“Everything on Paper Will Be Used Against Me": Quantifying Kissinger: A Computational Analysis of the Digital National Security Archive’s Kissinger Memcons and Telcons

Monday, January 5, 2015: 11:00 AM
Murray Hill Suite A (New York Hilton)
Micki Kaufman, City University of New York, Graduate Center
Scarcity of information is a common frustration for historians. For students of twentieth- and twenty-first century history, however, the opposite problem is also increasingly common — overwhelmed by a deluge of information and confronted by a vast field of haystacks within which they must locate the needles (and presumably, use them to knit together a valid historical interpretation), historians of the modern era have begun to struggle with what is now understood as ‘big data’. The declassification of the Kissinger material by the State Department and the hosting of more than 50,000 pages of that material on the Digital National Security Archive (DNSA)’s Kissinger Collection web site present just such a 'big data' opportunity (and concomitant challenge) for historians. While having this large volume of information online for researchers is valuable, the restriction to a web-based ‘search’ interface can render it of limited use to researchers. In this paper I detail the application of a number of quantitative text analysis methods like word frequency/correlation, topic modeling and sentiment analysis in conjunction with a plethora of data visualization techniques to a study of the DNSA’s Kissinger Collections, comprising approximately 17600 meeting memoranda (‘memcons’) and teleconference transcripts (‘telcons’) detailing the former US National Security Advisor and Secretary of State’s correspondence during the period 1969-1977.
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