In the last 25 years we have seen the web enable new digital means for historians to reach broader publics and audiences. Over that same period of time, archives and archivists have been exploring and engaging with related strands of digital transformation. In one strand, similar focus on community work through digital means has emerged in both areas. While historians have been developing a community of practice around public history, archivists and archives have similarly been reframing their work as more user-centered and more closely engaged with communities and their records. A body of archival work and scholarship has emerged around the function of community archives that presents significant possibilities for further connections with the practices of history and historians. In a second strand, strategies for understanding and preserving digital cultural heritage have also taken shape. While historians have begun exploring using tools to produce new forms of digital scholarship, archivists and archives have been working to both develop methods to care for and make available digital material. Archivists have established tools, workflows, vocabulary and infrastructure for digital archives, and they have also managed the digitization of collections to expand access.
At the intersection of these two developments, we see a significant convergence between the needs and practices of public historians and archivists. Historians’ new forms of scholarship increasingly function as forms of knowledge infrastructure. Archivists work on systems for enabling access to collections are themselves anchored in longstanding commitments to infrastructure for enabling the use of records. At this convergence, there is a significant opportunity for historians to begin to connect more with archivists as peers, as experts in questions of the structure and order of sources and records.
In this essay we explore the ways that archives, archivists, and archival practice are evolving around both analog and digital activities that are highly relevant for those interested in working in digital public history.
Read the full piece here.
Recently, historians have been trying to understand cultural change by measuring the “distances” that separate texts, songs, or other cultural artifacts. Where distances are large, they infer that change has been rapid. There are many ways to define distance, but one common strategy begins by topic modeling the evidence. Each novel (or song, or political speech) can be represented as a distribution across topics in the model. Then researchers estimate the pace of change by measuring distances between topic distributions.
In 2015, Mauch et al. used this strategy to measure the pace of change in popular music—arguing, for instance, that changes linked to hip-hop were more dramatic than the British invasion. Last year, Barron et al. used a similar strategy to measure the influence of speakers in French Revolutionary debate.
I don’t think topic modeling causes problems in either of the papers I just mentioned. But these methods are so useful that they’re likely to be widely imitated, and I do want to warn interested people about a couple of pitfalls I’ve encountered along the road.
One reason for skepticism will immediately occur to humanists: are human perceptions about difference even roughly proportional to the “distances” between topic distributions? In one case study I examined, the answer turned out to be “yes,” but there are caveats attached. Read the paper if you’re curious.
In this blog post, I’ll explore a simpler and weirder problem. Unless we’re careful about the way we measure “distance,” topic models can warp time. Time may seem to pass more slowly toward the edges of a long topic model, and more rapidly toward its center.
Read the full post here.
From the announcement:
Open Library now lets you search inside the text contents of over 4M books!… When you search across 40M documents, it can be a challenge to find the one you’re looking for. One feature which Open Library has been missing is a way to limit Internet Archive’s full-text search to only include results from books on Open Library. So for the last two years, Open Library has patiently waited to take full advantage of full-text search for its users.
Read the full announcement here.