NoSQL databases in digital humanities

In (Posner, 2015) Posner states that the digital humanities are usually reproducing “structures of power” in the way data is represented; she uses as examples gender and race, to show how these are not fixed defined values, but can change in time or be not completely defined, however traditional data visualisation tools cannot render these changeable and vague data.  So Posner advocates for a more radical approach in digital humanities to the way data is visualised.

I think the problem is not just how the data is visualised, but in the first place how the data is stored. In the technology industry there has been in the last years a lot of talking about Big Data and the issue of how to store the big amount of data that is created every day in this digital age; but the problem is also how to efficiently organize all these data. This is testified by the increased development of NoSQL databases as a way of organizing data that would not be well suited for the table data structure and the fixed schemas of SQL relational databases. NoSQL databases like MongoDB are organised in documents of pair records (field, value) without a schema, so they offer more flexibility for data that is not well defined. Keeping to Posner examples a multi-ethnic person can be easily stored with more than one value for the ethnic-group field or a person gender field would not need to be only male or female. Changing the way the data is stored would make possible to visualise the dataset in styles that are more appropriate to the nature of the data.

References

Posner, M., 2015. What’s Next: The Radical, Unrealized Potential of Digital Humanities. Miriam Posner’s Blog.

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