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Digital humanities: humanities research in the digital age
Digital humanities: humanities research in the digital age

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4.2 Encountering the born digital data in research

Traditional sources, digital formats

While researching a living author’s work in an archival setting, we wish to dig into the authorial process behind the their most recently published novel and the archive contains digital copies of drafts in emails, text and word documents. Using the material at the site of the archive, we can use text analysis tools to quickly find changes and similarities between differing versions and drafts of the novel to locate sequences of change that would otherwise have taken weeks of close reading to analyse.

Digital-only sources

Extending this example, we might explore the novel’s reception through printed reviews and online searches for reviews, blogs or social media. A simple search and notetaking may suffice, but we might need deeper research. ‘Web-scraping’ is a technique to extract, copy and collate data from around the internet; using Twitter, there are also advanced research tools for historical tweets. Here, using born digital data expands our range of sources but leaves us increasingly dependent on the intervention of digital technology in our research processes.

Activity 6 Digital data and your research

Can you imagine a scenario in which you might need access to digital documents in your research?

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