Eight International Research Councils Announce Round Two of the Digging into Data Challenge

31 03 2011

An 8-nation agreement has produced a produced a new opportunity for scholars interested in digital humanities and social sciences called Digging Into Data. The deadline for submissions for Round 2 is June 16. I have an idea for a project that would be eligible for Digging Into Data funding, but I wouldn’t want to take the lead in writing a grant proposal. So I am going to just outline the idea here (see below) and then ask scholars who would be interested in developing the idea still further to contact me.

From the press release:

Today, eight international research funders are jointly announcing their participation in round two of the Digging into Data Challenge, a grant competition designed to spur cutting edge research in the humanities and social sciences. The Digging into Data Challenge asks researchers these provocative questions:  How can we use advanced computation to change the nature of our research methods? That is, now that the objects of study for researchers in the humanities and social sciences, including books, survey data, economic data, newspapers, music, and other scholarly and scientific resources are being digitized at a huge scale, how does this change the very nature of our research? How might advanced computation and data analysis techniques help researchers use these materials to ask new questions about and gain new insights into our world?

The first round of the Digging into Data Challenge sparked enormous interest from the international research community and led to eight cutting-edge projects being funded. There has also been increased media attention to the question of so-called “big data” techniques being used for humanities and social sciences research, including a recent cover article in the journal Science.

The eight sponsoring funding bodies for Round Two of Digging into Data are:

The eight sponsoring funding bodies include the Arts & Humanities Research Council (United Kingdom), the Economic & Social Research Council (United Kingdom), the Institute of Museum and Library Services (United States), the Joint Information Systems Committee (United Kingdom), theNational Endowment for the Humanities (United States), the National Science Foundation(United States), the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (Netherlands), and theSocial Sciences and Humanities Research Council (Canada).

Individual submissions are not allowed here. Teams of scholars have to submit proposals. The teams have to be interdisciplinary and include academics in more than one of the participating countries.

Final applications will be due June 16, 2011.  Further information about the competition and the application process can be found at http://www.diggingintodata.org.

Ok, so here is my idea. We have pretty good records for the daily prices of government bonds traded on the London and Amsterdam exchanges for the 18th and 19th century.  From the late 19th century, we have good data for the prices of corporate bonds and equities (e.g., shares of US railroads). Digitizing all of this data so that people can do really robust quantitative analysis would take lots of work, but with a big budget to hire RAs, you could do it and then put the results online. The thing I am really interested in is how information flows influenced the price of bonds: before undersea telegraphs, it took a long time for news of, say, a military reversal overseas to reach bondmarkets. There has been some great research done analysing historical bond yields and news of political and military events, but with a big dataset we could do lots more. In fact, there are probably uses of this data that haven’t even occurred to me.

Anyone interested in applying to Digging Into Data to do something along these lines is welcome to contact me. Given my other commitments, I probably couldn’t be part of the team submitting a bid, but I would love it if someone could take up this idea, since I would final the final result (the database) to be really useful. The team creating this project would likely include historians, economists with really strong stats background, and computer scientists and digital humanities experts.

I’m kinda thinking aloud here, so I apologize for this inconclusive post.


Weidenmier, Marc. 2000. “The Market for Confederate Cotton Bonds”. Explorations in Economic History. 37 (1)

Frey, Bruno S., and Daniel Waldenström. 2007. Using financial markets to analyze history: the case of the Second World War. Zurich: Inst. for Empirical Research in Economics.



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