Information Access Seminar

Future-Proofing the Past: Big Data and the Transformation of Historical Practice

2024-03-08T15:10:00 - 2024-03-08T17:00:00
Friday, March 8, 2024
3:10 pm - 5:00 pm PST

Javier Cha

How will future historians study the 2020s?

The total amount of data estimated to have been generated by the digital revolution until 2020 dwarfs what historians have traditionally encountered. However, the challenge for the historian is not only due to information overload, but also difficulties in how to access big data as an archive, such as bit rot, sharding, replication, (in)compatibility, encryption, and the physical presence of digital information in the form of data centers and global communications infrastructure.

This new reality prompts the need to rethink the established approaches to digital history, which, while innovative, are designed for converting documents to digital media and applying quantitative methods to sub-1.0 gigabyte data sets. As today's born-digital artifacts are vast, dynamic, and heterogeneous, research and training in the nature of big data from a historian's perspective are a necessity, not an option.

In this talk, I will present the fruits of five years of experimental research at the Big Data Studies Lab, where we investigate the preservation, authentication, energy demands, and societal implications of big data. Our approach is inspired by how book historians examine parchment, paper, ink, printing, and circulation, but in the context of solid-state drives, 5D optical discs, and content-delivery networks.

This seminar will be held both online & in person. You are welcome to join us either in South Hall or via Zoom.

For online participants

Online participants must have a Zoom account and be logged in. Sign up for your free account here. If this is your first time using Zoom, please allow a few extra minutes to download and install the browser plugin or mobile app.

Join the seminar online


Javier Cha is a Canadian medievalist, digital historian, and technologist. He is an assistant professor of digital humanities in the Department of History at the University of Hong Kong and principal investigator of the Big Data Studies Lab

Last updated: February 26, 2024