Joining Up Divided Data: The TEMPEST Database

We were very pleased to launch TEMPEST – our database of historical weather events – at this year’s RGS-IBG Annual Conference. With the support of the Geo team we organised a panel discussion and a small display of original and facsimile archive materials. Both were connected to a recent paper in Geo‘Dealing with the deluge of historical weather data: the example of the TEMPEST database’ – the journal’s first ‘data paper’.

Figure 2edited

‘The great frost’:  Frontispiece for The cold yeare 1614: A deepe snow: in which men and cattell have perished…or of strange accidents in this great snow, attributed to Thomas Dekker

Following an introductory post by the journal’s editors, in this contribution we wanted to reflect on our motivations for writing the paper, and creating TEMPEST, particularly in designing it as a freely accessible online resource.

Interest in historical weather is far from a new area of investigation. A number of well-known chronologies of British weather have been published and over the past 20-30 years, attempts have been made to produce searchable databases of historical weather information (instrumental data, proxy data and narrative descriptions of particular phenomena). It is widely recognised that these compilations of data or datasets have utility for the scientific study of climate, as well as satisfying the simple desire that many people have to know more about past meteorological events and their impacts on particular people and in specific places. However, in spite of rapid advances in technology, the growing amount of data (generated by labour intensive means) and the popularity of such resources, and the definite benefit that could come from uniting them, efforts largely remain separate. They are divided because they are technologically incompatible (the relevant data comes in many different formats covering instrumental observations to lengthy descriptive accounts in different languages, and database systems are constantly changing), or because they are funded only for finite periods. They can quickly become forgotten when new projects take priority or face obsolescence and lie in need of maintenance. They may also remain little known or largely indiscoverable, can be difficult to get to grips with or inaccessible to the general user.

As a research team we had some difficult conversations regarding the format, availability and deposit of our research data. It was a significant time investment to input the data into TEMPEST, time that could have been spent writing papers or our currently unfinished project book. However, we persevered and it now contains c. 18,000 event records – and we have already experienced the rewards. TEMPEST makes it possible to quickly see where we have gathered multiple narratives detailing the same event (creating a picture of the geographical extent of impact), and to piece together particular seasons or the weather of particular years or groups of years. Without TEMPEST these tasks would have required another significant time investment, and would have been reliant on the quality of our memory of the research data. Full recollection would have been an impossible challenge given the sheer quantity of data we have collected.

Although the creation of a freely available online resource was detailed in our original funding application to AHRC, as the project progressed and the volume (and quality) of our research data surpassed our expectations, team members were understandably reluctant to have our research data freely available before we had completed writing it up. However, the desire for others to use it, and our belief in its utility and popularity won over. Yet, even with an obligation to the AHRC to make our data available, but no dedicated arts and humanities data repository in the UK, it took some time to explore the various options that existed for depositing our dataset. We have just completed depositing our research data with CEDA (Centre for Environmental Data Analysis) where is it available for registered users to download as .csv files and analyse within Excel or other statistical software. A reference and DOI is provided for the dataset, alongside guidance notes relating to the data format, collection method and quality.

The database is also now ‘live’, though we may still change the url as a result of institutional moves and the conclusion of the funded period of the project.

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Putting our own research data ‘out there’ is not enough. Few people are likely to find it unless we engage in targeted publicity and promotion, and it remains the case that significant time investment is required to properly come to ‘know’ the data, and use it to its potential – it is quite difficult to just ‘dip in’. We hope to use some of the time and finances allocated by a AHRC ‘Follow on Funding’ project to produce some sample ‘database stories’, promote the resource, and to embed and reconnect it with the archival repositories from which we have drawn data. We will also circulate our Geo paper to researchers involved in connected initiatives throughout Europe and further explore how it might be informally ‘joined up’. We also hope that we’ll be able to trace usage of our research data, whether it be by other academics wanting to contextualise their own research, by climate scientists developing computer models, by members of the public interested in the weather history of the place where they live, or by archive professionals interested in linking with other archives through documentary connections. As publications relating to the project are completed, where funds can be secured we are publishing them through the gold Open Access route, and we have definitely received wider readership and more interest in our work as a result – we can now also include reference to our research data and encourage its use.

Lucy Veale is a Research Associate in the Department of History, University of Liverpool, Georgina Endfield is Professor of Environmental History at the University of Liverpool, and Sarah Davies is a Reader in the Department of Geography and Earth Sciences at Aberystwyth University. 

Open for collaboration

This week (Oct 19th-25th) is Open Access Week, with the theme of ‘Open for Collaboration’. Open Access Week is organised by SPARC, the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition, and this year’s theme aims to inspire conversations about how cooperation between stakeholders in the academic enterprise can lead to new forms of collaboration – whether that’s collaboration in research, collaboration in new publishing platforms, or collaboration between academic and policy communities in discussions about how open-access can become the new norm in scholarly publishing.

Here at Geo we are engaged in all of these types of collaboration, and we hope that our blog can become a springboard for new working relationships of all kinds.

In the first instance, the blog can offer authors and readers of our journal the opportunity to reach out to wider audiences. We are publishing blog posts alongside published Geo articles, which can be a great way of drawing attention to the topical relevance of an article, of situating it within wider scientific, political, environmental or cultural debates, or of telling some of the story behind the research which might not have made it into the journal article itself.

Evidence is growing that journal articles which are open access and which are publicised through social media such as blogs and Twitter can receive a greater readership which in turn can lead to more citations.[1] With our blog and social media presence, Geo can help scholars to take advantage of these new routes to wider research engagement (find us on Twitter and Facebook).

We also believe that these new opportunities can help develop connections which, in time, may lead to important new collaborative ventures. While we invite journal authors to comment on their own published papers, we often also seek out comments from interested readers – see for example the posts published along with Sabina Leonelli and colleagues’ paper on encouraging open science (see here and here), or Werner Krauss’ commentary on Mike Hulme’s piece on climate and culture. In this way, we hope that the Geo blog can spark new intellectual conversations and connections, opening up space for new collaborative relationships.

We hope that the Geo blog can also become a site for debating the shifting policy environment of open-access publishing. As open access becomes a key requirement in research assessment exercises in the UK for example, new questions are emerging about how access to open access – through the availability of resources to fund ‘gold’ open access publishing – is distributed across the academic landscape. We’re keen to encourage reflection on these and other issues, so if you have ideas for a post, don’t hesitate to get in touch!

Academia is inherently a collaborative enterprise – not just in the shape of research teams and multi-author publications, but in the relationships between individuals, institutions and policies, between researchers and the ‘subjects’ of their research, and in the deep well of knowledge from which we all draw in building our arguments and research programmes (for an example of this collaborative landscape, see this blog post on crowd-sourced geographic information). In making new knowledge, we collaborate with those who have gone before us, and with a diversity of people around us. Journals like Geo are part of this story of changing collaborative relationships within and beyond the academy, and we hope the blog can be a place to tell this story in new and exciting ways.

[1] See for example Gunther Eysenbach, ‘Can Tweets Predict Citations? Metrics of Social Impact Based on Twitter and Correlation with Traditional Metrics of Scientific Impact.’, Journal of Medical Internet Research, 13, 4 (2011); Melissa Terras, ‘The Impact of Social Media on the Dissemination of Research: Results of an Experiment’, Journal of Digital Humanities, 1, 3 (2012).

Geo: Geography and Environment. Open.

November 2014 has seen the celebrations for the 8th annual Open Access Week, seeking to promote open access as a new norm. It has also featured the announcement of the Anthropocene as the theme for the 2015 Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) annual conference in Exeter. Both raise questions of the relations between academic communities and academic communication, and the links between the practices of naming and the practices of research. These further prompt the question: why Geo? And why now?

Geo is the fourth geography journal, encompassing the breadth of the discipline, published by the RGS-IBG, in association with Wiley[1]. It joins three other successful Society journals, all established in different contexts, which, at their launch, drew different relations between academics, audiences, publishers and the learned society.  The Geographical Journal was launched in 1831 as the main forum for news from the RGS. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers was set up in 1935, facilitating academic communication amongst the growing group of university-based geographers.  Area followed in 1969, as a newsletter for the Institute of British Geographers (IBG), with the primary remit to share research group news.  All three have changed substantially as the institutions (RGS and IBG) have merged and evolved, and they now contribute in distinctive and complementary ways to further the work of the RGS-IBG, serve the community of academic geographers and connect readers in cognate disciplines, policy communities and the wider audience for geographical research.

These echoes appear in their names as well as their printed forms. The Geographical Journal was the regular and official record of a learned society, which both carried, and at times challenged, the structures privileging certain groups to produce authoritative geographical knowledge.  Transactions indicates the processes of exchange within an increasingly professionalised of scholarly community, building up Schools of Geography in universities in the UK. Area indicates location, but also a space allocated for a specific purpose: in this case the growing vibrancy of the research groups of the IBG, working in different sub-disciplinary areas. The scope and remit of these journals and the RGS-IBG have changed enormously since these publications were first introduced, nonetheless the geographical imaginaries in these journal titles say much about the changing sites of knowledge production and the means through which research has travelled to shape the complex disciplinary conversations that constitute Geography.

Geo joins this trajectory, but its launch indicates the landscapes of academic publishing are shifting once more.  The name Geo points towards at least three different aspects of these transformations. First, there is its own contemporary moment in the increasing ubiquity of ‘geo’ as a locational prefix to be found in the everyday landscapes of data production, circulation and dissemination. This appears in generic terms, such as the geotagging of data, geospatial analysis, or the potentials of the geoweb; but it also points to more proprietary practices such as ‘geofencing’, or popular pursuits like ‘geocaching’. It is a term which is both associated with and overspills geography’s disciplinary identity. There are a series of epistemic, as well as political, social and economic questions about how these now routinely recorded traces of location are mobilised, accessed and analysed by a wide variety of private and public institutions.

Second, in its earlier usage, and also indicated by the longer title Geography and Environment, there is the ontological aspect to the prefix of Geo in referring to the earth. This also derives its meaning in combination, drawing attention to the ways in which the materiality of earthly processes are increasingly recognised as critical constituents across both physical and human geography. This leads to renewed debates over disciplinary identity, as geography considers its position in relation to the emergence of the ‘Anthropocene’, as well as animating new questions, as a ‘geological turn’ takes root in previously disparate sub-disciplinary areas, like geopolitics or geoaesthetics.  There is more than disciplinary identity at stake in these questions. The proliferation of sites making up the distributed experiments of unintentional, and intentional, planetary geo-engineering raise significant challenges for the place, theory and practice of geographical debate.

Thirdly and finally, the title was almost an acronym; but not quite. Whilst Geography and Environment Open would have bought the two parts of the title together and made the ambitions of this first fully open access journal published by the RGS-IBG unmistakable, we held back on this point. We recognise facilitating the transition from these first steps in open access to more fully open participation across academic communities is going to be a complex part of conversations initiated by and in this new journal. But, there was a sense that as moves towards open access publishing gather pace, internationally and across interdisciplinary contexts, the explicit designation of ‘open’ in a journal title would quickly become redundant. Here we would draw attention to the recent provocations to the geographical community in Jenny Pickerill’s commentary on open access.  She concludes we need to both recognise that publishing is always political and to experiment with what works best in a period of rapid change.

We are looking forward to publishing our papers in progress and to new submissions which pick up questions over data, that progress debates over the geo, and that demonstrate how experiments with open access can contribute to new institutional norms promoting the productive redistribution of expertise.

Gail Davies, co-Editor

[1] The RGS-IBG also publishes the cross disciplinary journal WIRES Climate Change in association with Wiley and the Royal Meteorological Society.

Conference Updates

Launching a new online open access journal with the RGS-IBG and Wiley has been an exciting and interesting process. It has also, at times, raised some unexpected issues. Not least, what does it mean to launch an online journal that, as yet, has no content? How best to share the news that we are now open – really open – as well as signal the content we are hoping to publish?

The opening editorial has been a key part of this early exchange. This sets out what we want the journal to achieve with research papers, agenda-setting review essays, and innovative data papers, which advance opportunities for interdisciplinary, online and open exchange.

We are also delighted to be sponsoring the following sessions at the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) Annual International Conference 2014. We have been inspired by their commitments to collaboration, their conceptual inventiveness, their interest in digital and visual methods, and their desire to push the boundaries of academic exchange in productive ways. This is very much in the spirit of what we want Geo to publish and promote.

We would like to thank the organisers of these sessions, and the contributors to them, for joining us in widening awareness of the launch of Geo. We hope to attend many of these sessions and contribute to the exciting conversations around them.

The conference will be also be an occasion for attendees to meet the editors and publishers of Geo, ask questions and explore opportunities for submission. The Wiley stand will be open during conference hours and we will be joining them on Wednesday morning. We are happy to answer your questions about our activities, at any time, during the conference, and of course by email after.

Finally, no journal launch would be complete without the sponsored conference drinks. We are delighted to invite you all to the opening drinks on Tuesday 26 August, at about 19.45, after the Chair’s Opening Panel on Co-Producing Public Geographies.

We look forward to celebrating the journal launch later this month and to continue working with you on generating the content that will realise the journal’s aspirations into the future.

Gail Davies, co-Editor

Introducing the Geo Blog

It’s hard to describe the excitement and trepidation one feels when being involved in setting up a new journal, never mind a journal which breaks the mould of traditional working practises and embraces Open Access from the outset. Part of the trepidation lies with the acknowledgement that the market for academic journals is already a very packed field, yet the excitement is knowing that with Geo we have something distinct and important to offer our discipline. This includes the addition of this blog which has the potential to provide further perspectives on published articles in Geo.

My own contribution to this blog comes from an environmental and physical geography perspective. I should confess from the outset that my own publishing record has not so far included papers in geographical society journals. This is in the main because physical geographers tend to publish in their own discipline-specific journals. This means that debates across disciplines can be rather restricted because readerships are usually discipline-focussed too. A major goal of Geo therefore is to break down some of these barriers by providing a medium where submissions are actively sought from both human and physical geography researchers to the one journal, and where interdisciplinary research findings are particularly encouraged. Blog posts can help to break some of these barriers down even further, because the language of communication is usually more accessible to a wider audience, resulting in wider readership and interaction. Today, this is especially important since tackling global issues such as climate change and its impacts, and environmental inequalities, needs us to collaborate across disciplines.

We hope to commission a whole range of blog posts for Geo. First and foremost, blog posts should address papers, or themes brought up by papers, recently published in Geo. These blog posts may be written by authors themselves or by members of the Editorial Board, to provide a broader perspective on the work just published and make it accessible to a wider readership.

We also welcome expressions of interest from Geo readers who would like to contribute post(s) that engage with papers published in this journal. We encourage interventions that consider how Geo papers shape or challenge wider geographical and environmental debates: for example, the nature of interdisciplinary research in geography; or the role that geography has in shaping policy relevant to the environment and human well-being.

Enquiries should be made in the first instance to either of the Geo Blog editors Martin Mahony (martin.mahony@kcl.ac.uk) or Anson Mackay (ans.mackay@ucl.ac.uk).

Anson Mackay, co-Editor

Open for Submissions: Submit Now!

CoverGeo: Geography and Environment is a fully open access, international journal published by the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) and Wiley. It is dedicated to publishing high quality articles from across the spectrum of geographical and environmental research and has an interdisciplinary focus that spans the sciences, social sciences and humanities. Geo welcomes research contributions that bring new understandings to geographical research agendas, advance spatial research, foster methodological development, and address geographical enquiries in contemporary issues.

Reasons to publish in Geo:

  • immediate open access
  • high standard, rigorous peer review
  • articles enhanced by integrated hosting of multimedia and data content
  • fully compliant with all open access mandates
  • authors retain copyright – articles published under Creative Commons Licenses

Automatic Article Publication Charge waivers and discounts will be given to authors from countries on the Waivers and Discounts List. Authors should submit a waiver or discount request during the submission of their article.

Submit a Manuscript

Geo: Geography and Environment (Coming Soon)

Geo: Geography and Environment is a fully open access, international journal published by the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) and Wiley. It is dedicated to publishing high quality articles from across the spectrum of geographical and environmental research and has an interdisciplinary focus that spans the sciences, social sciences and humanities. Geo welcomes research contributions that bring new understandings to geographical research agendas, advance spatial research, foster methodological development, and address geographical enquiries in contemporary issues.

Reasons to publish in Geo:

  • immediate open access
  • high standard, rigorous peer review
  • articles enhanced by integrated hosting of multimedia and data content
  • fully compliant with all open access mandates
  • authors retain copyright – articles published under Creative Commons Licenses

Read the press release.