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Digital History in a Digital Age?

Kemp Family Symposium / Eisenberg Forum Featuring Edward Ayers and Micki Kaufman
Friday, December 16, 2016
9:30 AM-5:30 PM
1014 Tisch Hall Map
9:30 am Coffee

9:45 am Digital Scholarship Librarians
Justin Joque, Alix Keener, Alexa Pearce, Justin Schell

11:30 am Keynote: “‘Everything on Paper Will Be Used Against Me’: Quantifying Kissinger” (abstract below)
Micki Kaufman, Graduate Center, The City University of New York

1:00 pm Lunch

2:00 pm U-M Graduate Students on Digital History
Jacqueline Antonovich, Paula Curtis, Emily Merchant, Ana María Silva

3:45 pm Concluding Discussion
Micki Kaufman and others


“Digital History in a Digital Age?” aims to introduce graduate students and faculty to some of the new digital techniques and methods for historical scholarship, centering on the analysis, presentation, and/or teaching of digital data (texts, images, quantitative information, etc.). We see this Kemp Family Symposium/Eisenberg Forum as an excellent venue for bringing some of the leading practitioners of digital history to the History Department and showing off, as well, some of the exciting work already being done at UM by graduate students, faculty, and library digital scholars. We hope that students and faculty will be encouraged to expand their conceptions of teaching and research and to employ some of these digital approaches to pursue fresh questions or old questions in new ways.


“‘Everything on Paper Will Be Used Against Me’: Quantifying Kissinger”

Abstract: Intimately associated with a wide range of affairs of state during the 1970’s including the US invasion of Cambodia, withdrawal from Vietnam, "opening to China," détente with the Soviet Union and the Watergate Affair, the public persona of former National Security Advisor (1969-1975) and US Secretary of State (1973-1977) Henry A. Kissinger has consistently fascinated historians. Paradoxically cast through countless media appearances and interviews as an emotional champion of dispassionate "realpolitik," a stoic Cold Warrior or passionate "secret swinger," questions about Kissinger’s fascinating internal and public contradictions have been a significant focus of the study of "Kissingerology."

Trying to understand what at first glance can appear to be apparently incompatible motives and behavior, historians soon encounter a second problem – one of scale. A classic "big data" catch-22, the extensive and vast array of documents, diplomatic cables, transcripts and other correspondence available for study greatly complicates the task of historically situating and interpreting Kissinger. This deluge of information is an increasingly common frustration for historians of the twentieth century, and as larger and larger archives of human cultural output are accumulated scholars are beginning to adapt, develop and employ tools, methods and interpretive frameworks from fields like computational linguistics, visual design and textual studies, that can overcome ‘information overload’ and facilitate new historical interpretations of "big data" archival collections.

As detailed on the project's web site ( ) "Quantifying Kissinger" is a digital history examination of the National Security Archive's Kissinger Correspondence Collection, comprising approximately 18,600 meeting memoranda ("memcons") and teleconference transcripts ("telcons") from former US National Security Advisor and Secretary of State Dr. Henry Kissinger from 1969 to­ 1977. The project's application of computational analysis and visualization techniques to the study of twentieth-­century diplomatic history has generated useful finding aids for researchers, provided essential testing grounds for new historical methodologies, and prompted new interpretations and questions about the Nixon/Kissinger era.

Keynote speaker Micki Kaufman is currently pursuing a PhD in history from the City University of New York Graduate Center and exploring digital humanities research across a number of research subjects and methodologies. Kaufman’s prizes and awards include the 2015 Paul Fortier Prize for New and Young Scholars; and the 2015 Lisa Lena Opas-Hänninen Prize for New and Young Scholars.

Kaufman is best known for her extraordinary digital project: “‘Everything on Paper Will Be Used Against Me’: Quantifying Kissinger,” which is a computational analysis of the Digital National Security Archive’s Kissinger Collection. Kaufman’s project was to engage in an application of “big data” computational text analysis techniques to research the collection: the project is, what Kaufman calls, a first effort at “Diplonomics.”

Presented with support from the Kemp Family Foundation, Rackham Mellon Initiative on the Humanities Doctorate in the Twenty-First Century, and Rackham Dean’s Strategic Initiatives Fund.

Image: Carsten Ullrich, “Difference Engine Number 2,” (CC BY-SA 2.0).
Building: Tisch Hall
Event Type: Conference / Symposium
Tags: Graduate, History, Information and Technology, Research, Scholarship, Undergraduate
Source: Happening @ Michigan from Department of History, Eisenberg Institute for Historical Studies