Collaboratories - Advantages of collaboratories

The long period and wide geographical area that will be covered unavoidably require intensive exchange between researchers, not only of data but also of knowledge. Primary-source based comparisons for such an expanse of time and space require too much background and specific scientific knowledge to be covered by one single researcher. In the natural sciences this problem has been solved by setting up so-called collaboratories, or “laboratories without walls” (Kouzes, Myers, and Wulf, 1996).

 

These “collabs” are temporary research and data networks for exchange of knowledge, data and instruments – which is particularly important within the natural sciences – formed by peers in a specific research field and mostly centered around a specific research question (examples: http://www.scienceofcollaboratories.org/). For projects that make large-scale comparisons, the data do not only need to be supplemented with the standard metadata (archival reference, type of data, etc.) but also with what can be circumscribed as "meta-knowledge": knowledge about how to interpret the data, taking into account the cultural, political and socio-economic background of the particular regions. It has become impossible for researchers to encompass all necessary background information about such extensive geographical areas for such a long period of time.

 

Besides this, the collaboratory system can also enhance the quality of the collected data and accompanying metadata in several ways: by fine-tuning the dataformats from the start and by continuous internal quality control.

 

Usually collaboratories are dissolved and the data are made publicly available after the results for those questions have been published, whereby the participants usually act as co-authors. By means of well-defined rules and sanctions, the cooperation of the participating peers is guided.

 

Collaboratories have long failed to catch on within the Humanities, as comparative history has often been rather limited and based on secondary literature. Debates such as the Great Divergence and the rise of global and world history have, in the past decades, considerably increased the need for large scale databases with primary source material.

 

For more details on collaboratories: see also De Moor and van Zanden (2008).

 

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