Most Dramatic Rise in Research Impact Seen in Social Sciences and Humanities Using Advanced Research Computing
Websites have limited life spans, their content deleted or replaced roughly every 100 days. "New political leader comes in, website comes down. A social movement happens and someone doesn't pay their server fee, website comes down," says University of Waterloo digital historian Ian Milligan.
Which means researchers trying to reconstruct, analyze and learn from the recent past face both a challenge and an opportunity. Mining old websites can yield a wealth of data about political, cultural, social and economic trends — but first you need large-scale storage to archive sites before they disappear, and then you need computational muscle to analyse vast amounts of data.
"You can't do historical research from the 1990s and later if you don't use websites," says Milligan. "We've lived online now for about 20 years and we need to consider what people said on the web."
With help from Compute Canada, Milligan has done just that. He developed a database called webarchives.ca, a searchable index of the web pages of 50 Canadian political parties and interest groups dating back to 2005. It makes use of data in ways that allow present and future humanities and social science scholars to access, interpret and curate vast swaths of digital-borne sources detailing the recent past.
Webarchives.ca represents just one of a growing number of projects in the social sciences and humanities harnessing the power of ARC to boost its reach and impact. Compute Canada's analysis of Field-Weighted Citation Impact (FWCI) — the ratio of total citations divided by the average for the subject field — found the FWCI of Canadian publications enabled by Compute Canada in the social sciences and humanities was just about triple the world average.
Digital historians are paying attention: roughly 4,000 users checked out webarchives.ca within days of the site going live. One early researcher found a 2005 press release from the Conservative Party deploring the Liberals' lack of reaction to missing and murdered Aboriginal women.