Our November event consisted of a two day workshop titled Data Management in Asian Humanities and Social Sciences. Speakers were invited from around Europe and North America to discuss the use of data in their projects and research.
Presenters were of three types:
- Research assistants from the Beyond Boundaries project
- Researchers working on collaborative projects based at SOAS and elsewhere
- Experienced digital specialists managing web resources over the long-term
A playlist of presentation videos is available here:
The research assistants from Beyond Boundaries each outlined their research and how they use digital technologies before discussing plans for archiving their data. The data produced by the project is diverse but includes images, xml, spreadsheets, text and GIS files. Zenodo.org is the primary repository for these data and the project is currently depositing in these communities, amongst others:
The presentations offered an opportunity for the research assistants to gain valuable feedback on the methods and processes they use for data management.
Speakers were invited from a variety of collaborative projects researching topics as diverse as multilingualism in modern Africa to the history of yoga. Although dealing with quite different subject matter, the projects encountered similar issues in the management of their data such as finding tools for organising and collaborating or ensuring that the archival formats used would have the greatest longevity. It was concluded that the difficulties in managing data effectively are often under-estimated and that forums for sharing experiences of working practices between projects like this workshop are valuable yet rare.
Finally, presentations by researchers working on the gSung-rten Database, the Endangered Languages Archive, Buddhist Digital Resource Center and the Chinese Text Project amongst others offered an insight into how data is managed at scale and over the long term. Understanding how the technical challenges facing these resources have been met was fascinating and helped stimulate discussion about the potential for the reuse and aggregation of data produced by Beyond Boundaries and other projects.
In April, Anne Casile (Institut de recherche pour le développement, Paris), Michael Willis and Jason Hawkes (The British Museum) introduced the use of spatial technologies in the study of past societies and discussed the value and applicability of spatial analyses for this project. The workshop commenced with a valuable introduction to Geographical Information Systems (GIS), which play an increasingly important role in research across the arts, humanities and social sciences. In its simplest sense, a GIS offers a powerful set of tools for the spatial analysis, interpretation, display and management of cultural, geographic and thematic data. A wide range of evidence can be integrated into a GIS; yet the analyses that can be carried out are defined by the scale and resolution of the data that are incorporated. As such, the most commonly used sources of spatial data, along with their potential and limitations were reviewed. Then, a number of issues were raised pertaining to the dissemination of this data using web-mapping and GIS-based interfaces.
Following discussion of these broad issues, the second part of the workshop focused on the use of a spatial approach and application of a GIS to the study of the Vidarbha region in India. This was one of many regions that witnessed the spread of a Sanskrit cultural package—embodied by the spread of copperplate inscriptions recording land grants to Brahmins—during the fourth to seventh centuries C.E. Preliminary surveys of the find spots of these inscriptions by Riza Abbas (Indian Institute of Research in Numismatic Studies) resulted in the discovery of a number of archaeological sites. This has highlighted the potential of examining their wider archaeological and geographical contexts. Building on this work, the different types and scales of data that we have for the study of this region (spatial, textual and archaeological) were reviewed. Consideration of this data, and the ways they can be managed and interpreted in a GIS framework, has formed the basis for the design of a programme of archaeological fieldwork in the region. This work was briefly introduced, before all of the issues raised were discussed.