In their excellent chapter on the use of digital data in historical research, Frederick W. Gibbs and Trevor J. Owens distinguish between two DH approaches to data. ‘Data’, they argue, ‘does not always have to be used as evidence. It can also help with discovering and framing research questions’. On the one hand, you have ‘complex statistical methods’ and ‘rigorous mathematics’ (or ‘mathematical rigor’) to ‘support epistemological claims’. Gibbs and Owens equal this type of DH research to the wave of quantitative history in the 1960s and 1970s, using data ‘for quantifying, computing and creating knowledge’.
On the other, there is a ‘fundamentally different’ form of using data – a form that is exploratory instead of analytic and deliberately without the mathematical complexity that is needed to derive evidence from quantitative analyses. Above all, it’s a form of data manipulation that can be playful (although the authors removed the adjective at one of the places it appeared in their text). Gibbs and Owens state that ‘playing with data – in all its formats and forms – is more important than ever.
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