Sustainable History, Ensuring Today’s Digital History Survives

By Adam Crymble, SSI Fellow and PhD Student in History & Digital Humanities at King’s College London

28 November 2013, London.


The highlight for me was getting such a talented and diverse group of people together to discuss sustainability for historians. It’s a topic that’s not been given the attention it deserves, considering the amount of time and money that has gone into building research software for the discipline.

Event report:

I put on a one-day symposium in London with two colleagues (Dr. Jane Winters, Institute of Historical Research & Professor Tim Hitchcock, University of Sussex). The symposium brought together 34 people in history and cultural heritage to discuss practical ways in which we can tackle challenges related to sustainability. Five early career scholars were selected from a competitive call to propose solutions to specific challenges the discipline faces.

Each of these five speakers will be contributing their ‘solution’ in the form of a peer-reviewed tutorial in the Programming Historian 2, which is an open access publication distributed under a CC-BY license. We hope to have these tutorials ready for dissemination in the spring of 2014. Three senior keynote speakers also contributed to the discussions throughout the day.

Ideas included:

• Planning a file structure / data structure for the long-term to ensure data was coherent and discoverable in the future

• Sharing data to reduce duplicated effort by scholars working with the same material

• Documenting both code and data

• Documenting workflows

• Building sustainable strategies into team-based projects to minimize the impact of the ‘bus factor’

I am confident that the support of and inspiration from the SSI has introduced an incredibly and often overlooked idea to the historical research community, and that this will have a long-term impact on the field, far beyond the immediate impact it had on those in the room.