On Disruption, Race, and the Digital Humanities

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Archives in Context and as Context

By Kate Theimer in Journal of Digital Humanities

Approaching the field of digital humanities as an outsider is an interesting experience. It is best compared, I think, to being a tourist in a foreign country for which there are no reliable guidebooks. It is a country in which the language is almost the same as the one you speak, and yet words are used to mean somewhat different things. It is also a relatively young country, still trying to define its national identity.

As an archivist, attempting to learn more about this foreign country of “Digital Humanities,” I am struck with how often its citizens refer to the “archives” they or their colleagues create. To continue the tourist analogy, imagine that the country I come from is the nation of “Archives,” and that it has a longer history than that of the country of Digital Humanities. The nation of Archives has well established national principles. It is a small country, perhaps, and not a powerful player on the international stage, but its citizens are quietly proud of what they have managed to accomplish with such a small national budget.

And so I, a tourist from the country of Archives, visited the foreign land of Digital Humanities and quickly realized that something a bit odd has happened to my treasured national heritage. When I questioned digital humanists about what they meant when they use the word “archives” or questioned the appropriateness of using it to describe various collections, the responses varied from befuddled confusion (“I’m not sure what I mean”) to a strenuous defense of the different usage. Given the emerging importance of digital humanities as a scholarly field, I thought it would be useful to explore this disconnect and so perhaps shed some light for both archivists and digital humanists about what each may mean when using this common word.

Archivists have become accustomed to the adoption of “archives” by information technologists as well as the general public to refer to things which we archivists would not call archives. So it is not the adoption of the term by digital humanists that is noteworthy, but that its meaning in certain contexts has been altered by scholars, many of whom have experience working with archives as traditionally defined. And yet it is these scholars who have chosen to describe the collections they have created as archives, seemingly in all sincerity that their usage is appropriate and not in contradiction to the practice of archivists. What could account for this disconnect?

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International students: where do they go to study? – interactive map

By Rebecca Radcliff in the Guardian

Source: UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS). Data from 2011 is used for Canada, South Africa, Malaysia, Algeria, Barbados, Botswana, Brazil, Cameroon, Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo, Gambia, Greece, Iceland, Israel, Liechtenstein, Mali, Mozambique, Myanmar, Nepal, Oman, Uganda, Uzbekistan, Yemen. 2010 figures are used for Egypt, China and Morocco. All other statistics taken from 2012. Where countries are grey, no data is available.

The statistics refer to students who have crossed a national border to study, or are enrolled in a distance learning programme abroad. These students are not residents or citizens of the country where they study. Both part-time, full-time, undergraduate and postgraduate students are included.

Students who are under short-term, for-credit study and exchange programmes that last less than a full academic year are not included.

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How statistics reveal insights from the past by turning life events into data points

By Adam Crymble in StatsLife 

Family history giant Ancestry.com claims to have digitised 12.7 billion records that document an element of millions if not billions of individual lives. Maybe a marriage, or a birth, or an arrest, or a discharge from the military. These are what historians call ‘life events’. Unless you’re related to one of these people, or the person happens to be a notable figure, chances are you wouldn’t care about them all that much. You don’t have to feel bad – our collective descendants won’t care about us either.

For data historians though, the individual lives can be aggregated with others to give us a view of whole populations that lived in the past. Through these billions of records we can look for emerging patterns that change over time, as societies evolve, cities grow or shrink, and the age structure gets older or younger as chance may be. These individual lives, seen through documentary fragments in libraries and archives, and digitised to sell to family historians via subscriptions, offer us a chance to see the big picture of history like never before. This is what Kate Börner calls the ‘macroscopic’ view, which lets us ‘observe what is at once too great, slow, or complex for the human eye and mind to notice and comprehend’.

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A political economy of Twitter data? Conducting research with proprietary data is neither easy nor free.

By Sam Kinsley in The Impact Blog

Social media research is on the rise but researchers are increasingly at the mercy of the changing limits and access policies of social media platforms. API and third party access to platforms can be unreliable and costly. Sam Kinsley outlines the limitations and stumbling blocks when researchers gather social media data. Should researchers be using data sources (however potentially interesting/valuable) that restrict the capability of reproducing our research results?

Many of the research articles and blogs concerning conducting research with social media data, and in particular with Twitter data, offer overviews of their methods for harvesting data through an API. An Application Programming Interface is a set of software components that allow third parties to connect to a given application or system and utilise its capacities using their own code. Most of these research accounts tend to make this process seem rather straight forward. Researchers can either write a programme themselves, such as, or can utilise one of several tools that have emerged that provide a WYSIWYG interface for undertaking the connection to the social networking platform, such as implementing yourTwapperKeeper, COSMOS or using a service such as ScraperWiki (to which I will return). However, what is little commented upon is the restrictions put on access to data through many of the social networking platform APIs, in particular Twitter. The aim of this blog post is to address some of the issues around access to data and what we are permitted to do with it.

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British Library Labs Symposium 2014 – Keynote

By Mahendra Mahey in BL Digital Scholarship Blog

The second annual British Library Labs Symposium on Monday 3rd November, 2014, opened with Professor Tim Hitchcock giving a keynote speech focusing on ‘Big and small data in the humanities’.

The video is available on Youtube.

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14 World-Changing Data Visualizations, From the Last 4 Centuries

By Greg Millar in Wired

From Wired

From Wired

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