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  • Originally published 08/05/2013

    Serendip-o-matic Seeks to Replicate Thrill of Archival Discovery Online

    A week ago today, twelve strangers showed up at George Mason University and in five days, going at it around the clock, as humanities people often do, they created a new digital humanities research tool. With almost every day seeming to offer yet another news piece questioning the value of the humanities, One Week | One Tool (OWOT) offers a tangible answer. Funded by an National Endowment for the Humanities grant and organized by the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media, OWOT created Serendip-o-matic, a “serendipity engine” that searches for “unexpected connections between the material you already have at hand, and the universe of sources beyond your fingertips.”

  • Originally published 06/11/2013

    Canadian Historians: Come Clean About Your Relationship with Big Tobacco

    Image via Shutterstock.Later this month, Acadia University historian and former Dean of Arts Robert Perrins will testify in a Montreal courtroom on behalf of the tobacco industry. There he will discuss his 400+-page expert witness report on the Canadian government’s handling of tobacco issues since the 1950s.  The year-long trial involves two class-action suits seeking to compensate Quebec smokers for nicotine addiction and disease caused by smoking. The combined claim at $27 billion is the largest in Canadian history.

  • Originally published 05/29/2013

    How to Do Research on the Movies

    The Thatcher Library in Citizen Kane (1941).The most famous depiction of an archive in Hollywood cinema is the Thatcher Library in Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane (1941), a foreboding and noirishly lit mausoleum presided over by a prissy custodian who resents the intrusion of an actual researcher. The drudge work of scholarly investigation may yield rose buds of precious information, but the task of acquisition will be dust-ridden and tedious, and the stewards of the stacks will be cranky spinsters who eye you with suspicion as they hand over white gloves and caution you to use only the pencils and papers provided for note taking.

  • Originally published 05/21/2013

    New research tools kick up dust in archives

    Seated recently in the special collections room at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology library, Anders Fernstedt raced through an imposing set of yellowing articles and correspondence.Several years ago Mr. Fernstedt, an independent Swedish scholar who is studying the work of the 20th-century philosopher Karl Popper and several of his colleagues, would have scratched out notes and set aside documents for photocopying.Now, however, his tool of choice is the high-resolution camera on his iPhone. When he found a document of interest, he quickly snapped a photo and instantly shared his discovery with a colleague working hundreds of miles away. Indeed, Mr. Fernstedt, who conducts his research on several continents, now packs his own substantial digital Popper library on the disk of his MacBook Air laptop computer — more than 50,000 PDF files that he can browse through in a flash.

  • Originally published 03/14/2013

    Retirees today leave behind a historians' treasure trove of documentation

    NO one will confuse typical retirees today with the Emperor Augustus, who constructed a huge mausoleum to celebrate his life for eternity. And yet they belong to the first generation of elders within easy grasp of something once so rare and valuable that relatively few historic figures could enjoy it until now: virtual immortality.Where their grandparents may have left behind a few grainy photos, a death certificate or a record from Ellis Island, retirees today have the ability to leave a cradle-to-grave record of their lives. Their descendants will be able to witness births and first steps, Pee Wee football games and grade school dance recitals, high school graduations, wedding ceremonies, first homes, vacations and family reunions. They will also be able to read their opinions on politics and religion, know that they loved the music of Junior Kimbrough, the films of Billy Wilder, the New York Yankees and mint chocolate chip ice cream.Ancestors from the distant past are, at best, names in the family Bible. Fifty, 100, even 500 years hence people will be able to see how their forebears looked and moved, hear them speak, learn about their aspirations and achievements and that sizzling ski trip to Vermont....

  • Originally published 03/05/2013

    Digital project focuses on Lincoln-based sermons

    A group of graduate students at Emory University specializing in digital research in the humanities have created a new website that uses digital tools to analyze and compare the text of sermons delivered after Abraham Lincoln's assassination. Their project uses various digital text tools to map geographic and thematic patterns in the collection of 57 sermons, which reside in the Manuscript, Archives and Rare Book Library of Emory's Robert W. Woodruff Library. The scholars are calling their project "Lincoln Logarithms: Finding Meaning in Sermons" and they hope it will become a model for the next wave of research in the humanities. "The [Lincoln] sermons are something we honed in on because we think the analysis we did could be helpful to a lot of researchers," says Sarita Alami, one of three graduate fellows in the library's Digital Scholarship Commons (DiSC).    "Nothing exists like this right now," says Alami of the online guide. "The sermons are a game piece for creating a guide for people who are interested in doing digital projects and don't know what tool to use or where to turn. We created an online map so that researchers can know what to try." ...

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