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Welcome to Exploring Big Historical Data: The Historian’s Macroscope, a co-written manuscript by Shawn Graham, Ian Milligan, and Scott Weingart.
Over the next few months, and into April 2014, we’re going to be writing We wrote this book in public. The book will be published by Imperial College Press, a forward-thinking publisher of scientific texts and monographs, which has allowed us to write using the CommentPress platform. You may have seen a few other titles in action – such is the fun of working with a marketing department that knows how to title a book!
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The finished book differs in coherence, structure and content as a natural result of the peer review and editing process – in due course you’ll be able to purchase a physical or digital edition (we’ll link to it).
Our aim is to complete the manuscript by April 2014 July 2014 (that’s still within 12 months of signing the contract though!) We submitted the manuscript at the end of July, and it was peer-reviewed by three anonymous reviewers, whose care, attention, and perceptive comments helped us improve the manuscript greatly. We are now revising the manuscript in the light of those comments, and in the light of comments left here by our readers. The whole thing will be sent off to the publisher this month (Nov 2014) for production. Some things, like ’8000 Canadians’ won’t make it into the final book, but will remain on this site; new additions have been made to fill holes identified by the reviewers.
¶ 4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 This site will be renovated this month to host code, data files, extra essays, and links to further reading and research. The original bits and pieces (still visible at right in the Table of Contents) will remain accessible on the site, but will not be displayed so prominently once the renovation is complete.
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In the mean time, do feel free to read, comment, critique, enjoy, and use. Your comments remain your intellectual property. Road test our material with your classes! Engage with us on Twitter, where Shawn, Ian, and Scott can be found trying out and debating ideas in public.
What are we writing this book for?
¶ 6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 2 We believe that the Digital Humanities is partly about understanding what digital tools have to offer, but also (and perhaps more importantly), what ‘digital’ does to how we understand the past, and ourselves. In The Historian’s Macroscope, we peel back the layers of a particular approach to big data using topic modeling and network analysis. These techniques, which are growing in popularity in the humanities, need to be examined critically as they have been ported from divergent disciplines and domains.
¶ 7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 We further provocatively argue that if historians are to continue as leaders in understanding the social and cultural past, a shift in training and standards is required. The digital turn has generated a plethora of born-digital and digitized sources, offering both challenges and exciting new avenues of inquiry. Using computational approaches like social network analysis and text mining enables new explorations of historical cultures and larger scale synthetic understandings of the past.
Why write this book, now?
¶ 8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 The Digital Humanities have flourished at a moment when digital big data is becoming easily available. Yet there is a gap in the scholarly literature on the ways these data can be explored to construct cultural heritage knowledge, for both research and in our teaching and learning. We are on the cusp of needing to grasp big data approaches to do our work, whether it’s understanding the underlying algorithms at work in our search engines, or needing to design and use our own tools to process comparatively large amounts of information. This book will fill that gap, and in its live-writing approach, will set the direction for the conversation into the future.
¶ 9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 We subtitled this book Exploring Big Data through a Historian’s Macroscope to suggest both a tool and a perspective. We are not implying that this is the way historians will ‘do’ history when it comes to big data; rather, it is but one piece of the toolkit, one more way of dealing with ‘big’ amounts of data that historians are now having to grapple with. What is more, a ‘macroscope’, a tool for looking at the very big, deliberately suggests a scientist’s workbench, where the investigator moves between different tools for exploring different scales, keeping notes in a lab notebook. Similarly, an approach to big data for the historian (we argue) needs to be a public approach, with the historian keeping an open notebook so that others may explore the same paths through the information, while possibly reaching very different conclusions. This is a generative approach: big data for the humanities is not only about justifying a story about the past, but generating new stories, new perspectives, given our new vantage points and tools.
Who are we?
¶ 10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 2 Our full biographies can each be found on our websites, but in a nutshell: Shawn Graham is an assistant professor of digital humanities in the Department of History at Carleton University, Ian Milligan is an assistant professor of digital and Canadian history in the Department of History at the University of Waterloo, and Scott Weingart is a doctoral candidate in the School of Informatics and Computing at Indiana University.