A University of Waterloo researcher is set to transform the historical profession by revolutionizing the way historians sift through and retrieve sources created in the Internet age.
Professor Ian Milligan from Waterloo’s Department of History is leading a research project that will link history and big data to give historians the tools required to find and interpret digital sources from web archives. Milligan’s research is funded by a $140,000 Early Researcher Award (ERA) from the Ontario Ministry of Research and Innovation.
Nineteen Waterloo researchers received ERAs this week – more awards than any other institution that applied – with total funding exceeding $2.6 million.
Born-digital sources – information or materials that originate in a digital form – have increased at vast speeds since the 1990s. Milligan hopes his project will be the first-of-its-kind to break barriers and provide historians with the tools they need to access and meaningfully interpret born-digital sources.
“Traditionally historians had to scrounge for any information they could find and now, information is being preserved that never would’ve been in the past – this produces an overload of sources,” said Milligan. “This fundamental shift creates many barriers and historians have largely been left out of the big data discussion. The ERA makes it possible for my research team to change that – to bring historians into the big data discussion, break down barriers to access web archives, and provide tools to enable all historians to revolutionize their own work.”
These born-digital sources are integral components to telling the full stories of our lives as well as documenting the political, social, and cultural landscapes of the recent past. Milligan warns that if historians don’t get involved and begin studying these sources now, they could disappear forever.
The ERA program recognizes talented, recently-appointed Ontario researchers and aims to attract and retain world-class expertise in Ontario as well as supporting opportunities for international leadership.
“The ERA program is a launch pad for researchers to develop a dedicated team of highly qualified people including students, postdoctoral fellows, research assistants, and technicians to advance their research and secure further funding,” said D. George Dixon, vice-president, university research. “It supports momentum in areas of research excellence across a variety of academic disciplines that eventually leads to commercialization, creates jobs, and fosters Ontario’s competitive edge.”
Another seven researchers received funding from the Ontario Research Fund-Research Excellence and Ontario Research Fund-Research Infrastructure including Amir Khandani, professor of electrical and computer engineering. The $3.4 million award will allow Khandani to investigate a new frontier in wireless connectivity including the possibility of doubling the use of the wireless spectrum.
About the University of Waterloo
In just half a century, the University of Waterloo, located at the heart of Canada's technology hub, has become one of Canada's leading comprehensive universities with 35,000 full- and part-time students in undergraduate and graduate programs. Waterloo, as home to the world's largest post-secondary co-operative education program, embraces its connections to the world and encourages enterprising partnerships in learning, research and discovery. In the next decade, the university is committed to building a better future for Canada and the world by championing innovation and collaboration to create solutions relevant to the needs of today and tomorrow. For more information about Waterloo, please visit www.uwaterloo.ca.
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