Large-Scale Digital Humanities Scholarship: Some Initial Experiments

February 10, 2011
2:50 pm - 4:00 pm
Halligan 111


For years digital humanists have asked, in Greg Crane's memorable phrase, "What would you do with a million books?" Now we finally have computational access to million-book collections, as well as large-scale corpora of many other kinds: manuscripts, articles, maps, images, court cases. In this talk, Dan Cohen will show some early results of several NEH- and Google-funded projects that explore how best to mine these collections: a study of the intellectual history of the Victorian age through 1.7 million books; an exploration of the history of crime in London through 200,000 legal records; and a broader study of how historians without technical skills might use these digital resources and tools. The results are both simpler and more complex than once imagined; most of all, they point to a research agenda for the next decade that should prove engrossing for both humanists and computer scientists alike.

Daniel J. Cohen is an Associate Professor of History and the Director of the Center for History and New Media (CHNM) at George Mason University. He is the author of Equations from God: Pure Mathematics and Victorian Faith (Johns Hopkins) and The Ivory Tower and the Open Web (University of Michigan, forthcoming), coauthor with Roy Rosenzweig of Digital History: A Guide to Gathering, Preserving, and Presenting the Past on the Web (University of Pennsylvania), and has published articles on the history of mathematics and religion, the teaching of history, and the future of history in a digital age in journals such as the Journal of American History, The Chronicle of Higher Education, and Rethinking History. He is an inaugural recipient of the American Council of Learned Societies Digital Innovation Fellowship. At CHNM he has directed projects ranging from digital collections (September 11 Digital Archive) to scholarly software (Zotero). He received his bachelorís degree from Princeton, his masterís from Harvard, and his doctorate from Yale. He blogs at, tweets @dancohen, and podcasts at