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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Big Data, Little Data, or No Data? Scholarship, Stewardship, and Humanities Research


While the humanities have caught the “big data” wave, “little data” remains the norm in those many domains where evidence is scarce and labor-intensive to acquire. Until recently, data was considered part of the process of scholarship, essential but largely invisible. In the “big data” era, data have become valuable products to be captured, shared, reused, and stewarded for the long term. They also have become contentious intellectual property to be protected, especially in the humanities. Public policy leans toward open access to research data, but rarely provides the public investment necessary to sustain access. Data practices are local, varying from field to field, individual to individual, and country to country. As the number and variety of research partners expands, so do the difficulties of sharing, reusing, and sustaining access to data. Until the larger questions of knowledge infrastructures and stewardship are addressed by research communities, “no data” may become the norm for many fields. This talk will explore the stakes and stakeholders in research data, in interdisciplinary humanities research, and implications for policy and practice, drawing upon the presenter’s book, Big Data, Little Data, No Data: Scholarship in the Networked World (MIT Press, 2015), and subsequent research.

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