This Year


It’s been a year.

I find myself saying that a lot lately, for reasons that you can probably imagine. Much about the last year has been disheartening, infuriating, anxiety-producing.

But a few good things stand out, and one of them has been the extraordinary first year of Humanities Commons.

We’re thrilled to have the chance to celebrate this first anniversary with all of you, and we’re honored to have had the opportunity to be part of such a dynamic project. Others of my friends and colleagues here assembled will tell you about some of the particular challenges, successes, and continuing struggles in the platform’s ongoing development. I want to share just a few things about the history of Humanities Commons, as well as the work we’re doing today to provide for its sustainable future.

The network that became Humanities Commons began with the 2013 launch of MLA Commons, which was a social network and scholarly communication platform provided by the Modern Language Association for use by its members. I was at the time the director of scholarly communication at the MLA, and it was clear to us that in order to remain relevant to our members, the organization needed to provide means for them to communicate and share their work directly with one another.

After the launch, however, we very quickly heard from MLA members that they wanted to use the platform to collaborate with colleagues in other disciplines as well. We also heard from colleagues in other humanities-based scholarly organizations that they were hoping to provide a similar platform for use by their members, and we knew that our memberships were very likely to have some overlaps. So we began a pilot project to see if it were possible to develop a federated platform, allowing scholarly organizations to provide Commons-based networks for their members and allowing those members to access all of the networks to which they belong.

We launched Humanities Commons in December 2016 with three such networks — MLA Commons, AJS Commons, and ASEEES Commons — plus a shared hub that not only allows the members of those three societies to collaborate but also allows any interested user, from anywhere in or around the humanities, to create a free account, participate in discussions, and share their work with the world. We expanded the network this summer to include CAA Commons, and we’ll be bringing more organizations on board soon. We’re grateful to have experienced a steady, sustainable rate of growth in membership over the last year, and even happier to see that growth begin to accelerate in recent weeks.

The planning and development for Humanities Commons were undertaken by the MLA as a service to the profession, as well as to its sister societies, with the goal of providing an open-source, scholar-governed alternative to the available commercial services. That development was partially supported through generous grants from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities. However, grant funding is not a business model; funders expect a project such as this to develop a sustainability plan to ensure its future. And that’s one of the key things we’re working on this year. We are committed to an ethic of collective, collaborative, sustainable development, and this next phase of our work is focused on just that. Over the next several months, we’ll be working with a group of prospective partner societies to produce a comprehensive business and sustainability plan to ensure the network’s future, as well as a governance model that will ensure that the network’s sustaining partners have oversight of its operations and a voice in its future development.

As I noted in a personal blog post a few months back, however, real sustainability isn’t just about revenue generation and cost recovery. It’s about relationships, about personal and institutional commitment, about the willingness to work together toward the long-term.

We’re lucky to have had the amazing partners, collaborators, funders, and friends without whom we could never have gotten to this point. Huge thanks to all of them, and to all of you — and may the year ahead be even better.

Top CORE Deposits in March 2018

1. Ayesha Majid, “Marketing Strategy of Lenovo Laptops.” Report. Downloaded 419 times in March 2018.

2. José Angel García Landa, “Aristotle’s Poetics.” Article. Downloaded 289 times in March 2018.

3. Nicky Agate, Rebecca Kennison, Stacy Konkiel, Christopher P. Long, Jason Rhody, Simone Sacchi, Humanities Values Infographic. Image. Downloaded 235 times in March 2018.

4. Tama Leaver, Cameron Neylon, Alkim Ozaygen, Lucy Montgomery, “Getting the Best Out of Data for Small Monograph Presses: A Case Study of UCL Press.” Article. Downloaded 145 times in March 2018.

5. Jim McGrath, Alicia Peaker, “Our Marathon: The Role of Graduate Student and Library Labor in Making the Boston Bombing Digital Archive.” Book chapter. Downloaded 122 times in March 2018.

Implementing Global Search & Personalized Suggestions for the Commons

a pile of jigsaw puzzle pieces

Humanities Commons is powered by WordPress, and its social features like groups and member profiles depend on BuddyPress. Because of the way groups and members are stored in the database, there was no easy way for users to search all the content on the site in a single interface. Earlier this year we implemented a solution to this problem: ElasticPress-BuddyPress. Continue reading “Implementing Global Search & Personalized Suggestions for the Commons”

Doing What You Can

Endangered Data Week logo

It’s only been a year? It seems like two—yet there is one moment since the launch of Humanities Commons that stands out in my memory as particularly rewarding. Like many, I’ve grown increasingly concerned about access to data. I followed the Data Refuge events last spring. I participated in the March for Science in Princeton (since the crowd was about 4000:1 pro-science, it wasn’t exactly a challenge). We on the Humanities Commons team were of course aware of the proposed plans to shutdown the NEH and NEA, so when Kathleen Fitzpatrick suggested we mark Endangered Data Week by archiving all the white papers that have originated from grants issued by the NEH’s Office of Digital Humanities, I was immediately intrigued. Continue reading “Doing What You Can”

Afterimages: Hosting an Online Exhibition on the Commons


Not long ago my colleague, Catherine Burdick, and I launched Afterimages, an online exhibition about the political graffiti that often stretches across the most prominent wall of Chile’s most iconic church. Selecting Humanities Commons as the project’s digital home was the first major conversation of our collaboration, and it remains one of the core decisions we have never reconsidered in the months of experimenting since. Continue reading “Afterimages: Hosting an Online Exhibition on the Commons”

Sharing All the Scholarly Things


When I started my first non-academic job, I asked myself, “What am I going to do with my dissertation?” It seemed such a waste that I’d put so much time and effort into original research, only to have it languish behind the locked doors of my alma mater (finding the time to turn it into a monograph wasn’t going to be an option). And as I’ve continued to work outside the academy, and the focus of my research has shifted from 19th-century French literature to scholarly communication, the kind of outputs I create have shifted too, towards what is often deemed “grey” literature: white papers, blog posts, reports. Humanities Commons allows me to express that shift with a holistic profile that represents not two (or more) discrete periods in my life, but a continuum of evolving humanities expertise. Continue reading “Sharing All the Scholarly Things”

Community, Not Clicks

Among the unsettling and depressing lessons of the last year, the darker aspects of digital platforms has stood out. Online services that we have relied on for communication and that have portrayed themselves as jovial and chatty town squares have been unmasked as much grimmer places with legions of bad actors. Publishing and collaboration channels that seemed to the casual observer as nonprofit venues were uncovered as merely nonprofitish, and were either sold or sought to add revenue in ways that conflicted with the desired activities and ethics of researchers.

Continue reading “Community, Not Clicks”

Teaching and Learning with the Commons


A core value for me, as a scholar, is the open exchange of ideas—among scholars and among the public. Implementing this value requires access and transparency. As gratified as I’ve been, over the past decade or so, to see the growth of open-access publication and the democratized dissemination of knowledge, I have been increasingly dismayed at the financial motives and quality of many of the platforms that have emerged. Importantly, I have been concerned about the inequalities they elide and, at times, contribute to. Continue reading “Teaching and Learning with the Commons”

Humanities Commons and the Cultivation of Sustainable Communities

Platypus at MSU

This post originally appeared on Christopher P. Long’s blog, and  is cross-posted from there.

As we navigate the intense period of transformation in human communication through which we are living, identifying ways to nurture sustainable communities through which scholarship can be shared, discovered, and enhanced gains urgency. So many of the platforms through which we might cultivate scholarly lives together — Facebook, Twitter, Google, — are compromised by business models designed to maximize profit rather than advance scholarship. Continue reading “Humanities Commons and the Cultivation of Sustainable Communities”

Happy Birthday Humanities Commons


This is a guest post by Brett Bobley, the Chief Information Officer for the National Endowment for the Humanities, and is cross-posted from the blog of the NEH’s Office of Digital Humanities.

“It’s like arXiv, but for the humanities.”

What? Say that again?

“It’s like arXiv, but for the humanities.”

So my memory isn’t perfect, but I’m pretty sure it was late 2011, riding on a shuttle bus to the Berlin 9 conference, when Kathleen Fitzpatrick made that pitch to me.

Continue reading “Happy Birthday Humanities Commons”