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Digital Curation and Innovation in Digital Humanities

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“A Greatly Unexplored Area”: Digital Curation and Innovation in Digital Humanities’ is an article authored by Alex H. Poole. Functioning as a professor’s assistant at Drexel University (particularly under the College of Computing and Informatics), of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Poole has written many articles in regard to the matters of data management and curation, data storage, digital humanities, and their interdisciplinary interactions. The author has written many articles not only on this particular issue but also on other problems that appear while working with data in the modern world, where every person unintentionally creates gigabytes of data on a day-to-day basis. According to DOMO’s Sixth Edition, an average of 2.5 exabytes of information is generated each day. For scaling references, an exabyte is known as being composed of 1 billion gigabytes. And the number of data generated is growing steadily. Alex H. Poole has written more than ten articles on data management and related issues recently. In this essay, I will refer to a few of them.

“A Greatly Unexplored Area” is based on the results of a survey held amongst Digital Humanities Start-Up Grant projects. The aim of this survey was to first clarify what sources of data were used, reused, creating participants, and what challenges they have faced. Secondly, the survey intends to identify what challenges these projects have faced. Seeing the projects be primarily composed of levels 1 and 2, their funding differed greatly due to this, it was also noted in what ways their created and utilized data differed from one another. Where level 1 projects were found to mostly produce theoretical data (such as reports and papers), level 2 projects were found to be of a far more precise nature, including prototypes and demonstration projects. 

Seeing as how both reports, as well as prototypes, have been mentioned as sources of data, it would be wise to understand what exactly data is considered to be in these contexts. Is data considered to be an article? Perhaps a piece of computer code, or the time stamp to a sent Facebook message, or even prototypes themselves? Scouring the internet for a definition of “data” will yield a multitude of results, some describing data as “information in raw or unorganized forms (such as alphabets, numbers, or symbols)”. The Office of Digital Humanities, where the SUG projects were held, describes data as “project materials generated or collected such as citations, code, algorithms, digital tools, documentation, databases, geospatial coordinates, reports, and articles”. In response to the previously stated questions, it can be said that all of the previously stated forms of data, do indeed qualify as data, in regard to the provided definitions. From my point of view, all entities in the world are composed of elements that can be seen as data, regardless of our ability to comprehend the many forms of data we may encounter.


Before proceeding to the discussion of the questions raised by the author, it is essential to understand what is meant by data curation, digital humanities, and the correlation between these two terms. Digital curation can be described as a set of activities aimed at storing, and managing data throughout its lifecycle. There are several existing data lifecycle models, but none that are unified, and that will fit the needs of any institution. For example, I2S2 is mostly used for research purposes, whereas the IT sector uses the capability maturity model. Only DCC is considered to be somewhat suitable for almost every discipline, although some adjustments are necessary for optimal functionality.

“Digital humanities (DH) is an area of scholarly activity at the intersection of computing or digital technologies as well as the disciplines of the humanities. It includes the systematic use of digital resources in the humanities, as well as the reflection of their application. DH can be defined as new ways of completing a scholarship that involves collaborative, interdisciplinary, and computationally engaged research, teaching, and publishing”. Humanities include such disciplines as art, music, history, etc. A few years ago, people could hardly believe that it would be possible to draw using a device such as a computer, however today, people are capable of using Photoshop, Paint Tool SAI, ArtRage, and many other such programs and software, to make sketches or entire artworks.

Digitalization has touched upon every aspect of our lives including those we could barely have imagined. Digitalization of humanities, on the one hand, increased efficiency. On the other hand, digital humanities have also caused a few problems and issues that require solving. For example, even if one is a skilled or renowned artist, they will be required to learn how to draw again, using non-traditional tools. Digital humanities as well as any other discipline uses and generates a huge amount of data. Usage of digital tools can make simple work of storing and managing data when compared to manual archiving, but also causes other new challenges that were uncommon before. These will be discussed further in this essay.

The article covers the issue of data management at all stages: creation, use, storage, and reuse. The context of the article is based on 45 interviewed participants, and their responses to questions the survey questions. As findings have shown, firstly, every project has created some form of data. Data created was found to be in a range, from simple presentations and reports to software and prototypes. Secondly, every project has reused someone’s data, be it taken from web-based sources, or paper-based. Thirdly, most participants have stored data institutionally, some using cloud storage, and/or web-based platforms such as YouTube. The repeated use of created data is always in question. Even though, participants claimed that they were going to reuse data, checking such a thing poses many challenges and difficulties in order to obtain proof.

Speaking of real-life experiences, I am presently working on a programming project, whilst using websites such as to gather ideas or to see how people have solved the problems that I face, as well as to see if there are others who have experienced similar issues. I create new data by writing code as well as documentation of the process. I personally store the code on GitLab. First of all, I consider web-based storage to be a superior alternative in terms of storing my data, since the probability of losing data from the Internet itself, is rather low. Conversely, however, if my own laptop dies, or if I were to experience a hard-drive failure, I would not be able to restore what I was working on. Secondly, since I am working in a team, other people need to have easy access to the code I have written. Upon completion of the project, however, data created by the team and me might be used by others, such as if the code is open-sourced or by our own team members if we intend to update it in any way.

Alex H. Poole also identifies a few challenges that have arisen during the survey. One of them was caused by the technologies used by the participants. Even though it was not the most common challenge and only a few participants have faced it, technology at the interface of two disciplines plays a vital role. Firstly, as mentioned in the article “Convergence of digital humanities and digital  libraries” by Ying Zhang, Shu Liu, and Emilee Mathews, “The technologies used in DH create barriers for new scholars to learn and for projects to be sustainable.” Not every technology is intuitive. Sometimes it is required to learn how to use the particular software on your own or to attend courses/workshops. Secondly, Digital Humanities institutions are distributed all over the world. Digital Humanists in Russia and in New Zealand, for example, might use different technology and methodology for managing data. In the future, it may cause problems as of combining data from these two countries. The appearance of misleading data or even data breaches will be the consequence of such behavior. Another problem, that Alex H. Poole addresses are data usage. Participants of this survey found data issues as the most challenging part. Understanding of data, including translation issues and data complexity, data cleaning and file format are the most common problems. These issues go hand in hand with data curation. In essence, these problems were caused by a lack of proper data management and curation.

According to Alex H. Poole and Deborah A. Garwood’s article “Interdisciplinary Scholarly Collaboration in Data-Intensive, Publicly-Funded, International Digital Humanities Work”, where they discuss the issue of communication and collaboration more deeply than in ‘ “A Greatly Unexplored Area”: Digital Curation and Innovation in Digital Humanities’; it is a vital part of digital curation in digital humanities. Firstly, this problem is extremely common for interdisciplinary research, when people with different backgrounds, using different tools, and frameworks work on the same project. Secondly, duplication of information occurs. For example, reinventing the wheel happens more often than we can suppose. People spend time on inventing something new not knowing that it has been invented years before, by others in far-off lands, in different cultural settings. Nevertheless, talking about digital humanities, digital curation is not the only problem scholars face. 

Digital humanities are known to be a rather new discipline and is in its infancy of under 100 years. Unlike other fundamental disciplines, it lacks not only a proper curriculum but any curriculum at all. This issue is a stumbling block for Digital Humanities nowadays. Digital Humanities are in such a state of despair because of this problem, that “even a wrong textbook would be better than a missing textbook”. Moreover, according to “Ten Challenges for Digital Humanities and the Way Forward” published in the International Journal of Computational Methods in Heritage Science, the authors mention a lack of properly digitized big data. Another challenge, that is critical for digital humanities is financial support, which sometimes is underestimated. As a consequence, the digital humanities research might be not accurate due to the use of cheaper technologies and resources.


Data curation is most definitely a very important part of any research conducted, especially in digital humanities projects. Even the most promising, and innovative digital humanities research might fail if data is not correctly managed, as well as curated in a proper way. In this essay, I have merely covered three challenges that people may face. There are many more to be discussed. All in all, we should not underestimate the power of data curation and management.

The challenges covered in this article are real-life problems people face when they do not properly curate data. Nevertheless, I would argue about the hierarchy of issues and challenges, that Alex H. Poole has identified. As mentioned above, the article is based on the interview participants’ responses, but the number of participants makes for a rather small sample size (45 members) and does not truly offer enough input to make this kind of conclusion.


  1., data, Retrieved August 29, 2019, from website:
  2. DOMO, Data never sleeps 6.0 (2018) retrieved from:
  3. Pavlidis, George & Markantonatou, Stella & Donig, Simon & Koumpis, Adamantios. (2018). Ten Challenges for Digital Humanities and the Way Forward. International Journal of Computational Methods in Heritage Science. 2. 1-7. Retrieved from:
  4. Poole, Alex. (2017). ‘A Greatly Unexplored Area’: Digital Curation and Innovation in Digital Humanities. Journal of the Association for Information Science and Technology. 68. 10.1002/asi.23743.
  5. Poole, Alex & Garwood, Deborah. (2018). Interdisciplinary scholarly collaboration in data-intensive, public-funded, international digital humanities project work. Library & Information Science Research. 40. Doi: 10.1016/j.lisr.2018.08.003.
  6. Sabba, Fiammetta. (2016). Arjun Sabharwal, Digital Curation in the Digital Humanities. Preserving and promoting archival and special collections, Oxford, Elsevier Science & Technology-Chandos Publishing, 2015. Retrieved from:
  7. Wikipedia, Digital Humanities (2019) Retrieved from
  8. Zhang, Y., Liu, S. and Mathews, E. (2015), ‘Convergence of digital humanities and digital libraries’, Library Management, Vol. 36 No. 4/5, pp. 362-377. Retrieved from:

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