Entry#12: Big Data in the Digital Age

There has never been a topic more frightening to me than Big Data. I had gone to the Digital History Workshop at the American Historical Associations annual meeting and attended a session on Big Data. I had known nothing on the topic and information was being shoved down my throat. That session filled me with dread when it came to this weeks discussion.

It wasn’t until this week though that I began to truly understand the benefits of Big Data and how it works. Maybe it was the way the session was held (with me already having an understanding of what Big Data is), that hindered my interest in the topic but now I can see the fun in understanding and using big data. I’ll admit that I sat in class looking at the websites we were discussing on my laptop and played around with the Google-NGram Viewer and used works that I found interesting and even some that dealt with topics from my two other classes. The site is fun to play with because of its simplicity and its purpose. I remember sitting in the workshop session and discussing the importance in seeing when a term begins to be used but also understanding that the term can change meaning over time and that you need to be aware of those changes because the algorithm¬†that picks out the words from the texts is not. It just states when the word is used, with no formal understanding of the texts.

I then moved on to Wordle. The site was interesting, but I could not get the program to function. I began to perceive the site and its purposes as being a simple form of text identification: It was a simple word cloud creation application. I had seen sites similar to Wordle in the past but this site seems to be the creation of people who knew the importance of text mining and tagging. My only issue with the site was that it would not run the program on my macbook. I don’t know if it was a simple glitch on my computer alone, but it hindered my experience on the site.

Big Data is a big topic in History and it is one that should not be ignored because every field of study uses text-mining in some form at some point. Historians need to learn to use the digital revolution to their benefit because it has already made our field more interesting. Big Data allows us to look at trends throughout the world and see the effects of a word in a certain period of time. This is an extremely interesting premise to look at and interpret. The digital revolution has helped the field of historical research get more in-depth and more complex. We need to embrace sites like Google-NGram Viewer and Wordle to help us in our research and findings.


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