We’ve added a new theme: Reykjavik

There’s a new theme for you to use for your websites on the Commons: Reykjavik. It’s an “accessibility-ready” and responsive theme that works well with the WordPress block editor.

For information on how to use themes on your website see our guide “Changing your Site’s Appearance with Themes.” If there are free themes you’re aware of that you think would be a good addition to our library, please send us an email to hello[at]hcommons.org.

Embedded Documents in websites on the Commons

The Commons has long supported two plugins that allow users to embed PDFs and other documents within their Commons-hosted websites: PDFjs Viewer and the Google Docs Embedder. Both of these plugins are now obsolete and are being retired. We have converted embedded documents to download links.

There are cases where embedding documents may be useful, but embedding them into websites can have unintended consequences for users. Issues include:

  • Documents may not be accessible [for example, “An accessible PDF works with assistive technology software and devices, like screen magnifiers, screen readers, speech-recognition software, text-to-speech software, alternative input devices and refreshable Braille displays.” (CommonLook)]:
    • Images, graphs, and tables may not have alt-text to support visually impaired readers
    • Text size is not resizable and does not reflow as the page size changes
    • Screen magnifiers may not work on an embedded PDFs]
  • Users on mobile devices or tablets may be unable to read content as the document gets smaller on smaller devices
  • Embedded documents can be used by bad actors to spread malware, including ransomware

More on the issues with documents on websites can be found at the following sites:

In the interests of accessibility, readability, and security we’ve chosen to remove support for embedding documents in websites. We realize that they can be useful for sharing information such as forms and fliers for download. If possible, we suggest converting your documents to HTML and including a download link to the original. For more information on updating sites that have embedded documents, feel free to email us at hello[at]hcommons.org and we can discuss strategies. 

Tiwari, Ashish. “Can Screen Readers Read Pdfs?” PDF Accessibility and Compliance, CommonLook, 18 Nov. 2020, https://commonlook.com/can-screen-readers-read-pdfs/.

Guest Post: Julian Chambliss, Nicole Huff, and Justin Wigard on Building Community: The Humanities Common and the Graphics Possibilities Website

Julian Chambliss, Professor of English, Michigan State University

Nicole Huff, Ph.D. Student, Michigan State University

Justin Wigard, Ph.D. Candidate, Michigan State University

The Department of English Graphic Possibilities Research Workshop (GPRW) began in 2019 with the goal of supporting critical inquiry linked to research and teaching comics. As the home to the world’s largest publicly accessible collection of comic books, Michigan State University (MSU) has long been recognized as a destination for researchers. Yet, the critical conversations taking place among faculty and students around comics at the MSU was less defined.  The GPRW offers the opportunity to facilitate conversations about comics that build on the established legacy of popular culture studies within our department while highlighting emerging conversations about comics studies supported by the workshop.

Building our website within Humanities Commons allows us to have a platform to share our ongoing activities, build relationships, and spotlight the visualizations and podcasts we produce during the academic year. Humanities Commons was our first choice and the opportunity offered by its academic community continues to inspire us to think about the ways we can engage with scholars around the world.  Like the Humanities Commons, we share a commitment to open educational resources and value the ways the Commons might support our ongoing development of pedagogical tools.

For example: Humanities Commons has afforded us the tools and infrastructure to build out, embed, and grow our digital data visualization efforts. When we initially ran our Wikidata event in Fall 2020, our website acted as an open-access portal for external users (within and outside the academy) to learn about and join our Wikidata movement. We were able to host multimodal tutorials, as well as registration links, all in a single space. As our one-off event has grown into a biannual initiative, so too has our Humanities Commons space. It now features complex data visualizations that utilize Wikidata — itself an open-access repository of linked data — as well as representations of data from the MSU Comics as Data: North America dataset via Flourish.

Using Humanities Commons, we are able to make our approaches and work within comics, wikidata, and pedagogy openly accessible. While this Wikidata initiative is just one example, Humanities Commons has allowed the Graphic Possibilities Research Workshop to grow each year through our open digital podcast; virtual pedagogy workshop series; and more.

Humanities Commons for International Students and Scholars

By June Oh, former Digital Humanities Research Assistant at Michigan State University (2019-2020)

Happy Birthday Humanities Commons!

I am a South Korean and learning the American academia has been a journey. Citation culture, writing rhetoric, and networking were just a few things that I had to unlearn and start afresh. One of the good surprises of being in academia in the States, though, was finding communities like Humanities Commons where I found resources and support that helped me navigate this unlearning journey. In this blog, I would like to share my experience with HC as an international student and a scholar and give a brief intro to its major features.

The best feature of Humanities Commons (in short, HC) is that it’s open access. It means that it will not charge its users for downloading scholarly works that are in this domain. In the previous blog, Luís Henriques discusses how sharing and having access to works (whether finished or in-progress) can be a challenge for students in various different countries. I know many international students and scholars who do not have access to US- or Europe-based databases and have to pay for articles and book chapters out of pocket. And considering all the readings one does on a regular basis through the graduate course, that is not something to be taken lightly. I myself was one struggling through it when I was doing my MA in South Korea. For me, it costed about 15-35 dollars per article in general. Learning how to pay for it with your possibly home-based VISA/Master cards was also time-consuming at times as well. HC is not like one of those websites. HC do not make profit out of the work of scholars.

Relatedly, HC allows you to archive and deposit your work that can be hard to accessed in other means. Two of my past publications were published in Korean journals. Although one of them was written in English, for global audience, it is not easy to find. Depositing my work in HC made it easy. Besides, when you deposit your work as CORE deposit, it gives your work DOI which is like your work’s own ID. This is perfect if the journal you publish with does not offer that.

Back in 2020, with the help of HC team, we developed a survey asking HC community to tell us about their use of digital platforms.

More than 83% respondents said they use online social networking platforms for scholarly/professional purposes. For instance, a user said online social platforms allow them to “[get] me outside my usual network!” Others reported they use it to “[learn] about new publications and/or discussions and/or research projects in my field.” One user said that “I have the sense that more and more professional discussions are taking place online, and that it’s part of my responsibility as a scholar to take part.” Indeed, many groups in HC attests to the growing communities, resources, and support that take place in various digital platforms.

And HC is one of those great digital avenues. And it’s even better because it’s scholar-led and non-for-profit.

Graphical representation of survey responses to the question "Why do you engage on Humanities Commons?"

Majority of the respondents in the survey also said that “open access,” “non-for-profit,” and “scholar-led platform” were the reasons for their attraction for HC. Indeed. Not like Academia.edu or Research Gate, HC do not capitalize scholars’ work.

So HC is open-access, scholar-led, and non-for profit. But that’s not all. As discussed in a recent post “Five Years by the Numbers” by Bonnie Russell, HC is a global community. “Around 20% of our members come from countries outside North America and Europe” and it supports 43 languages. HC is where scholars from the globe collaborate with colleagues and build networks. Various research groups have a digital home on HC–another amazing feature of HC: it provides you with an option to create your own website. It thus facilitates international collaborations and eases issues with hosting websites. And indeed, with nearly 30,000 monthly visitors from over 100 countries around the world, this is a great place to keep up with what is new in your fields internationally. I get alerts from the groups that I subscribe to whenever there is a new CORE deposit. In addition to Twitter, Humanities Commons keeps me updated to newer publications.

HC is not just international. It also can be interdisciplinary. Although HC is Humanities Commons, with many fields becoming more and more interdisciplinary and even trans-disciplinary, the growing network of HC can benefit all scholars and students. My field, age studies, takes me reading works in gerontology, medical humanities, sociology, and anthropology–works that I have to admit are rarely open-access. I often come across those profit-seeking platform as my only option. And as a scholar and a student working in humanities, I hope and am sure that HC will grow into one that scholars from various fields will use not only as the alternative but as the better choice for sustaining the scholarship.

Lastly, I want to mention how supportive the managing team is. I know from personally working with the team, the hard work that goes on into keeping this platform alive and moving. I joined the Humanities Commons community when I was working as a DH research assistant back in 2019. The level of dedication and the efforts for innovation each team member brings to this platform is evidenced by the growth Humanities Commons have seen in the past years (By the Numbers). Every week the team meets to discuss sustaining the community and thinking of ways to better support scholarly communities and conversations. If you have a question or a suggestion for any feature of HC, send them a message. They have dedicated staff eager to help and listen to what you say.

Happy birthday to you Humanities Commons. Thank you for making scholars’ work more accessible!

June Oh
Michigan State University

Happy fifth birthday, Humanities Commons!

Looking back in some old shared files recently, I came across some of the early descriptions of MLA Commons, the first network of what would become the multi-network Humanities Commons. From the beginning, the network was conceived of as a space for community, especially for extending conversations happening at the MLA’s annual convention throughout the year, and for experimenting with ways to publish and share scholarship. The subsequent development of Humanities Commons and the open access repository CORE has allowed the community to extend those conversations even further. I look forward to seeing the ways this community-driven scholarly infrastructure develops in the future, with further interdisciplinarity and more features to support the work of scholars.

In my work with the Commons over the past few years, we’ve had the chance to experiment with different kinds of virtual events, including HC summer camps, a Twitter conference, and, most recently, a Teaching Remotely CORE Deposit Party (inspired by the deposit party hosted by MSU Commons). I have also had the privilege of presenting the Commons to a range of audiences at conferences, libraries, and campus centers. In those conversations, I underscore the value of the open access repository—with structured metadata and a promise of preservation—being integrated with the social aspects of the Commons, like profiles and groups. The Commons gives us tools to shape our scholarly presence online and by doing so we contribute to a network that is not-for-profit, invested in open source software and open access scholarship.

For an organization like the MLA, MLA Commons and Humanities Commons not only provides a way for members to communicate and share scholarship, it has also provided space for the collaborative work of the organization to take shape, whether it’s a group for scholars in particular a subfield, a site for a committee’s public-facing work, or a home for an interactive, open access publication like Digital Pedagogy in the Humanities.

Here’s to five years of Humanities Commons, and many more to come!

Guest Post: Comments and Testimonials from Humanities Commons Users

Comments and Testimonials from Users

Dr. Kendra Preston Leonard, Executive Director, Silent Film Sound & Music Archive:

Humanities Commons is my coffee shop, my place to learn from other scholars and teachers, a place to have a virtual conference with people whose work I admire and those whose work is new to me. It’s the place where I’ve found community and conversation, a place where I can share materials and what I know about them with the rest of the world, a place where my books have taken flight free from the bindings of traditional presses. It’s a place with the best help desk folks I’ve ever known and truly committed administrators. Humanities Commons has given me so many tools to become the scholar I am today, and I am very, very grateful. I can’t imagine my scholarly life without it. November 10, 2021

Michael Thicke, Technical Lead, Humanities Commons:

When I discovered Humanities Commons not long ago, I knew I wanted to be a part of it. As a social epistemologist, I have become increasingly convinced of the need to reform how academics communicate. Ever-tightening job markets create more and more unreasonable demands to publish, network, and promote ourselves. More and more of our voices are marginalized as traditional academic careers dwindle. For-profit publishers and services take advantage of our desperation.

I joined Humanities Commons as lead developer in June because it represents a different vision of academia: one of community, openness, and inclusiveness. In the last five years Humanities Commons has established itself as a global resource for academics of all interests, backgrounds, and career trajectories. I am excited to be a part of the Commons as it builds upon this success over the next five—as we expand our reach beyond the humanities, as we find new ways to foster communication, and as we improve our ability to serve people of all languages and abilities. November 9, 2021

Bonnie Russell, Project Manager, Humanities Commons:

As a librarian who spent almost a decade in scholarly publishing at a university press, when the opportunity came to work on Humanities Commons, I jumped at it. I had grown increasingly interested in open access, scholarly communication, and the opportunities that digital platforms represent in allowing scholars from around the globe the chance to find one another, work together, and publish new and exciting work. Through my work on the Commons, I’ve met people from across the academic landscape who are pursuing new and innovative ways of communicating and publishing. The Commons provides everyone — from students to faculty to independent scholars — the opportunity to connect and collaborate.

As a project manager, this project is one of the most complex I’ve undertaken. We must be mindful of different disciplines and their needs as we expand the Commons to other areas outside the humanities, constantly assess the accessibility of the platform to ensure that all who wish to may access the work and collaborate with others, and support languages from all over the world. The past 19 months have been some of the most rewarding in my career. I’ve been fortunate enough to learn from my colleagues, and to continue to come up with new and innovative solutions to support our users.

Daniel Cohen, Vice Provost for Information Collaboration, Dean of University Library, and Professor of History at Northeastern University:

Since Humanities Commons launched five years ago, the internet has continued, and maybe even accelerated, along its troubling pathway away from openness and thoughtfulness, and into ethically deficient mega-platforms. The idea of a mutually beneficial “commons” has been dealt a serious, but hopefully not fatal, blow. By standing up a community that supports itself, that runs the technology itself, and that determines its own interactions and its own future, Humanities Commons has provided an extraordinarily welcome safe harbor from our increasingly fractious and problematic online world. It is a corrective, in which you can see an alternative model for ethical engagement and the pursuit of the truth, not only for scholars, but for the public as well.

Grant Eben, Support Staff Information Technologist – CCR Development Team under MESH Research at the College of Arts & Letters of MSU:

My experience working with those in Humanities Commons has made it evident to me they are a wonderful group of people. They’re not only talented and knowledgeable but they possess a dedication to their mission that is truly admirable. They deserve all the recognition they receive for their efforts.

Tamar Marvin, Adjunct Professor, American Jewish University & Hebrew Union College-JIR, Los Angeles:

As an independent scholar, I greatly appreciate having a non-profit, scholarly platform to host course websites, as well as to collect my research and teaching documents. I support the mission of Humanities Commons and value its role in providing scholarship to the public.

Five Years by the Numbers

As the Project Manager on Humanities Commons I am involved in the day-to-day operations of the platform as well as communicating with our members. For this fifth birthday I wanted to take a deep dive into what the community has created here. I’m hoping that in future we’ll continue to keep creating these kinds of visualizations so that we can all appreciate just how vibrant this community has become.

Membership Growth

Humanities Commons Membership Growth
2021 numbers are from 01/01/2021 to 12/01/2021.

Our first full year, 2017-2018 saw our largest increase in membership, at 35%. In 2020 we saw our second largest increase at 32%, likely driven by the pandemic and users searching for collaboration tools as we moved much of our work online. By early Spring we should be around 30,000 members, and as the Commons expands to serve STEM and Social Science users the opportunity for cross-disciplinary collaboration will be even greater.

Languages on the Commons

Languages on the Commons

This is a global community. Around 20% of our members come from countries outside North America and Europe. We currently support 43 languages within CORE and 33 of those languages are represented in CORE deposits. We anticipate that list will grow over the next five years. [Note: If yours is not listed please let us know at hello[at]hcommons.org.]

Top Ten Item Types Deposited to CORE

Top Ten Item Types

The Commons has 46 item types in CORE ranging from audio to white paper. The top ten reflect a wide range of deposits from formal papers and open access books to course materials and syllabi. We welcome gray literature and other materials that should be preserved, but that might not find a home in other disciplinary repositories. We expect, too, that as scholarship and the forms of that scholarship change our item types will expand as well.

Top Ten Downloads by Item Type

Top Ten Downloads

While looking at the top ten item types uploaded to CORE we thought it would be interesting to see what’s being downloaded. While the top two item types remain the same in both visualizations, syllabus jumps to third, and dissertation and “other” make an appearance.

What resides in “other”? Everything from sheet music to example social media campaigns. We’re so excited to see the variety of items people are sharing.

Creative Commons Licenses Used on CORE

Creative Commons Licenses Used on CORE

As an open access repository, all of the work uploaded to CORE is tagged with a Creative Commons license. While the vast majority of CORE deposits are licensed with the default  “All Rights Reserved” some authors have chosen varying licenses. “Attribution-NoDerivatives” and “All Rights Granted” make up less than 1% each of the licenses on CORE deposits.

What other things are you curious about? What other visualizations can you think of that we might explore? Leave them in the comments.

Guest Post: Lucy Barnes on The OABN and Humanities Commons: Finding Community

By Lucy Barnes (Senior Editor and Outreach Coordinator at Open Book Publishers, and one of three coordinators of the OABN)

In early 2020, a group of people interested in open access books were trying to foster a community. Geographically dispersed, they sometimes came together at conferences and other events where lively conversations ensued, but they wanted a place to continue these discussions remotely. A Slack channel had been set up for the purpose, but it was used only very sporadically and members of OAPEN, SPARC Europe, OPERAS and ScholarLed were looking for a home for what they had begun to call the Open Access Books Network (OABN).

It had to be easy to use, welcoming to scholars and publishers (and indeed scholar-publishers), low cost, and ideally open source. We wanted to encourage discussion, but also to share resources and best practices and perhaps to coordinate and host virtual events.

Humanities Commons was perfect. Its tagline “open access, open source, open to all” expressed exactly the welcoming and open-access ethos that we wanted the OABN to have. Its emphasis on creating a digital space for scholars that was not commercially owned, and that was not trying to track, monetise, or otherwise take advantage of its users, chimed strongly with the way that the coordinating organisations of the OABN thought about and practised open access publishing. Moreover the ‘Groups’ function of Humanities Commons was rich with possibilities, given the activities we wanted the OABN to foster: a message board for easy discussion, a ‘Files’ section to share research and reports and the CORE repository to store new publications; a calendar to list events; a collaborative writing tool for creating resources together; and a website and blog for a more public-facing presence beyond Humanities Commons itself.

We set up the Open Access Books Network group on Humanities Commons in the early spring of 2020, and global events soon meant that a digital space to meet remotely was even more sorely needed. After some time spent in planning and preparation, we officially launched the OABN in September 2020 with a programme of ‘BoOkmArks’ events and some more informal ‘Open Cafe’ discussions, conducted on Zoom. These drew people to the Network, and our members steadily grew in number (the total at the time of writing is 307).

Humanities Commons has become the central hub for our activities: we have a presence on other platforms, such as YouTube and Twitter, we still use tools such as Zoom for live events, and we have a growing mailing list, but our Humanities Commons group is our online ‘base’. Members use the discussion board for questions or announcements, and we sometimes incorporate it into our events, such as a series of online workshops we conducted this year to discuss funder policies for OA books, which produced video recordings, pages of noted discussion between the hundreds of attendees, and a final synthesis of the conversations all shared on our message boards. Our event recordings are all listed on our Humanities Commons website, which is also a good ‘front door’ to direct people to when we give presentations introducing the OABN, while our ‘Files’ section has become a trove of reports on recent developments in OA books. Meanwhile we have received great support and a warm, friendly welcome from the Humanities Commons founders and staff, particularly Kathleen Fitzpatrick and Bonnie Russell, who have championed the OABN as it has grown on Humanities Commons.

On the occasion of Humanities Commons’ fifth birthday, at the OABN we will be raising three cheers for this vital platform and community, and for all it has enabled us and so many others to do. We are delighted to see that others are recognising its importance and offering funding and support for its continued activities, and we look forward to seeing what the coming years bring!


Guest Post: A.L. McMichael on Open Source Announcements

Author: A.L. McMichael https://hcommons.org/members/amcmichael/

To celebrate five years of Humanities Commons, I’d like to highlight one of my favorite ways to use it: simplifying administrative outreach. You can use a group’s “Discussion” feature as an alternative to a listserv or newsletter (for a lab, a project, a class, or any other organization).

As a lab director, I often need to disseminate news and announcements through several avenues for the Lab for Education and Advancement in Digital Research (LEADR). The lab is geared toward student research in the History and Anthropology departments at MSU. We work with classes and individuals and have open hours for our students. We teach workshops and host events. Our stakeholders include faculty and students across MSU, and we work closely with the DH@MSU community, alumni, and researchers at other institutions. For a small lab, this is a wide range of people who need to be kept in the loop! Streamlining announcements is key because I don’t have high enough volume of messages to maintain a separate newsletter service or emailing list. For a simpler news option, I use the discussion thread in a Commons group.

The best part of using the extensible workflow of Humanities Commons groups is that users have agency over how to get updates. LEADR’s group is on MSU Commons, but Humanities Commons groups will function the same way. Here’s the notice I posted for users:

“Members of this group can adjust email settings by clicking “Email Options” above. You can receive every announcement or a daily summary. If you are not a member of MSU Commons (or not at MSU), you can bookmark the group’s page in your browser to check for updates.”

A public group also works well to reach people at multiple institutions. It’s free and there is no limit to the number of subscribers. I especially like the “Topic Status” feature for each post. A topic can be marked as “Open” to allow follow-up comments, or “Closed” as a static announcement. Members can post their own announcements, and members can easily be upgraded to Admin (or change roles, or even blocked, if necessary). And one more giant advantage to using an announcements group—it’s easier to avoid an accidental reply all!

For teaching, I have used the group discussion board similarly to communicate with students (in lieu of proprietary content management systems). I acquaint them to the discussion board’s interface by asking them to introduce themselves in a comment on the first day. The discussion thread is a good place for students to ask questions so that I can answer them for the entire class at once instead of fielding a series of emails. In some semesters I’ll add a WordPress blog to the group for longer posts, but other times we just use the discussion threads for short communications instead.

It’s easy to let to-dos like announcements get swept into the fray of busyness or the crunch of a semester. But I like to think of administration as “ethos in action”— even a mundane task carries the weight of ethical decisions, community outreach, and multi-faceted communications. I appreciate having an open source tool that lets me communicate freely and conveniently with anyone who wants to share in the lab’s news and activities.

Want to be included? Join or bookmark the LEADR Announcements group to follow along.

Guest Post: Martin Paul Eve on Humanities Commons’ Fifth Birthday

What is the world coming to? In general terms, things don’t look good. Pandemics, climate change, ongoing global conflicts, the state of higher education as a whole. It can be a worrying time.

The situation for humanities research doesn’t look much better, either. The open access movement is succeeding at scale in the sciences, where in the not-too-distant future all scientific research will be available for anyone to read at no charge. Progress in the humanities, meanwhile, has been slower. Indeed, we face a dangerous scenario where all scientific work may be available freely to read, while all work in the humanities remains behind paywalls or in unaffordable books.

Humanities Commons, which celebrates its fifth birthday this year, has long been a forward-looking platform seeking to connect scholars with one another while also advancing open dissemination of research in our disciplines. HC remains one of the brightest hopes for the humanities in our ongoing difficult times.

Humanities Commons is also important because it focuses on social interaction rather than just technical innovation. It is easy to concoct techno-solutionist resolutions to questions of research dissemination, but these rarely gain traction. HC, instead, spreads its efforts between a sound technical infrastructure – the CORE platform – and a commitment to social embeddedness, embodied in the networking elements of the platform. If for-profit sites such as Academia.edu indicated an interest from humanities scholars in online sharing of their work and digital networking, then Humanities Commons is, for me, the implementation of that principle in a way that is congruent with the ethics of our disciplinary space. Certainly, it is easy to overuse the rhetoric of ‘the Commons’ in the digital world, as Samuel A Moore has cautioned, but the goals of Humanities Commons seem to fit the bill.

The other important element of HC that bears scrutiny is the affiliation with learned societies. Many open access (OA) initiatives have run aground on the rocky shore of learned society finances. Indeed, it is one of the dirty secrets of academia that many intra-disciplinary activities are funded by selling journal subscriptions; a cross-subsidy from libraries to societies. Humanities Commons has sidestepped this problem by twofold partnering with societies but also by embracing green OA, which has been shown not to result in subscription cancellations. HC is a symbiotic friend of societies, helping them to showcase the work in their disciplines, rather than its mortal, de-funding OA enemy.

So despite my gloomy opening, things are looking up, at least in our own small corner of the world. Happy birthday, Humanities Commons, and thank you for the ongoing good that you are doing.

Martin Paul Eve
Birkbeck, University of London