Open Data’s Potential for Political History

Article 6 / 9 , Vol 37 No 4 (Winter)

Open Data’s Potential for Political History

The recent trend of “open government” initiatives has provided an exciting new source of material for digital humanities researchers. Large datasets allow these scholars to engage in “distant reading” exercises to provide context in ways previously not possible. In this article, the author provides examples of the tools researchers can use to expand their understanding of the country’s political history and of the changing nature of parliamentary institutions and debates. He concludes with suggestions for ways to gain the maximum benefit from these data releases.

What could we learn if we read every word of the federal Hansard and explored how the frequency of various ‘topics’ rose and fell over time? Or, what types of trends might we see if we were able to know the occupation of every candidate for office since 1867? What kind of heretofore unknown value can be discovered in these sorts of extremely large datasets? The answers to all of these questions are promising.

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