The Big Data Turn in the Humanities: Sailing into Uncharted Waters

Date: 

Friday, November 13, 2020, 10:00am to 11:00am

Location: 

Online Event (Zoom)

East Asian Digital Scholarship Series; co-sponsored by Harvard-Yenching Library, Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies, Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies, and Korea Institute


Javier Cha (Assistant Professor of East Asian Studies, College of Liberal Studies, Seoul National University; Visiting Scholar and Digital Historian-in-Residence, Department of History, Lingnan University)

The total amount of data created by 2020, if stored in a stack of single-layer Blu-ray discs, would reach seven times the distance between the Earth and the Moon. In 2019 alone, content creators uploaded 30,000 years of video to YouTube, and Naver's flagship data center, Kak, handles more information than ten thousand National Libraries of Korea combined. By 2025, big data will triple in size, and the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated this growth. To meet this demand, China is aggressively increasing its data center capacity, as seen in Guizhou's recent transformation into Big Data Valley and Alibaba Cloud's expansion in Southeast Asia. What are the implications of this ongoing big data transformation of society in the humanities? In this talk, Javier Cha argues for the need to fundamentally rethink the humanities, from material bibliography to data analytics and cultural studies. What do we do when our sources consist of millions of servers rather than documents? How do we handle cultural artifacts that increasingly eschew text in favor of video, 3d point clouds, and holograms? Questions of this nature are at the heart of Cha's Big Data Studies Lab at Seoul National University, which has invited librarians, historians, anthropologists, and computer scientists, among others, to search for the new normal in the humanities together. Our current proposal is to develop big data literacy and cultural data science curricula for the next generation of humanities scholars.

The East Asian Digital Scholarship Series, founded by Feng-en Tu and Sharon Yang, has been a monthly luncheon at Harvard-Yenching Library. This year, the Series will be conducted remotely and is sponsored by Harvard-Yenching Library with the support of the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies, Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies, and Korea Institute. The Series will cover a wide range of topics in East Asian digital scholarship.


The webinar will be conducted via Zoom. Participants will be required to register at https://link.ws/eads-nov20.