Introducing… Ruth Ahnert

Written by Ruth AhnertFebruary 18, 2019Comments: 0

What’s your name?

Ruth Ahnert

What’s your background?

My research sits at the intersection of data science and literary history. My background is in Tudor literature and culture. But in 2012 I began a collaboration with a physicist to see if we could use quantitative network analysis to understand early modern communities and the movement of information. After a pilot project looking at c.300 letters written by Protestants during the Catholic reign of Mary I, we turned to a larger archive of over 132,000 letters held in the State Papers archive on the project Tudor Networks of Power. The project developed data cleaning tools and workflows, and used existing and custom network measures to ask and answer historical research questions. When I’m not working on Living with Machines, I am Co-Investigator on Networking Archives which will develop the tooling and methods from Tudor Networks of Power for an even larger dataset, of almost half a million letters, in collaboration with the Cultures of Knowledge team at Oxford (who were behind Early Modern Letters Online). These experiences have made me passionate about using data-driven methods to write history, and working to build collaborative communities and shared understanding

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

I am the Principal Investigator, and therefore my role is to drive the overarching vision of the project, and to bring all the moving parts (the various people and their skill sets, the data, and the methods) together.

What excites you about the project?

The promise and challenge of collaboration. We have a really diverse team of researchers and professionals, including historians, data scientists, curators, computational linguists, digital humanists, a geographer, and a scholar from a literature department (me). I believe we can build something greater than the sum of the disciplinary parts. In my opinion, developing the processes to enable that are one of the most important outputs of this project.

What challenges do you see ahead?

I have to give the same answer as above. Our size (22 members), the number of different disciplines represented, and the fact that most of us have not worked together before, all present hurdles we need to clear. This is why I’ll be posting blog posts as part of a series called ‘How We Collaborate’, which is intended to make transparent the strategies we are implementing, including honest evaluations of those that are working, and those that aren’t.

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

I’m currently reading Christina Stead’s The Man Who Loved Children, an excellent book that I’m making slower progress on than I’d like due to a little person who wants me to read him Janet and Allan Ahlberg’s Each Peach Pear Plum.

Finally, where can people find out more about you and your work?

My departmental webpage is here, and I tweet as @ruthahnert.

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