It is obvious that new media and new technologies are changing the ways historians can gather and present the past. But the explosion of digital and online sources make possible a much more profound transformation of historical research. This week and next we will discuss the implications of the digital age for the very questions historians can ask and the answers we may find. For instance: every year we are creating an untold amount of digital information. In 2003, researchers at the School of Information Management and Systems at UC Berkeley estimated that the amount of new information that had been created the previous year was about 37,000 times larger than the entire book collection of the Library of Congress–and digitally speaking, 2003 was some time ago. Such an abundance of sources may require historians to rethink many of their basic methods. How will we make sense of so much information? What new research questions and new methodologies does the digital age allow–or demand?
Week 05 Readings
- Stuart Fox, “Digital Age Presents New Problems for Historians,” TechNewsDaily, 16 July 2010.
- Roy Rosenzweig, “Scarcity or Abundance? Preserving the Past in a Digital Era,” American Historical Review 108:3 (June 2003).
- William Turkel, “Who is in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography?” “The Adams Effect,” “Text Mining the Dictionary of Canadian Biography,” Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and “The Spectrum from Mining to Mashup,” Digital History Hacks, January-October 2006. (Optional: For a look at a more involved project, see Bill’s series of posts on constructing a machine learner to mine the trial records of the Old Bailey Online.)
- Tom Scheinfeldt, “Sunset for Ideology, Sunrise for Methodology?” Found History, 13 March 2008.
- Dan Cohen, “Searching for the Victorians,” DanCohen.org, 4 October 2010.
Week 05 Homework
Do some text mining. This week we’re talking about tools humanists can use to process large amounts of text and facilitate exploration. Some of these techniques require programming skills, but many do not. The Canadian TAPoR project is a collection of resources that bring text processing and analysis within the reach of almost any scholar. Try choosing a historical text from those available and then running it through one of the TAPoR “recipes.” What kinds of things can you learn about a work this way?
You can also explore the TIME Magazine Corpus, which lets you search and analyze the 100 million words of text that have appeared in TIME magazine from the 1920s to today. Click on some of the sample queries in the text panel to see how they were constructed. Now make some of your own queries. What can you find? What kinds of historical questions could be explored in this way?