Introducing… Kaspar (von) Beelen

Written by Kaspar BeelenApril 29, 2019Comments: 0

What’s your name?

Kaspar (von) Beelen

What’s your background?

I am a historian with a strong interest in machine learning (and other computational methods). I obtained a PhD in History at the University of Antwerp–where I, more-or-less accidentally, made my first baby steps in the direction of computer science–and travelled to many other countries and departments afterwards. In Toronto, I worked at the Political and Computer Science department, digitising parliamentary records and leveraging them for historical research. After my Canadian adventures, I moved to Amsterdam and became active in the field in Information Retrieval and later on, held the position of Assistant Professor in Digital Humanities at the Media Studies department.

In one sentence, what is your role on the project?

As the research associate for digital humanities, I hope to enhance the collaboration between team members, who come from different disciplines, and, more generally, attempt to (meaningfully) marry computational methods with humanities research questions.

What excites you about the project?

The combination of scale and (historical) research focus. Can digital research get us closer to the “lived experience” of the industrial revolution? We are the first to gaze at this turbulent period of the past from a new “macroscopic” perspective.

What challenges do you see ahead?

What keeps me awake at night are not so much the technical challenges (even though they are manifold and serious) but the historical ones: will our effort to squeeze the best out of (the collaboration between) humans and machines (i.e. researchers and computers) lead to a meaningful, substantive reappraisal of the past? Will we be able to question the historiography? This remains to be seen, but we sure are ready to face the challenge.

What’s the last (non-work) book you read, exhibition or performance you saw?

As I just moved to London–and hardly knew the city–I started to read “The Fields Beneath” by Gillian Tindall, which is local history of Kentish Town, where I currently live.

Where can we find out more about you and your work?

I promise to regularly post some research nuggets on the Living with Machines website. Oh, and I’ll make a personal website, soon…

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