Linked Data for Women's History

Within the department of English at Simon Fraser University (SFU), Professor Michelle Levy is bringing the rich history of women’s contributions in print into the twenty-first century through the creation of linked humanities data. Levy is directing the Women’s Print History Projectwhich is a comprehensive bibliographical database of women's contributions to print in one of the most consequential periods in print history.

The introduction of data-driven research has revolutionized the way that digital humanists can create and distribute knowledge, providing modernized methods of accelerating the ways that scholarship is shared with the world. With many high quality but disparate humanities datasets in existence, researchers in the digital humanities must identify a workable solution to integrate these datasets to maximize their utility, discoverability and analytical power. 

Levy's project aims to answer questions about women's history that have yet to be resolved through the creation of new bibliographical data. Feminist historians and scholars have undertaken ground-breaking studies to recover the history of women in print for decades. As of yet, none of these efforts have been coupled with contemporary methods.

To solve this problem, Levy and her team worked with SFU's Big Data Hub to link large humanities datasets to make them more discoverable, accessible, and interpretable for researchers. With digital resources such as databases, Levy and her team are able to create, analyze and present this complex information through structured data.

The project has been partially supported by the Next Big Question (NBQ) Fund. This fund promotes data-driven research that has the potential to expand our understandings of the big data field and the transformational way that data can be used to mobilize knowledge and information. The NBQ Fund enabled Levy to create an international team consisting of scholars from SFU and across North America, the United Kingdom and the European Union to share data on women's history. This project will enable the team to formalize partnerships and achieve wider goals of data integration.

"The Next Big Question funding enabled me to enhance my digital bibliography by making my data more accurate, discoverable and accessible," says Levy.

This project is the first organized effort to create humanities data concerning the history of women's contributions to print, and Levy hopes that it will shine a light on women's intellectual and creative contributions to culture within a historical context largely dominated by men. "The project will seek to understand, empirically, a period of rapid social, political and economic change for women, and demonstrate women's advances towards equality." 

Her project will have lasting impacts on the way that women writers engage in book culture today. By integrating and scaling up existing data sets, the team will unlock the full potential of humanities data: a comprehensive understanding of a pivotal era in women's history, punctuated by rapid gains in economic, social and intellectual power.