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Digging into Data

The Digging into Data Challenge is an international project exploring how quantitative reasoning, and in particular, the use of fast and large-scale computing might create both new questions and new ways of understanding in the humanities and social sciences. Round One was launched in 2009, and results are already rewarding- and in some cases startling. Mapping the Republic of Letters, a project examining the circulation and content of letters sent between members of an early scholarly social network, reveals that the Enlightenment was not a cascade of radical ideas flowing south from Northern Europe but a ferment fueled by a network of personal correspondence across Europe. Another winning proposal, Mining a Year of Speech, used software to analyze over 9000 hours of spoken word recordings- by far the largest dataset ever used in the linguistics or phonetics fields.

With a second round of Digging into Data due to begin later this year, could arts researchers step up, join the conversation, and field competitive proposals? What data do we have to put on the table? What could we learn from generations of song lyrics, museum signage? The letters and newspapers of small towns? Could we develop an understanding of how a community makes a place for the arts, or how a work of art becomes iconic? Finally, how can we use new computational strategies to approach research questions?

The Digging into Data Conference will be held next month in Washington, DC.

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