Colloquium 1 May 2014: Pieter Francois on the Sample Generator

Pieter FrancoisHow to deal with a large collection of digitized texts? At the next Translantis/AsymEnc Colloquium, Thursday 1 May, Pieter Francois (University of Oxford) will talk about the Sample Generator for Digitized Texts, a tool he co-developed in the British Library Labs.

This presentation introduces the ‘Sample Generator’, a digital tool which allows users to generate structured unbiased samples of (digital) texts from the nineteenth century British Library holdings. Using the Sample Generator allows researchers to explore quickly a very large dataset (the British Library has approximately 1.8 million nineteenth century holdings) in a methodologically robust way. Furthermore the generated samples are easily citable and shareable. The overall intellectual background of the Sample Generator is that of the ‘generative humanities’ in which a creative process of going back and forth between data and the conceptual drawing board takes centre stage. In addition to saving valuable research time, the main contribution of the Sample Generator is that it is a hypothesis generating and testing tool. This presentation will address the ideas behind the Sample Generator and offer a hands on showcasing of its main functionalities.

Dr Pieter Francois is a postdoctoral researcher at the Institute of Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology at Oxford University. His work focuses on explaining social complexity. He is especially interested in understanding how rituals, religion and warfare contribute to social cohesion. In 2011, together with Peter Turchin and Harvey Whitehouse, he co-founded ‘Seshat – Global History Databank’ ( He trained as a historian and published extensively on national identity and travel in nineteenth-century Europe. In 2013 he won the British Library Labs competition with the idea to create a digital tool, the Sample Generator, which allows users to create structured unbiased samples of texts from the British Library collections.

Date: 1 May 2014, 15.30-17.00
Place: Room 0.06, Janskerkhof 13, Utrecht