two more useful follow-up posts to asecs ’12, digital humanities

For those who can’t get enough coverage of ASECS ’12, check out the terrific follow-ups at EMOB (by Lisa Maruca) here, and at the new Stephen H. Gregg blog, digitalhumanistbeginner, here, here, and here.

One of the topics I’m hoping someone will take up will be the issue of conceptual vs. keyword searching brought up by Bill Blake (NYU) at Eleanor Shevlin’s Digital Humanities and the Archive roundtable.  Here’s Gregg’s comment:

Bill Blake (NYU) asked “what makes a good keyword search”, and produced a list of popular search terms (“slavery” coming top). He suggested that many users had an impulse to “retrieve” rather than “search” and that the poorest keyword search terms effectively reproduced what was in the archive (one of the most popular search terms “slavery” was a good example of this). He argued that the best searches operated on a conceptual level. Indeed, that is what I’ve been training my own students to do, many of whose first try at ECCO was using a broad topic-based search term: they discover that the results of such search terms are useless and relatively quickly begin to think about the processes involved in deciding on a better search term . . .

This has implications both for our research and our pedagogy.  Any thoughts?





6 responses to “two more useful follow-up posts to asecs ’12, digital humanities

  1. Searching is also an issue that highly interests me. As I have remarked in previous posts, I view databases as discovery aids rather than retrieval instruments. The process of using them as such changes the queries we pose and the ways those queries are articulated. Yet, the databases we are using in the U.S. do not operate on semantic or meaning-based searches—their search architecture operates via traditional keyword searching and are not ontologically constructed. Thus, the search engines for ECCO, EEBO, and the like in the U.S. lack the capability of computer-driven conceptual searching. Has anyone been using the new JISC Historic books collection to do conceptual/meaning-based searching? I was fascinated by this development (see EMOB post on JISC and semantic searching on EEBO, EECO), and I have been seeking responses from anyone who has used this tool in the UK. I would be interested in hearing their insights about this new platform as well as comparisons between searches conducted on this platform and ones performed through the publishers’ sites. Within the week, we’ll have a follow-up post to the DH and Archives panel on EMOB, and I hope that Bill Blake and Randall Cream will be able to say even more about their presentations on searching.

  2. Hi Eleanor,

    My research hinges on finding sources, as I am tracking popular responses to satiric works, and I’m a student at the University of London (Royal Holloway). So I definitely know how to search and utilise the JISC ECCO!

    JISC’s cloud has been quite helpful to me, particularly by suggesting search terms that I may not have thought of prior. However, the way the cloud works is (initially) is as a refining tool: If I search for Alexander Pope, and then click on the Dunciad (suggested by the cloud), I will receive instances involving Pope AND the Dunciad. If I want just the Dunciad, I need to remove Pope as a search term from the top banner. It, admittedly, took me awhile to realize this!

    That in itself, though, is a great boon. Although I rarely have to sift through thousands of documents, the rare occasions in which I do are made simpler through the cloud’s suggestions. This isn’t the same as using narrow search definitions to find exactly what you want (which I do frequently as well). It is instead about ‘discovery’, seeing connections you didn’t know existed (and thus couldn’t possibly have searched!). And, likewise, if I want to find the ‘rarer’ or more prevalent options in the search, the size of the word contained in the cloud alerts me to its popularity. I’m always interested in the ‘tiny’ words because if they’re large, odds are I have found/know about them already.

    My school changed to JISC around the time I joined, so I really got to see the change from the old method to the new. Searching is, seemingly, more precise. My one major complaint is the method in which you download documents because you sit in a queue and it can take quite a bit longer than the old site.

    If you’d like to compare search results on a given topic (or what the cloud suggests), feel free to respond and let me know. I’d be more than happy to show you what I retrieve from JISC.


  3. Dave Mazella

    Kelly, could you post some screenshots, so we can visualize this? That would help us all get a sense of how this works. If you’d like, you could do a post for the Long 18th, or I could post them for you.

  4. Ok Dave–I wrote up a post with several screenshots. Would you like to grant me posting privileges?

    • Dave Mazella

      An invite was sent to your gmail address, with instructions. Let me know at dmazella at if there’s an issue.