Metadata is, broadly speaking, data about data: the "Date Created" field on a Word Document, for example, or the subject line of an email.
In a humanities context, metadata often refers to data about our objects of study. The title of a painting or a book might be metadata, for example. The data about objects kept by collecting institutions—libraries, museums, and archives—may include information including provenance, histories of exhibition or lending, related people and places, and prominent dates to name a few.
Some institutions may make this data publicly usable—and others may be willing to share it by request.
Using this data, it is possible to explore object histories at a step removed—to think about letters in an archive as networks of human connection, for example, or to visualize the shifting collecting priorities of an encyclopedic museum.
If you're interested in a collections data project, feel free to book a consultation with the DHLab and we can help you get started.