The always thought provoking Ben Schmidt (@benmschmidt) has a damn interesting series up about, I kid you not, whaling and maritime stuff that he is using to say a lot about various digital history tools.  He takes some pretty broad swipes at LDA based topic modeling, which most academics doing topic modeling use, including my initial forays.  
I have all along been grasping towards a methodology, wondering about the “so what” question of digital “outputs.”  However, I’m about as boots on the ground academic as you can get.  While I trained at UCLA, I work at a SLAC teaching 4/4 (and that is with no repeat preps).  I just used up sabbatical and no one is likely to give me a digital history fellowship, so as I explore digital history it comes in bits and pieces, on my own (no the librarians can’t help, we barely have IT, and 1 graduate student who is digitizing sources for me, yes I’m still looking for collaborators, and let me just say T.G. for twitter).  I can either dive into the man behind the curtain aspect of all these nifty tools, or I can play with them, attempting in the process to also gain as much understanding of HOW they work, as well as of WHAT they give me. 
And I’m doing just that.  I had a FAB interchange with Heather Froehlich @heatherfro (√ her efforts to apply a universal metric of gendered terms to a given corpus”today after I abashedly tweeted her back that my first run at topic modelinghad to be repeated due to a newbie error which thankfully I knew enough to catch the next day when not tired.  We then continued to discuss how exactly to represent what I find, because yes, you can’t just say “damn look how these 10 words together = my results.”

For my purposes topic modeling is proving to be something of a gateway drug.  I can already tell I can’t tell what I want to know from it.   So the next step is to figure out if there is some tool that will let me see what I want to see in the data from JSTOR and the periodicals I had digitized.

p.s. as I went to post this got a nice email from Heather pointing me to Ben’s post.  #serendipity  She gave me a great new tool to play with.  Stay tuned (although I’ve a paper to revise and its the US Thanksgiving this week #gulp.  Still I doubt I’ll be able to resist.

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