DHP were invited to speak at the Public and Popular History seminar on 5 February 2020. We sent along our Editor, Stephanie Brown, and member of the editorial team, Laura Flannigan. Also, on the panel was Dr Robert Saunders (Queen Mary London), who is a prolific author on nineteenth and twentieth century British politics, including his acclaimed book Yes to Europe: The 1975 Referendum and Seventies Britain (2018).
Posts from the ‘Digital History’ Category
I was recently invited to user-test Wiley Digital Archives’ (WDA) platform which holds digitised archives from various societies including The Royal College of Physicians (RCP), The New York Academy of Sciences (NYAS), Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) (RGS) and The Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland (RAI). The WDA platform is a wonderful resource, bringing together numerous collections and enabling cross-referencing across multiple archive collections.
By Joe Rachman
What sparked the craze for martial arts, particularly kung fu, in 1970s America? Why did some Serbs commit acts of genocide in the late twentieth century despite Serbs themselves having been victims of genocide during World War Two? What started the Opium Wars? Did Zarathustra, the supposed founder of Zoroastrianism, actually exist? Why are contemporary African states so poor when compared to the legendary wealth of some pre-colonial African empires? All these questions, and more, posed by curious members of the public have recently been answered for free by historians willing to dedicate a little bit of their time to help sate public curiosity about history. Welcome to /r/AskHistorians.
By Dr Marta Musso (@martamusso)
For Historical Archives, investing in digitisation is an extremely expensive, time consuming, and complex endeavour. It is well worth the effort, but it is fundamental to implement all the opportunities that digital technologies offer to archives. Since the beginning of the millennium, archives and cultural heritage institutions have started to reflect on the new challenges and opportunities brought about by the digital age. The guidelines created in 2002 by the International Council of Archives indicated full digitisation and online availability of archival material as the main objective for archives in the digital age. Now, even in a utopic world where archives had infinite budget and resources, this is a very long-term and ambitious goal – we are talking about millions, trillions of paper and analogue documents that need to be digitised and indexed online. At the same time, opening its heritage to everyone in the world is the goal of any archive; and for national and public archives it is part of their mandate.
By Carys Brown, James Baker, Richard Deswarte, Adam Crymble
Originally posted on the Defining Effective Mentorship in Digital History site.
What factors are preventing academics from learning the digital skills that could enhance their research? A diverse group of twenty scholars consisting of postgraduate students and academic staff, assembled in Cambridge this past month to find out. Together, they critiqued a range of learning opportunities and they have identified the following challenges that must be overcome to encourage further growth in new skills acquisition amongst students and colleagues. The list is not exhaustive, but we hope it provides a useful starting point for those seeking to promote digital history and who are in a position to lower the barriers to access for learners.
Something strange happened last month for members of the Renaissance Society of America (RSA). On Wednesday the 28th October members of the 61-year-old historical society were informed that one of the major benefits of membership –subscription to the research tool – had been cancelled. The service claims to possess “images of virtually every work printed” in English between 1473 and 1700, constituting several million scanned images of microfilm supplied by more than 200 libraries worldwide. It is thus an invaluable tool for the early modernist, available through most, if not all, university libraries. However, the service doesn’t offer any individual subscriptions and the high price puts it out of the realm of the casual public library. Membership at a very reasonable £85 a year of the RSA (the only professional society that subscribes to EEBO) provides the vital access to these documents in a digital, searchable format. It must therefore have proved a blow to their members that ProQuest, who own EEBO, decided to cancel the RSA’s subscription. This was not due to lack of use but to such “heavy use of the subscription” by members that it was “reducing ProQuest’s potential revenue from library-based subscriptions”. Within 24-hours the decision had been rescinded with ProQuest describing the situation as a “confusion”.
‘Public engagement’ and ‘research communities’ – these are the new buzzwords from the Arts and Humanities Research Council, one of the largest funding bodies for historical research in the UK. Their message is that the gulf between the ivory tower of academic research in higher education institutions and the enthusiastic, public communities interested in historical research must be reduced. It’s an idea that has been at the forefront of university scholarship within the humanities for some time now, and it’s unsurprising considering it’s the public who fund historical investigation. In providing the opportunity to conduct research, it would seem that the same public would like us to deliver it into their hands. This in itself is not an unreasonable request, though it is one that has lead us to the general assumption that the only good history is ‘usable history’.
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’. 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.
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.
Niccolò Serri is a PhD student in Economic and Social History at the University of Cambridge
A team based at the International Institute of Social History (IISH) in Amsterdam has completed the digitisation of the Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels papers collection. Despite the almost indecipherable hand-writing of the father of modern socialism, this is great news for researchers and the general public alike.
The collection includes the sole remaining handwritten page of the original Communist Manifesto (1848) and Marx’s own copy of the first edition of Das Kapital (1967), as well as a wealth of letters displaying the lively exchange between socialist leaders and intellectuals of the late XIX century.
Since the 1990s, in the early days of internet and the final demise of the floppy disk, new notions of knowledge have been hashed out on a global stage. With the dial-up sound (for those nostalgic for a slower, more complicated age, click here) came the possibility of an exchange of knowledge and interconnectivity which had never quite been achieved before. And with this possibility arose ideas of openness, of transnational sharing in virtual form which simply could not be attainable in a material shape. Read more
by Marta Musso
On the 3rd of December, the Institute for Historical Research hosted a conference on the challenges and opportunities that the digital world offers to researchers in the humanities. As we live in the middle of the digital revolution, we don’t have full perception of the massive changes that the switch to digital is bringing about. However, over the past 30 years, more and more human actions have been conducted through digital tools (from MS-DOS computers all the way to smartlets) and, especially in the past 15 years, the web has created an exponentially crowded place of action and interaction. As ephemeral as web content is (a tweet is published and lost in just a few seconds), the problem of preserving online data for future studies is now an integral part of research in the humanities.
by Janine Noack
Historians spend hours and hours in front of computer screens and paper sources from other centuries trying to create a cohesive narrative. Mostly we use Microsoft Word to write down our ideas and the internet to browse for information. But our computers can offer us way more than that. We may not always be aware of the great amount of software aiming to help us research more effectively. When contemporary historians analyse the world we live in now, an immense amount of available data needs to be contextualised. That’s where coding becomes essential – not only for programmers but also for historians. Here are some reasons why you should take your first steps in coding right now.
By Nathaniel Zelinsky
Nathaniel Zelinsky is an MPhil student in Historical Studies at the University of Cambridge.
Digitized newspaper databases are an increasingly popular resource for young students of history. It is easy to understand their appeal to the “Google” generation: from the comfort of your own bedroom, you can access countless primary sources without going to a library. I personally use a lot of digitized newspapers in my MPhil thesis on Second World War propaganda. Unfortunately, I think too many professors, especially older ones, often point their students to newspaper databases without much practical advice.
This post contains my top five “do’s” and “don’ts” for first time users of digitized newspapers. This advice might be especially helpful for undergraduates or even high school students. Read more
by Alex Campsie
Alex Campsie is a PhD student in modern British political and intellectual history at the University of Cambridge.
The first half of the conference (read Part 1 here), stylishly opened by Professor David Reynolds and the able presenters of panel one, raised a number of important questions for further discussion. What are the media processes which enable cultural formation and the diffusion of information? Who can claim to control the means of cultural production? In what ways have instruments of the media been used and abused throughout history? And how our modes of communicating with each other changed across the centuries?
by Alex Campsie
Alex Campsie is a PhD student in modern British political and intellectual history at the University of Cambridge.
Last month saw Cambridge host an inaugural ‘European Graduate Conference’ on the broad theme of ‘History and the Media’. Like its sister event (entitled ‘History and the Law’), the project was generously funded by the History Faculty with the very worthy aim of bringing together young researchers from across Europe to discuss their work. Our natty palindromic title hoped to attract both discussions of the role the media has played within history, and meditations on how new medias may be impacting our contemporary practice of the discipline.