This project seeks to assist instructors and students working with social science data. To this end, I have outlined a process for quantitative analysis of texts, highlighted sources that allow us to interact with demographic data, developed an interactive historical atlas module, and identified links that utilize Geographic Information Services (GIS). My objective is to use the web and electronic resources to interact with information in ways that were very difficult if not impossible to the average student. Students in the natural sciences have enjoyed laboratory environments for decades; electronic instruments help historians enter the lab and become more active in interrogating primary sources. I hope you enjoy the process and welcome any comments or suggestions you have.
Interrogation of Texts--Content Analyses
The web is a wonderful delivery instrument that enables us to view primary materials via a browser. Nonetheless, I find that many students struggle with the relevance of historical texts. In some ways the web is less satisfying than a document reader that contextualizes the readings. If you accept that texts have meaning beyond what you bring to them, then students can benefit by conducting quantitative analyses of texts. Content analysis does not replace reading, but a quantitative analysis of the text allows the student to become a more active learner by formulating hypotheses, by asking questions of the text, and by comparing sources in a quantitative fashion.
How could my students engage in quantitative analyses of historical texts with tools they probably have on their desktop?
For a site on qualitative and quantitative analyses, see the work of Matthias Romppel. Follow links on research to develop a better understanding of the applications of content analysis and electronic texts for sources including well over 10,000 books. (Note, files with .pdf extensions will not work in the process offered here.)
Visualization of Demographic Data
Students frequently roll their eyes when asked to think about demographic information. I believe, however, that demographic factors are critical to one's analysis of a region or country. When presented comparative demographic data, students seem to respond more favorably to the argument that circumstances matter. Like our histories, most of our demographic data are organized the nation-state or around political boundaries.
How do I encourage students to think about the influence of non-animate, structural factors upon developments in history? How do I encourage them to think about broader theories and models?
When I started this process, I had to draw information from atlases and compendia and create a database. Now, organizations have placed interactive sites on the web.
For contemporary international relations
- United Nations' "Infonation" (this site allows you to interact with its database by comparing up to four data fields in a maximum of seven countries) or the CIA World Factbook provides data you can then chart.
- Although a little less user friendly, the U.S. Census Bureau offers an International Data Base with several interactive features.
For U.S. History
- U.S. Census materials offer a wealth of information. If you are interested in recent data, try the American FactFinder page. From this page you can customize maps on such things as 1990 Median Income, US by State and Counties.
- I particularly like a site made available through the efforts of the Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR), in Ann Arbor, Michigan and the National Science Foundation. This site combines historical data on economy, society, and demography for the United States from 1790-1970.
View sample Charts made from the data.
Students struggle with the idea of a dynamic territories, monarchies, or states. This seems particularly true for Poland and central Europe. Although historical atlases are valuable, my objective is to make them more interactive.
How might one visualize border changes to gain a better understanding of domestic and international relations by viewing and interacting with a graphical display of Poland's borders?
ESRI site provides examples of GIS applications.
Use dynamic maps to zoom in and out on a specific location with National Geographic's Map Machine.