So, You Say You Want a Revolution

The digital humanities are combining old data and new technology to understand how historical and current social movements came into being.

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How do you define a revolution? When does an idea turn into a movement and lead to political change? Who are the players and what did they do to make it happen?  These are merely some of the questions that can be answered by the Digital Humanities.

Far from merely hanging out in old, dusty archives, combining archives with digital media is allowing researchers to ask questions in the humanities that were not possible without computers.

Constance Crompton, an Assistant Professor, Digital Humanities, in the Faculty of Creative and Critical Studies at the University of British Columbia, is a digital humanist who is modernizing searches through dusty archives with databases and semantic web technology.

In one of her current projects, she is co-directing an effort to uncover how the digital medium can inform Canada’s role in the gay liberation movement.  Using Donald McLeod’s Lesbian and Gay Liberation In Canada: A Selected Annotated Chronology (Vol. 1 & 2) as a base text, the Lesbian and Gay Liberation in Canada (LGLC) project is leveraging computational tools to study the people, literature and events that led to legal reforms in Canada.

“We’re working with a base text which is a fabulous list of events, all the things that happened in the gay liberation movement. We’ve got poetry readings, protests, legislative change, and it’s great to read it front to back – you can find out what’s happening,” says Crompton.

“But what we’re doing is using graph databases in order to slice and recombine that information so that we can look at just political change over time, or do statistical analysis to see how that movement changes, how those ideas move about in a way that we couldn’t just get at by reading the text.”

The outputs from the project are freely available to the public through the project’s website and anyone can perform searches, a feature only made possible through public funding.  With such a focus in our society on inclusion and diversity, there is the hope that projects like the LGLC, which aid us in understanding the struggles people went through in the past, can help us build a more inclusive future.

Want to learn more about how to go about conducting studies in digital humanities?  Check out Prof. Crompton’s book, “Doing Digital Humanities: Practice, Training, Research” or visit her in UBCO’s Humanities Data Lab.

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Constance Crompton is an Assistant Professor of Digital Humanities and English in the Department of Critical Studies in the Faculty of Creative and Critical Studies at UBC Okanagan, where she directs the Humanities Data Lab. She is co-director, with Michelle Schwartz, of the Lesbian and Gay Liberation in Canada project, and a researcher with Implementing New Knowledge Environments (INKE). She also serves as the Associate Director of the Digital Humanities Summer Institute at the University of Victoria and as a research collaborator with The Yellow Nineties Online. Her work has appeared in a number of edited collections and in the Victorian Review, Nineteenth-Century Gender Studies, the UBC Law Review, Digital Humanities Quarterly, and Digital Studies/Champs Numerique.