What is data ?

The answer to this question isn’t as obvious as it would seem at first sight. People differ from meaning about to what extent we can talk about data. Some people even claim that the word “data” shouldn’t be used in the humanities. However, after giving some examples I will tell you what I personally understand under ‘data in the humanities’ and will let you decide what you think is data for yourself.

First of all, Christof Schöch thinks that data is “a digital, selective constructed, machine-actionable abstraction representing some aspects of a given object of humanistic inquiry” (Paragraph 5, Big? Smart? Clean? Messy? Data in the Humanities). This means that everything that can be analyzed by machines and be represented 100% into 1's and 0's is what he would consider data. However I can’t fully agree with him and that is because due to the fast evolution of machines what can’t be analyzed now might be able to be analyzed in the future. This means that he wouldn’t consider it data until the time comes where this machine exists. I believe that that potential data should also be considered data even when a machine can’t analyze it (yet).

My next example is Joanna Drucker, she is saying that the word “data” is an inadequate term when it comes to information you gathered for your humanities research/project. She would prefer to use the term “ ‘capta’ it means in latin, that which has been captured or gathered”. (Paragraph 6, Big? Smart? Clean? Messy? Data in the Humanities) She might be right in saying that it is an inadequate term, however I get the feeling that he is evading the question. Instead of answer ‘what is data?’ she just gives us a replacement word for data and tells us the problem is solved. However the term we use when we gather information is still data till these days so I can’t accept that answer neither.

Now that we have talked about two very different points of view of what data is, I will tell you what I understand under data. I think data is everywhere and everything is data. Objects, our senses, pictures, books, computer data, scientific law’s, even society as a whole can all be seen as data. Information can be called data if you can learn something from it or confirm already existing theories with it.

Now that you have been given an idea, it’s up to you to decide what you believe you should consider to be ‘data’.