Everything on Paper Will Be Used Against Me: Quantifying Kissinger

Wednesday, November 18
3:00 – 4:00 pm
90 Snell Library
Micki Kaufman, Modern Language Association

Scarcity of information is a common frustration for historians. For students of twentieth- and twenty-first century history, however, the opposite problem is also increasingly common — overwhelmed by a deluge of information and confronted by a vast field of haystacks within which they must locate the needles, historians of the modern era have begun to struggle with what is now understood as ‘big data’. The declassification of the Kissinger material by the State Department and the hosting of more than 50,000 pages of that material on the Digital National Security Archive (DNSA)’s Kissinger Collection web site present just such a ‘big data’ opportunity for historians. While having this large volume of information online for researchers is valuable, the restriction to a web-based ‘search’ interface can render it of limited use to researchers. In her presentation, Micki Kaufman will detail the application of a number of quantitative text analysis methods like word frequency/correlation, topic modeling and sentiment analysis in conjunction with a plethora of data visualization techniques to a study of the DNSA’s Kissinger Collections, comprising approximately 18,000 meeting memoranda (‘memcons’) and teleconference transcripts (‘telcons’) detailing the former US National Security Advisor and Secretary of State’s correspondence during the period 1969-1977.

Micki Kaufman (MA CUNY, BA Columbia) is Director of Information Systems at the MLA and a fifth-year doctoral student in US History at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York (GC-CUNY). At the MLA Micki is responsible for oversight of the association’s technical vision and strategy in its mission to support humanities scholars and scholarship. Micki’s current PhD dissertation, “‘Everything on Paper Will Be Used Against Me:’ Quantifying Kissinger,” researches diplomatic history using network and text analyses/visualizations of the National Security Archive’s Kissinger Collection. Micki is a former GC-CUNY Digital Fellow, former Project Manager of the CUNY Academic Commons and DHDebates sites, a three-time winner of the GC-CUNY’s Provost’s Digital Innovation Grant, and the recipient of ADHO/ACH’s 2015 Lisa Lena and Paul Fortier Prizes.