This article was originally published via Buzz Feed

How do we decide what counts as history? Well, there’s the first draft, journalism — the stories the media tells about the events of the day. And then there are the endless subsequent iterations, mined from primary sources and dusted off and polished by historians into arguments and narratives that shape our understanding of the world.

Then there’s a third option, one that is made possible by the deluge of electronic records kept in the second half of the 20th century, and tools of modern data science: automatic event detection. That’s the idea that software can read historical data to try to pick out patterns — discrete events that stick out from an ocean of data as significant.

In the early 1970s, the State Department began keeping electronic records of the thousands of cables its employees sent about American interests throughout the world. Researchers at Columbia’s Declassification Engine project believe it’s possible to automatically distinguish periods of increased activity in these cables that correspond to historically important events.

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