As I have repeated many times to my classmates in Digital Humanities: the data doesn’t speak for itself. Part of understanding that comes from an insight provided by the Philosopher Karl Popper, who reminded a group of physics students that the first step in observation is choosing what to observe in the first place.
This is exactly what we were asked to do for our lab this week – choose what to observe and thus, create data. Every student evaluated the same data source, The Seventh Day Adventist Yearbook, but we each chose different information to make into our own datasets.
I chose to evaluate public health-related organizations listed within the yearbook. While there was very little information about what exactly these groups did, I chose to observe them as ‘health-related’ based solely on these titles listed under general directories. The organizations included: the Health Reform Institute, Sanitarium Improvement Company, Rural Health Retreat, and the National Health and Temperance Association.
These titles seemed to me to share a common thread: public health. So I grouped them as tidily as I could muster and listed the information available. Unfortunately, the information is not all that interesting . . . Unless you choose to make it such. All that is listed is each executive member with their title and city.
This information might become useful if you notice a certain name repeated in that table: Kellogg. While we only have initials to make a guess of, J. H. Kellogg could certainly represent John Harvey Kellogg who quite famously developed corn flakes. A little research tells you that John Harvey Kellogg was involved in the SDA and that he ran a heath resort, . the Battle Creek Sanitarium, based on principles set up by the church. Part of these principles emphasized a bland, vegetarian diet, which becomes an especially connection with Kellogg’s inventions in mind.
Though seemingly unrelated, the creation of this data paves the way for connections to be drawn between religion, innovation, data, food, history, and whatever else a data curator might hope to accomplish with it. The takeaway: never forget that the data is created in the first place.