What are the pros and cons, the means and obstacles, of keeping an open-access research notebook in the humanities?
In an 2008 roundtable on digital history, historian William G. Thomas envisioned a future in which websites would serve as "open research platforms where scholars can stage problems and continually modify their work, readers can view the research as it develops, and both can continually assemble new associations as an interpretive model is built." But as Lisa Spiro has recently noted in her series on "opening the humanities" (Part 1 and Part 2), this idea has not yet really taken hold in the humanities.
The idea of open research notebooks has made more headway in science; for one example, see the Open Lab Notebook kept by Carl Boettiger. And some of the benefits promised by the open science movement—like the freeing of "dark data" often lost in the publication process—seem like they would be applicable to humanistic disciplines like history as well. Keeping open research notebooks might also be one way to respond to the series of challenges to scholarship in a wikified world that AHA president William Cronon has outlined.
Nonetheless, there are challenges—technical and otherwise—to the idea of open research notebooks in the humanities. Andrew J. Berger has recently outlined only a few. The challenges and questions surrounding this idea are also not exactly the same as those that surround the idea of open-access publication, where discussion tends to center on issues like evaluation, promotion, and peer review. Those issues aren’t precisely the same ones raised by the idea of "open lab" notebooks kept by historians.
I have recently begun an open research notebook experiment of my own by beginning an online research wiki. I am interested in a talk session with other THATcampers interested in thinking how the open attitude might change the way research notes are kept and managed. What are the technical best practices for this kind of project? Will its benefits be limited if these experiments are too isolated from the discipline as a whole?
I’m open (pun intended!) to other versions of these questions or this session!