Formulating Ambiguity in a Database

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[imgw]/CMS/upload/Le_RĂ©pertoire_Bibliographique_Universel_vers_1900.jpg[/img]Photograph of the staff of the International Institute of Bibliography, writing and classifying records

One of the most obvious questions to start with when working with structured data in the humanities is: what is data? Miriam Posner has captured this challenge in the title of her talk on this topic: 'Humanities Data: A Necessary Contradiction'. Oftentimes, scholars think about their research material in terms of nuances, vagueness, uniqueness, whereas data is perceived as binary, strict and repetitive. The realisation that nuances, vagueness, and uniqueness can also be captured by data in a database is something that has to grow over time.

As soon as we start talk about 'data' it is important to keep two things in mind. First, we should be ready to reflect on the fact that data oriented processes can dehumanise data. This process has been described by Scott Weingart in his essay on digitising and storing holocaust survivor stories. Even though we can efficiently organise large collections of data, the implications of this process have to be taken into account.[....]

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Data modeling and database development for historians (slides)

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This week we gave a two-day workshop on data modeling and database development for historians. This workshop was part of the course Databases for young historians. This course was sponsored by the Huizinga Instituut, Posthumus Instituut, Huygens-ING  and the Amsterdam Centre for Cultural Heritage and Identity (ACHI, UvA) and was hosted by Huygens-ING.

We had a great time working with a group of historians who were eager to learn how to conceptualise data models and how to set up databases. We discussed a couple of common issues that come up when historians start to think in terms of 'data':

  • How to determine the scope of your research?
  • How to deal with unknown/uncertain primary source material?
  • How to use/import 'structured' data?
  • How to reference entries in a dataset and how to deal with conflicting sources?
  • How to deal with unique/specific objects in a table/type?

These points were taken by the horns (pun intended) when every participant went on to conceptualise their data model. To get a feel for classical database software (tables, primary keys, foreign keys, forms,  etc..), they set up a database in LibreOffice Base. Finally, each participant created their own data model in nodegoat and presented their model and first bits of data.[....]

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