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Bringing archives back to life

By Alex Wakelam | @A_Wakelam

Archives can be peculiar places. Each comes with its own personal variety of watchful archivists, identification requirements, seating regulations and occasionally (for those who’ve tried to enter the almost impenetrable fortress that is the Bodleian) oaths to swear. They sometimes seem like sacred historical spaces (Cathedral archives often literally are) where only the enlightened, the blessed, the chosen brothers and sisters of history speaking “shibboleth” may enter. They are, of course, anything but. Despite the grumbling academics trying to expel anyone but themselves from the British Library and presumably from anywhere they deem “their territory”, those documents labelled “Public Records” are, as the name suggests, publicly owned and publicly accessible. The 1958 Public Records Act even specifically requires the provision of ‘reasonable facilities … available to the public for inspecting and obtaining’ historical records.

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Slavery, diplomacy, war: A Confederate propagandist in London

By Bennett Ostdiek

On January 22, 1862, nine months into the American Civil War, Henry Hotze arrived in London. Hotze had come to London to serve as a propaganda agent for the Confederate States of America. His mission was simple – to convince Her Majesty’s Government to grant official diplomatic recognition to the Confederacy. Both Hotze and the Confederate government believed that once Britain recognized Southern independence as an accomplished fact, the United States government would do the same and give up its military efforts to bring the seceded states back into the Union. At stake was nothing that than the independence of his homeland and the future of its signature institution – slavery.

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Thinking with pies

By Carys Brown @HistoryCarys

The brandy is the first thing that hits me, followed by the creeping spiced sweetness of currants and raisins. Then, bafflingly, there emerges the equally spicy taste and texture of meat. All of this is encased in a crisp, short-crust-type pastry and topped with some fairly inept attempts at pastry decorations (see picture, top right).

I wasn’t sure how I felt about the ‘Minc’d pie’ I had just created, but the affront it presented to my taste-buds and the early modern recipe I used to make it did make me curious.1 Given that the combination of sweet fruits and spices with actual minced meat is quite challenging to a modern palette, what was its function at a late-seventeenth-century dinner? Modern mince pies have a very specific Christmassy association and the taste of one can evoke strong memories of occasions of Christmas past. Did early modern consumers of minced pies hold them in such esteem as we do?

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Reflections on Making ‘Big Data’ Human

By Emily Ward @1066unicorn and Carys Brown @HistoryCarys

If there was one thing that the Making Big Data Human conference made clear, it was that ‘Big Data’, and indeed digital methodologies in general, provide some very exciting opportunities to advance historical research. From the ambitious and wide-ranging National Archives’ Traces Through Time project, which looks to create a generic method to look at historical individuals across enormous datasets, through to the more specific but equally exciting Casebooks Project, the conference participants were treated to a feast of ideas about how historical methods are adapting to the changing nature of data in a digital age.

But what exactly is ‘big data’, and what did the Doing History in Public team have in mind when we decided to explore how we could make it ‘human’? The basic definition of ‘big data’ is ‘extremely large data sets that may be analysed computationally’.[1] For historians this might, as Jane Winters demonstrated in her keynote lecture, be a case of using the archived web as an historical source, or of exploring parliamentary proceedings from three different countries over a period of more than 200 years.

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Remembering slavery: a personal guide

By Louise Moschetta | @LouiseMoschetta

February 2015, Trinidad

Sharing a ride back from the archives to the B&B with Paula, the owner, I quizzed my driver on an article I had recently read concerning women and business ownership in the Caribbean. The writer of this article compared the percentage of female business owners on a global scale and positioned the Caribbean at the forefront with an impressive majority. Women constituted such a large proportion of business owners, as well as making up the majority of academic achievement, that there were now concerns that boys and young men were lagging and being left behind. I asked Paula for her thoughts. Read more

Virtual History?

By Patrick McGhee | @patricksmcg

Computer and video gaming is now firmly a part of cultural, political and economic discourse. The financial and cultural power of video games is beyond dispute. The video games market will soon be worth $100bn and video games are played together by millions of people connected around the world. Gaming is also a billion-pound industry in the UK.

Video games also have a profound influence on public debates surrounding morality, social interaction, entertainment and humour. They are used to educate and entertain, to inspire creativity and innovation, and in some cases to encourage and support those with special educational needs. Video games even seek to provide commentaries of their own on some of the most complex and important issues faced in modern society, including political discord, race relations and morality. For example, the BioShock games have explored objectivism and theocracy in dystopian narratives that question the nature of free will and causation. Meanwhile, Grand Theft Auto has explored police corruption, caricatured American political parties and satirised religious extremism. The 2004 entry in the series also depicts a version of the 1992 Los Angeles riots set in the fictional U.S. state of San Andreas.

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