Digital Humanities Speaker Micki Kaufman “Everything on Paper Will Be Used Against Me”: Quantifying Kissinger
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.
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, Ms. Kaufman’s 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, a GC-CUNY Digital Fellow, and a recipient of GC-CUNY’s Provost’s Digital Innovation Grant in 2012–2014.
Click below to stream the podcast, and you can view the accompanying slides on the Quantifying Kissinger website. As always, you can listen to (or subscribe to) our podcasts on the Scholars’ Lab blog, or on iTunesU.