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Posts Tagged ‘Digital Humanities’

Big Data” and “Digital Humanities” are two of the hot terms – “with a bullet,” as they used to say on the pop music charts – in the academy these days. The terms label a variety of projects: preserving large archives by digitizing them and crunching vast amounts of raw data to address topics in the humanities, such as visualizing the economic interconnections of ancient China, mapping the lines of influence among abstract artists, and finding out who authored the anonymous Federalist papers (although that was answered 50 years ago here).

An article in the summer issue of Social Science History by Marc Engal is a nice example of both the kinds of discoveries that might be found and the kinds of pitfalls that might be encountered while tramping through the Big Data jungle. Engal seeks to describe in numbers the thematic evolution of the American novel by drawing on Google’s “Ngram” program. This is a publicly available resource that tallies the words that have appeared in millions of books from before 1800 through 2008. We’ll see what a fertile terrain of  findings it offers — and how one can easily get tripped up exploring them.

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