Week 7: Data, Textual Analysis, and the Historian

Summary

This week focuses on the problem of so-called large data sets and their analysis.  As more and more data becomes computer searchable, historians have to add new methodologies to their research toolkits.  Textual analysis (a.k.a. text mining), using computers to interpret large corpora, is one solution to the seemingly overwhelming amount of information available to the modern researcher.  We will focus on understanding what textual analysis is and some of the tools that scholars have developed to facilitate the interpretation of large corpora.

Outline

I.  Discussion: What is textual analysis and big data? (1 hr)
II.  Break (5 min)
III.  The Old Bailey: Design (30 min)
IV. Break (5 min)
V.  The Old Bailey: Statistics (45 min)

Assignments (due before class)

  • Blog Post (500 words): Discuss The Old Bailey Online with a special focus on textual analysis.  Consider the following questions.  In what ways does the Old Bailey Online provide resources for analyzing big data sets? What kinds of questions can you answer with the tools. What kinds of questions are you unable to answer with the tools? What types of tools would you like to see or use using this data set?
  • Weekly Twitter Assignment
  • Weekly WordPress Comment Assignment

Required Reading

The first three readings below define “textual analysis” and give a few examples of its use in the discipline of history. Having discussed Moretti, you are already aware that this type of analysis does not necessarily replace other forms of analysis. Rather it adds another layer, forcing us to re-problematize older questions and even create new ones. While you read these pieces, think about the various ways that these approaches could be used in the public history context. While reading Tim Hitchcock’s article, be sure to follow some of the links and look up some of the projects that he cites. Play with them a bit and get a sense of the nature of their interfaces.

In this final section of the reading, we are going to look more closely at one project, The Old Bailey Online, that went online several years ago. This is one of the most cited and successful digital history projects in recent history  Visit the website and familiarize yourself with its content.  Pay particular attention to “Doing Statistics.”  In what ways does the Old Bailey Online provide resources for analyzing big data sets? What kinds of questions can you answer with the tools. What kinds of questions are you unable to answer with the tools? What types of tools would you like to see or use using this data set?

Optional Video

Resources

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