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.

thumbnail of Hourglass Graphic (1)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.

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.


Further Links and Resources

WE1S Surveys on the Humanities

WE1S Focus Groups on the Humanities

Announcing WE1S Human Subjects Research,” Blog Post by Jessica Gang

Research Portfolio: WE1S Human Subjects Research, by Avery Martin (to come)

Human Subjects Methods Card


Human Subjects Research Team Members


Rebecca Baker

Abigail Droge

Helen Foley

Jessica Gang

Alan Liu

Avery Martin

Leila Stegemoeller

Chloe Willis


U Miami

Francesca Battista

Ashley Hemm

Lindsay Thomas

Alexandria Morgan

Tarika Sankar

Dieyun Song


Results and Key Findings

[to come]


With special thanks to Alanna Bartolini (Public Humanities Graduate Fellow with the Interdisciplinary Humanities Center at UCSB), Aleah Kiley, 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.