How does the notion of scale affect humanities?

Gallery 2

This month we finished our application for Digging Into Data 2011 competition. One of the questions we were suppose to address was "How does the notion of scale affect humanities?"

Here is what I wrote:

"Digitization of massive amounts of cultural artifacts, the rise of born-digital and social media, and the progress in computational tools that can process massive amounts of data makes possible a fundamentally new approach to the humanities. Scholars no longer have to choose between data size and data depth. They can study exact trajectories formed by billions of cultural expressions and conversations in space and time, zooming into particular cultural texts and zooming out to see larger patterns.

New super-visualization technologies specifically designed for research purposes allow interactive exploration of massive media collections which may contain tens of thousands of hours of video and millions of still images. Researchers can quickly generate new questions and hypotheses and immediately test them. This means that researchers can quickly explore many research questions within a fraction of the time previously needed to ask just one question.

Computational analysis and visualization of large cultural data sets allows the detailed analysis of gradual historical patterns that may only manifest themselves over tens of thousands of artifacts created over number of years. Rather than describing the history of any media collection in terms of discrete parts (years, decades, periods, etc.), we can begin to see it as a set of curves, each showing how a particular dimension of form, content, and reception changes over time. In a similar fashion, we can supplement existing data classification with new categories that group together artifacts which share some common characteristics. For instance, rather than only dividing television news programs according to producers, air dates and times, or ratings, we can generate many new programs clusters based on patterns in rhetorical strategies, semantics, and visual form. In another example, we can analyze millions of examples of contemporary graphic design, web design, motion graphics, experience design and other recently developed cultural fields to create their maps which would reveal if they have any stylistic and content clusters."