Monday, 26 May 2014

Digital Humanities and Citizen Science

The humanities are going digital. This of course is not wholly true but those who study language and history - to name the two most obvious examples - have found the internet an unrivalled resource to provide access to digitized material.

No more trekking to obscure libraries and archives in the hope of finding material, it’s online, often as a result of various digitization and digital preservation initiatives. Even if the material is not online the archive’s catalogue almost certainly is, making the preliminary search something that can be done from home.

And then there’s archaeology - before the establishment of university archaeology departments in the sixties and seventies, a lot of excavations were sponsored by local archeological societies, and theire results never fully published. Digitization and initiatives such as the Archaeological Data Service in the UK have helped make that information available, findable, and searchable.
This is escpecially important in these financially constrained days where university archaeology departments are contracting and investigations are increasingly carried out by specialist sub contractors to mining and construction companies, meaning that there is no clear location for the deposit of results - digitisation, cheap storage, and a publication mechanism means that these results are less likely to be lost.

And there is of course what used to be called natural history - something that tends to fly under the radar these days but actually of great significance.

A lot of the fundamental information of species abundance and change is derived from the work of local natural history and field societies, good solid observational work that individuals find enjoyable to do, costs little, yet is of fundamental importance for assessing the impact of climate change or introduction of pest species. Truly citizen science.

Yet many of the results remain locked up in local society journals and botanical surveys yet it is of great potential. The digital humanities have shown the power of mass digitization, the field sciences have track record in citizen science - one can but wonder what would come out of putting the material collected by local societies online - time perhaps for Digital Ecology as a discipline ?
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