Northeastern Magazine | Prof. David Smith collaborates with fellow NU faculty to create revolutionary search tool

January 11, 2016

In the last decade, scholars and the public have gained access to libraries of digitized documents, maps, images, and videos worldwide. They have an open invitation to dive headlong into the data soup.

But imagine wading through all that information. Suppose you want to track changing attitudes toward women’s voting or reproductive rights around the world. How would you find and organize evidence scattered throughout millions of books, newspapers, periodicals, and visual media? Without sophisticated computer programs to help you cherry-pick relevant material, you could trawl for years.

To solve this dilemma and help scholars curate collections that others can build on, Northeastern has secured a $500,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to create a revolutionary search tool. Four professors collaborating on the project— David Smith, Elizabeth Maddock Dillon, Ryan Cordell, and Benjamin Schmidt—are pioneers in the digital humanities, a field that mines nuggets of meaning from mountains of digitized data.