Archives & Museum Informatics








last updated:
October 7, 2014 2:55 PM

Unifying our cultural memory: Could electronic environments bridge the historical accidents that fragment cultural collections?

in Information Landscapes for a Learning Society, Networking and the Future of Libraries 3, 1998. and presentation at UK Office of Library Networking Conference, July 1998.

David Bearman and Jennifer Trant, Partners, Archives & Museum Informatics, USA

  (Section 6)

Social Barriers: The Humanities Research Process

Integrating access to and use of diverse primary, secondary and tertiary documentation in the humanities requires an understanding of the research process; different functional and documentation requirements apply to different phases of the research process. To design systems that address the intellectual distance between the potential user, the documentation they need, and the methods of control employed by publishers and repositories requires us to imagine, and implement, a system that translates between knowledge models. Without a better understanding of what kinds of knowledge are germane to what kinds of inquiries and the way in which that information is ultimately processed, however, the task of developing a sort of universal 'knowledge translator' becomes completely unmanageable. Limiting the scope of the task, by dividing it into phases, and then understanding the specific requirements of each phase may make it more manageable.21

We begin with a bit of a disadvantage in understanding humanities research processes. The humanities have not generated the same kind of self-conscious research program that we find in courses in the history, philosophy, and social study of science or medicine. We cannot readily point to a literature that describes for us "how humanists work" in the way that Woolgar and Latour22 describe how scientists work in their seminal book Laboratory Life. We have some multi-disciplinary surveys of changing research methods, such as the Research Libraries Group studies of the early 1990's23 and a few penetrating and interesting anecdotal reports, such as the Brown University studies on which Object, Image, Inquiry24 was based, but nowhere, to our knowledge, is there a detailed, self-conscious, scholarly report on how humanists "do it".25

Stages in the Research Process

Research is multi-stage iterative process involving a series of tasks. These typically take place in sequence but may occur out of order. We think of research as taking place in two realms, that of the information provider (where the researcher is 'getting' information) and that of the User (where the researcher is "using" information). "Getting" information can be divided into two phases: Discovery, and Retrieval. "Using" information can be subdivided into collation, analysis and re-presentation. In each stage, metadata about an information resource provides critical support for the research process.26

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Informatics: The interdisciplinary study of information content, representation, technology and applications,
and the methods and strategies by which information is used in organizations, networks, cultures and societies.