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After decades of data storage it is possible to lose the gap between the data that really makes sense. Current trends in areas of research forces the adaption of new technologies to solve specific problems while data preservation is left behind. As expected, technology evolves rapidly leaving data at risk. In the domain of Digital Humanities, is there any solution capable of comprising the reality of contemporary humanities data for continuous access and reuse?

The paper “Lost in the data, Aerial Views of an archeological collection”[1] presents a visual analytic tool that displays “aerial views” of digital collections and a tool to navigate the curation process. This study comprises a collection of more than a million files, representing more than forty years of research activities by the Institute of Classical Archaeology (ICA) at the University of Texas at Austin. Now that the Institute’s focus has changed from fieldwork to publication crisis arises, since the researches try to retrieve, assimilate, and share those digital resources with the intention of study and dissemination.

As a response, they adopted a new data management strategy capable of not interrupting ongoing research, while documenting and archiving the collection and providing web access for collaboration. The collection is visually presented as directories so user can navigate, search, browse and select them for observation. The main advantage is the exploration of information more effectively as the visualization provides a clearer view of its content and significance.

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Figure 1. View of the entire collection.

The project “ChartEx (Charter Excavator)”[2] is another innovative application based in a novel instrumental interaction technique capable of exploring full text content of digital historical records, in this case charters, a fundamental source to study the lives of people in the past. It uses a combination of natural language processing (NLP) and data mining to extract information about places, people and event in their lives from the charters. ChartEx is intended to assist researchers in the whole process of search, extract, analyze, link and understand the Charter’s contents. A similar purpose of the archeological collection’s project presented above.

Since historians work with vast amount of information contained in charters, the project is also creating a virtual workbench in order to achieve a complete interaction among computational systems and humans. An innovative method applied from a different approach in the archeologist’s collection, both with the intention that users interact with the visual representation of the collection.

ChartEx designed a markup scheme that represents how currently historians read charters and extracts. The schema was created from a collaborative process that involved researchers. The same methodology of gathering the knowledge used from various experts was also applied in the first project which allowed a better understanding of the context of both collections in order to plan its preservation.

 

The paper “A concept of data modeling for the humanities” [3] refers to data modeling as a relevant task of digital humanists since it comprises the creation of databases, digital editions, geographical information systems, research collections, digital libraries, among other activities mainly carried out by this field.

“Data modeling is referred to the activity of designing a model of some real (or fictional) world segment to fulfill a specific set of user requirements using one or more of the meta models available in order to make some aspects of the data computable, to enable consistency constraints and to establish a common field of perception.”[3] 

The paper considers the possibility of a specific data modeling activity shared by all humanities that can lead to the definition of a general theory of data modeling exclusive for DH. For this, two main features common to all activities carried out by this field have been considered. First, the objects of the data modeling activity in DH are considered as artifacts and most of their properties are intentionally created. Second, the objects of humanities research have a long history as well as the research made on these objects, thus the models have to convey these complexities.

This hypothesis leaves a gap in the assumption that in order to continuously retrieve and preserve data with long history a theory of data modeling can help close this barrier and make data collections of the projects presented, more accessible for continuous access and reuse.

 

Nowadays, researchers have access to huge amounts of data in the form of digitized historical records but current search engines are not enough to exploit them in detail. The presented projects provided the insight of some applications developed to search, extract, analyze, link and understand the collection’s content, providing new functionalities not seen before. However, there’s still a gap in projects with long history, as the solutions provided need to be adapted to the realities of contemporary humanities data and to accomplish this, new theories comprising the field of digital humanities need to emerge.

References:

1. Lost in the Data, Aerial Views of an Archaeological Collection

http://dh2013.unl.edu/abstracts/ab-371.html

2. ChartEx: a project to extract information from the content of medieval charters and create a virtual workbench for historians to work with this information

http://dh2013.unl.edu/abstracts/ab-431.html

3. A concept of data modeling for the humanities

http://dh2013.unl.edu/abstracts/ab-313.html

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