Introducing Paper Machines

Jo Guldi (Brown University)
7 October 2014

Historians of the twentieth century have to contend with a technological problem, the issue of archives too large to process by traditional methods. While textual encoding, tagging, and n-grams can reveal certain patterns in digital archives, topic modeling and topic frequency, applied to hand-tailored archives, can help the historian make informed decisions about where in an archive to start looking. Digital methods, in this way, are driving historians to longer and longer time scales, making it possible for even younger scholars to perform a 'distant reading' on big questions that range over nations and centuries. The talk will follow parts of the argument of The History Manifesto (2014), comparing how a historian's search for periodization, agency, and causality in the data compare with use and abuse of digital data in other digital fields.

Jo Guldi is author of Roads to Power (2012), What is the Spatial Turn? (2012), The History Manifesto (2014), and the digital toolkit Paper Machines (2012). She is Hans Rothfels Assistant Professor of Modern Britain and its Empire at Brown University. Her next project, The Long Land War, examines a century and a half of movements for land and water around the globe.

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