Big Data

Big data is an innovative research tool that scholars have adapted to encourage the expansion of academic research within their disciplines. The development of the three V’s of big data, volume, velocity, and variety, have expounded research ¬†in academic environments. Gains in gathering, manipulation,¬†presentation, and synthesis of data in historical witting has paralleled advances in cloud computing technology and big data. Advances in computing technology, access software, and expansion of cloud storage have allowed historians to do more in less time. Historians are content driven. Reducing the amount of time required to access documentation and sources germane to a particular research topics has improved historical inquiry and questions. Despite the expanding presence of data in historical work, interpretation and perspective remain an integral skill within the discipline. If we were to address our minds as a computer trained in historical thinking, the input would be content and the output would be our writing, a solid thesis supported by evidence with the added component of interpretation. Interpretation is the most important and useful skill a historian yields, it allows us to take our experiences as humans and apply that to phenomenon to ‘big’ to be seen and understood with the naked eye. Accordingly, historical research driven solely by data does not lend itself to powerful thesis and captivating perspectives. I believe that history will always be content-driven and a form of interpretative art designed and melded by humans. I think that historians should be careful not to assert to much importance to data, a mistake that could possibly dehumanize the humanities. The value in history lies in our own, personalized interpretation of events and how it shapes our understanding of history. This opens scholarly, informed discussion that allows educated citizens to make more informed decisions. Over-reliance on data, specifically statistics, makes us susceptible to tricks with numbers, similar to how great orators have adapted words to obscure our perspective of facts. Numbers can only aid in our understanding and development of historical facts or truths, not form them.

In my opinion, the most useful tools that have been developed as a result of the fusion of big data and historical inquiry have been the data visualizations. History is made interesting by an element of mystery ass are other disciplines. The ceaseless quest for understanding of the past and present is better developed by visual aides that test our understanding of the material we have read. The process of creating the data visualizations manually, researching and collecting data, begs the reader to ask better more informed questions. I feel that it would be a shame and disrespectful to the age-old art of history for lazy historians to be trained in letting computers to form their conclusions. A better use of this data would be for the statistics to guide research and force historians to question and challenge the conclusions made from statistical data with manual research of eyewitness accounts. No algorithm can replace the power of interpretation and human experience.


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