22 Sep 2013


  • What data cultures and practices characterize historical and ethnographic research?
  • Can these be described with the Data Practices and Curation (DPC) Vocabulary referenced by Carol Palmer?
  • What workflows characterize historical and ethnographic research?  What blocks or creates opportunities for collaboration in these workflows? When – at what stages in the research process – do historians and ethnographers – think it appropriate/valid/useful to share research data and findings?  

In her RDA plenary, Carol Palmer pointed us to Harry Collins 1998 paper comparing gravitational wave research groups in Italy and the US – emphasizing the differences in what counted as a publishable result. 

  • What data systems, platforms and tools have historians and ethnographers relied on in the past, and what has been developed in recent years, leveraging digitization?
  • What data types do historians and ethnographers collect, archive, analyze and potentially share?



  • What kinds of research designs will most effectively orient the generation, archiving, sharing, analysis and use of digitally-animated historical and ethnographic data?  What (IRB approved) human subjects and licensing protocols are needed to support these research designs?
  • How can our systems and platforms support researchers in different national and generational communities, and encourage cross-talk between them?
  • What are the valences of emerging digital systems, platforms and tools in history and ethnography, and how should we document and cultivate awareness of their dynamics and limits?

Sub-question: What are the valences of different types of content management systems, and what types best accommodate data practices in history and ethnography?

The PECE installation crew deliberated (for years!) over content management systems, ultimately going with an object-oriented PLONE system.  A chart made to compare PLONE and Drupal can jump-start HE-IG discussion along these lines.  At the second RDA plenary, we met Mark Leggott, at U of Prince Edward Island, has helped build a research space that uses Drupal + Fedora.

  • What will enable the interoperability of platforms and tools used by historians and ethnographers? 

Zotero, the open source bibliographic management tool developed at the Center for New Media at George Mason U, doesn’t easily integrate with Plone, for example.

  • How can the data systems and platforms we build support the archiving, analysis and sharing of the array of data types used in historical and ethnographic research – and data types that will emerge in the future?  How can we acknowledge and accommodate the malleability of data in history and ethnography (the way “it” – the data – changes over time as it is recalibrated through additional field study or re-read alongside other data, possibly by diverse researchers)?

Currently PECE, can accommodate four (primary) data types: images, documents, audio, video, all of which can be annotated by multiple readers of the data, over extended periods of time.  At the RDA meetings, we heard comments on how it might take some time before data are stabilized and references to a field in statistics called intervention analysis. For example, they ask how did a change in inquiry process change the data and they insist that metadata include what/how/when that happened and its effects, not to simple issue a new version, erasing the old.  Does the PECE annotation structure operationalize this for historians and ethnographers?  Additional ways to elaborate this?

  • What would it look like for the varied data forms in history and ethnography to be machine-readable?
  • What data identifiers and metadata should be used, and is it appropriate and necessary to call for standardization?  Are there technical means of supporting heterogeneous identification and categorization schemes?

Sub-question already put to our group: “Many advanced digital projects supporting historical and ethnographic research comply with the metadata standards recommended by the Open Archives Initiative for web content interoperability.  Please comment on the value (and possible limits) of encouraging compliance with OAI standards community-wide.”  

 (Dominic): “On my comment about OSA being out-of-date, I was talking about how the standard uses older web technology and has not been updated or changed in quite some time. If I remember correctly it's based a XML encoded formate, using some properties and ideas that are a little out of date. If I were to do it today, first we would want a separation the data model and the data encoding. For example, many APIs allow you to get results back in JSON, XML, RSS, etc. This separation of data model and encoding allows you to support many different encoding standards, even ones that don't exist yet. I would use RDF to model the information (a language for modeling data, not just encoding it), giving the terms and ideas we care about URIs (just like URLs you find on the web) that can be looked up and explained to any human or machine.”  

Plone builds in Dublin Core.  Should RDF be added at the outset (as Dominic seems to suggest above).

The RDA Metadata IG points us to the DCC (Digital Curation Center) Disciplinary Metadata Directory http://www.dcc.ac.uk/resources/metadata-standards -- aiming to develop a bigger, better participatory directory.  The Metadata IG also points us toe EMP – Ecological Metadata Language, with use cases.

  • What use cases can we can imagine for collaborative use of data among historians and ethnographers? What data frames (identifiers, metadata, licensing) are needed to enable particular use cases?

In 2005, Ethnographer Jane produces an interview in a field setting.  In 2011, Ethnographer Joe…   

  • What use cases can we imagine that involve collaboration between historians/ ethnographers and researchers/data from other fields, especially when outside data becomes part of historical and ethnographic analysis? What indexes of available data can historians and ethnographers use to locate and draw in outside data? What tools are needed to make use of outside data?

Imagine, for example, how historians and ethnographers would come to know about and use the kinds of data sets collected at data.gov – one pulls together “ethics” documents through which citizens can hold government/officials accountable.

  • What kinds of tools can enable and animate (collaborative) analysis of (digital) data in historical and ethnographic analysis?

The artifact-annotation tool developed in PECE was designed to animate collaborative analysis. This tool was designed to support (and archive) changes in the inquiry process (by allowing orienting questions – some would call these “data models” – to be retired and continually generated.)  What metadata should be attached to these annotations?

  • What types of argument and narrative need to be supported by digital systems for ethnography and history? How can digital systems enable the emergence of unexpected types of argument and narrative?

The poster (by Karen Wickett, et. al) illustrating how humanities researchers could make use of the Systematic Assertion Model (SAM) revolves around an argument about the origin of a concept/signifier, supported by drawing in “complimentary” data that stands-in for missing data and grounds interpretive extrapolation. Ethnographers tend to work toward very different types of arguments – which we should try to characterize (taking care not to delimit what counts as a good argument for ethnographers).  Karen said that they have a long list of use cases/argument types her group works with.

  • How can digital systems, platforms and tools support creative and experimental ways of presenting historical and ethnographic research?

The PEC enables the creation of “files” that enable researchers to present (in a manner reminiscent of Burrows cut-up literacy technique) their material in way that interweaves primary material and analysis without requiring a linear narrative structure, using hyperlinks to add depth and discursivity.

  • How can we enable public access to data from historical and ethnographic research while simultaneously protecting intellectual property (of both researchers and researched)?  What system design and dynamics will actively draw diverse users into the research and data of historians and ethnographers?



  • How can we connect information generation to curation and overall system sustainability in historical and ethnographic research over the long term?

  • What business and organizational models can support open data and research in history and ethnography?

  • What licensing and consent arrangements will best enable data sharing in history and ethnography?

Indiana U IRB

Author agreements (not one AAA has insisted CA use)

  • What theoretical framework can orient data curation in history and ethnography in coming decades?

This question was prompted by Carol Palmer’s point (in a RDA plenary) about the need for a theoretical framework for data curation in libraries.

How can social theoretical insight on “functionalism” (and the way it undercuts dissent/innovation) guide efforts to build digital systems to support historical and ethnographic research?

How can theoretical insight on the dynamics of language and meaning production – from poststructuralism, the work of Gregory Bateson – inform/inflect the systems built to support historical and ethnographic research? 



            IndianaU as best practice?

What can we learn from journals that have moved to digital platforms e.g. Cultural Anthropology (the journal and web platform)

  • Moving to open access, author agreements, etc.


Learning from Open Folklore


Learning from The Asthma Files, The Disaster-STS Research Network, and the Platform for Experimental and Collaborative Ethnography (PECE)


Learning from Digital Himalaya



  • What kinds of educational programming are needed to enhance digital data capacity in history and ethnography? How can we characterize the skill and role of the historian/ethnographer in digitally animated projects?

Matt Mayernick (UCLA PhD in Info Studies) is now at NCAR and working alongside a data curation training/internship program.

  • What kinds of information – and in what forms (newsletters circulated to members of professional societies?) – will draw researchers to digital data and findings produced and curated in history and ethnography?
  • What kinds of policies – at various scales (international, national, universities, journals, etc.) will advance digital data capacity and practice in historical and ethnographic research?

What needs to be done to ensure appropriate compliance with the new US federal mandate requiring public access to federally funded research results and data in history and ethnography?

Should journals require access to data referenced in a published article? What rights to limit access to data do researchers need, and how can this be articulated as policy?

  • What types of organizations – Google? USGS? – should historians and ethnographers partner with to advance digital data capacity in these fields?



  • How can HE-IG best enroll members – from diverse geographic and conceptual locations?
  • What kind of cross-talk with other RDA groups should be pursued?
  • What questions at issue for this interest group are ready for working group consideration?



  • How can digital infrastructure and open data enhance the quality, validity (and where applicable) replication of research results in history and ethnography?
  • How can digital infrastructure enhance access to historical and ethnographic in other research communities?

Water researchers working to understand the dramatic floods in North India in early summer 2013, have realized that historical data on similar floods in the late nineteenth and mid-twentieth century sheds light on the ways vulnerability was produced in recent decades through shifts in communication infrastructure, pilgrimage pathways, etc. – resulting in significantly increased human, ecological and built environment injury.  They thus need access to the primary data collected by historians who have written about these floods.    


  • How can digital infrastructure enhance the circulation and utility of historical and ethnographic research beyond the research sphere?
  • How should we articulate the value of (digitally animated) historical and ethnographic research?

At the second RDA Plenary, John Wilbanks described the value of digitally animated data as “capacity to produce unanticipated change through unfiltered contributions from broad and varied audiences.”