Studying the Past Through Technology

When and Where

Thursday, March 02, 2017 4:00 pm to 5:00 pm
Bissel Room 507
140 St. George Street, Toronto, ON M5S 3G6


The Digital Curation Institute (DCI) at the Faculty of Information (iSchool) is pleased to announce a DCI Event pn Thursday, March 2nd at 4pm in Bissel Room 507. All are welcome, and light refreshments will be provided.

This panel, “Studying the Past Through Technology: An Interdisciplinary Roundtable,” brings diverse perspectives to bear on the question of how we can study the past through new and emerging technology. While historical research has long been approached through traditional methods of close reading – in-person archival visits, consulting individual documents – the digital turn has seen researchers adopt computational methods to explore ever-larger source bases of information. These approaches, from mining millions of books found within Google Books and the Hathi Trust to digitally mapping spatial relationships within Renaissance cities, suggest an exciting new approach not only for our research but also our pedagogical approaches.


Michelle Alexopoulos, Professor of Economics. She will be discussing “Off the Books.” Knowledge gives shape and order to the world around us, but is notoriously difficult to measure. This research utilizes the Hathi Trust’s digitized collections, meta-data from the Online Computer Library Center (OCLC) and library catalogues, along with a new set of tools to: (1) quantify the development of new ideas, scientific discoveries, and inventions, (2) trace their spread over time and across countries, (3) document their social, political, economic, and scientific significance, (4) uncover potential inter-dependencies between different ideas/theories/innovations, and (5) identify emerging trends for policy makers and regulators. Her findings help further our understanding of knowledge diffusion and their barriers, and also help us evaluate how various innovations affect the environment, the health and well-being of populations, and economic growth within and across countries over time.

Periklis Andritsos, Assistant Professor at the Faculty of Information. He will be discussing about experiments that his team has done, within the context of a startup company, using the text from news stories. He will show results from experiments that they did using news clusters to see how articles are written in different outlets to see similarities or differences. For example, do Canadian outlets write in the same way as British?

Nicholas Terpstra, Chair and Professor of History. He will be presenting on “Mapping Space, Sense, and Movement in the Pre-Modern City: the DECIMA project.” Based here at the University of Toronto, the DECIMA project is a collaborative effort to build an online digital platform that allows us better to understand the social structures, visual forms, and sensory realities of an exceptionally well-documented city: sixteenth century Florence. Terpstra will discuss how they began their project with a database of all 9,000 households in Florence in 1561 and georeferenced the data to a 1584 aerial view of the city. He will also explain how they have worked to draw in interdisciplinary collaborators across the university and around the globe in order to add visual, sensory, and kinetic dimensions. The process has involved extensive collaboration with student research assistants, and one key goal currently is to see how best to develop DECIMA’s pedagogical potential. We hope to use this project in order to develop experience and templates that can facilitate the on-line mapping of other pre-modern cities for which there are relatively few sets of data.

The event will be moderated by Ian Milligan, Assistant Professor of History at the University of Waterloo and 2016-17 Marshall McLuhan Centenary Fellow in Digital Sustainability at the Faculty of Information.


140 St. George Street, Toronto, ON M5S 3G6