“I’m not a scientist, I don’t have any research data!” – capturing and preserving arts and humanities research

Aptly enough on this year’s St Andrew’s Day, Julie Ramage, Dawn Pike and Nicola Siminson made their way to the University of St Andrews, for a Jisc Research Data Network meeting.   The RDN aims to offer participants a place to discuss current issues relating to research data in institutions, and to demonstrate practical research data management implementations.

But what is research data management in the arts and humanities?  That was one of the reasons for our trip to St Andrews – to raise awareness of this question (and the difficulties in answering it!) by running a workshop and hosting an exchange of experiences and tips amongst our colleagues from institutions such as Gray’s School of Art at Robert Gordon University, the Universities of Edinburgh, Leeds, Lincoln and Nottingham, and the University of the Creative Arts.  Jeremy Barraud, Deputy Director for Research Management and Administration at the University of the Arts London (UAL), collaborated with us on the development of the workshop and the presentation we gave, and shared insights into UAL’s RDM activities – including their data repository (http://researchdata.arts.ac.uk), and their Community of Practice for research staff.

We presented some of the knottier issues around recognising “research data” in practice-based outputs by way of some role play, with Julie and Nicola enacting a conversation between a researcher and a data manager about the researcher’s exhibition output – based on questions such as:

  • What type of research data did you create?
  • Where do you keep and store your research data – both during and after the research project? Is it shareable with others?
  • How do you decide what to keep, and for how long?
  • What aspects of your research, and your research data, do you want others to be able to access in 10 years’ time?

Whilst the GSA’s Research Data Management Policy attempts a definition of research data, this is trickier to define than in STEM subjects, especially as “data” in the arts and humanities can comprise highly diverse content and formats (for example, we showed an image of the VHS tapes that contained research data for the UAL’s Rococo Project).  The Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) expects the bids it receives to include a “technical plan”, which sets out how any digital outputs – such as research data – are going to be delivered and preserved.  But researchers can benefit on a personal level from managing and preserving their data, which will enable them to build on their research throughout their careers.

The ideas shared at the workshop for making “research data” more meaningful in the arts and humanities included:

  • mindmapping research projects and their data (created over a number of years), and presenting this more visually as a storyboard
  • using services such as Vimeo or YouTube alongside the institutional repository to make recordings of performances available, using lower resolution files for the former, and drawing on the capacity of the latter to store higher resolution files
  • utilising open source software such as Omeka (https://omeka.org/) to capture research data as you go along
  • building people profiles and case studies around RDM practices in the arts and humanities
  • working with postgraduate / early career researchers to develop their RDM skills

You can find out more about the support available for GSA researchers as follows:


Nicola Siminson
Institutional Repository and Records Manager
The Glasgow School of Art

December 2016