The Humanities Scholar in the Twenty-first Century: How Research is Done and What Support is Needed

  1. 1. Ray Siemens

    Malaspina University

  2. 2. Elaine Toms

    University of Toronto

  3. 3. Stéfan Sinclair

    University of Alberta

  4. 4. Geoffrey Rockwell

    McMaster University

  5. 5. Lynne Siemens

    Malaspina University

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Libraries have long been perceived as the laboratory the workspace for the humanities scholar (Aboyade), providing access to a wealth of materials that are subsequently analyzed, critiqued and interpreted. Recent advances in technologies from computing to networking are redefining the humanities scholars workspace. Today novel techniques and innovative methodologies are providing new opportunities for cutting-edge humanities scholarship. How has computing changed humanities scholarship? What do humanities scholars need to pursue their research?

Under the aegis of the Text Analysis Portal for Research (TAPoR) project (, we are undertaking a Web-based survey to better understand the current needs of humanists. Rather than assume what all the needs of our community might be, we have sought the input of our colleagues (this survey builds on an earlier interview-based one with a small group of participants; see Fisher). In addition to helping us to formulate a vision for the development of the TAPoR portal, we believe that such as study is very likely to provide valuable insights of general interest into the current state of computer-based humanities scholarship, as well as provide crucial justification for pursuing grants to respond to specific issues.

The survey was made available on November 10th and will be accessible until December 15th. It contains three sections: a) profile of the demographic and research profile, b) use of computing in teaching, and c) use of e-text and text analysis tools. While all participants completed the first part, only those who teach a course in the humanities completed part B and only those who use e-text and/or text analysis tools complete part C.

As of November 15th, ninety-six scholars (half male and half female) from more than a dozen countries had responded to the survey. Three quarters were under the age of 45 and most were long term and frequent users of computers and the Web. These respondents came from a range of disciplines working in a range of genre (mostly prose) and primarily using textual material for their research (it should be noted that the survey was especially directed at text-based humanities scholars; this focus is something that subsequent surveys may wish to broaden).

Over 80% use e-text and about half use text analysis tools. In general they believe that e-text are available for their use and expect to find them downloadable off the Web. They prefer to find them in a stable, legal form that is freely available from a reliable institution. In terms of mark-up, respondents appear to be a bipolar group with half expecting to acquire text with no mark-up and half with rich XML.

In general, respondents believe that they need text analysis tools, although not complex tools, and are not happy with the tools that are currently available. Somewhat surprisingly, over 50% did not know about commonly available tools such as TACT, WordCruncher and Concordancer. The one most highly used was TACT but few found it useful. In addition to our list of about ten tools, participants added another two dozen tools that they employ in their work. These included tools such as the Wordsmith Tools as well as common Microsoft Office products such as Word and Access.

We inquired about their collaboration and communication habits. Most use e-mail regularly and subscribe to listservs. But they tend to work as solitary scholars, rarely collaborating with their own graduate students and do not see the need for collaborating with other scholars. That said, they like to communicate with other scholars at various points in the research process. They share some of their materials, but tend not to share notes and tools, although they expect others to share tools.

From our data we are developing a picture of the humanities scholar, how they do their research, including the text, tools and techniques they use; the type of collaboration and communication they practise; and their use secondary and primary resources. Our work will also involve a second phase that involves interviews with a select number of humanities scholars. In the final version of our paper, we will combine survey results with the interviews for a rich picture of the humanities scholar in the twenty-first century.

Acknowledgments: the authors wish to thank University of Toronto Masters students, Natasha Flora and Imran Hasan who created the survey, and the University of Toronto for providing a small internal SSHRC grant to support the work. Many thanks are due as well to our colleagues who were willing to participate in the survey.


1. Aboyade, B.O. Access to primary source material in the humanities. International Library Review 8.4 (1976) 309-316.
2. Fisher, Sue. TAPoR Needs Assessment. Electronic Text Centre, University of New Brunswick. October-November, 2002. [Available at]

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Conference Info



Hosted at Göteborg University (Gothenburg)

Gothenborg, Sweden

June 11, 2004 - June 16, 2004

105 works by 152 authors indexed

Series: ACH/ICCH (24), ALLC/EADH (31), ACH/ALLC (16)

Organizers: ACH, ALLC

  • Keywords: None
  • Language: English
  • Topics: None