Oh, the Humanities! Creating Community with the Humanities Commons

By Ojala, Marydee | Information Today, March 2017 | Go to article overview

Oh, the Humanities! Creating Community with the Humanities Commons


Ojala, Marydee, Information Today


Digital repositories, in which scholars deposit their content to preserve it, manage it, and share it with their peers, are hardly a new or novel development in scholarly publishing. However, they have largely been the province of STM researchers. The humanities have lagged behind due to different approaches toward research, information sharing, funding, and workflows. The culture of humanities disciplines differs from that of STM. The humanities have been slow to embrace OA and have preferred traditional publishing formats, particularly monographs. That is about to change with the introduction of Humanities Commons (hcommons.org).

The goal of Humanities Commons is to provide a place where humanists can discuss, share, and store their teaching and research. It is OA, open source, and nonprofit. In fact, on its About page, it stresses that it is not "generating profits from users' intellectual and personal data"--perhaps a swipe at SSRN, which is now owned by Elsevier, or a backhanded reference to ResearchGate or Academia .edu, both of which are profit-making companies.

Kathleen Fitzpatrick, associate executive director and director of scholarly communication for the Modern Language Association (MLA), said in an interview posted at The Scholarly Kitchen (scholar lykitchen.sspnet.org/2016/12/21/ humanities-commons-networking-the-humanities-through-open -access-open-source-and-not-for-profit) that "we want to provide a trusted option for scholars who have become understandably nervous about the ways that venture-capital-funded scholarly communication networks might be required to develop in order to turn a profit in the future."

Managed by MLA, Humanities Commons was initially funded by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Its founding partner societies are the Association for Jewish Studies; the Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies; and the College Art Association. Each of these also has its own commons hub.

Startup Pilot Platform

Although the platform has the look and feel of a startup, MLA has been working on it since January 2013, when it was known as MLA Commons. It called its soft launch in fall 2016 a pilot. Given that today, Humanities Commons has more than 7,500 members, it's been a pretty successful pilot. Instead of individual associations maintaining their own commons with their own sign-on protocols, Humanities Commons supports single sign-on. To facilitate further networking, members can create and post a professional profile so that others with similar interests can find them.

The Commons Open Repository Exchange (CORE)--where anyone can deposit his or her research papers, preprints, presentations, datasets, syllabi, and other content--was developed in partnership with the Center for Digital Research and Scholarship at Columbia University and underwritten by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities' Office of Digital Humanities. …

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