Absolutist, Pragmatist and Realist Approaches to Research Ethics in the Digital Humanities: The Case of the Schneerson Collection
Cultural Research in the Context of Digital Humanities, (Saint Petersburg: Asterion Press, 2013)
8 Pages Posted: 1 Aug 2014 Last revised: 19 Nov 2014
Date Written: September 15, 2013
Ethical absolutism would prohibit any use by researchers of material initially obtained illegally or unethically, whereas ethical pragmatism would determine whether any offsetting benefit could be salvaged from data obtained from irreversible injustices. Ethical realism would determine whether the data was originally collected under circumstances that would have been considered illegal, dishonest or unduly coercive at the time and, if so, whether its use would create lasting, negative impacts on a particular people or community. Testing the three ethical approaches against subjects of digital humanities research, such as WikiLeaks, indicates that ethical realism is the most suitable one. Applying ethical realism to the case of the Schneerson Collection leads to the conclusion that digital humanities researchers should be permitted access to the part of the Collection referred to as "the Library", which consists of sacred Jewish texts and books dating back to 1772, but it is advisable for access to the part referred to as "the Archive", which consists of handwritten notes and correspondence of several generations of Rebbes, to be restricted to persons specifically approved by the Chabad organization.
Keywords: Research ethics; digital humanities; Schneerson collection; act of state doctrine; cultural property
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation