Although there has been a drive in the cultural heritage sector to provide large-scale, open data sets for researchers, we have not seen a commensurate rise in humanities researchers undertaking complex analysis of these data sets for their own research purposes. This article reports on a pilot project at University College London, working in collaboration with the British Library, to scope out how best high-performance computing facilities can be used to facilitate the needs of researchers in the humanities. Using institutional data-processing frameworks routinely used to support scientific research, we assisted four humanities researchers in analysing 60,000 digitized books, and we present two resulting case studies here. This research allowed us to identify infrastructural and procedural barriers and make recommendations on resource allocation to best support non-computational researchers in undertaking ‘big data’ research. We recommend that research software engineer capacity can be most efficiently deployed in maintaining and supporting data sets, while librarians can provide an essential service in running initial, routine queries for humanities scholars. At present there are too many technical hurdles for most individuals in the humanities to consider analysing at scale these increasingly available open data sets, and by building on existing frameworks of support from research computing and library services, we can best support humanities scholars in developing methods and approaches to take advantage of these research opportunities.