Podcast: Micki Kaufman on Quantifying Kissinger

Digital Humanities Speaker Micki Kaufman
“Everything on Paper Will Be Used Against Me”: Quantifying Kissinger

Scarcity  of  information  is  a  common  frustration  for  many  historians.  However,  for  researchers  of  twentieth-­ and  twenty-­first  century  history  the  opposite  problem  is  also  increasingly  common.  In  contrast  to  scholars  of ancient  history,  who  base  much  of  their  analyses  on  rare  and  unique  relics  of  antiquity,  historians  studying the  ‘Age  of  Information’  (and  the  even  more  recent  period  of  ‘Big  Data’)  increasingly  confront  a  deluge  of information,  a  vast  field  of  haystacks  within  which  they  must  locate  the  needles  -­  and  presumably,  use them  to  knit  together  a  valid  historical  interpretation.

While  simply  having  such  a  large  volume  of  information  online  in digital  form  for  researchers  is  valuable,  the  usual  restriction  to  a  web-­based  ‘search’  form  interface  often renders  it  of  limited  use  and  approachability.  As  detailed  on  the  project’s  web  site, Ms. Kaufman’s  work  involves  the  application  of  a  host  of  quantitative  text  analysis methods  like  word  frequency/correlation,  topic  modeling  and  sentiment  analysis  (as  well  as  a  variety  of  data visualization  deisgns  and  methods)  to  historical  research  on  the  DNSA’s  Kissinger  Collection,  comprising approximately  17600  meeting  memoranda  (‘memcons’)  and  teleconference  transcripts  (‘telcons’)  detailing the  former  US  National  Security  Advisor  and  Secretary  of  State’s  correspondence  during  the  period  1969-­ 1977.  This  application  of  computational  techniques  to  the  study  of  twentieth-­century  diplomatic  history  has generated  useful  finding  aids  for  researchers,  provided  essential  testing  grounds  for  new  historical methodologies,  and  prompted  new  interpretations  and  questions  about  the  Nixon/Kissinger  era.

Micki  Kaufman  is a doctoral  student  in  US  history  at  the  Graduate  Center  of the  City  University  of  New  York, a  GC-­CUNY  Digital  Fellow,  and a recipient  of  GC-­CUNY’s  Provost’s  Digital  Innovation  Grant  in 2012–2014.

Click below to stream the podcast, and you can view the accompanying slides on the Quantifying Kissinger website. As always, you can listen to (or subscribe to) our podcasts on the Scholars’ Lab blog, or on iTunesU.


The Scholars' Lab supports a diverse community of digital scholars and scholarly makers across the University and beyond. As Head of Public Programs, my main goal is to foster and grow that community. I convene our speaker events and workshops, designed to connect researchers - at all levels - with expertise, training, and intellectual discourse. …

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