Why Is “Openness” Useful?

Historians are not accustomed to sharing research notes and data with the public. Traditionally, research publications are shared for the education of the public, while the research process is left outside of the public’s view. More recently however, historians have began to create “openness” in research through producing open notebooks, and providing open access to research data. Creating an open notebook is the process of releasing free research notes to the public online.  With the rise of digital technology, blogging platforms and code hosting sites, such as  GitHub, allow historians to easily share their research notes with other researchers and document the progress of their projects. This allows other researchers to learn from the methods, failures, and results which moved a research project forward. Likewise, providing the public with open access to one’s research data grants other researchers access to information which otherwise would have been more difficult, or time consuming, to access.

The importance of open research data has been reiterated by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), who have created a Research Data Archiving Policy which directly affects historical research. The SSHRC is Canada’s research funding agency which supports post-secondary based research, and research training for the fields of social science and humanities. The purpose of the policy is to make research data an open source to the public domain, as a wide range of projects involving the collection of research are funded by the public. Researchers who make use of SSHRC funding are expected to release all data collected within two years of completing the associated research project. The SSHRC recognizes that this policy would allow researchers to more readily analyze, replicate, and verify research findings. Also, open access to research data would limit the duplication of primary data collection, and provide other researchers with the opportunity to expand upon the open research. Moreover, it is stated that scholarly openness would prove valuable to the training of both graduate and undergraduate students.

Why Should Students Be “Open”?

As part of my Crafting Digital History course, I am required to create an Open Notebook to document my progress on assigned exercises and my Final Project. My instructor Dr. Shawn Graham believes that this shift towards openness will continue to be relevant within the field of history, and has instructed my class to create our own open notebooks to allow us to understand the benefits of being open. Much like scholarly open notebooks, creating an open notebook as a student grants classmates the opportunity to learn from your methods, failures, and build on your results. My open notebook has allowed me to enhance my research process by reviewing the progression of my work. It has also provided me with a platform to promote my scholarly voice as I complete my digital history exercises. Maintaining an open notebook is valuable for documenting every error, failure, and eureka moment, which could, in turn, prove useful in the completion of a research project.