The Republic of Literature (or RL, for short) is a free, easy to use, adaptable web resource with which researchers can store complex humanities data, perform complicated searches for finding the veritable needle in the haystack; and even share any of the data they wish with either select other users or the whole world.
We believe that an ambitious vision of sharing research data is a crucial next step for the humanities scholarly community, which has been slow to adopt professional habits of data-sharing. Sharing research data within the humanities is important because, first, it reduces duplication of research efforts, thus saving time. Even more important, though, sharing data fosters collaboration and discovery of new knowledge and ideas both within and between disciplines. RL helps move humanities scholars toward data-sharing by offering them a tool to collect, store, search and share research data online. RL is a relational database with extensive fields allowing scholars to record information about the major research subjects of the humanities. These include people, their relationships, organizations and texts (or other cultural artifacts), plus many other subjects that can be thought of as combinations of these. The sharing capacity also opens the door to the collaborative creation of "big humanities data."
RL represents three major innovations for humanities scholarship and computing. First, it is the only intuitive, open-access tool for sharing humanities data. Second, the system has unique rules to govern the interaction between public, private and shared data. Third, we are currently hoping to build what we call full-scale data-sharing that will for the first time connect numerous small humanities data sets to the great fields of "linked data" held in "semantic web" data resources. The core of this process is publishing "linked data," which means that our data will be discoverable and readable by virtually all major internet search engines and public data resources. This external data-sharing will both empower users and enrich large public data resources on the internet.
History of project
RL has multiple origins. The name and one early version were the brainchild of Colin Wilder (CDH). This sprig began as what Wilder called "the Hessian Social Network Project," a series of rather Baroque Access and FileMaker databases for encoding complex humanities data about authors, books and numerous types of social and textual relationships among them. At the University of South Carolina, Pat Gehrke and Byron Hawk had in turn conceived of a research project called Networked Humanities (NH). NH was and is a research project in the specific domain of the history of English and Rhetoric scholarship in the 20th century in North America. Gehrke and Hawk seek to research and encode (in network database form) relationships within this scholarly demimonde. Finally, Ward Briggs (Emeritus) was interested in converting his own scholarship on celebrities of the field of Classics into a similar kind of biographical and bibliographical database. In 2012, Wilder proposed to Gehrke and Hawk and to Briggs that their projects could be co-developed as part of a common database infrastructure. Thus was born the RL database platform. Eventually, Briggs's Database of Classical Scholarship was peeled off into its own wholly separate system because its needs and functionality were diverging from other aspects of Wilder's RL. Network Humanities lies dormant for the time being, awaiting funding for some further primary source research.
We have recently completed a four-year period of development and testing of RL, so that we believe it is a very user-friendly, flexible tool with demonstrated applications across a broad range of humanities projects.
In all stages, the broad RL project involves not only software and website construction, but also dissemination and testing of the software by users. We intend for the user community to consist of scholars from many disciplines working on historical humanities research projects. Overall, we hope not only to build a useful tool, but also to encourage the growth of a scholarly community in which data-sharing is a common practice, as it is in non-humanities fields.
Related Publications and Presentations
Armitage, D. and Guldi, Jo. The History Manifesto. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2014.
Wilder, Colin. "Republics of Literature: Considerations on How to Construct a Database with People and Texts in the German Enlightenment and Beyond.” Presented at the 6th Annual Nebraska Digital Workshop, Omaha, NE, October 15, 2011.