Recently I was writing a paper for a journal and needed to cite the Old Bailey Online (OBO). Not any particular piece of content contained in the project, but the project itself as an outstanding example of digital humanities work. For those unfamiliar with the venture, it’s a database containing 127 million words of historical trial transcripts marked up extensively with XML; still the flagship project of its kind in this author’s opinion. I found myself struggling to decide who the authors of the project were; that is, whose names was I bound by “good scholarship” to include in the citation. Who deserved public credit?

With the newly developed enthusiasm for RDF as the basis for library bibliographic data we are seeing a number of efforts to transform library data into this modern, web-friendly format. This is a positive development in many ways, but we need to be careful to make this transition cleanly without bringing along baggage from our past….

My message here is that we need to be creating data, not records, and that we need to create the data first, then build records with it for those applications where records are needed. Those records will operate internally to library systems, while the data has the potential to make connections in linked data space.

Infrastructures are installations and services that function as “mediating interfaces” or “structures ‘in between’ that allow things, people and signs to travel across space by means of more or less standardized paths and protocols for conversion or translation.”1 A digital research infrastructure is no different: it’s a mediating set of technologies for research and resource discovery, collaboration, sharing and dissemination of scientific output.

Infrastructures, however, are also strong cultural and political symbols
From electricity systems in the 1920s, to coal trains in the 1950s, through to the gateways and bridges on Euro notes in the present decade, infrastructures have been mobilized repeatedly in broader spheres as symbols and metaphors for broader forms of modernization, integration and co-operation. (Badenoch and Fickers, 2)

Show how text mining can contribute to historical questions and what sort of issues we can answer, now, using simple tools and big data, this might be the story I’d start with to show how much data we have, and how little things can have different meanings at big scales…

Spelling variations are not a bread-and-butter historical question, and with good reason.  There is nothing at stake in whether someone writes “Pittsburgh” or “Pittsburg.” But precisely because spelling is so arbitrary, we only change it for good reason. And so it can give insights into power, center and periphery, and transmission. One of the insights of cultural history is that the history of practices, however mundane, can be deeply rooted in the history of power and its use.

OPINION: Discovering fun facts by graphing terms found among the 5 million volumes of the Google Books project sure is amusing — but this pursuit dubbed ‘culturomics’ is not the same as being an historian.

Earlier this year, a group of scientists — mostly in mathematics and evolutionary psychology — published an article in Science titled “Quantitative Analysis of Culture Using Millions of Digitized Books.” The authors’ technique, called “culturomics,” would, they said, “extend the boundaries of rigorous quantitative inquiry to a wide array of new phenomena spanning the social sciences and the humanities.” The authors employed a “corpus” of more than 5 million books — 500 billion words — that have been scanned by Google as part of the Google Books project.

Names can shape fields. In the proposal for a panel to be held at the MLA this week, Lori Emerson argued that the introduction of the term “electronic literature” by the founding of the Electronic Literature Organization in 1999, in fact founded the field by creating “a name, a concept, even a brand with which a remarkably diverse range of digital writing practices could identity: electronic literature,” as Lori explains in a blog post. Seen in this perspective, the first book on electronic literature is Loss Glazier’s Digital Poetics in 2001. This renders invisible the very rich theory and practice of electronic literature before 2001 (as

From all of us at Digital Humanities Now, happy holidays and best wishes for the new year!

We will return in January to bring you more digital humanities scholarship, conversations, news, and events.

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