The National Endowment for the Humanities, in partnership with the National Science Foundation, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, and the Joint Information Systems Committee of the United Kingdom, have just awarded their first grants in the Digging into Data Challenge (H/T Wired Campus). The collaborative projects supported by these grants will dig into large data sets in search of new kinds of insights into humanities and social science research. As the organizers explain:
“With books, newspapers, journals, films, artworks, and sound recordings being digitized on a massive scale, it is possible to apply data analysis techniques to large collections of diverse cultural heritage resources as well as scientific data. How might these techniques help scholars use these materials to ask new questions about and gain new insights into our world?”
As my title suggests, accessing and analyzing large document collections can help provide an additional perspective to historical narratives. Consider letters home from soldiers, used to great effect in Ken Burns’ The Civil War. By analyzing their content, scholars can provide narratives based on the experiences of so-called ‘regular folks’ to put up against the correspondence of politicians and generals that often dominate war accounts, if for no better reason than it was easier to read an analyze the correspondence of a few compared to the correspondence of many. This isn’t the case any more, or won’t be soon.