Agents of Change: Women Editors and Socio-Cultural Transformation in Europe, 1710–1920 is a five–year humanities research project funded by a European Research Council ( ERC) Starting Grant (2015–2020), directed by Marianne Van Remoortel from the Department of Literary Studies at Ghent University, Belgium. It examines a neglected aspect of the social and cultural life in Europe in the modern period: the impact of women editors on public debate. From the 1700s on, European women actively participated in the cultural arena through the journals that they edited. Agents of Change advances the hypothesis that periodical editorship enabled women editors to take a prominent role in public life and as a result influence public opinion and shape transnational processes of socio-cultural change. By examining how these processes unfolded in the press through practices of textual transfer both among women and in the larger publishing landscape, Agents of Change will not only initiate a shift in our thinking about the participation of women in society and print culture, but also pave the way for pan-European research on the periodical press.
In order to trace these networks of intellectual exchange, Agents of Change is using NodeGoat, a web-based integrated data management, network analysis, and visualisation platform, developed by Lab1100, a research and development company, based in The Netherlands. NodeGoat allows us to collaboratively gather our research data about women editors and their periodicals, and enables us to visualise and analyse the linkages (both biographical and bibliographical) between them. By gathering evidence to prove connections between people and publications across languages and state borders, we will be able to identify the dynamics of cultural prestige at work in Europe. For example, how knowledge and fashion radiated outward from a few trendsetting periodicals across the pages of myriad publications which translated, adapted, or reprinted them either in part or in their entirety. The data that we collect in NodeGoat will also be invaluable as a descriptive index of periodical editors, a role which traditional print culture studies has tended to overlook, especially when it comes to women periodical editors. For this reason, we are developing a web front-end that will act as a catalogue interface to make this descriptive index freely available online.
In order to fully capture these transnational networks of intellectual exchange it is important to strive for the most comprehensive coverage possible of the period and region at hand. Our multilingual and multidisciplinary team of six researchers will pay particular attention to practices of textual transfer (including translation, adaptation, reprinting and reviewing) across language boundaries and historical periods. However, six researchers cannot cover every language across the 1710–1920 period. In order to make our data as rich as possible, we will be inviting researchers from outside our research team to contribute missing data. We will develop an online workflow, based as far as possible on existing crowd-sourcing initiatives, for managing this community-sourced content. The workflow will enable the community-sourced data to be reviewed by the research team before it is added to the Agents of Change dataset. An important aspect of the workflow will be to ensure that such contributors are properly credited for their work.
Alongside the collection of our research data, we are also requesting retrospective assignment of International Standard Serial Numbers (ISSN), a unique identification code for serial publications, for the periodicals which do not currently have one. These ISSNs will be used as stable identifiers for the periodicals we store within our database. Similarly, we are working on establishing authority records via the Virtual International Authority File (VIAF) for those women editors that do not have one yet. We will use use their VIAF IDs as stable identifiers within our NodeGoat dataset.
Our ultimate goal is to create a Virtual Research Environment (VRE), as an essential tool for establishing the research field of European Periodical Studies. The VRE will bring together primary sources and secondary literature, as well as the original scholarship that is produced as a result of the research data that we collect. Additionally, we would like the VRE to enable researchers outside the project team to contribute to the field, which we hope, step-by-step, will become a research community for European Periodical Studies.
We want to ensure that Agents of Change becomes a sustainable research tool beyond the end of the project funding by working closely with the local digital humanities centre. The Ghent Centre for Digital Humanities ( GhentCDH) is an interdisciplinary centre facilitating digitally-enabled research in the arts, humanities and social sciences at Ghent University and beyond. GhentCDH also plays an active role in the coordination of Belgium’s participation in DARIAH, the Digital Research Infrastructure for the Arts and Humanities. Within the framework of DARIAH, Ghent University, along with the universities of Antwerp and Leuven, has received startup funding from the Research Foundation Flanders, to develop a Virtual Research Environment Service Infrastructure (VRE-SI).
The VRE-SI is being developed by focussing on the infrastructural needs of existing humanities research projects in Flanders and Belgium that have a ‘digital focus’. Now that the first year of the DARIAH-Flanders project has drawn to an end, the project team have gained a better understanding of how DARIAH Partner Institutions can sustainably support digital scholarship in the humanities. For example, at Ghent University, it has been identified that the establishment of a digital humanities expert team including humanities researchers, library staff, IT professionals and digital humanities experts would help to institutionally embed digital humanities research support. The role of this interdisciplinary team is to both support the realisation of the digital humanities aspects of existing humanities research projects as well as providing advice and guidance in the development of new project proposals. To date, it has been identified that a missing element in the existing service provision is a digital humanities scientific programmer, whose role is to combine an understanding of the humanities research questions with the skills of an IT professional to realise the tools and services needed. It is possible to use the DARIAH funding to temporarily recruit such a member of staff and to demonstrate the value of such a post to the Faculty Management Team, with the view to, such a position being structurally funded by the university, in the medium to long-term.
Considering the curation and management of the research data both during the project funding and beyond, is a further crucial aspect of the project. As it is intended that Agents of Change will become a sustainable digital humanities research tool thriving beyond the fixed-term project funding, the establishment and implementation of a Data Management Plan (DMP) has been anticipated from the start of the project. The Faculty Library of Arts and Philosophy, as a result of their Arts and Humanities Research Data project, coordinated by their LibraryLab, is providing support to researchers in the faculty in the development of DMPs. Within DARIAH-BE, the intention is that every ‘DARIAH pilot project’, is strongly recommended to consider research data management from the outset. Finally, the GhentCDH is working closely with Lab1100 to explore how NodeGoat could be offered as a DARIAH-service. In the medium to long-term, the possibility of facilitating the development of an open source community around NodeGoat to further extend the environment for the needs of the digital humanities research, is being investigated.
The aim of this short paper is to firstly, to present some initial research results, based on the analysis of the data gathered by the Agents of Change on tracing the networks of intellectual exchange across temporal, geographic and linguistic borders through women editors and their periodicals. Secondly, this paper will demonstrate how working together with the local digital humanities centre and participating in DARIAH is helping to facilitate Agents of Change in becoming a sustainable digital humanities research tool that will thrive beyond the end of the fixed-term project funding.