Norwegian roadmap for Research Infrastructure

The humanities

The humanities include many different subjects which have in common the attempt to interpret, explain and understand human beings, human expression and the human cultural environment.

Humanities research plays an important role in society through knowledge development, education, public opinion formation, public administration and policy design. Humanistic perspectives and knowledge contribute to providing a broad knowledge base that can be used to address complex societal challenges. Digital tools and technology are increasingly integral to research processes in the humanities, while the research itself is increasingly focused on the digital transformation and its consequences.

Research objectives

The white paper Humanities in Norway (Report No 25 to the Storting (2016–2017)) comprehensively reviews humanities research in Norway. The Government expresses a clear expectation that humanities research must be applied more widely in activities to address complex challenges in society and that efforts to further improve the quality of research must be continued. The Government’s Long-term plan for research and higher education 2019–2028 (Report No 4 to the Storting (2018–2019)) clarifies the role of the humanities in the context of many challenging areas, particularly in the new strategic area ‘Societal security and social cohesion in a globalised world’.

The Research Council’s new strategy for the period 2020–2024 highlights three main goals (sustainable development, ground-breaking research and innovation, and renewal in the business and public sectors) and five strategic areas that must be clearly prioritised: Oceans, the Green transition, Health and welfare, Technology and digitalisation, Cohesion and globalisation. More social sciences and humanities research is needed in all of these strategic areas, and we have the potential to achieve this. The Research Council’s plan to enhance the humanities in its thematic priority areas will contribute to intensifying efforts in this area, but it also requires the academic communities to mobilise. The Portfolio board for Humanities and Social Sciences primarily finances basic research in the current subject portfolio for the humanities, and the intensification of challenge-driven humanities research will be funded under a number of the Research Council’s thematic portfolio boards.

In January 2020, the Government presented the National Strategy for Artificial Intelligence (AI) with the ambition of Norway establishing world-class AI infrastructure. Much AI technology is based on the analysis of natural languages. Robust Norwegian language resources and speech databases are material for developing Norwegian AI products and services. A number of ethical and legal challenges arise in connection with developing AI technology, and humanities and social science research environments must contribute their perspectives from their respective fields to elucidate this development.

For humanities research to contribute in the ways prescribed, infrastructures are needed that can support high-quality research. Investments in digital infrastructure useful in humanities research will help more groups to move to the forefront of international research and thus attract international partners for research addressing societal challenges.

Existing research infrastructure

Within the humanities, a number of scientific collections have been digitalised and are accessible for research purposes, including parts of the Norwegian Language Collections, managed by the University of Bergen and DigitaltMuseum, which is a common database for Norwegian and Swedish museums and collections. These resources are partially available in digital format, but often lack a unified profile and up-to-date interface.

The university museums manage a substantial part of Norway's cultural and natural heritage, including scientific collections that comprise a significant multidisciplinary infrastructure for research in cultural and natural science disciplines. In addition to objects, the collections encompass various forms of data, such as documentation in the form of living collections, archives, field documentation and databases. The development of databases for the collections is coordinated by MUSIT, the university museums’ joint digitalisation initiative. The university museums emphasise the need for coordination and further development of relevant academic environments and their facilities, and for facilitating more extensive Norwegian participation in the European cultural heritage research infrastructure.

The National Archives of Norway manage large quantities of public and private sector data. The Digital Archives service is the digital publication platform for archive institutions, museums and libraries and other organisations that manage historical data.

Linguistics groups at Norwegian universities have extensive experience of establishing and developing textual corpora, language databases and technological solutions and tools used for both research and language technology development. Several linguistics infrastructures are funded through the National Financing Initiative for Research Infrastructure. These include the Infrastructure for the Exploration of Syntax and Semantics (INESS), the Medieval Norwegian Text Corpus (MENOTEC) and Language Infrastructure made Accessible (LIA). Several of these resources are now available via Språkbanken, a national infrastructure for research and language technology development at the National Library of Norway. The aim of the National Library’s extensive digitalisation project is to digitalise the library's entire collection, which will become an important tool for research in many humanities subjects.

CLARINO, the Norwegian node in the ESFRI CLARIN project (Common Language Resources and Technology Infrastructure), has received funding through the National Financing Initiative for Research Infrastructure. The project has established a common infrastructure for Norwegian language and text databases. CLARINO is linked to international databases and provides search and analysis services that make research more efficient and open the door to new research questions. Several of the Norwegian linguistic research databases have already been integrated into CLARINO. Language researchers are the primary users of CLARINO, but it also holds potential relevance for other subject areas, such as the social sciences, psychology and media and information science.

Other infrastructures for humanities research that have been awarded funds through the National Financing Initiative for Research Infrastructure include a historical population registry (HISTREG), technical equipment for the study of the Four Ms (music, mind, motion and machines), and a digital corpus and digital dictionary for the study of Latin as used in Norway in the Middle Ages (MIDLAT). In the period 2018–2021, an infrastructure called Archaeological Digital Excavation Documentation (ADED) is being established for archaeological excavation data in a collaboration between the university museums. Work on establishing the National Infrastructure for Cultural History and Tradition (SAMLA) started in 2020.

Need for new infrastructure, upgrades and/or coordination

Information technology holds great potential to be an effective and powerful tool for humanities researchers. Digitalisation opens new opportunities for e.g. mining text and data from a wide range of source materials. Access to digital tools in combination with new ways of working and evolving methodologies enlarges the cooperative interfaces with other disciplines.

The biggest infrastructure challenges in the humanities are in digitalisation, standardisation, systematisation, linkage and accessibility of data in open archives and databases. Many of the established humanities databases cannot be linked together in their current form. As a result, research involving data compilation from different databases and scientific collections can be both time-consuming and resource-intensive. It has long been an objective of humanities research groups to standardise and link databases.

Much historical material remains stored in the archives and scientific collections of research institutions, libraries and museums. In its present form, some of this material, including documents, objects, photographs and audio and video files, is decaying. Preserving the material for posterity will require a major digitalisation and systemisation effort. It is important that academic and scientific groups assemble informational material and take the initiative to set up infrastructures to digitalise, systematise and annotate this data and make it accessible. Going forward, there will be a need for new and updated infrastructure projects in connection with digital language collections and data services.

In some research areas, access to costly high-tech equipment is crucial to be able to carry out high-quality research. Such areas include archaeology and conservation, where advanced instruments are needed to analyse finds, and linguistics, where cognitive research laboratories will make it possible to carry out neurological and psychological tests of language users. Research groups have identified a need to upgrade existing digital infrastructure in music technology to make the most of innovative interdisciplinary research in this area.

In 2018, a follow-up committee appointed by the Research Council submitted a report on the long-term follow-up of the Evaluation of the Humanities in Norway (HUMEVAL). The follow-up committee recommends clearer initiatives to improve digitalisation and infrastructure for humanities research, both within the institutions and nationally. The committee stresses the importance of addressing future needs for research on the extensive collections in the higher education sector and archive, libraries and museum sector. The committee recommends establishing a national ICT resource centre for humanities research, potentially with a hub node solution whereby a national centre is linked to a number of local resource centres. The committee also refers to other European countries whose participation in pan-European infrastructures, such as CLARIN and DARIAH (Digital Research Infrastructure for the Arts and Humanities) is coordinated by such national hubs. A joint initiative on digital humanities research would also present an opportunity to clarify collaboration and responsibilities between national and local collections, infrastructures and services, including the roles of the National Library of Norway and university libraries in this area.

The digitalisation of humanities research greatly enhances the potential for innovative methods and interdisciplinary cooperation. The ability to fully exploit this potential in future will require competence building and better coordination of this activity. There will be a particular need for competence-raising in licensing and rights issues related to sharing and reuse of research data. This is crucial to enable utilisation of humanities data within the research system and in other sectors of society.

Norwegian institutions and research communities should aim to collaborate more on developing good project applications to establish infrastructure in key subject areas, and they should use the projects as platforms for building expertise in digital research and infrastructure operations. The Research Council will utilise its various funding instruments to encourage cooperation between relevant research groups in Norway in a manner that achieves good national distribution of both costs and expertise.

In addition to establishing and further developing national initiatives, Norwegian humanities research groups need to assume a larger role in relevant international research infrastructure efforts, particularly joint European ESFRI infrastructures. This is something humanities researchers themselves have expressed a desire to do. Greater international involvement will improve awareness of the needs and opportunities present in Norwegian humanities research and help to increase the availability of Norwegian data and resources for international research and innovation.

Interface with other areas

Sophisticated facilities used for analysis in the natural sciences should also be employed by humanities research groups when appropriate. Humanities researchers have identified a particular need for new infrastructures that preserve, make available and enable use of analytical data across disciplines. This will for example facilitate the development of technological and scientific analysis in the area of cultural heritage.

The humanities will become more and more dependent on expanding storage and computing capacity. E-infrastructure investments of sufficient scale will therefore be needed to achieve the objectives that have been set for humanities research. Coordinating the development of database systems across disciplines is another relevant undertaking, in part because it permits more efficient use of expertise, standards and systems.

RESEARCH INFRASTRUCTURES RELATED TO THE HUMANITIES

Project

Status

ADED – Archaeological Digital Excavation Documentation

Under establishment/in operation

CLARINO – Common Language Resources and Technology Infrastructure – National node

ESFRI Landmark

SAMLA: National Infrastructure for Cultural History and Tradition Archives

Under establishment/in operation

INESS – Infrastructure for the Exploration of Syntax and Semantics*

Funding period completed/in operation

LIA – Language Infrastructure made Accessible*

Funding period completed/in operation

MENOTEC – Medieval Norwegian Text Corpus*

Funding period completed/in operation

Øvrige forskningsinfrastrukturer på veikartet av relevans for Humaniora

Project

Status

E-INFRA ved UNINETT Sigma 2 – a national e-Infrastrucure for science

Under establishment/in operation

NORDi – Norwegian Open Research Data Infrastructure

Under establishment/in operation

HISTREG – National Historical Population Register for Norway 1800-2020 (HPR)*

Funding period completed/in operation

* Infrastructures where the project period with Research Council funding has been concluded, or was scheduled to be concluded in 2019, do not have a separate project description on the roadmap. You will instead find a reference to the infrastructure's website or the Research Council's project bank.