The Imperiia Project: a spatial history of the Russian Empire

Converting Documents to Data

Scholars in some fields have the pleasure of downloading ready-made (though never perfect) data to use in their analyses. Those of us attempting to map the past are rarely so fortunate. Instead, it falls to us to translate the historical record into the lingua franca of the digital age. In some cases this process can be automated; in others it must be done by hand.  

Either way, the task is daunting. After all, imperial regimes generated an astonishing amount of paper. The process of moving from document to data involves some combination of the following steps (which are often repeated and do not necessarily happen in neat order):This process applies to the full range of historical sources: archival documents, historical maps, paintings, narrative texts, statistical tables, you name it. The point is not to simplify or reduce the complexity of historical source, but rather to identify its constituent parts and innovate ways to allow sources from a variety of genres to "speak" to one another.

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