Building Data Tools for Exploring the Past

When most people think about data analysis and building databases, they don’t typically imagine using them for literature and music scholarship. But that’s precisely the work I’ve been doing this semester. With Professor Maia McAleavey, BC professor of English, I have been building an interactive web portal for a research project exploring the composition of 19th century literature, which will eventually house interactive visualizations.

From text to music, I’ve also been creating a tool that allows users to dynamically explore a rediscovered choir book, which was created by an early modern Spanish printer. Professor Michael Noone, BC professor of  Music, wants to highlight the only remaining copy of this formerly lost choir book, and I have been building an app that allows users to easily browse the high resolution images of the manuscript on desktop or mobile. Eventually, my Digital Scholarship Group colleagues and I will build the project out further to contain metadata, modern music scores, and records of the music itself.

I jump at the chance to create data-driven analyses in areas of research that are not traditionally thought of as digital. (Hence my excitement about Dr. McAleavey and Dr. Noone’s projects!) My own background is in ancient history, and I have used databases, web programming, and network analysis to explore research questions. My project, The Network of Roman Eleusis, for example, allows me to study the history of Athens as found through hundreds of ancient inscriptions. I’ve also written a Python programming language library to help students perform text analysis in Greek and Latin. Above all, I find these methods not only allow us to answer questions we couldn’t in the past, they also allow us to pose questions that we could not even have conceived of until recently.