Humanities research ‘needs firm foundations’

The importance of a durable European study infrastructure is explored in the book Facing the Future

July 31, 2014

The ways in which “research infrastructures” provide “an indispensable foundation for cutting-edge research in Europe” are explored in a new book.

Arising from a conference held in Berlin late last year, Facing the Future: European Research Infrastructure for the Humanities and Social Sciences provides “a comprehensive view of the state of the art of pan-European interdisciplinary research”, looking at administrative data; longitudinal research and bio-social research; digital humanities; and digital communication and social media.

Contributors stress the role of the social sciences and humanities in addressing challenges such as “employment, demographic change and ageing populations, migration, poverty, climate change, food and energy security, European cohesion and cultural diversity”, and in reviving a sense of “a European cultural heritage”. Yet they can do so, argues Peter Farago, director of the Swiss Centre of Expertise in the Social Sciences, only if “durable institutions, technical tools and platforms, and/or services…are put into place for supporting and enhancing research”.

Such research infrastructures, he goes on, “need to be durable and stable on a long-term basis to avoid losing accumulated benefits” yet also highly “adaptab[le] to the changing needs of the scientific community”. Typical problems to be overcome include “the tension between open data access and confidentiality; fragmentation, funding and time-frames issues”.

A concluding chapter flags up the need for “facilitating research cooperation and interdisciplinarity” and “tapping new sources of (big) data”. Although “the notion of ‘one researcher, one project, one dataset’ is gradually being superseded by a culture of sharing, cooperation and re-use of data”, argue the authors, “there is still much work to be done”. A key factor is the lack of incentives for researchers to “invest time and energy into preparing their data for secondary use. The hard work involved with producing, and also sharing, high-quality data is currently not being appropriately rewarded by journals, universities and funding agencies with professional credit.”

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