Monday, March 28, 2016

The Metagraph

In their essay, Gibbs and Owens promote their case for historical data and its successful application in the digital world: “At a minimum, historians’ research publications need to reflect new priorities that explicate the process of interfacing with, exploring, and then making sense of historical sources in a fundamentally digital form—that is, the hermeneutics of data.” It is important to see data as computer-processable information which may include various types of historical sources such as census records, etc. They also mention that the use of data in the humanities as very recently attracted a considerable amount of attention and they use the work: “Culturnomics” as a good quantitative study as well as good use of a digital resource (Google Books). Like in several other readings, Gibbs and Owens mentions that just because digital history has only recently gained popularity it doesn’t mean that historians have changed the way there are doing their work. “To some extent, historians have always collected, analyzed, and written about data. But have access to vastly greater quantities of data, markedly different kinds of datasets, and a variety of complex tools and methodologies for exploring it means that the term using signifies a much broader rand of data related activities than it has previously.”
The article asserts that a benefit of working with data is that it can be exploratory. They also mention that many historians and occasionally see digital history through a negative viewpoint because they often associate digital date with mathematics; but, working with data can be exploratory and be used without any mathematical “rigor”. The essay also reminds the reader that we are too focused on trying to use data as evidence only. We must also utilize date to help us frame research questions. “Data in a variety of forms can provoke new questions and explorations, just as visualizations have been recently described as ‘generative and iterative, capable of producing new knowledge through the aesthetic provocation.” The point of this assertion is to remind us that even when we have scholarly research that offers us “negative results” we should not be so quick as to discard them. We should use them perhaps to combine with other datasets and add to our historical knowledge base. The graph shown is used as evidence of this. It does not indicate any answer to any real historical questions; but that does not mean it should be disregarded as a useful tool. Historians can utilize this data and start forming their own research questions using tools such as Ngram.
While discussing his research project and his endeavors to “clean up” messy texts (i.e. newspapers) through a digital (and more visually appealing) metagraph, Blevins asserts that “digital methods are not any more or less valid than traditional approaches, but they do provide a different entry point into the historical archive.” I believe this point made by Blevins’ article asserts the effectiveness of data in the historical archive. Also, as mentioned before in a previous article, digital history gives historians the ability to collaborate which is not so easily done with written projects. Collaboration is important to further promote the ideas laid out by Owens and Gibbs because historians can collaborate and share their work with others regardless of if their project as a whole is successful or not.

In the essay from last week, Sternfeld was quick to criticize the “Digital Harlem” project due to its ineffectiveness to answer any real historical questions. One of the reasons that I enjoyed using this tool and one of the reasons I believe Gibbs and Owens would see the “success” of the tool is that it contains a vast swath of data that can be used in other projects as well as help historians to formulate new historical questions. The main idea that I got from the Gibbs and Owens essay was that we should not be quick to disregard digital history projects as being inferior to written projects. Also we should recognize the benefits that each project brings and not be so quick to shut it down as ineffective. 

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