Heurist: a generic database for the humanities and social sciences

Many digital humanities projects – individual as well as collective – require an infrastructure capable of managing research data that is generally rich, heterogeneous, imperfect and highly interconnected. While creating a simple database with basic input/output is affordable for anyone, it takes much more to make a system that is commensurate with our data and useful for our needs. Any Information System (IS) for a digital humanities project, even a ‘simple’ one, must allow for complex queries, rendering of interactive and editable results (read, list, count, map, network etc.), export of data in various formats, sustainability, and possibly a template for group work and/or selective publication of data on the web. Its development is usually complex and requires extensive technical knowledge and programming time, with a non-negligible risk of total or partial failure.

Heurist is a free service based on an open source database (MySQL) that can meet most research programme needs. Developed over the past 13 years as part of Professor Ian Johnson‘s research work with dozens of research projects in the humanities and social sciences, it aims to give control over its information system back to the researcher rather than the computer scientist. Perfectly suited to rich, heterogeneous and interconnected data, it provides a wide range of analytical functions from the earliest stages of database creation. A researcher can autonomously in a web browser and without programming – sometimes in less than a day – build and even publish on the web his datasets with a set of complex processing, search and representation functions (which would otherwise require weeks of highly technical programming). Multi-language data (including non-Latin and right-left characters) is also supported, although the basic interface is in English for the time being.

Once built, most databases are difficult to modify and expensive to maintain (server, updates, error resolution, etc.). Heurist, because there is only one maintenance point per service, allows local databases to be updated as the software evolves, and quick and effortless access to new features implemented by the community. Heurist was initially deployed on the University of Sydney’s servers and is now deployed on the TGIR Huma-num’s servers (description: HeuristNetwork.org)

The platform is available at heurist.huma-num.fr.

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