Blog Post #3

Data analysis in regards to the study of history poses some interesting ideas and approaches. To begin with, it could address the issues raised by Larry Cebula in his open letter. Using data analysis such as keyword searching a researcher in the hypothetical 22nd century could cut through all the useless data of our digital footprints to find the relevant data they quest for. On that note, Cebula’s article raises a salient issue in the realm of digital history, much in the same way Susan Sontag’s Born-digital Archive did: the digital footprint of a single individual is massive. Even with our individual drive to preserve or delete our own digital pasts as needed, the phrase “the internet is forever” is fairly accurate, depending on the scenario. I recall an article from years ago that claimed there are more videos uploaded to YouTube in a day than a person could watch in their entire lifetime. While digital research into a single individual’s past online may not rival this mass of data, it does at least put things in perspective. According to more recent studies, 300 or more hours of videos are uploaded to YouTube every minute

Much in the way this graph contextualizes the statement, data analysis could similarly help put historical topics in perspective. While I have a poor grasp of coding and programming, I do at least understand that creating algorithms or charts, maps, and graphs could provide a lot of extra information for a historical topic; far beyond what a single book could contextualize. For example, a map indicating where Star Trek fanzines were published could help contextualize the fandom geographically, and also potentially socioeconomically. A graph could indicate the rise of K/S (the acronym for the homoerotic relationship of Kirk and Spock that became popular in the fandom) over time within the fandom. This is theoretical of course, but the potential applications to see historical data sets as a whole, rather than individual components, could be fascinating.

I do also highly agree with the belief that Historians should publicize their research methods beyond simply presenting a complete, finished product. This is why historiography exists, and research approaches should be included in this, beyond simply indicating what sources were used in footnotes and bibliographies (though this is a good start). By highlighting the process and approaching research as a part of the finished product and not solely as means to an end, it would de-mystify the field and potentially make it far more approachable.

Further Reading:

Larry Cebula, “An Open Letter to the Historians of the 22nd Century: Sorry for all the Stuff”
Lincoln Mullen, Computational Historical Thinking (1.1 & 1.3)
Frederick W. Gibbs and Trevor J. Owens, “The Hermeneutics of Data and Historical Writing”
Stéfan Sinclair and Geoffrey Rockwell, “Text Analysis and Visualization”

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