Big Data in the Humanities: The need for Big Questions

Image-DARPA_Big_DataWhat is Big Data and what is the usefulness of Big Data in the Humanities? These are some of the questions asked by Professor Barry Smith in a blog post on ‘Big Data in the Humanities’ written following his attendance at the IEEE Big Data Conference in Silicon Valley which took place in October 2013.

Barry asks provocative questions about how the humanities, disciplines traditionally concerned with asking specific questions and studying people, places and things in context, can engage effectively with vast data sets. While big data is already producing new questions and new methods of inquiry in the Humanities, Smith warns that some of the specificity of humanities research could get lost in decisions about how to record and organise data for maximum searchability. Humanities researchers need to work closely with computer developers to ensure that digital tools help us to answer the right sort of questions.

He identifies a role for the humanities in data curation suggesting that unless we ‘organize the information we store in a meaningful way, it will become landfill’. He also points to important questions for humanities scholars about our privacy and the ethics of big data gathering and mining.

Barry Smith attended the IEEE conference as part of his role as the Leadership Fellow for the AHRC Science in Culture Theme. The full blog post is available to read on the AHRC Science in Culture Theme website.

Professor Barry Smith is Director of the Institute of Philosophy, part of the School of Advanced Study (SAS). Take a look at the SAS website for full details.

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