By Ziquan Wang, Borui Lin, Ian Milligan, and Jimmy Lin
While Americans are busy enjoying their Fourth of July, us Canadians are digging into data… and indeed, we wanted to share some research recently presented at the Web Archives and Digital Libraries workshop.
Shortly after Donald Trump’s inauguration as President of the United States, eagle eyed observers noted a crucial difference in his webpage as compared to his predecessor, President Obama. Whereas Obama’s information page had listed the three branches of the US government: executive, judicial, and legislative, Trump’s page listed only two.
Examples like this made our research team at the University of Waterloo wonder: could we systematically begin to track the changes in discourses, priorities, topics, and beyond between two US Presidential elections, and more so, could we do so on a budget? As I’ve argued elsewhere, web archives are of crucial importance for historians seeking to understand any period after 1996. Yet the scale requires us to turn to digital methods. We cannot go page by page through websites, but rather we need tools to extract the information that we need. Could we “distantly read” websites to notice shifts like observers did in the early days of the Trump administration?
Luckily for us, students had just finished taking Jimmy Lin’s (awesome) Big Data Infrastructure course and wanted to exercise their skills. The amazing Ziquan Wang and Borui Lin joined us and set out to explore shifts between two American presidential administrations.
But first, we needed the data… Continue reading