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  • Can you describe your thesis in two minutes?

  • Most people think historians spend all their time in the library reading books and you

  • wouldn't be far off, but recently the library has gotten too big.

  • Way too big.

  • And it's getting bigger at an alarming rate.

  • That's because billions of records have been digitized and are now online.

  • Historians are faced with far more material than they could ever hope to read in a lifetime,

  • or even a hundred lifetimes.

  • My research looks at a pretty typical historical question: how were Irish immigrants to London,

  • Englandtreated at the dawn of the industrial revolution?

  • But instead of heading to the library, I'm heading to my computer to apply some of the

  • best tricks of computer science to the task, namely distant reading.

  • Distant reading basically means figuring out what something says without actually reading

  • it.

  • It's the type of classifying that Google does to help you find a recipe for an apple pie.

  • Google hasn't read those webpages. Instead they've created a computer program that does

  • it for them. I'm doing the same thing, but instead of focusing

  • on pies I'm asking questions such as, which documents refer to Irish people?

  • Like Google, I've developed a set of computerized tests to determine if a document is relevant

  • or if it's not.

  • That automation is crucial when you're dealing with databases containing hundreds of millions

  • of words of texts.

  • But finding relevant material isn't all we can do in the age of the Internet.

  • Computers have also allowed me to measure aspects of nineteenth century life in which

  • the Irish experience differed from that of a typical Londoner.

  • For example I can tell you that an Irish person was roughly four times more likely than an

  • English counterpart to appear in a London court on trial for his or her life.

  • There's no way we would ever have found that out without distant reading.

  • We live in a world in which information is overabundant and managing it effectively can

  • mean the difference between finding what you're after and getting lost in a jumble of data.

  • There's too much to read out there, so it's time we found another way to do it.

  • My name is Adam Crymble, I'm a student at Kings College London in the United Kingdom,

  • and the title of my thesis is Understanding the Irish London Immigrant Experience through

  • large-scale textual analysis, 1801 to 1820.

Can you describe your thesis in two minutes?

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