Research, especially on written artefacts, relies on prerequisites that it must help to sustain. On the one hand, this applies to the research process: cultural heritage objects must be examined responsibly, research data must be made accessible in the long term, and the expertise necessary to preserve written artefacts must be passed on globally. On the other hand, it also applies to all actions that accompany research work: against the backdrop of climate change and the ever-improving possibilities of digital communication, we must question habits like frequent travelling. At CSMC and the Cluster of Excellence UWA, we are aware of both dimensions of our responsibility. In what follows, we briefly explain what ‘sustainability’ means concretely for our work and what steps we take towards it.
Cutting-edge research into the sustainable material analysis of written artefacts is one of the central pillars of our work. Our threefold laboratory system (consisting of the Mobile Lab, the High Performance Lab, and the Container Lab) implements the methods developed in-house across the board. A special focus is on the development of non-invasive and non-destructive methods to ensure the long-term preservation of written artefacts. The unique combination of excellent research in the natural sciences and the humanities puts us in a position to develop and implement sustainable research methods and applications in this field.
Research Data Management
Sustainable research data management is a central feature of our work as too many resources have been wasted in building digital islands and digital cemeteries. Our research data will be made available in the long run according to the FAIR principles (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, Re-usable) and CARE principles of the Global Indigenous Data Alliance (Collective benefit, Authority to control, Responsibility, Ethics). We closely collaborate with the university’s Center for Sustainable Research Data Management and develop strategies to implement this in the humanities. Another crucial component is our strategy of Databasing on Demand, which implements common standards for the multitude of different data formats in the humanities. This makes federated searches in the different data corpora possible and thus opens up new perspectives to preserve and work with these data. We have already transferred numerous (partly historical) databases into a sustainable data base system and demand from all members of our Cluster to consider and plan the long-term preservation of research data in new projects.
For us, sustainable research implies implementing the principle of ‘research with instead of research about’. A large proportion of the written artefacts we work on originate from Asia and Africa where we collaborate with colleagues and institutions to make sure that our projects contribute to the long-term promotion of local research and local cultural heritage institutions such as libraries and archives. This is also reflected in the fact that most of the students in our MA programme Manuscript Cultures and a large proportion of the doctoral students in our Graduate School come from Asia and Africa. This way, we train people who will bring their expertise to libraries and archives and strengthen university research.
In our view, sustainable research implies ethical research. This is of particular importance to us as many of our colleagues work in regions where they regularly encounter objects and collections that are in a problematic state of preservation or threatened by man-made or natural disasters. In these cases, carrying out protective or conservative measures prior to or during research is imperative. For this reason, we have established a unit specifically dedicated to Cultural Heritage that is focusing on implementing sustainable solutions. CSMC has already worked successfully with external partners such as the United Nations, the Arcadia Fund (London), Germany’s Federal Foreign Office, and Gerda Henkel Foundation to train local conservators who can then stabilise collections in the long term.
At our Cluster, all decision-making will take into account the potential impact on the ecosystem and climate.*
Intellectual exchange with others is indispensable to scholarly work and work-related travel is often unavoidable. We will observe the following rules to promote the use of environmentally friendly means of transport and reduce the impact of our travel on the ecosystem and climate:
- We will use environmentally friendly means of transport, such as public railways, when we need to travel to destinations that can reasonably be reached without taking a flight.**
- We discourage our members from short-term stays (less than 7 days) outside of Europe, such as for lectures or conference visits, and encourage digital participation where possible.
- We are offsetting the CO2 emissions of all our flights in accordance with the Hamburg travel expenses act (Hamburgisches Reisekostengesetz, HmbRKG).
- We continue to increase the use of video systems to stream lectures and presentations by lecturers who are based abroad.
* We would like to thank our colleagues from the Cluster of Excellence Quantum Universe for the stimulus and their ideas on this topic.
** Spokespersons of the Cluster may approve requests for exceptions in justified cases.