Algorithmic criticism/algorithmic turn

According to Encyclopaedia Britannica (online) and Encyclopédie Larousse (en ligne), an algorithm is a set of operational rules forming a systematic procedure which allows to solve a problem in a finite number of operations. The algorithmic turn refers to the fact, that since the invention of the Internet, algorithm based research has become omnipresent.

In fact, nowadays, the most important use of algorithms is the functioning of web search engines, for which the operational rules are translated into a computer programming language.

At first glance, search engines are a valuable tool for historians. They view important quantity of data (big data) in a very short period of time and filter the articles pertinent for a specific research term. However, algorithms, due to the fact that they are written by humans, are biased.

In fact, the rules entered by the programmer have an influence on how the results are selected and the order in which they are displayed. Furthermore, the results displayed are context dependent and differ according to prior researches made, the browser used, the location of the user or the language in which the search term is entered.

In other words, algorithm based research isn’t neutral and the historian has to develop a method of algorithmic criticism in order to face this new kind of bias.


ENCYCLOPAEDIA BRITANNICA, ENCYCLOPAEDIA BRITANNICA ONLINE, Algorithms – mathematics, [Online], (Page consulted : 27.02.2016 ; Last updated : s.d.)

LAROUSSE, Algorithme, [Online], (Page consulted : 27.02.2016 ; Last updated : s.d.)

THE NEW YORK TIMES, MILLER C. C., Hidden Bias- When Algorithms Discriminate, [Online], (Page consulted : 27.02.2016 ; Last updated : 09.07.2015)

XTF (eXTENSIBLE TEXT FRAMEWORK), RAMSAY S., Chap. 26, Algorithmic criticism, [Online], (Page consulted : 27.02.2016 ; Last updated : s.d.)

« Back to Glossary Index

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *