Data & Digital Humanities

The humanities-based projects within iiD couple big data analysis with the interpretive work usually done by humanists.

The data sets for these projects include collections of texts, images, videos, and audio—in other words, they are digital archives broadly understood. From analyzing the numerous editions of Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe to understanding the narrative created by the thousands of photojournalistic depictions of Syrian refugees to virtually restoring medieval art, these groups ask traditional humanistic questions, but explore them with quantitative as well as qualitative analysis.

Discussing a Data+ and Digital Humanities project

Why Data+ for the Humanities?

These humanities projects originate from English, art history, and mathematics faculty and graduate students. The sponsors and mentors direct projects that represent the historical, methodological, and theoretical interests of their own research and teaching areas. But by developing these projects through Data+, they are able to work collaboratively with undergraduate students to meet time consuming technical and computational challenges through skill sets that are often outside the usual humanities repertoire. At the same time, undergraduate students are introduced to humanistic studies outside of the usual classroom setting, learning how to work attentively and closely with archives and conceptual tools for ten weeks over the summer.

Data+ Projects

How are women influenced by the spaces that they are allowed to occupy? A group of students, led by English Professor Charlotte Sussman, will examine how the spaces and places women can inhabit have changed over time, and how such changes have affected women’s rights and opportunities. The team will analyze the visual representations of women depicted in magazines from the nineteenth to the twenty-first century through the Women’s Magazine Archive, considering how images about women influence the reality that women can both imagine and live. Using this data, the group will design and visualize a potential women’s space that can empower and support women to reach their highest potential.

A team of students led by UNC-CH graduate student Grant Glass and Duke English professor Charlotte Sussman will track the thousands of Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe editions – including the plethora of movies and “Robinsoniades,” most of which are deviations from Defoe’s original work. By examining the differences in these stories –through word-vector models and categorization algorithms, we can trace how the deviations often reflect the place and time of their production and consumption, evoking a range of questions that further our understanding of how the expanse and collapse of the British Empire is wrapped up in notions of capitalism, race, empire, gender, and climate concerns. Along the way, we will examine questions of intellectual property, piracy, and authorship as they relate to both the 18th century and today.

What do we mean by the term “poverty”?

A team of students under the direction of Professor Astrid Giugni will analyze how the way we talk about poverty and public policy has changed over time. The team will work with two databases containing visual, textual, and audio documents from 1473 to the present, allowing students to track and analyze how our understanding of poverty has changed over time. The group will tackle the challenge of analyzing the political and popular language and imagery of poverty in order to create a visualization that contextualizes how financial and welfare policy is influenced by how we talk about poverty.

Robbie Ha (Computer Science, Statistics), Peilin Lai  (Computer Science, Mathematics), and Alejandro Ortega (Mathematics) spent ten weeks analyzing the content and dissemination of images of the Syrian refugee crisis, as part of a general data-driven investigation of Western photojournalism and how it has contributed to our understanding of this crisis.

Selen Berkman (ECE, CompSci), Sammy Garland (Math), and Aaron VanSteinberg (CompSci, English) spent ten weeks undertaking a data-driven analysis of the representation of women in film and in the film industry, with special attention to a metric called the Bechdel Test. They worked with data from a number of sources, including and

Liuyi Zhu (Computer Science, Math), Gilad Amitai (Masters, Statistics), Raphael Kim (Computer Science, Mechanical Engineering), and Andreas Badea (East Chapel Hill High School) spent ten weeks streamlining and automating the process of electronically rejuvenating medieval artwork. They used a 14th-century altarpiece by Francescussio Ghissi as a working example.

Spenser Easterbrook, a Philosophy and Math double major, joined Biology majors Aharon Walker and Nicholas Branson in a ten-week exploration of the connections between journal publications from the humanities and the sciences. They were guided by Rick Gawne and Jameson Clarke, graduate students from Philosophy and Biology.

Data Expeditions Projects

This data expedition introduced students to “sliding windows and persistence” on time series data, which is an algorithm to turn one dimensional time series into a geometric curve in high dimensions, and to quantitatively analyze hybrid geometric/topological properties of the resulting curve such as “loopiness” and “wiggliness.”

What drove the prices for paintings in 18th Century Paris?