“Big Data” Comes to the Humanities

Fast for­ward a gen­er­a­tion, and you might hard­ly rec­og­nize the human­i­ties. Big data is here, and it’s allow­ing tech savvy stu­dents to take a whole new approach to “read­ing” texts. Using Google’s dig­i­tal library and oth­er tools pow­ered by high pow­er com­put­ing, stu­dents can now quan­ti­ta­tive­ly ana­lyze large bod­ies of lit­er­a­ture and draw new con­clu­sions about the evo­lu­tion of ideas, lan­guage, and cul­ture. (More on this here.) Some wor­ry that these “stat-hap­py quants” risk tak­ing “the human out of the human­i­ties.” Oth­ers (myself includ­ed) sus­pect that this approach could enliv­en the human­i­ties, allow­ing schol­ars to focus on new meth­ods and ques­tions. How “big data” is trans­form­ing the human­i­ties (and the sci­ences too) is the sub­ject of six arti­cles appear­ing in The Chron­i­cle of High­er Edu­ca­tion. Let me high­light them for you:

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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.