Thursday, April 3 at 10:00 am in Alderman Library, Room 421
Scarcity of information is a common frustration for many historians. However, for researchers of twentieth- and twenty-first century history the opposite problem is also increasingly common. In contrast to scholars of ancient history, who base much of their analyses on rare and unique relics of antiquity, historians studying the ‘Age of Information’ (and the even more recent period of ‘Big Data’) increasingly confront a deluge of information, a vast field of haystacks within which they must locate the needles - and presumably, use them to knit together a valid historical interpretation.
As larger and larger volumes of human cultural output are accumulated, historians will continue to adapt and innovate new and existing tools and methods - especially those developed in other fields, including computational biology, literary studies, statistics and psychology - to overcome the ‘information overload’ and facilitate new historical interpretations of challengingly massive digital archives. The declassification of Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger’s correspondence by the State Department and the hosting of that material on the Digital National Security Archive (DNSA)’s Kissinger Collection web site presents just such a challenge and concomitant opportunity. Given the role Henry Kissinger played in first ‘computerizing’ the State Department in the late 1960s it is perhaps not surprising that the continuing declassifications of large volumes of material have made historians of the Kissinger/Nixon era dubious ‘beneficiaries’ of the ‘big data’ era, inheritors of countless government mainframes’ worth of text.
While simply having such a large volume of information online in digital form for researchers is valuable, the usual restriction to a web-based ‘search’ form interface often renders it of limited use and approachability. As detailed on the project’s web site my work involves the application of a host of quantitative text analysis methods like word frequency/correlation, topic modeling and sentiment analysis (as well as a variety of data visualization deisgns and methods) to historical research on the DNSA’s Kissinger Collection, comprising approximately 17600 meeting memoranda (‘memcons’) and teleconference transcripts (‘telcons’) detailing the former US National Security Advisor and Secretary of State’s correspondence during the period 1969- 1977. This application of computational techniques to the study of twentieth-century diplomatic history has generated useful finding aids for researchers, provided essential testing grounds for new historical methodologies, and prompted new interpretations and questions about the Nixon/Kissinger era.
Micki Kaufman is a doctoral student in US history at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York (GC-CUNY). She received her B.A. in US History from Columbia University summa cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa in 2011 and her M.A. in US History from GC-CUNY in 2013. A GC-CUNY Digital Fellow and recipient of GC-CUNY’s Provost’s Digital Innovation Grant in 2012–2014, her current research involves the use of computational text analysis and visualization techniques in the study of the DNSA’s (Digital National Security Archive’s) Kissinger Memcon and Telcon collections. She is a co-author of “General, I Have Fought Just As Many Nuclear Wars As You Have,” published in the December 2012 American Historical Review, has served as a digital humanities consultant for a number of institutes and projects, lectures and leads workshops in Text Analysis and Visualization, and has taught US History Since the Civil War at Hunter College and the Digital Praxis Seminar at the CUNY Graduate Center. She is also a platinum-award-winning recording engineer, and a featured Sundance/ASCAP film score composer.
All Scholars’ Lab events are free, open to the public, and require no advance registration.