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A beginner’s guide to working with text as data

This book offers a practical introduction to digital history with a focus on working with text. It will benefit anyone who is considering carrying out research in history that has a digital or data element and will also be of interest to researchers in related fields within digital humanities, such as literary or classical studies. It offers advice on the scoping of a project, evaluation of existing digital history resources, a detailed introduction on how to work with large text resources, how to manage digital data and how to approach data visualisation. After placing digital history in its historiographical context and discussing the importance of understanding the history of the subject, this guide covers the life-cycle of a digital project from conception to digital outputs. It assumes no prior knowledge of digital techniques and shows you how much you can do without writing any code. It will give you the skills to use common formats such as plain text and XML with confidence. A key message of the book is that data preparation is a central part of most digital history projects, but that work becomes much easier and faster with a few essential tools.

Jonathan Blaney, Sarah Milligan, Marty Steer, and Jane Winters

companies which have a commercial interest in keeping that data under their control. The distorting results of this are already apparent in the field of social media research, where studies using Twitter predominate because the data is at least partially accessible. This is what happens with digitised materials too – we research what we can find – but for born-digital data the commercial imperatives are greater and ownership lies in the hands of far fewer companies. Digital preservation specialists are working hard to ensure that digital sources will remain accessible

in Doing digital history
Jonathan Blaney, Sarah Milligan, Marty Steer, and Jane Winters

working with digital data will be through a platform like Hansard Online. It delivers immediately relevant results, but at the cost of control and, inevitably, some insight. It is not always easy to understand precisely what it is you are searching or browsing, and how the choices made by editors, technical developers and other project staff are predetermining what you might be able to find. It is to the credit of the team behind Hansard Online that they have highlighted one of the key things that historians should be aware of when using the database: it combines

in Doing digital history
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Unstructured text
Jonathan Blaney, Sarah Milligan, Marty Steer, and Jane Winters

records, and digital records are often poorly documented, making their production and methodology hard to reconstruct and understand. A common and useful distinction is made between data which is ‘born digital’ and digitised data, which has been converted somehow from analogue form (usually print or manuscript). A frequent assumption is that born-digital data is easier to work with but this is rarely the case. Let us take a very simple example of a piece of born-digital data to show the complexity of dealing with it: {"created_at": "Mon Aug 20 14:27:45 +0000

in Doing digital history
Jonathan Blaney, Sarah Milligan, Marty Steer, and Jane Winters

. DATA MANAGEMENT Digital history not only represents a shift in the way we undertake research, it fundamentally transforms how we share that research. There have never been more opportunities and means to share your research than there are today. Research output goes beyond paywalled journal articles and, indeed, need not include them at all. Throughout this book, you have been learning how to create and transform digital data. Let us consider some research outputs that can be generated from the Post Office project so far: Metadata Page images Machine

in Doing digital history
Jonathan Blaney, Sarah Milligan, Marty Steer, and Jane Winters

just how such a mass can be sifted, a topic we return to in Chapter 2 , a great deal of material is still in copyright and may not only be difficult to access but also to analyse and reproduce. Historians of the twenty-first century will, given the exponential increase in digital data, find these difficulties much exacerbated. 29 As we have seen, there is a pattern of digital history gradually expanding into areas that were previously prohibitive in terms of equipment. We will give one further example: big data . Big data has a number of definitions but here we

in Doing digital history
Jonathan Blaney, Sarah Milligan, Marty Steer, and Jane Winters

It is not how much information there is, but rather how effectively it is arranged. 1 Up to this point we have been producing new digital data in primarily textual form, whether it is digitising an analogue text, as in Chapter 3 , extracting information from the data, in chapters 4 and 5 , or versioning and documenting it, as in Chapter 6 . All of this was essentially internal project data, even though we suggested that it might be useful for others too. The present chapter turns to how you might visualise your data with the intention of sharing it

in Doing digital history