We Need Your Input

The questions that have recently surfaced for us around community, safety, and trust have made clear the extent to which we on the Commons team need ongoing feedback and advice from our users. Our network governance model, recognizing that need, provide for two advisory groups: a technical advisory group and a user advisory group. Members of each are to be named by the Participating Organization Council, and each group will bring the concerns and ideas of the Commons community to the team for discussion and integration into our project roadmap. (See our bylaws for more details.)

We are currently seeking nominations for each of these groups. If you would like to join us, please email a brief statement of interest, along with a link to your Commons profile, to hello@hcommons.org.

Let us know if you have any questions — we’ll look forward to hearing from you.

Community, Safety, and Trust

Earlier this month, the Modern Language Association held its annual convention, and our team hoped that we would be able to engage with attendees, helping them continue their conversations with one another via the Commons. Instead, we found ourselves fending off what initially looked like a bot attack: a massive influx of new account creation attempts with a few shared characteristics that made clear that there was orchestration involved. We put some measures in place to attempt to ensure that the majority of these attempts did not succeed, and spent several days playing whack-a-mole with the few that did.

In the process, it gradually came to seem that we might not be dealing with bots, but with humans: bad actors who were trying to find ways into the Commons community. To what end, we weren’t sure. But given the visibility of the MLA Convention, we really, really did not want to find out.

Things have gotten a bit quieter since the convention ended, but the suspicious account creation attempts continue. And fighting off this attack has taken all of the time that might have gone into the work we’re trying to do to improve and advance the platform, and it’s left our very small team exhausted. So we’re discussing some longer-term options, options that raise a few key questions we’d like to open up for discussion with the Commons community.

The most important question is this:

How do we balance our commitment to ensuring that the Commons is open to anyone — regardless of credentials, memberships, employment status, language, geographical location, and so forth — with our commitment to ensuring that the members of our community are safe and free from harassment? We’ve all seen much too graphically of late the costs of a hands-off approach to open social networks, but even within a more local academic frame of reference, we’ve seen what can happen when virtual events get Zoom-bombed or otherwise disrupted. We absolutely do not want members of our community to be threatened in any way that unsettles their ability, not to mention their willingness, to engage in the shared collaborative work that they’re undertaking here. We’re grateful that the Commons has managed to avoid such incidents up until now, but we’ve achieved a size and a visibility that has led us to become a target. As a result, we need to take action to protect the network and its members.

Should we establish some kind of verification requirement before new accounts are permitted to use some of the network’s features? We imagine that we might restrict new, unverified user accounts in ways that prevent such accounts from sending direct messages to other community members, for instance, or from creating unwelcome groups and sites within the network. This might work something like the trust levels model that Discourse uses, relying on a demonstration of good-faith engagement to gradually open up features to new accounts, though we may need something a bit lighter weight as we get started.

If we establish such a requirement, what paths toward verification should we enable? We could imagine verification happening as part of account creation if the new user uses an email address that demonstrates a connection with a trusted institution or organization, or if the new user links their account to another trustworthy scholarly data system such as ORCiD. But we also want to ensure that independent scholars and practitioners who may not have institutional credentials or established publication records can join us as well. Should we take the arXiv approach of having established members of the community vouch for new members, or does that run the risk of clubbiness? How do we preserve access for good actors while minimizing the damage that bad actors can do?

We welcome your thoughts on these questions, and we look forward to discussing the path ahead with the community as a whole.

Using the Commons for Canceled or Virtual Events

For those who have had to cancel events or shift to virtual meetings in response to COVID-19, this post will provide information about ways Humanities Commons could be a resource.

CORE, our open access repository, is a place presenters can share conference papers and other presentation materials. The deposit will get a DOI and structured metadata; it will be openly available and indexed. 

screenshot of core deposit page for a conference paper, which asks for conference title, dates, organizer.
The CORE deposit page for a conference paper.

Conference organizers can create a group for the event. Members of the group can use the discussion forum, calendar, documents library, and collection of CORE materials for asynchronous communication. For presenters who don’t want to share work in CORE (where work can’t be edited), Docs could be used instead of CORE. 

If the event doesn’t already have a site, organizers can create a WordPress site on the Commons to share information about the event and present conference materials. For more information, see What is the difference between a group and a site? 

The planning committee of the Global Digital Humanities Symposium recently decided that their event would not be held as planned. Instead of meeting in person, presentations will take place via Zoom. Below, you’ll find a guide adapted directly from the materials they are distributing to symposium participants, describing how to use their Commons group and CORE to participate in the event. You may find this example helpful to think about how you might communicate with your conference participants about using Humanities Commons.

Thank you to June Oh and the Global DH Symposium organizers for making this example available!

Continue reading “Using the Commons for Canceled or Virtual Events”

Infrastructure and Capacity Building

I was delighted this week to be notified that the Humanities Commons team has received an Infrastructure and Capacity Building Challenge grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

This grant is the foundation of a long-term sustainability strategy for the Commons, which includes hiring two new full-time staff members to join the team and contribute to the build out of both our technical infrastructure and our community and governance models.

Of course, being a challenge grant, it comes with significant responsibilities on our part: chiefly, the raising of a 3:1 match to augment the federal funding. But we are excited about the prospects, and looking forward to getting started.

Another aspect of this plan includes migrating the Commons’s hosting and fiscal sponsorship to Michigan State University. The MLA has committed enormous energy and resources to getting the Commons off the ground and will continue to contribute to the network as the founding member organization and a key development partner. A research university, however — and particularly one as focused on public-facing research and scholarship as MSU — can provide certain kinds of long-term stability for our growing network.

You’ll be hearing more from us about all our plans in the weeks ahead. In the meantime, I want to thank the NEH for their ongoing support for this project, and thank all the members of the Humanities Commons community for getting us to this point. We look forward to serving the future of your work for years to come.

By the Numbers

party decorations

The steady increase in membership on Humanities Commons since launch was been very gratifying for the small staff developing and maintaining the network. We started with a strong base of nearly 6,000 MLA Commons members, but began registering members immediately and have seen a steady flow of new members since launch.

Continue reading “By the Numbers”

HC User Spotlight: Luís Henriques


Luís Henriques is a musicologist and PhD candidate at the University of Évora. In this special birthday-edition HC User Spotlight, he reflects on how he has used CORE (over 250 deposits!) and sites hosted on the Commons to share his work.

I joined the Humanities Commons community in early 2017. The platform had launched in late 2016, so it was still in a very initial stage with not many users. I remember that at the time I was disappointed with surge of commercial advertisement and the introduction of a “premium” feature in academia.edu, where I had all of my research output. After reading an article posted by a senior scholar and user of that website where he raised some interesting questions for reflection, I started looking for a non-commercial platform. I found a 3-minute video of Nicky Agate at OpenCon 2016 on the The Right to Research Coalition YouTube channel. This led me to search for HC and found the website. In short, this is the story of me finding the Humanities Commons website. Continue reading “HC User Spotlight: Luís Henriques”

Building Community

Brightly colored bunting

When we launched Humanities Commons three years ago, our user base consisted of the 5,000-ish pre-existing members of MLA Commons. With generous support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, we expanded the network to include Commons sites for our first-round pilot partners, CAA, AJS, and ASEEES. Perhaps most importantly, though, we also opened the Humanities Commons hub to any interested user who wanted to join us, regardless of institutional affiliation, society membership, disciplinary home, employment status, or geographic location.

Continue reading “Building Community”

Creating Spaces for Collaboration


Humanities Commons has been an inspiration for us at Northeastern University. With a growing global campus network, and with numerous interdisciplinary initiatives and an active spirit of collaboration at the university, we adopted the Humanities Commons model and underlying software to enable and encourage the kinds of interactions we think will greatly improve higher education. Continue reading “Creating Spaces for Collaboration”

Top CORE Deposits of October 2019

a gloomily lit forest

The most downloaded CORE deposits in October 2019 included books, articles, and five syllabi—on topics ranging from American horror films to women’s medical writing:

  1. James Gifford, Modernism. Syllabus.
  2. Caitlin Duffy, EGL 194: Intro to Film. Syllabus.
  3. Edith Hall, The Return of Ulysses: A Cultural History of Homer’s Odyssey. Book.
  4. Ilana Gershon, “Media Ideologies: An Introduction.” Article.
  5. Ayesha Majid, “Marketing strategy of Lenovo laptops.” Report.
  6. Anastasia Salter, Introduction to Texts & Technology. Syllabus.
  7. Titus Stahl, “What is Immanent Critique?” Article.
  8. Rebecca Ruth Gould, Theorising Violence: Colonial Encounters and Anticolonial Reactions. Syllabus.
  9. Oscar Martinez-Peñate, El Salvador Sociología General. Book.
  10. Krista Roberts, Women Medical Writers/Writing Women’s Medicine. Syllabus.