Migrations, Databases, and Big Data
In recent years, the popularization of “big data” has spurred interest in quantitative approaches to the study of global mobility and networks. The abundance of data and a profusion of digital tools have made it easier to proclaim patterns and challenge claims of historical exceptionalism. But historians, who must assemble their databases from dispersed manuscript sources, have rarely reached big-data scales. This roundtable surveys the state of the field and highlights some of the questions that historically-minded scholars are asking of old and newly available databases: How distinctive are the migration patterns associated with the African Diaspora? Do the European migrations of the 19th and 20th centuries have useful analogues elsewhere? To what extent are quantitative and micro-historical approaches at odds today?