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Computation in History: Styles and Methods

IP.com Disclosure Number: IPCOM000131344D
Original Publication Date: 1978-Aug-01
Included in the Prior Art Database: 2005-Nov-10
Document File: 13 page(s) / 56K

Publishing Venue

Software Patent Institute

Related People

David Herlihy: AUTHOR [+3]

Abstract

Recent advances in interactive computing and file management systems help the historian fulfill his traditional function as a collector, critic, and interpreter of documents. Historical projects and studies involving the computer grow daily ever more numerous, and ever more elaborate and ambitious. The bibliography of machine-assisted historical studies, compiled by the journal Computers and the Humanities, now runs to several hundred items every year, distributed across a wide range of countries, periods, and topics.) This review of past application and present promise of the computer in historical studies must perforce remain partial and incomplete; it also necessarily reflects the professional experiences and interests -- and the limited competence -- of the author. I am a historian of the medieval economy and society, and my direct experience with computers has been confined to their use in the analysis of fiscal and administrative records of the Middle Ages. Moreover, I have had no immediate acquaintance with the use of computers in the formal analysis of literary texts. This new and developing field has obvious relevance to historical criticism as well as to stylistic and literary analysis, but in spite of its great potential, I must limit this survey to what I know best: the computer-assisted analysis of serial records, bequeathed to us by the societies of the past.2 Some few definitions would seem to be in order. A ";serial record"; in our use of the term is a logical unit of documentation, forming part of a series, set, or array of comparable logical units. The array is often defined temporally, as in a time series, or spatially, as in a territorial survey; but it can as easily be based on any principle of organization. The records are comparable in the sense that they all respond, as it were, to the same questionnaire. They assign, in other words, values, both numerical and nominal, to the same set of variables. Common examples of serial records would be charters in a chartulary; manorial court rolls; household registrations in a census; entries in a baptismal, marriage, or death register; voting returns by ward, country, or state; roll calls in a legislative assembly; and so on endlessly. The raw material of quantitative history is not, it should be noted, exclusively or even primarily quantities. But the data, even if nominal in character, must be logically related, and they must be amenable to analysis by formal methods.

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THIS DOCUMENT IS AN APPROXIMATE REPRESENTATION OF THE ORIGINAL.

This record contains textual material that is copyright ©; 1978 by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc. All rights reserved. Contact the IEEE Computer Society http://www.computer.org/ (714-821-8380) for copies of the complete work that was the source of this textual material and for all use beyond that as a record from the SPI Database.

Computation in History: Styles and Methods

David Herlihy

Harvard University

Recent advances in interactive computing and file management systems help the historian fulfill his traditional function as a collector, critic, and interpreter of documents.

Historical projects and studies involving the computer grow daily ever more numerous, and ever more elaborate and ambitious. The bibliography of machine-assisted historical studies, compiled by the journal Computers and the Humanities, now runs to several hundred items every year, distributed across a wide range of countries, periods, and topics.) This review of past application and present promise of the computer in historical studies must perforce remain partial and incomplete; it also necessarily reflects the professional experiences and interests -- and the limited competence -- of the author. I am a historian of the medieval economy and society, and my direct experience with computers has been confined to their use in the analysis of fiscal and administrative records of the Middle Ages. Moreover, I have had no immediate acquaintance with the use of computers in the formal analysis of literary texts. This new and developing field has obvious relevance to historical criticism as well as to stylistic and literary analysis, but in spite of its great potential, I must limit this survey to what I know best: the computer-assisted analysis of serial records, bequeathed to us by the societies of the past.2 Some few definitions would seem to be in order. A "serial record" in our use of the term is a logical unit of documentation, forming part of a series, set, or array of comparable logical units. The array is often defined temporally, as in a time series, or spatially, as in a territorial survey; but it can as easily be based on any principle of organization. The records are comparable in the sense that they all respond, as it were, to the same questionnaire.

They assign, in other words, values, both numerical and nominal, to the same set of variables. Common examples of serial records would be charters in a chartulary; manorial court rolls; household registrations in a census; entries in a baptismal, marriage, or death register; voting returns by ward, country, or state; roll calls in a legislative assembly; and so on endlessly. The raw material of quantitative history is not, it should be noted, exclusively or even primarily quantities. But the data, even if nominal in character, must be logically related, and they must be amenable to analysis by formal methods.

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