Event Report: How to Preserve Diverse Data in a Monolingual Environment: Introducing the Project Closing the Gap in Non-Latin-Script Data

When considering data and our digital era there are a host of ethical and practical issues to work toward resolving. Whether that is finding a suitable repository to store data, or what type of file is appropriate for greater communication, or how do you maintain websites and resources long term? This not even approaching the issues regarding Non-Latin based script. Imagine that for every basic solution available in the Latin script dominated world, there is an extra “wrench” or challenge to overcome. But it is necessary to overcome these issues as more research is done and the digital age expands to Non-Latin scripts.

On February 14th in the SUB, the researchers behind Closing the Gap in Non-Latin-Script Data, presented some of the challenges they had faced along with the many solutions they developed.  Jonas Müller-Laackman presented a brief introduction and subsequently researchers presented their workflow and questions they had to consider. The project is a collaboration between the Digital Research Services Unit, Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek Hamburg Carl von Ossietzky and the Free University of Berlin’s Beatrice Gründler, Theodore S. Beers, and  Xenia Kudela.  

One of the key issues facing non-Latin digital based projects and (Multilingual) Digital Humanities (DH) projects generally are that they are considered “Kleine Fächer” or in other words small subjects. In the academic Global North, there are few academics who know how to program while reading ancient Arabic scripts and who want to develop databases for these works. And as a result, there are logistical problems of funding or talent drain, as many people with advanced data skills are recruited for larger projects and more lucrative fields.

These challenges are always present in digital humanities and in part regular humanities. These fields demand a combination of passion and dedication with at times less monetarily driven goals.

However, the team behind Closing the Gap were well aware of these challenges, and it never deterred them. In fact, it made them more considerate of their resources and dedicated themselves to being as radically open as possible. In line with this goal, they naturally followed FAIR principles. For those unfamiliar with the term, FAIR refers to:

Findable: Data should be easy to find including metadata.

Accessible: The data when found should be easily accessed and the authentication and authorizations for the work are evident.

Interoperable: The data needs to work with other data and be formatted so that it can help with other operations and workflows.

Reusable: Data and metadata should be well-described and be combined with other settings.

These are basic definitions and exploring the FAIR website for greater descriptions of the principals is highly recommended.

In order to be in line with these principles, the research team decided from the start that they wanted a lightweight and easy frontend (user interface) that required no set up. They chose GitHub as their primary repository and their database utilizes json files as easy forms to read. In essence, reinforcing their dedication to creating relatively inexpensive, data rich, and accessible formats for themselves as well as other DH projects. And for those unfamiliar with digital literacy these formats could be explained and read relatively easily.

So what did the project actually want to do? What was their aim and why was FAIR so important to them?

As mentioned prior, Multilingual DH suffers many times in Germany, as well as broadly in the Global North, from being small and often unstable in funding. Third parties in recent times have been contributing to these organizations to a greater degree, but when compared to other fields, it is still difficult to gain adequate funding. When also considering the institutions of university and government as the main financial backers for these projects, they often have a limited lifespan. Justification and a constant balance of communication with how new tools can be utilized within the humanities has to be explained, leading to delays and miscommunication. 

For the group behind Closing the Gap, they wanted to create a site where the active or past DH projects for Non-Latin scripts could find one another. Their initial scope was just Germany, but as you can see below their reach has rapidly expanded.

The database and interactive website developed from the repository serves as a navigational tool to find other projects. They created an accessible site where institutions and researchers could voluntarily share their projects including a small descriptor of their projects, how long the project planned to run, and ultimately link their own websites.

As the researchers openly admitted they initially had a bias towards collecting Arabic script based projects, but that singular language focus has expanded into over 130 languages collected in the database.

Technology has advanced the ability for small groups to make a large impact but as Beers had remarked during his segment, many of them are reinventing the wheel. DH projects are small. They lack the traditional funding that many monetarily driven projects have, so why are we all working separately and circularly?

Why not share their data and allow for solutions to be communicated between projects? Cut out the time spent solving the common issue of Arabic being written right to left (One of the proverbial “wrenches” that confounds many non-Latin based scripts).

Closing the Gap, shows the potential of growth in the Multilingual DH field and in some ways the maturation of the industry where there is now an active group collecting and tracking how the overall field is developing. An exaggerated stretch to compare in terms of scope, but think of it as a preliminary form of Facebook to the world of DH. 

Are you studying Cuneiform? Are you adapting it to a digital format? Well maybe there’s someone halfway across the globe doing the exact same thing. Or a previous project you can reach out to. The meta-aspect of the project has already been showing some interesting ideas and will only continue to grow. What languages are being the most heavily focused on? Where are these projects being led?

However this desire to connect can be difficult at times, as many projects remain behind closed doors of universities and libraries. The balance of protecting one’s work and sharing it with others can be difficult. But once more it is important to understand that resources should be shared with one another and to make these “small” subjects become more efficient. It connects back to the principles of FAIR. Closing the Gap, in its inception, wants to break down the barriers and allow for the communication of resources for those dealing with Non-Latin scripts. The researchers behind the group push for

Additionally by the later half of the presentation, another DH project known as OpenITI, which stands for Open Islamic Texts Initiative, was introduced. Maxim Romanov presented a brief introduction to the project, which is currently working toward an automated form of Arabic and Persian manuscript transcription and collecting digital versions of text. It’s a vast project that has successfully utilized resources like GitHub to create a database with over a thousand texts. Contributors can add their texts to the corpus following the guidelines where they will utilize OCR (optical character recognition—in simplified terms converting an image of text into a machine-readable text format) to help record these texts. 

It’s an impressive project that helps to highlight the overall goal of Closing the Gap, which is to connect with other projects and maintain as open as possible in terms of communication and networking. Already the network of the project is expanding, and aims to help other researchers connect globally. Hopefully Closing the Gap can continue to live up to its name as it aims to connect others as well as be transparent in its data.

The workshop then closed with a presentation of Arabic manuscripts from the libraries own collection, highlighting that Digital Humanities is a bridge between both the digital and physical world.

Other projects can utilize the cost effectiveness of Closing the Gap while maintaining an open and FAIR policy. For other DH project it stands out as an example of how the global research community is expanding and becoming more interwoven.

Thanks to all the presenters at the workshop as we look forward to highlighting more DH projects and working together as a global community passionate about bridging humanities and the modern era.

Diesen Blogbeitrag zitieren
jarodyu (2024, 29. März). Event Report: How to Preserve Diverse Data in a Monolingual Environment: Introducing the Project Closing the Gap in Non-Latin-Script Data. DH³. Abgerufen am 21. Mai 2024, von https://doi.org/10.58079/w4ls

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