Historical Social Research

Olaf Berg: Capturing Displaced Persons’ Agency by Modelling Their Life Events: A Mixed Method Digital Humanities Approach. [Abstract]

The International Tracing Service archives offer process-generated documents from resettlement programs for displaced persons (DP) after World War II. This paper addresses two key challenges to ongoing research based on those archival holdings: the generation of data; and the visual representation of that data in geographic information systems. Digital history offers the opportunity to go beyond case studies and use the wealth of process-generated documents as serial sources for algorithm-based analysis. However, data in that form does not exist as such, and thus needs to be generated – a process that implies interpretative acts such as abstraction, normalization, and trans-coding, which are shaped by the character of digital media. Can modeling a DP’s life into a series of events, and digitally processing the resultant data, help to find out more about the agency of DPs negotiating their destiny with the authorities? If the mostly hidden and implicit configurations of digital knowledge production are thoughtfully considered and geostatistical analysis is combined with close readings of selected source documents, hermeneutic and quantitative approaches can be reconciled via digital history. This mixed method approach has implications for research culture and the publication of such data.

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