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How to Represent Primary Sources as Data and Why is it Important?

Historians can represent primary sources by extracting valuable information that can be used to draw precise conclusions. In order for this to take place, historians must use tools like Excel that will help construct a data-sheet following Wickham’s principles of tidy data where each column is a variable, each row is an observation, and each value is in a cell. This helps researchers to understand data that has been collected in a broader sense.

For instance, when inspecting a primary source, it is important to look at variables such as dates, location, names, and other variables that can serve a purpose. Yet, it is essential to look at observations, and perhaps include these entries to form a data sheet that can be useful in terms of drawing common relationships among certain variables and observations.

In a matter of fact, during an assignment that required collecting data from a book in which included a curator’s record of donations (1769-1818), I applied Wickham’s principles of tidy data. In particular, I arranged variables in columns and Observations in rows where any scholar that views my data, can easily draw relationships between the presented values. When I viewed the pages that were assigned to me, my initial focus was on the dates of the donations and by whom they were donated.

I also thought that including the donor’s profession would serve some kind of relationship between the item that was donated and the career of the donor in terms of social status. For example, adding more details, such as the curators’ names would also be useful. Considering researchers who might be interested in using these data can research the curators’ names associated with these types of events and possibly draw more conclusions regarding the social and political atmospheres relevant to that period of time.

When collecting data, it is important for historians to include such details in order to help researchers have a higher understanding of the situations and the factors that could have played a role in altering certain variables. Not having an organized set of data will not only make it difficult for scholars to understand the data but will cause them to not have a strong foundation that enables them to build a solid research question. Therefore, tidy data does mean organized information but part of the organization is to have data that can highlight important variables to which can lead researchers to raise relevant questions and provide possible answers.

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