Thinking Like a Digital Humanist

Industry conferences are often (rightly) criticized for not paying enough attention to the humanities and social sciences — something that we took into account when planning NISO Plus, both in terms of topics and speakers. And, in fact, one of the most highly-rated sessions at the conferences was on Digital Humanities and Standards. Our two speakers — Daniel Fisher, Project Director at the National Humanities Alliance, and Michelle Urberg, Metadata Librarian at ProQuest, both also humanities scholars in their own right — together with moderator, Greg Grazevich, Editor, MLA International Bibliography, Modern Language Association (and NISO Board member), led us in 90 minutes of information and interaction on thinking like a digital humanist.

From a crowd-sourced digital humanities word cloud at the start of the session (see image 1), to a breakout group exercise in thinking about digital humanities metadata requirements from the perspectives of a funder, librarian, and publisher (see image 2), the audience was kept engaged — and busy! One of the key challenges identified was the lack of a clear definition of digital humanities and (related) the need for a better understanding of the needs of all the stakeholder groups  involved in it, both creators and consumers. Another — and one that NISO is well placed to help address — was the need for more and better, more consistent metadata, both within and between digital humanities projects, to enable linking between them. Ideally, this should include implementing an updated version of the CRediT taxonomy so that individuals can be recognized correctly for their contributions — also likely to be a future NISO project, once the initial work on standardizing the current taxonomy has been completed. The cost of creating and maintaining high-quality, up-to-date metadata was raised by all three breakout groups and, while this is clearly not a NISO issue, there was a feeling among participants that improvements to metadata through controlled vocabularies (and mapping between them), standardized taxonomies CRediT, reliable provenance information, and the like, would help significantly. 

So, lots of food for thought both for NISO and the wider digital humanities community, and we look forward to working with you on addressing some of these challenges in the coming months and years. We’re in the process of creating a NISO Plus repository, where you’ll be able to find all presentations and other materials. More on that soon but, in the meantime, here are some of the resources that Daniel and Michelle highlighted during their talks. Enjoy!