Miriam Posner (University of California, Los Angeles) has shared the text of her talk, “Humanities Data: A Necessary Contradiction,” given at the Harvard Purdue Data Management Symposium. Posner suggests that libraries have an “underexplored opportunity” to help humanities scholars manage their research data, but notes the peculiarity of humanities data as compared to science or social science data:
When you call something data, you imply that it exists in discrete, fungible units; that it is computationally tractable; that its meaningful qualities can be enumerated in a finite list; that someone else performing the same operations on the same data will come up with the same results. This is not how humanists think of the material they work with.
With a source, like a film or a work of literature, you’re not extracting features in order to analyze them; you’re trying to dive into it, like a pool, and understand it from within.
Posner goes on to explore the ways that libraries can more effectively approach the data management needs of humanities researchers, including advising on data modeling questions, assisting scholars attempting to productively organize digitized and digital source materials, and fielding requests for the data management plans now required by the NEH Office of Digital Humanities.