Monthly Archives: October 2020

Concrete Steps towards FAIR Data in the Arts and Humanities: Recap from Open Science Barcamp 2020

Cite as: Ulrike Wuttke, Concrete Steps towards FAIR Data in the Arts and Humanities: Recap from Open Science Barcamp 2020, Blogpost, 05.10.2020, CC BY 4.0. Link:


On the 10th March 2020, the Barcamp Open Science, organized by the Leibniz Research Alliance Open Science took place at Berlin. Around 50 very diverse individuals came together at the facilities of Wikimedia Germany at Berlin to discuss urgent matters in Open Science from various perspectives. This year’s Barcamp was already overshadowed by the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, that’s why there were much less participants than the previous years and strong hygienic measures had been taken. Only a few days after, our world as such was changed forever. This is also one of the reasons why it took me quite long to finally publish this blog post. But here it is, with huge thanks to Erzébeth Tóth-Czifra for her comments on an earlier draft of this post.

Source:, All photos are also published at Wiki Commons under a CC BY 4.0 license.

After the introductory round and the Ignition Talk by Birgit Schmidt from SUB Göttingen, sessions were pitched and organized and the discussions got going! While you can read an overview about the Barcamp in the Blogpost by ZBW Media Talk and listen to summaries of some sessions at Open Science Radio, in this blogpost, you will find a short recap of the session Concrete steps towards FAIR data as prerequisite for Open Scholarship in the Arts and Humanities that I moderated with Erzsébet Tóth-Czifra (DARIAH-EU). 

Last year Erzsébet and I had discussed the state of Open Science in the Arts and Humanities in the session “Loners, Pathfinders, or Explorers? How are the Humanities Progressing in Open Science?” [Read our recap on the GenR Blog Link). Together with the participants we came to the conclusion, that while a lot of progress already has been made, that there was still a lot to do to transform the Humanities towards Open Humanities. 

While discussing Openness in the Humanities was a very intriguing experience, it also became clear that the term Open Humanities is rather unclear. Sometimes it seems like a big bubble and is rather difficult for readers to grasp. 

Open Humanities is, at least in my view, the translation of Open Science principles to the Humanities as the Open Science discussion is rather STEM-dominated. While not sharing all of his views, I warmly suggest to read in this context Marcel Knöchelmann’s article “Open Science in the Humanities, or: Open Humanities?” [Link to the article:]. Viewing Open Humanities as Open Science “with a Humanities touch” it also seems obvious  that it may comprise all different shades of Open practices that are cuddled under the Open Science umbrella, like Open Access, Open Source, Open Data, the FAIR Principles, Research Data Management, transparent research workflows, early sharing of outputs, Citizen Science or Open Infrastructures (and this list is not exhaustive…). So Open Humanities are at its heart very colourful, while data sharing is one of its compound principles, it is not exclusive.

For this year’s Open Science Barcamp we decided to focus on one topic that we see as a core component or important policy component for Open Science: the FAIR Data Principles [Link:]. In the context of the previous paragraph we also acknowledge that you can do steps in the context of Open Science without FAIR data and also, that you can make steps towards FAIR data without knowing what FAIR is. Though that last is probably becoming more and more difficult, given the recent omnipresence of the FAIR principles.

During the session, more than a dozen researchers from the humanities and beyond energetically and controversially discussed the state of FAIR and Open principles in the Humanities. While some argued that FAIR is not enough and progress is being stalled by missing open licences, others stressed that the nature of some humanities data requires different levels of access that are not Open, but fall under FAIR data (e. g. sensitive data, personal data, data without consent, data without clear copyright). Also, in many cases of Humanities workflows the major obstacle is not so much open vs. closed, but insufficient documentation of access conditions, which is rather a FAIR-related problem (more precisely, related to the A of FAIR).

Participants noticed a tendency that humanities scholars seem to be more in favour of FAIR Data than of Open Data (because of various obstacles that prevent full Open Access to the data as described in the previous paragraph) and also that unfortunately often unclear licence statements can be found. They explained that for software engineering and broader reuse scenarios FAIR data often isn’t enough and that more efforts should be made to think of Open as the default and only restrict access if really necessary in order to let the FAIR principles not become an excuse for not sharing data. “Excuses” for not sharing data are (not specifically for the Humanities) depicted with a little ironic twist in the “Open Data Bingo”, a resource that was pointed out by one of the participants.

Open Data Bingo, Original can be found here (no apparent author, OpenAire?)

During the closing round of the session, some concrete steps were discussed related to overcoming tendencies of finding easy excuses for not sharing data. The most important  point was that the FAIR principles should be propagated as good scientific practice, with Open as the default, but with acknowledgement for valid reasons for not sharing or only granting limited access. This means that legal aspects of (not) data sharing need to be understood better in the community. There are helpful tools, resources and initiatives related to licencing and other legal problems in this context, for example:

To achieve a culture of FAIR data sharing in the Humanities more discipline specific training and training materials were seen as required as well as institutional support for sharing data and data sharing infrastructures. Other points we could only touch upon in our 45 minutes session were the CARE principles and data quality.  

A lasting open transformation requires (not only in the Humanities!) institutional resources (e. g. research data management support, legal counselling, sustainable open infrastructures) and therefore should also be supported by research funders. Research funders and institutions play a crucial role in building the pedagogical curve toward more open licences and overcoming obstacles and restraints towards a culture of sharing, in short we need a “Fellowship of the Data” for Open Access to Research Data in the Humanities. And, to truly create a lasting change, we need the transformation to reach the heart of the humanities community itself. More humanists that understand the need for data-citation, that “Open Science is just good science”, and last but not least that implement digital research practices into their workflows.

Listen here to the Open Science Radio Episode OSR188 about our session (short recap with Konrad Förster, Ulrike, and Erszébeth:

To sum up and take the discussion to another level: Open Humanities are predominantly digitally empowered humanities. While we cannot bluntly say: “Hey, it’s 2020, wake up and learn coding!”, we should strive to “leave noone behind”. Humanities scholars need to keep up with new developments in the area of digital research practices (RDM, digital publishing, etc.). It seems highly recommendable that Humanists learn at least a little bit of coding to understand its basic underlying principles. While in some near future coding will probably be seen in the Humanities as an additional Scholarly Primitive this does not mean that in future every humanities scholar will need to be a full scale programmer or data wizard, also we would not like to see the concept of research excellence be strongly linked to the scale or level of computational readiness. Digital empowered humanities are to be situated, like the FAIRness of data, on a sliding scale.

Picture: Makaristo, Olympic-flag-Victoria, Link Source:”, Selection, CC0 1.0

There are different tastes of Open Humanities. Everyone can contribute her and his share to it. While we strive for a culture of Open Data Sharing, other aspects of Open Scholarly Communication are as important. I always like to compare it with the spirit of the Olympic Games: Be part of it! 

What are your thoughts? You are welcome to discuss with me on Twitter (@uwuttke) or leave a comment below.