What is Data?

Data is the collection of information that may be accumulated and presented computationally for the purpose of the development of a particular digital project that answers a specific question or creates an argument. Data in the humanities encompasses a wide range of systems that stores information from paintings to XML files, reiterating the point that digital humanities is interdisciplinary, which results in different forms of data being collected for digital projects that aim to explain a particular phenomenon or social problem. Schoes notes, “Moreover, he shows we can approach data from different perspectives and treat it as an artifact (something actively and purposefully created by people), as text (subject to interpretation, for example by scholars), and as computer-processable information (to be analysed with quantitative methods)” so data isn't relegated to digital form in binary notation involving just 0's and 1's, but it is a “multifaceted object which can be mobilized as evidence in support of an argument.” It can be proposed that data is all around us in the visual world, but the information isn’t truly data unless it is processed and utilized in explanation of questions and uncertainty. Data maybe everywhere, but it is quite difficult to extract important data out of the sea of error and obscurity. There are external factors that play upon one’s attempts to generate answers to their social questions. For example, in aiming to understand the trends in movies over the past 14 years one has to take into account the meaning that they give the word “movies”. Should you consider movies to be only films that are in theaters, if so ones perception is altered by the Motion Picture Association of America(MPAA) which rates movies and controls the output of films in theaters. Then, when looking up the ratings of movies at sites such as Rotten Tomatoes or Movies.com, movies are labeled as varying genres creating a dilemma for the researcher in developing a study based on genre popularity through a particular period of time. Should you consider movies that are played in theaters around the world, then you have to consider that movies at present being shown in the box offices of countries that are not the U.S. have already been viewed in U.S. theaters. The issues faced in this case demonstrates that we have to consider the external forces that may affect our data and as a result the answer to the question that was posed, making it invalid. So with data comes an abundance of issues and external problems that all humanist have to take into account. If one aims to understand the depths of the cause of a social phenomena they will have to endure a long, drawn out investigation.

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