Editors’ Choice: What Can You Do with 10,000 Petitions? Digging Deeper Into the Data

The London Lives Petitions project is exploring approximately 10,000 petitions (and petitioning letters) addressed to magistrates which survive in the voluminous records of eighteenth-century London and Middlesex Sessions of the Peace which were digitised around 2008 by the London Lives project (of which I was the project manager). The first few months of the project focused on the challenge of discovering and identifying petitions in the Sessions Papers; the resulting data, consisting of structured metadata and plain text files, has been released as open data under a Creative Commons licence. (The bulk of this effort is complete, but work is ongoing to improve the data where possible.) The data and documentation of the process can be found here. Moving on to analysis of this new data, I’m starting from the question: What can you do with 10,000 petitions? Can large-scale ‘distant reading’ techniques tell us things that we didn’t already know from close reading of smaller, personally-crafted collections of petitions? I’m experimenting with various methods and data visualisations. But I also need to consider: what can you not do with them? Understanding what doesn’t work for data like this will be important. For one thing, the quality of the transcriptions does not match up to traditional scholarly standards: is it good enough for data mining? (This and other limitations of the original data are documented on London Lives.) With this in mind, I’ve so far done a number of mostly boring but useful things.

Read full post here.