Models of Argument-Driven Digital History

This site contains a set of published journal articles annotated by their authors to highlight the use of digital methods to make historical arguments. The goal is to provide models for those seeking to develop argument-driven digital history, to encourage more of this form of scholarship. Historical interpretations and arguments are not the only ends that digital history should pursue, but they are an end that digital history should pursue. Examining why there are so few examples of digital history that make such explicit arguments, the authors of the white paper “Digital History and Argument” (2017) concluded that scholars lack conceptual models of how to apply digital methods to historical questions. The articles on this site are annotated by their authors to serve as models of how to conceive and construct interpretations and arguments using digital history methods and materials for digital historians to emulate and build on.

The article text that appears on this site is not the published version, which is not available without the permission of the publishers. Rather, it is the text of the preprint, the version first submitted by the author, before any input from reviewers or editors for the journal. Some annotations address the changes that authors made to their original submission to address how reviewers and editors responded to their digital history approaches and arguments.

This site is part of a project on digital history and argument led by Stephen Robertson and Lincoln Mullen and of the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media, undertaken from 2017 to 2021, and generously supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

The articles by Leonardo Barleta and Rachel Midura, which both provide interpretations based on network graphs and spatial visualizations, appear in a special section of the Summer 2021 issue of the Journal of Social History, volume 54, number 4. They were developed in a series of workshops to support authors in the process of writing, peer review and publication held in 2019 and 2020, with the support of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The editors of the Journal of Social History, Matthew Karush and Sam Lebovic, co-convened the workshops with us and provided the participants with invaluable insight into the publication and peer review process. Leonardo Barleta, Genevieve Carpio and Andrzej Rutkowski, Mariola Espinosa, Jacquelyne Howard, Rachel Midura, Erin Sassin and Florence Feiereisen, Lauren Tilton, and Nathan Tye participated in the workshops. We thank them all for their willingness to share their work and to take on the challenge of developing historical arguments.

We solicited annotations from authors of seven additional articles that are influential examples of historical interpretations based on a variety of digital methods: Caroline Winterer using spatial visualizations; Ruth Ahnert and Sebastian Ahnert and Maeve Kane using network graphs; Melodee Beals, Sharon Block and David Newman, Jo Guldi; Tim Hitchcock and William Turkel using text analysis and topic modeling; and Kellen Funk and Lincoln Mullen using text analysis and network graphs.

A fuller discussion of the structures of argument used in published digital history journal articles can be found in our introduction to the Journal of Social History special section, “Arguing with Digital History: Patterns of Historical Interpretation.” The preprint version of that introduction can be found on this site.

That discussion builds on the white paper “Digital History and Argument,” which provides an overview of the relationship between digital history and historical arguments and how to create a bridge for digital historians to contribute to historiographical conversations carried on in books and articles. The white paper was co-authored by twenty-seven digital humanities scholars who participated in a workshop convened in 2017 with the support of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Using the site:

Annotations appear in the text in orange. Each annotation has a title. Clicking on the triangle on the right of the annotation title bar will open and close the box containing the annotation.


Arguing with Digital History: Patterns of Historical Interpretation

Robertson, Stephen, and Lincoln A. Mullen | Journal of Social History

Annotated Articles

Spatial Genealogies: Mobility, Settlement, and Empire-Building in the Brazilian Backlands, 1650-1800

Barleta, Leonardo | Journal of Social History

Itinerating Europe: Early Modern Spatial Networks in Printed Itineraries, 1545-1700

Midura, Rachel | Journal of Social History

Protestant Letter Networks in the Reign of Mary I: A Quantitative Approach

Ahnert, Ruth and Sebastian E. Anhert | ELH

Close Readings of Big Data: Triangulating Patterns of Textual Reappearance and Attribution in the Caledonian Mercury, 1820-1840

Beals, M. H. | Victorian Periodicals Review

What, Where, When and Sometimes Why: Data Mining Two Decades of Women’s History Abstracts

Block, Sharon, and Newman, David J. | Journal of Women's History

The Spine of American Law: Digital Text Analysis and U.S. Legal Practice

Funk, Kellen, and Lincoln A. Mullen | American Historical Review

Parliament’s Debates about Infrastructure: An Exercise in Using Dynamic Topic Models to Synthesize Historical Change

Guldi, Jo | Technology and Culture

The Old Bailey Proceedings, 1674-1913: Text Mining for Evidence of Court Behavior

Hitchcock, Tim and William J. Turkel | Law and History Review

For Wagrassero's Wife's Son: Colonialism and the Structure of Indigenous Women's Social Connections, 1690-1730

Kane, Maeve | Journal of Early American History

Where is America in the Republic of Letters?

Winterer, Caroline | Modern Intellectual History