Coding the Past: The Challenges and Promise of Large-Scale Cultural Databases

With funding from the John Templeton Foundation, the Santa Fe Institute, and the Center for Collaborative Synthesis in Archaeology, this project brings together archaeologists, historians and cultural evolutionary theorists for an initial meeting to: 1) receive an introduction to a new research tool known as the Database of Religious History; 2) get hands-on experience creating entries and using its built-in analytical tools; 3) provide feedback on its design and data-gathering approach; and 4) suggest new analyses that could be performed using the database in conjunction with other data sources. Participants are discussing the challenges inherent to the DRH project and others like it, including converting qualitative information scattered across field reports, monographs and journal articles into the sort of quantitative data that is required to test hypotheses about cultural evolutionary dynamics against the historical record. Themes being discussed include the unique costs and benefits of working directly with humanities scholars, the challenges involved in making categorical judgments when dealing with complex and often patchy archaeological and textual data, and the various uses to which large-scale cultural databases can be put.

The participants in the initial project meeting were selected through a CfAS request for information process during the summer of 2022, and the initial meeting was held at the Santa Fe Institute in October 2022.

The deadline for receipt of applications was June 1, 2022.

For more information and for the RFI application instructions, click here.

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