4Memory has the goals of further developing historically oriented scholarship to meet the challenges and opportunities of digitalization, safeguarding the critical functions and social relevance of the historical method and establishing systematic, sustainable links among research, memory and information infrastructures. It has developed a set of overall objectives for its task areas, thus ensuring 4Memory can contribute to the NFDI’s key goals. We have summarized these objectives under the acronym LINKAGE, which, taken together, provide a community-specific agenda for meeting the overall goals of the NFDI.
Our mission: The Future of the Past.
Linking Research, Memory Institutions and Infrastructures
Expanding digital access to research data offers the possibility of bridging the institutional gaps among research, memory and infrastructure institutions. 4Memory brings together representatives of all these categories to work together to strengthen existing connections among different kinds of research data and to build new, systematic networks that make data findable, accessible, interoperable and reusable. This process will require new forms or partnership and collaboration among the key types of institution involved in 4Memory, both within Germany and in a broader international context.
Integrating Historical Source Criticism into Data Services
Historical source criticism is a core aspect of the research undertaken by the historically oriented humanities. Questions of authorship and of the contexts in which sources – whether material or textual – were created are absolutely vital, as are the issues of verifying their chronology and authenticity. There is a long-established tradition of source criticism in historically oriented disciplines; however, the conditions created by the expanding amount of digitised (and digital-born) sources requires that these traditions be adapted to account for the new realities of historical research, a process that can only be accomplished in close collaboration with our community.
Network of Historically Oriented Research Communities
4Memory defines its community of interest as the historically oriented humanities, broadly conceived. This includes, centrally, historians themselves but also representatives of other disciplines who work intensively with historical data, such as historical philosophy, religious studies and area studies as well as economic and social history (which, in the German academic system, is based in the social sciences). Although these disciplines have their own specific needs regarding research data, they also share many similar challenges; moreover, their participation in 4Memory will enable a more intensive disciplinary self-reflection about data from non-European societies and cultures as well as interdisciplinary exchanges with the social sciences and cultural studies.
Knowledge Order for the Digital Future of the Past
Knowledge is always produced, classified and disseminated within specific systems that create distinctive institutional and disciplinary knowledge spaces and bring them into relationship with one another. The current knowledge order of the humanities has developed since the nineteenth century and is still largely characterised by printed books and scholarly journals, traditional systems of library classification and procedures of physical archiving and distribution. There are established criteria for what counts as “verified” knowledge in analogue contexts and how this knowledge should be cited. Corresponding practices and standards for a digital knowledge order are still evolving and require further development through a collaborative process involving all those who contribute to it in research, memory and information infrastructure institutions.
Advancing the Analog / Digital Interface of Historical Source Material and Data
The growth of new forms of digital media in scientific and scholarly contexts will have transformative effects; however, the new digital media will not replace analogue media but will instead coexist with it. Historians will never work in a fully digitalised context, and (not least because of limited financial resources) archives will remain dominated by physical sources long into the foreseeable future. It is thus a key aim of 4Memory to ensure that the interface between digital and analogue sources – and that between analogue and digital methods – is developed and improved. It is also important that no new divisions emerge between those historically oriented scholars who work digitally and those whose work continues to depend upon analogue sources and methods.
Generating Standards for Historical Research Data and Sustainability
In order to ensure the quality of research data, we aim to establish data-handling standards that meet both discipline-specific and cross-disciplinary needs. Quality assurance and research data management do not only take place at the individual file-level but instead require the development of documentation and curation procedures that enable re-use at the technical and legal levels (usability) and also at the intellectual level (comprehensibility). In order to ensure true sustainability, these priorities have to become fully integrated into the research process. This will require the establishment of new career opportunities in research data management but also, above all, giving researchers themselves the knowledge and resources to ensure that their data meets requisite standards of quality, transparency and reusability.
Education and Citizen Participation
Scholars in the historically oriented humanities are already using digital tools in their everyday work as means of communication, research and dissemination of their results. However, many of them feel less confident in using such tools to produce and work with digital research data. To meet all of the various goals that we have defined under the label of “LINKAGE”, 4Memory will improve the data literacy of individual researchers and encourage a new data culture within the historically oriented humanities. These tasks extend well beyond the boundaries of academia, especially in a time when academic scholarship is no longer supplied only in material form via university libraries but rather on computer screens, where various sources of information of vastly different levels of reliability can appear, on the surface, indistinguishable. Empowering the broader citizenry to use digital information effectively – whether as readers or as “citizen scientists” – is thus a priority, so that the socially relevant role of historical scholarship can be maintained.