Digital Searching by Michaela Fehn

(Michaela’s had some trouble accessing the blog. Here is her post for this week!)

So we’re talking data and mining this week. We’ve got a great lineup up scholarly pieces, so we’re jumping in.

The History of Walking and the Digital Turn: Stride and Lounge in London, 1808–1851” by Joanna Guldi

Searching is Selection. Scholars have to be creative when searching. Guldi argues that true scholarly work is in the nuance. In fact, Google Books, as well as other search engines, offer a curated list. The question scholars must ask is How can I create nuanced search words that curate a list of diamonds in the rough?

As historians, it becomes vital to find common links – as databases become more interconnected and search engines evolve, results will become varied. For now, a good historian will follow a trail and find hidden gems. Like Guldi, we must ask How do certain words or jargon lead to different results? How can understanding the language within sources or research topics make a difference?

“Space, Nation, and the Triumph of Region: A View of the World from Houston” by Cameron Blevins

Space and Place are difficult notions – even for a seasoned historian. SO what are these notions made of? Well, according to Blevins, space is ever-changing. It’s dynamic and usually associated with processes of power. Place is built on locations. There’s often an emotional response to place. Space and Place can have tension. But what happens when the two coexist within literature? Well, that’s what Blevins is exploring.

So, Blevins discusses in depth this terminology called “distant reading.” For Blevins, this looked like noting the frequency of place names mentioned in a newspaper over a prolonged time period. By noting this, Blevins is able to blend a digital reading with a traditional reading, better understanding the political implications of space. This leads the reader to ask How can distant reading enhance other projects? Are there other types of projects where distant reading can be helpful? 

“Topic Modeling Martha Ballard’s Diary” by Cameron Blevins

Blevins again with some fantastic lessons to learn. 27 years worth of diaries leaves the reader to wonder: How is Blevins going to comb through that vast number of articles? Most important to note is Blevins’ use of topic modeling. And again, a question emerges – What is topic modeling? Topic modeling according to Blevins is “a method of computational linguistics that attempts to find words that frequently appear together within a text and then group them into clusters.” The software, specifically Mallet, produces a list of topics with words within each topic based on how the word is used rather than what a word means. This gets the audience to ask Does the software relate topics to each other? Can the software work in other languages? And how does a software like Mallet affect sources other than diaries? Would it be helpful for archives of other types?

“Digital Visualization as a Scholarly Activity” by Martyn Jessop

Graphic aids aren’t new. But digital technology enhances them. Jessop raises these three questions: What role have visualizations played in humanities scholarship in the past? If the majority of images in print are to be regarded as ‘illustrations’ what is the distinction between ‘visualization’ and ‘illustration’? How has the emergence of digital media affected the development of visualization?

By looking at visualization within the digital humanities, Jessop begins thinking about these questions. He notes that there are different categories visualization affects: space, quantitative data, text, time, and 3D visualization. This asks the audience to think How can different types of visualization affect different projects? When are the best times to bring visualization into a scholarly subject? And which category is most compelling based on Jessop’s article?

We’re going to look at some of these questions in class as we tackle talking about digital data, searching, and mining. Until then, happy reading.