platform, which offered online training in research skills, and is now developing similar tools for SAS. Matt initially trained as an historian, focusing on early modern book history.