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Review: Data Primer

A review of Data Primer, a collectively authored book helping researchers working with data, directed by Felicity Tayler and Marjorie Mitchell

Published onJun 24, 2024
Review: Data Primer

Data Primer: Making Digital Humanities Research Data Public /
Manuel d'introduction aux données : rendre publiques les données de recherche en sciences humaines numériques

Project Leads
Felicity Tayler, University of Ottawa
Marjorie Mitchell, University of British Columbia Okanagan
Karis Shearer, University of British Columbia
Constance Crompton, University of Ottawa

Project Teams
Production and Content: Felicity Tayler; Marjorie Mitchell; Chantal Ripp; Sarah Simpkin; Constance Crompton; Karis Shearer; Pascale Dangoisse; Fatoumata Bah; Matthew Lincoln; Mikhail Proulx; Jada Watson

Workshopping Content: Alex Gregory; Alex Wermer-Colan; Alexei Alexeev; Alicia Cappello; Andrea Fatona; Andreea Ritivoi; Augustine Farinola; Beth Knazook; Cynthia Heider; Deanna Reder; Ece Turnator; Erin Galt; Evonne Levy; Fatoumata Bah; Federico Pianzola; Katelin Parsons; Lauren Churilla; Lisa Goddard; Lorna Dawes; Maria Laura Flores Barba; Marie Noël; Martha Attridge Bufton; Megan Toye; Monique Grenier; Nadine Valcin; Paul Albert; Sally Hadden; Samuel Mickelson; Sarah Simpkin; Shahira Khair; Stefan Higgins; Yann Ryan; Victoria Sciancalepore

Project URLs

Project Reviewer
Julia Polyck-O'Neill, University of Guelph

Project Overview

Felicity Tayler

Data management and curation are important processes for digital humanists. Without proper planning and management, the value of the data, as well as the labor involved in researching, collecting, and analyzing the data, could be lost!

Data Primer: Making Digital Humanities Research Data Public helps researchers integrate best practices when writing a data management plan for funding applications and offers data curation strategies for collecting, managing, and publishing digital files and formats alongside traditional textual scholarship. The best practices outlined in the Data Primer can be applied across the broad spectrum of digital humanities methodologies, with a focus on humanists working in Canada or with Canadian funding or research affiliation.

This Data Primer was collaboratively authored by over 30 digital humanities researchers and research assistants, and was peer-reviewed by data professionals. It serves as an overview of the different aspects of data curation and management best practices for digital humanities researchers. Topics covered include: ethics of consent and intellectual property, copyright and (open) licenses, data collection and ownership, publishing and archiving data as part of scholarly and creative work. 

The Primer structure follows a workshop model using a data flow and discovery tool and shows how related best practices can be applied across diverse digital humanities methodologies. Each section begins with questions that were raised in workshop breakout groups. Those questions are then mapped onto relevant sections of the data work-flow tool to create a conceptual model that follows best practices in data management. While the Primer is researcher-centered, the researcher is just one actor in the flow of data; they are not the sole decision taker, nor even always the central one, when it comes to data curation planning.

The guide focuses on collections-based methodologies, making a distinction between research materials, such as physical archives that may not belong to the researcher, and the research data that the researcher may produce and publish. The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council-funded SpokenWeb Partnership is used as an example throughout the Data Primer to illustrate how best practices in data curation can be followed and incorporated into a project as a core part of the research methodology. Comprised of 13 institutions across Canada and the United States, the SpokenWeb Partnership develops collaborative approaches to literary historical study, digital development, and critical and pedagogical engagement with collections of literary sound recordings from Canada and beyond. 

Data Primer: Making Digital Humanities Research Data Public is endorsed by the National Training Expert Group of the Digital Research Alliance of Canada. In our “Overarching Principles,” we acknowledge that digital humanities and data curation management methods have had their roots in oppressive practices or frameworks towards other historically excluded or marginalized communities. The French-language version of this resource uses inclusive language with a neutral form to take into account a diversity of genders.

Project Review

Julia Polyck-O'Neill

The collaboratively authored, peer-reviewed Data Primer: Making Digital Humanities Research Data Public, published in 2022, brings together over 30 experts in digital humanities, including in the areas of digitization and data analysis, management, and accessibility, to create comprehensive, peer-reviewed guidelines for working with data in the current moment. The project is directed by Felicity Tayler and Marjorie Mitchell and led by Tayler, Mitchell, Karis Shearer, and Constance Crompton. The project’s membership extends to include robust “production and content” and “workshopping content” teams. The resulting publication, available via Pressbooks and supported by eCampusOntario, is co-authored by Tayler, Mitchell, Chantal Ripp, and Pascale Dangoisse.

Data Primer provides best practices for working with data in one convenient place, making it a useful tool for a wide variety of information workers and environments. The guide presents a user-friendly, step-by-step approach to the curation and management of data in plain language and provides clear attribution of the definitions, principles, and strategies it employs, including those of Indigenous communities and organizations, often linking to useful external resources. 

The open-access Data Primer, funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) and the University of Ottawa Library, is distinctly Canadian in nature, using and citing sources specific to Canadian and Indigenous contexts. Though its guidelines apply to a wide variety of data environments, this suggests its main intended audience is primarily from the regions known as Canada, though some collaborators and institutions involved are external to this context. Indeed, in the section “Who is this Primer For?” the co-authors indicate that the project will be “most useful to experienced humanist researchers, working in Canada or with Canadian funding or research affiliation,” establishing these national parameters from the guide’s outset. Additionally, the guide uses the SSHRC-supported transnational SpokenWeb Partnership project, which spans institutions across Canada and the U.S., as a case study to demonstrate the implementation of best practices. This makes the project a particularly useful resource for Canadian scholars and researchers as well as scholars or researchers developing data projects in or for Canadian contexts and funders.

Data Primer makes the case for the importance of mindful planning when it comes to developing a data-based project, especially for curation and management of data. In the table of contents, the project moves through various steps and considerations to keep in mind when working with data and, importantly, makes useful, cogent arguments for understanding the specific contexts for research and scholarship in data-driven environments and how these might influence the ways data is curated and managed in these spaces. For research and scholarship in Canada, the specific expectations and guidelines for data usage under major national funding sources are explained and linked for users’ convenience. Issues and concepts such as consent and intellectual property, copyright and licensing, data collection and ownership, and publishing and archiving data are explained in detail, and topics such as making data public — which includes a rich and extensive bibliography — and transforming data management into scholarly and creative work are also explored in individual sections of the guide; these aspects of the project seem to translate to a wide variety of geographic and institutional contexts.

Data Primer is certain to be an invaluable resource for a wide variety of digital humanities-based professionals. That the project provides a plethora of information about data curation and management in one place makes it incredibly useful in many digital humanities spaces; that it makes this information accessible and breaks complex processes into straightforward steps is sure to contribute to its uptake in institutions in Canada and beyond.

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