Data Science meets Humanities

November 16, 2010

(This article was first published on Revolutions, and kindly contributed to R-bloggers)

There's an interesting article in the NYT today about the emerging discipline of "digital humanities": extracting digital data from historical archives to answer questions from the Arts and Humanities. From the article:

Members of a new generation of digitally savvy humanists argue it is time to stop looking for inspiration in the next political or philosophical “ism” and start exploring how technology is changing our understanding of the liberal arts. This latest frontier is about method, they say, using powerful technologies and vast stores of digitized materials that previous humanities scholars did not have.

These researchers are digitally mapping Civil War battlefields to understand what role topography played in victory, using databases of thousands of jam sessions to track how musical collaborations influenced jazz, and searching through large numbers of scientific texts and textbooks to track where concepts first appeared and how they spread.

Unsurprisingly, this has kicked off a debate over the role of quantification and analysis in the liberal arts, vesus the more traditional approach of individual interpretations of documents and artifacts. While many in the old-school view such quantitative analysis as "whimsical", there are some great discoveries to be made through data science. Read the full article for some great examples.

New York Times: Digital Keys for Unlocking the Humanities’ Riches


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