Public Release: 

8 international research funders announce the winners of the 2011 Digging into Data challenge

Economic & Social Research Council

Analysing 600 years of music, drilling down into population databases, understanding social unrest through digitised newspapers - these are just some of the new lines of research that the winners of the second Digging into Data Challenge will now undertake as part of an international competition that promotes innovative humanities and social science research using large-scale data analysis.

Funded by eight international research organisations from four countries the successful 14 teams announced today involve a mixed group of researchers from the United Kingdom, Canada, the Netherlands and the United States and will receive grants of over £3 million in total to investigate how computational techniques typically applied to the sciences can also be applied to change the nature of humanities and social sciences research. Each team is a collaboration between scholars, scientists, archivists and librarians from leading universities worldwide.

The successful projects being led by UK organisations are:

1. Cascades Islands or Streams? (Indiana, Wolverhampton and Montreal universities) will measure the impact of humanities and social science research on traditional scholarly sources but also across social networks, blogs and other informal modes of communication

2. ChartEx (Washington, Leiden, York, Toronto, Brighton and Columbia universities) will develop new ways of exploring medieval charters in their full text versions

3. Digging into Connected Repositories (The European Library Office, Open university) will analyse the effects of open access publishing on research

4. Digging by Debating (universities of Indiana, East London, Dundee and London) will develop and implement a workbench called InterDebate, with the goal of digging into data provided by millions of expert books and articles

5. Digging into Metadata (Universities of Drexel, Manchester and Glamorgan) will create new metadata tags to help researchers discover information across multiple repositories

6. Electronic Locator of Vertical Interval Successions (ELVIS) (Massachusetts Institute of Technology, universities of Aberdeen, McGill and Yale) will study changes in Western musical style from 1300 to 1900, using the digitised collections of several large music repositories

7. Imagery Lenses for Visualizing Text Corpora (Universities of Utah and Oxford) will explore whether data visualisation can help researchers make new observations and generate new hypotheses about literature and linguistics

8. Integrated Social History Environment for Research (ISHER)-Digging into Social Unrest (Manchester, Illinois and Tilburg universities and International Institute of Social History) will develop an integrated tool to help social history researchers use sophisticated text mining

9. Integrating Data Mining and Data Management Technologies for Scholarly Inquiry (University of California, Berkeley; University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; University of Liverpool; the Internet Archive and JSTOR) will integrate large-scale collections into a stored and managed preservation space

10. Mining Microdata (Minnesota, Leicester, Guelph, Alberta, Montreal and Essex universities) will make use of make use of data-mining technology to exploit one of the largest population databases in the world originally digitised for genealogical research

11. Trading Consequences (Universities of Edinburgh, York and St Andrews) will examine the economic and environmental consequences of commodity trading during the 19th century using information extraction techniques to study large corpora of digitised documents


Total programme funding is approximately £3,075,000.

For further information contact:

ESRC Press Office:

Danielle Moore
Telephone 01793-413122

Jeanine Woolley
Telephone 01793-413119


1. Digging into Data: The idea behind the Digging into Data Challenge is to address how big data changes the research landscape for the humanities and social sciences. Now that we have massive databases of materials used by scholars in the humanities and social sciences - ranging from digitized books, newspapers, and music to transactional data like web searches, sensor data or cell phone records - what new, computationally-based research methods might we apply? As the world becomes increasingly digital, new techniques will be needed to search, analyse, and understand these everyday materials. Digging into Data challenges the research community to help create the new research infrastructure for 21st century scholarship.

2. Funders information: The eight sponsoring research funders are the Arts and Humanities Research Council (United Kingdom), the Economic and Social Research Council (United Kingdom), the Institute of Museum and Library Services (United States), the Joint Information Systems Committee (United Kingdom), the National Endowment for the Humanities (United States), the National Science Foundation (United States), the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (Netherlands), and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (Canada). The first round of the Digging into Data Challenge held in 2009 was sponsored by four international funders and led to breakthrough projects that received coverage in the New York Times, Nature, the Globe and Mail, and Times Higher Education.

3. JISC is the UK education's technology consortium for higher and further education.

4. Each year the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) provides approximately £110 million from the Government to support research and postgraduate study in the arts and humanities, from languages and law, archaeology and English literature to design and creative and performing arts. In any one year, the AHRC makes approximately 700 research awards and around 1,100 postgraduate awards. Awards are made after a rigorous peer review process, to ensure that only applications of the highest quality are funded. The quality and range of research supported by this investment of public funds not only provides social and cultural benefits but also contributes to the economic success of the UK.

5. The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is the UK's largest organisation for funding research on economic and social issues. It supports independent, high quality research which has an impact on business, the public sector and the third sector. The ESRC's total budget for 2011/12 is £203 million. At any one time the ESRC supports over 4,000 researchers and postgraduate students in academic institutions and independent research institutes.

6. Created in 1965 as an independent federal agency, the National Endowment for the Humanities supports learning in history, literature, philosophy, and other areas of the humanities. NEH grants enrich classroom learning, create and preserve knowledge, and bring ideas to life through public television, radio, new technologies, museum exhibitions, and programs in libraries and other community places

7. The Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) is the primary source of federal support for the nation's 123,000 libraries and 17,500 museums. The Institute's mission is to create strong libraries and museums that connect people to information and ideas. The Institute works at the national level and in coordination with state and local organizations to sustain heritage, culture, and knowledge; enhance learning and innovation; and support professional development.

8. The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering. In fiscal year (FY) 2009, its budget is $9.5 billion, which includes $3.0 billion provided through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to over 1,900 universities and institutions. Each year, NSF receives about 44,400 competitive requests for funding, and makes over 11,500 new funding awards. NSF also awards over $400 million in professional and service contracts yearly.

9. The Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) funds thousands of top researchers at universities and institutes and steers the course of Dutch science by means of subsidies and research programmes.

10. The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) is an independent federal government agency that funds university-based research and graduate training through national peer-review competitions. SSHRC also partners with public and private sector organizations to focus research and aid the development of better policies and practices in key areas of Canada's social, cultural and economic life.

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