Digital Humanities Hands-On Student Projects

UNIQ+ Week 1: Introduction to statistics with R

UNIQ+ is a series of research internships designed to give excellent experience to students from under-represented backgrounds to enrich future applications for postgraduate study or graduate employment. For the History of The Book, we are particularly looking at enhancing digital research skills and exploring books as cultural objects. These skills will then be used for a collaborative group project based on the Treasures of the Taylorian.


Programming is difficult. Years of online reading lists and dreaded Excel spreadsheets might have prepared me for my undergraduate dissertation but did not teach me much about coding or statistics. The future of the humanities requires much more tech-savviness from myself and others than another reading of Capitalism and Slavery! So, I was equally excited and intimidated to receive a brief introduction into the world of quantitative quandaries that is learning R.

Oh no. Not again

The course was taught by the excellent double-team of Dr Lucy Taylor and Dr Maria Christodoulou, who were very supportive of all of us (and incredibly patient!). We began our training in the beginner group with an afternoon of lectures introducing us to R and objects with R. From there, we completed a short and straightforward practical session where we loaded a basic Excel spreadsheet into an R data set and practiced indexing and adding columns and rows. Similarly, day 2 involved several lectures discussing statistics and introduced the concepts of t-tests and confidence intervals. The practical sessions for this day followed a similar pattern, though were much more involved and took some getting used to! Though once again help was always on hand!

Day 3 upped the stakes once again, introducing concepts such as ANOVA and various linear models. Finally, on day 4, we returned to more familiar ground where we discussed data wrangling and data visualisation. Most excitingly (certainly for Maria), we were introduced to Tidyverse – Tidyverse is a collection of R packages designed to make R more capable and intuitive. The dplyr package was particularly useful as it enabled us to use so-called ‘Verbs’ such as filter() and select() to more easily manipulate our data sets. Once again, we completed practical sessions that built upon the concepts we had been taught.

R is tricky. Tidyverse is ‘hip’ and exciting.

Though exceptionally difficult at points, this introductory course was eye-opening and I am eager to use what I learned during my summer project with the History of The Book. Quantitative analysis can be immensely helpful in the humanities. What secrets might we uncover when we apply these tools to centuries-old manuscripts?!

My ‘figurative’ conquering of basic R.

Ciarán Fogerty is one of this year’s UNIQ+ interns with the History of The Book. He studied history at the University of South Wales, where he focused particularly upon the history and culture of South Wales, Transatlantic Slavery, and the Industrial Revolution. He is very excited to share his passion for research with Oxford University, and is looking forward to hopefully writing more blogs over the coming weeks!

1 thought on “UNIQ+ Week 1: Introduction to statistics with R”

  1. Great to read about your experiences with R Ciarán, glad the week went well and I hope some of it transfers into the group project. The meme possibilities are endless when humanities students engage with data science!

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