SMU history professor Jo Guldi’s book, The History Manifesto (Cambridge University Press, 2014), recently was named one of the most influential books of the past 20 years by the Chronicle of Higher Education. Writing with Harvard’s David Armitage, she argues that historians need to shed their enthusiasm for micro-history and return to examining history’s big picture to better influence the future.
Guldi and Armitage propose that historians embrace new technology as the key to analyzing the grand scope of history in ways that were not possible before. Supercomputing capable of sorting daunting amounts of data encourages scholars to synthesize information in new ways, seeing things that do not emerge in the close examination of single decades.
“Applying computer technology to research empowers historians to step back, analyze longer periods of time and search for trends and patterns that might otherwise remain hidden,” Guldi says. “It revolutionizes how we work.”
Algorithms, big data and data text mining are key to the historian’s new digital toolbox, she says Using these tools, and at SMU, the University’s supercomputer, ManeFrame, researchers can now interpret long-term historical trends and giant topics like inequality, capitalism and climate change in ways that were impossible before the emergence of search technology.