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Biomedicine in museums

Spam as a source for contemporary historical research

I hate spam! And so do billions of e-mail and web users. Most of it is (rather harmless) advertising for viagra, porn movies or on-line poker games. Nevertheless it fills the mailbox and complicates making blog comments. That’s why almost everybody, including Bill Gates, hates it.

But as Gustav Holmberg (in the Research Policy Institute at the University of Lund) just pointed out in a comment to my last blog post, spam has one good side —
it provides those of us who write contemporary history with a new of kind of source material.

In an earlier blogpost Gustav refers to a fascinating study by a certain Raymond Chen who kept every single piece of spam and virus email that came in through his mailbox between April 1997 and September 2004 and visualized the data in nice graphs. He called it “A visual history of spam (and virus) email”; you could also call it a kind of ‘epidemiology of spam’.

Gustav’s point is, of course, that we can use this material for much more than just constructing impressive graphs. We can do network analysis, discourse analysis, or whatever. “Det är bara att sätta igång” [just get started!], he says. (Blog spam is probably less interesting than mail spam in this respect because content does not play much of a role in blog spam comments.)

Thomas Söderqvist

Author Thomas Söderqvist

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