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Crowd-Sourcing Scoping Study: Engaging the Crowd with Humanities Research

Research output: Book/ReportReport

Original languageEnglish
PublisherArts and Humanities Research Council
Number of pages56


King's Authors


This project sought to establish a credible definition for, and the current state of the art of, crowd-sourcing in the humanities. The questions included what the humanities have learned from other research domains, where crowd-sourcing is being exploited, what the results are, why academics are motivated to undertake such activities, and why members of the public are willing to give up their time, effort and knowledge for free. We conducted a survey, supplemented by a set of follow-up interviews, of contributors’ motivations, which received 59 detailed responses with qualitative and quantitative information about why people contribute to humanities (see Appendix A). The project identified and reviewed 54 academic publications of direct relevance to the field, and a further 51 individual projects, activities and websites which document or present some application of humanities scholarship making use of crowd-sourcing (see Appendix B). Two workshops were held, one for academics making use of crowd-sourcing, and one for contributors to those projects.

Academics in the humanities undertake crowd-sourcing projects for a variety of reasons: to digitize content, to create or process content, to provide editorial or processing interventions, and so on. Judging the current value of crowd-sourcing in the humanities is therefore extremely difficult, even before issues of trust, reliability and academic rigour are accounted for. However, one common factor is that humanities crowd-sourcing succeeds where vibrant and interacting communities of contributors are created. Whilst the motivations of crowd-sourcing contributors are every bit as diverse as those of academics, passion for the subject (a characteristic shared with academics) is the dominant factor which draws them together into communities. These communities develop and perpetuate internal dynamics, self-correct, provide mutual support, and form their own relationships with the academic world. Despite the great diversity of humanities crowd-sourcing, it is possible to observe patterns in which such communities thrive: these patterns are dependent on the correct combinations of asset type (the content or data forming the subject of the activity), process type (what is done with that content) task type (how it is done), and the output type (the thing produced) desired. In this report, we propose a high-level typology which describes different instances of each of these, and identifies the combinations that are, on present evidence, most successful in achieving projects’ aims.

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