New and Updated Support and Sustaining Sites

We’ve made major updates to two of our own sites: Commons Support and Sustaining the Commons. Not only is there new content, but both sites were redesigned using the block-based theme Blockbase, and the full site editing tools in WordPress 5.9. While full site editing (FSE) is in beta it’s a powerful way to customize the look and feel of your website without needing use custom code. (Find more on FSE capabilities on our post WordPress 5.9 and Full Site Editing.)

Commons Support

We’ve updated and consolidated the Commons support pages. We’ve flattened the structure of the menus and added a contact form so that you can easily contact support. Guides and FAQs walk you through the most common tasks, the search allows you to easily find what you need, and we’ve minimized the number of clicks necessary to get there.

Full Site Editing

We’ve used the full site editing tools to create two different header looks, one a larger banner style on the home page, and another scaled down version for interior pages.

We’ve made use of reusable blocks to add back buttons to guide pages, and to reuse the Getting Started, Groups, and Sites link sets on the Guides page. On the individual FAQ pages, we’ve incorporated the back button into the page template, allowing us to easily add new content to the FAQ without having to add navigation by hand.

If you’re thinking of building a new site, the full site editing capabilities give you a lot more flexibility in creating a fully customized site. This new functionality allows users to have much more control over their website’s look and feel.

Sustaining the Commons

We originally built this site in order to inform the Commons community about our then-upcoming migration from the MLA to MSU, as well as to share a bit about the sustainability plan we were implementing.

The new Sustaining site is meant to be a home for anything you might want to know about Commons operations. You can find out more there about our governance model, our financial reports, our development and (soon!) community engagement plans, and more. Sustaining is a key means through which the Commons team is showing our work and maintaining our commitments to openness, transparency, equity, and values-enacted governance.

We’ve deployed new contact forms both in Sustaining and in Support; please use them to let us know if you have thoughts or questions. We’ll look forward to hearing from you.

WordPress 5.9 and Full Site Editing

The Commons is now on WordPress 5.9.2. This update brings Full Site Editing (FSE) to websites using block-based themes. For an overview of FSE and how it works check out the video below (the video was produced by WordPress.com, but the FSE component will be the same on the Commons):

Full Site Editing is currently in beta, but we’ve done some experimenting with it and wanted to roll this update out with a few themes for people to check out. You’ll see Twenty Twenty-Two and Blockbase in the themes directory. FSE will only work with these two new block-based themes. The new themes do not feature “live preview” and must be activated to use. FSE is very different from the current customization experience, but offers the opportunity to fully design a site from header to footer, including the use of different templates on different pages. We recommend watching the video above before trying them out.

WordPress 5.9 was released earlier this year. We’ve done extensive testing, but inevitably we won’t find everything. If you do experience issues or your website looks strange please let us know! WPBeginner.com has a good writeup of the features, and we recommend taking some time to review the article or the video embedded above before digging in.

As always you can reach us at hello[at]hcommons.org.

CORE Migration Winter 2022

The Humanities Commons CORE repository will be undergoing maintenance starting on Friday January 28, 2022, 9am EDT. We will be migrating content to a new server, and in order to ensure all content is transferred deposits will be suspended until that migration is complete. We will update everyone when depositing can resume.

During migration deposits will be available for searching and download. Links to your deposits will remain the same. 

If you have any questions, or encounter any issues with your deposits, please contact us at hello[at]hcommons.org.

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.