The Collegian
Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Mining the Dispatch analyzes Civil War topics in Times-Dispatch

Mining the Dispatch, a computer analysis program launched two years ago in the Boatwright Library Digital Scholarship Lab by Robert K. Nelson, is a way to analyze Civil War topics in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Nelson said.

This program allows people to look up articles and draw graphs about things such as military desertions, war reports and death notices. Nelson developed the program for his own research and for historians who wanted to use it for their research, he said.

It is "both a methodological experiment for digital humanists, professors [and] students to do what they want with it," Nelson said. "I use mining in my own research to try and make some arguments about Confederate and Union nationalisms."

A variety of people have taken interest in the site, but it has been an attraction mainly for people in the digital humanities field, Nelson said. "It's been interesting to people of the digital humanities, people experimenting with digital media, to do research," he said.

Scott Nesbit, associate director of the lab, said: "I think it [Mining the Dispatch] opens up a new way for seeing large bodies of texts and understanding them. On the broadest scale, this project is unique because, even though the algorithms have been out there for a while, I don't think that anybody has been able to show the patterns in large bodies of text like Mining does."

Nesbit has been able to use the site for his own Civil War research, he said. "In fact, I've cited some of his [Nelson's] graphs in a peer-reviewed article that I wrote with President Edward Ayers."

Nelson has given talks at Emory University, the University of Virginia, the University of Wyoming and the University of Maryland. He has also given talks at the Society for the Study of Southern Literature, the American Historical Society, the Society of Civil War Historians and the Digital Humanities' 2012 conference.

Nelson plans to use the Times-Dispatch as a model for developing a similar digital program for doing research in The New York Times, he said.

Contact staff reporter Amanda Minnitte at

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