WE1S Human Subjects Research

WE1S “human subjects” research grounds big data study in our own communities, inspiring local actions that can be scaled and adapted.

What is human subjects research and why include it in a digital humanities project?

In addition to applying digital research methods, WE1S carried out human subjects research pilot projects at UC Santa Barbara (Spring 2019) and the University of Miami (Spring 2020) with IRB approval.1 Research consisted of 1) a survey, open to both undergraduate and non-undergraduate participants, with questions about educational background, the process of choosing a major, and experiences with the humanities, and 2) a series of focus groups in which participants discussed their perceptions of the humanities, learned about WE1S’s digital methods, and gave feedback on selected materials.
thumbnail of Hourglass Graphic (1)
The WE1S human subjects workflow
The goals of WE1S’s human subjects research were twofold. First, we wanted to understand how people experience the humanities in our own communities and put the “close reading of a campus” in conversation with a larger panorama of research about public perceptions of the humanities at a big-data scale. By inviting members of our communities into our research process at an early stage, we could provide space for human perspectives within a computational workflow.2 Second, we wanted to access points of view that were not adequately represented in our corpus of news materials, such as the voices of first-generation college students.
Human subjects research can also help WE1S make recommendations for moving from research to action. Informed by the interlinked processes of big-data research and human subjects research, we can develop advocacy practices directly responsive to our immediate communities and campuses. We can also build from these local experiences to suggest ways that others could ask their own research questions and create their own solutions elsewhere.

What did we find?

Based on our Human Subjects Research, we've reached a number of Key Findings, helping us to understand how members of our own communities perceive the humanities and how people experience the relationships between academic majors. Many of our results can usefully be put in conversation across the University of Miami and the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Perceptions of the humanities:

(Click on each card for a larger image)

Want to find out more about our research?

Click below to learn about our WE1S Surveys and Focus Groups on the humanities:

How can we take action, based on our research?

Our Human Subjects Research helps us to understand how people experience the humanities in our own communities, as well as where possible barriers to communication or access lie. Building from this research, our teams have developed a number of suggestions for ways that we might foster communication and engagement around the humanities in our own communities. We hope that others can repurpose and adapt our ideas in ways that address their particular needs.

Foster Cross-Disciplinary Dialogue:

[More action ideas to come!]

Want to build on our research and learn more about how people experience the humanities in your own community?

The process of carrying out human subjects research was a rewarding learning experience for our WE1S team. But there's always so much more we could do! We encourage other researchers to build on our work by continuing to ask questions with our datasets and conducting their own research as well.
[To come - Notes to future researchers]
[To come - IRB materials]

Further Resources

Our Team

Human subjects research has represented a significant collaboration among WE1S project members. Research was carried out at UC Santa Barbara by Rebecca Baker, Jeremy Douglass, , Abigail Droge, Helen FoleyJessica Gang, Alan Liu, Avery Martin, Leila Stegemoeller, and Chloe Willis, and at the University of Miami by Francesca Battista, Suchismita Dutta, Ashley Hemm, Alexandria MorganLindsay Thomas, Ruth Trego, Tarika Sankar, and Dieyun Song.
Members of the University of Miami Human Subjects TeamMembers of the UC Santa Barbara Human Subjects Research Team
Members of the U. Miami (left) and UC Santa Barbara (right) Human Subjects Research Teams
With special thanks to Alanna Bartolini (Public Humanities Graduate Fellow with the Interdisciplinary Humanities Center at UCSB), Aleah Kiley, Raymond Steding, and the generous and knowledgeable staff at the Offices of Research at UCSB and U Miami.


1 In research, “human subjects” means “a living individual about whom an investigator … obtains (1) data through intervention or interaction with the individual or (2) identifiable private information” (UCSB Office of Research). “IRB” is an “institutional  review board” overseeing the ethics of such research.
2 This goal of foregrounding the human within the digital is conceptually similar to that behind our “Grounded Theory” approach, as well.