Humanities Data Analysis

Benjamin MacDonald Schmidt


Problem 1: Intractable Sources

Methods: Humanities Data Analysis


How do you read a logbook like this?

Confederate Navy Engraving 1862, from

Woodruff et al., 2011

Statist visions: the census and the frontier

Digital history is about sources, not methods

Data sources are stories about structures

Humanities data analysis lets us understand how states see

Conclusion A: States create data.



  1. Mapping the Oceans (seeing like a state)
  2. The signification of the frontier

Seeing Like a State

Seeing like a state

Age of sail

Whaling Logbooks

1848 6 1     3723 29038 02 4    10ISABE*_N   1   5                                                           \
165 20779701 69 5 0 1                  FFFFFF77AAAAAAAAAAAA     99 0 790044118480601 \
3714N 6937W                                                                           NW     51 NW     57 NW   \
51                                          201A.STEWART       NEW BEDFORD             WHALING V\
OYAGE           2620 199

Lt. Matthew Maury

Undigitized Logbook material

Matthew Maury's Wind and Current Charts

Reconstructed Shipping Times

The expansion of whaling

Digitized logbooks, c. 1930s(?)

Deck 701: American Shipping, 1800-1850

Deck 892, US shipping 1980-1997

Deck 720:German weather data

Deck 735:Soviet scientific data, bulk 1950-1989

Caption: Closeup of Deck 735. Soviet Vessels carefully avoiding the coast of South America.

Deck 735:German drifter data, 1980s-1990s

Historical Data Revisualization: The Frontier

In a recent bulletin of the Superintendent of the Census for 1890 appear these significant words: "Up to and including 1880 the country had a frontier of settlement, but at present the unsettled area has been so broken into by isolated bodies of settlement that there can hardly be said to be a frontier line. In the discussion of its extent, its westward movement, etc., it can not, therefore, any longer have a place in the census reports." This brief official statement marks the closing of a great historic movement. Up to our own day American history has been in a large degree the history of the colonization of the Great West.












Francis Amasa Walker, Census superintendent 1870 & 1880

Why revisualize?



Georeferencing and training

Census frontiers (red) vs county boundaries


1870 Census atlas, detail

Raw templates for sending maps to printer, 1900 census (National Archives)

County data, 1930(?) atlas: National Archives

Why the rush to close the frontier?

Madison Grant, Passing of the Great Race, 1916

Closing of Indian Country

National Museum of the American Indian, 2014

Constructing authority: The Center of Population

Mean Center of Population, US Census Bureau

Median vs Mean: US census Bureau vs. Birmingham Bank

Calculating the Center of New Jersey

Center of Population of the Southern States, Population matrix (National Archives)

Calculating centroids from paper

The 1890 Census

Humanities Data Visualization

Shipping routes