Week Seven: Digital History

This week our class focused on Digital Humanities (DH), which is both a fascinating and yet intimidating new field. With many of the websites we read having links to more sites on Digital Humanities, I quickly found myself through the rabbit hole partly overwhelmed by the scope and technical aspect of DH. Nevertheless, I was able to pull some ideas out of the all the details.

One of the main things was how many uses that Digital Humanities had to offer in terms of data analysis and research. From examining texts to find most common words to creating 3D models of historic buildings, DH offers new ways to access and understand the material that historians work with. Indeed, after reading Gary Scales’ blog (http://www.urbandigitalhistory.com/#) I was fascinated by the use of mapping layers of data to visualize the information as it could be used to show trends over time and space as well as help see how the data interacts. Furthermore, while on Philly DH’s website, I followed a few links to come across the mapping of the republic of letters, a project by Stanford which traced the letters of people such as Voltaire or Franklin to see the treads in where majority of their letters went and who reviewed them. This project was interesting because it revealed that intra-national correspondence was much more prevalent then international correspondence. Furthermore, these maps allowed the historians to see connections between various correspondences, such as common recipients or even when letters where most likely to be sent or received. A similar project that caught my attention was Kieran Healy’s “A Co-Citation Network for Philosophy,” in which he traced topics in philosophy by centering them around who each author cites in order to demonstrate the conversations happening in the field. While the map he created can be quite overwhelming at first, when broken down it does a great job showing how all of these philosophers interacted.

One concern that all of these projects raised for me was the actual use of the computer programs since many historians, myself included, have very little computer science background and thus the ability to dive right into a Digital Humanities project seems quite daunting. Furthermore, reading Gary’s blog on his process on the various topics of DH, I was often intimidated because my lack of knowledge of coding and other programing techniques. However, after experimenting with programs like RAW and TimeMapper with their premade data points, I tried to create my own set of data to graph. While it took me a while to get use to the format needed to input data, I was able to create a simple map of the information based on U.S soccer teams wages compared to league standings (seen at the bottom of the blog after the better Stanford graph).

These uses of digitalized information completely revolutionized how I understand digital history since I used to simply view the most useful aspect of DH as uploading archival material to the internet for easier access. Now, after these readings it is clear that there are many more useful functions to Digital Humanities that can greatly improve the understanding of history. Indeed, while I have only done a brief examination of the field of Digital Humanities, I am excited to learn more about it in the future and to find ways to use it in my research.

Stanford’s the mapping of the republic of letters
Data graph: MLS teams compared to league standings (thicker line= higher overall wages) Reveals that higher cost of players does not equal high standings

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