History in Ones and Zeroes — The Challenges Involved in Coding the Past
The wealth of information contained within the monographs and journal articles of historical and archaeological publications tells in great detail the fascinating stories of past humans around the globe. However, these qualitative sources are inaccessible to non-specialists, or to researchers interested in large-scale quantitative approaches to the historical record. Even for specialists, the explosion of scholarship over the past decades has made it impossible to remain up-to-date on work in the field. The new affordances provided by digital platforms hold the promise of enabling humanities scholars to share their specialized knowledge in ways that allow for both detailed browsing and instant, quantitative overviews.
The Database of Religious History (DRH), based at the University of British Columbia (https://religiondatabase.org) represents an attempt to leverage these affordances. Entries in the DRH by our large and constantly expanding group of contributors combine detailed engagement with primary textual sources and archaeological excavations with standardized coding schemas that allow for both quick overviews and quantitative analysis. The process of converting qualitative into quantitative, however, is extremely challenging, and requires choices regarding terminology and basic interpretative categories that are open for critique.
The conference will bring together scholars previously involved with the project and those new to the DRH to discuss the process of the challenges involved in converting rich qualitative scholarly judgements into binary answers to a set questionnaire. Participants will be encouraged to reflect on the process from their own disciplinary backgrounds and offer critiques of the project’s basic ontologies. In addition, presentations can also consider the potential for scholarly output from the database and the capacity for the project to feed back into field-specific conversations.
Major themes to be addressed include:
- The challenge of converting qualitative data to quantitative data, i.e. site reports to binary (Yes/No) answers in a standardized poll
- Shared ontologies within disciplinary studies: how do we come up with language around a topic like “religion” that works globally and across disciplines
- Accommodating missing data in historical analyses
- Opportunities and pitfalls of large-scale quantitative historiography
- Advantages and dangers of using large-scale quantitative data in interdisciplinary research
The DRH is inviting papers to contribute on any of the above themes for a conference in Vancouver on the 30th and 31st of August 2022. Paper abstracts (300 words) are due on March 31, 2022 and can be submitted via this google form
UCLA DRH Workshop - April 26th 2022
The DRH is hosting a workshop at UCLA on April 26th starting at 11am in the Digital Archaeology Lab in the Cotsen Institute. Participants will be introduced to the DRH as a tool for gathering scholarly perspectives on the history and archaeology of religion. After a brief introduction to the project staff will be on hand to assist in getting started with the project, either creating a new entry, or browsing and visualizing the existing data.
A flyer for the workshop can be downloaded here.
All participants (in-person or virtual) should register via this google form: https://forms.gle/kB82TaL86LjU78aG6
Please note that in-person space is limited, we will notify you if capacity has been reached.
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