A research team led by UNC Greensboro’s Dr. Aaron Beveridge has received a $325,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to help researchers better collect and analyze data from social media and other digital sources.

The funding will be used to further develop MassMine, an interdisciplinary tool that supports the collection of data from digital networks. Beveridge, assistant professor of digital rhetoric in the Dept. of English, and his colleague Dr. Nicholas Van Horn, assistant professor at Capital University, created the software in 2014 to address accessibility issues for researching social networks in the humanities.

Humanities research in the 21st century is changing rapidly. For several decades, most English students and researchers have been utilizing close reading to analyze important literary works – mostly in print. Now, there’s a growing interest in analyzing digital texts, like social media trends. Researchers seek new and improved macroanalysis tools to study patterns across large collections of digital artifacts (text, images, audio, video, etc.).

As project director, Beveridge’s goal is to show how the humanities can be a leader in technology development for data-driven research.

“If we are successful in fulfilling the grant’s objectives, we will have the most full-featured research software for collecting and processing data from digital sources – not just in the humanities, but in all of academia,” Beveridge said.

Currently, MassMine is used by student and faculty researchers to collect and process data from social media sites. Following the current round of development, MassMine’s data sources will be extended to Twitter, Reddit, YouTube, Google Trends, Wikipedia, Tumblr, Raspberry Pi (IoT), archive.org, data.gov, and any web URL (general web scraping).

The NEH funding will also support the addition of new features, such as support for emoji research and exploratory analytics to allow researchers to gain initial insights into the data collected by MassMine. The team will also implement a new graphical interface to improve accessibility, and publish a free, open access MassMine textbook.

The award coincides with the launch of UNCG’s new Master of Science in Informatics and Analytics. The interdisciplinary program includes a concentration in cultural analytics, focusing on the study of cultural trends and the circulation of digital artifacts using text-mining methods and exploratory data analysis. Beveridge will direct the cultural analytics concentration.

The MassMine research team includes scholars from across disciplines and from other institutions. UNCG’s Dr. Jen Feather (English), Dr. Martin Halbert (University Libraries), and Dr. Somya Mohanty (Computer Science) are co-principal investigators for the project.

To learn more about the software, visit massmine.org.

Interested in studying cultural analytics? Learn more at grs.uncg.edu/msia.

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Story by Alyssa Bedrosian, University Communications
Photography by University Communications