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Posts from the ‘Digital History’ Category

Identifying and removing barriers to digital history

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.

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EEBO, the RSA, and #proquestgate – the open resource debate

By Tom Smith and Alex Wakelam @A_Wakelam

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 membershipsubscription to the research tool EEBO (Early English Books Online) 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 Within 24-hours the decision had been rescinded with ProQuest describing the situation as a “confusion”.

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Fostering Research Communities

By Matt Tibble on behalf of Inciting Sparks @IncitingSparks

‘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’.

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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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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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Karl Marx 2.0

By Niccolò Serri

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.

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Making ‘Big Data’ Human: Doing History in a Digital Age – Conference Programme

We are pleased to announce the final programme for the “Making ‘Big Data’ Human: Doing History in a Digital Age” conference, as set out below (updated 29/08/15). Registration for the conference is free but please sign up here if you would like to attend.

Graduate Student Travel Bursaries – A number of travel bursaries are available for graduate students who wish to attend this conference from outside Cambridge. If you would like to apply for a bursary towards the cost of your travel please email doinghistoryinpublic@gmail.com. All applications should include your name, stage of research (e.g. MA, PhD), amount requested and a short summary of why you would like to attend the conference (max. 200 words). Receipts for travel expenses will need to be brought with you on the day of the conference and bursaries will be refunded after this date.  Read more

Call for Papers – Making ‘Big Data’ Human: Doing History in a Digital Age

Alison Richard Building, University of Cambridge, 9th September 2015

With Keynote Speaker Prof. Jane Winters, Professor of Digital History and Head of Publications, Institute of Historical Research

In a digital society, it is hard to escape discussions of ‘big data’, massive amounts of information that need database and software techniques for full processing.  But beyond this initial definition what does ‘big data’ really mean?  Do we already use it?  Why do we need to?  And how can we integrate this with historical research when using data sets simply too ‘big’ for traditional methods of analysis and presentation?  Reflections on the impact and the usage of data, which have perhaps been more forthcoming in the spheres of business and science, are still only starting to permeate through the humanities. Read more

The DPL of A: The New Knowledge Commonwealth

By Louise Moschetta, @LouiseMoschetta

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

Web Archives as Big Data: experimenting with the internet as a historical source

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.

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Why historians should learn how to code (at least a bit)

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.

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Five Do’s and Don’ts for Using Digital Newspapers

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

The Media in History and History in the Media, 20th-21st March 2014 (Part 2)

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?

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The Media in History and History in the Media Conference, 20th-21st March 2014 (Part 1)

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.

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Launching #cycleofsongs, March 31 2014

by Janine Noack

On Monday, March 31, historyworks.tv and Pilot Theatre invited #twitterstorians and various other local people from Cambridge who are involved in the Cycle of Songs project to its launch party. The Cycle of Songs is an attempt to bring together historians, poets, choirs, musicians, and other interested parties to create a festive, fun day when the Tour de France goes through Cambridge on July 7, 2014.

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Conference: ‘The Media in History and History in the Media’

by Janine Noack

On March 21/22 the conference “The Media in History and History in the Media” took place Cambridge, Sidney Sussex College. Around 20 participants from European Universities discussed their research in the area of Media History and possibilities for historians to interact with the in different panels. The conference report will be published soon! David Reynolds gave keynote speech. Follow the link for the program:

History and the Media Programme

We tweeted about the conference using #dohistory.

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Cycle of Songs – Local History in Cambridge

by Janine Noack

Some of our bloggers (Tiia Sahrakorpi, Emily Ward, Marta Musso, Janine Noack) are currently working together with Helen Weinstein and historyworks.tv on the project ‘Cycle of Songs’ (#cycleofsongs). When the Tour de France arrives in Cambridge on 7 July 2014 we will tell hidden stories of the city’s past along the route of the race. The stories will be performed by local people, choirs and musicians and be available online to listen to via podcasts.

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Why Do We Do History in Public?

by Julia Bourke

On March 5 from 3-5pm, Cambridge DHP hosted a twitter chat to discuss why historians should do history in public. Read a preview below or find the full version on Storify.

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The Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria has closed his account

By Marta Musso

Have you ever wondered what world leaders would write in their Facebook accounts (in the pre-Obama era, of course)? Even though it’s two years old (a bygone era in the age of the internet) this post from CollegeHumor is more actual than ever. “Facebook News Feed History of the World: World War I to World War II” starts with pictures from the Crimean War and goes on to explain the causes and consequences of the two world wars up to Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

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BBC Live Debate on World War One

by Tiia Sahrakorpi

Was the Great War a great mistake? 100 years on, historians and the public reflect on Britain’s involvement in World War One – a debate led by Niall Ferguson on BBC Two, Friday 28 February 2014. It then was moved to Radio 5 Live at 10.30 pm – 11.30 pm through which Professor Helen Weinstein (@historyworkstv) chaired the online debate via blogging and Twitter. Overall, over 4000 tweets were sent to #WW1, #pityofwar and #necessarywar. Here are some exerts from the debates found on Twitter: a TINY sampling of the various debates and thoughts of viewers and listeners. Read more