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Databases for research

About twenty years ago, I tried to commercially develop database applications for the social sciences and humanities. At that time, very, but very few researchers in those fields were interested. Times have changed.

However, most researchers do not use nor even understand the use of relational databases. I still feel that is a big loss for these fields. So, I have started writing some stuff down to bring some light, particularly to the historical disciplines. It is rather fragmented, but perhaps that will change in the near future.

SINNO

After having worked in academic research for 15 years, I started working as a ‘research engineer’ at the department of Economic History at Lund University. About half of my time, I spend developing a relational database that contains data about Swedish innovations. You can find a short overview of the features of this database here, and the project website here.

Choice of software depends on data structure

Many researchers take the tools of their trade as a natural choice. However, there is nothing natural about even the simplest text editor. It’s also not that long ago that the average historian saw the point of using a computer. One of the arguments that should inform the choice of software comes from the data and the structure of the data that is necessary to answer a research question. On this page, I am presenting some examples and explain what I think should be the choice of software for each of them.

Your data hub

You’re likely to just start making your data with whatever software seems ‘natural’ to you. However, hold on for a moment, and consider the near future of your research project. Your table, notebook, network graph, or what have you, may quickly turn into a data hub. Continue reading here

A universal date table

For historians the date field is a particularly important field. Considering how obvious this is, the support for dates in database, spreadsheet and other software is mediocre at best when it comes to historical data. The most important problems are : supported dates may not go back in time far enough, usually dates can only be entered in the Gregorian calendar (i.e. the currently standard Western calendar), mapping of different calendars is therefore also absent and (last and least in this case) the different formatting of dates is problematic. This page proposes a solution for these problems in the form of a universal dates table. Continue reading here.