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Posts tagged ‘methodology’

The Wandering Historian: Reflections on a Year of Research Abroad

In the second of our posts on doing research abroad, Tom Smith  (@TomEtesonSmith) traverses the United States.

Working on American history from a British university as I do, it was inevitable that at some point during my PhD research I was going to have to spend some time abroad. Courtesy of two Arts and Humanities Research Council-funded fellowships, first at the Huntington Library in California, and secondly at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC, ‘some time’ rapidly became more-or-less an entire year. While I was somewhat daunted by the prospect of abandoning family, friends, and familiar settings to enter the political inferno that is the contemporary United States, this was too good an opportunity to pass up. Read more

‘Our story remains unwritten’: the ethics of writing histories across cultures

by Tom Smith

What does it mean to write a history of a culture other than our own, and how do we do this sensitively? This is an issue upon which historians rarely reflect explicitly. My dual passions for American history and Pacific Ocean history have been fuelled not by any particular personal investment or cultural immersion, but by pure fascination. While I’ve visited the United States a handful of times, dipping my toes in the waters of San Francisco Bay is the closest I’ve ever come (geographically speaking) to the Pacific cultures whose histories I claim to represent. Read more

Dying Declarations – Last Words in the hands of Historians

By Alex Wakelam @A_Wakelam

In May 1906 the great Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen lay in his sick bed. That evening an old friend arrived from town to see the aged tragedian. Entering the room he greeted the nurse with “How is Mr Ibsen today?” “Oh”, she cheerily replied, “he’s doing much better.” At this Ibsen sat up incredulous in bed declaring “Tvert imod!” (tr. On the contrary!) upon which he fell back into his pillow unconscious, dying shortly thereafter.[1] For a writer whose characters rarely even cracked a smile, he managed to exit the world with one of the finest deathbed jokes in history. Read more

Call For Papers – Facing the Challenge of Bias in History: Quantitative and Qualitative Approaches

Bias is a fundamental problem encountered by historians studying all time periods, using all methods, and at all stages of their career. The conveners of a one-day workshop on Facing the Challenge of Bias in History, to be held on Sunday 15th May 2016 at the Faculty of History at the University of Cambridge, therefore invite papers from historians in all sub-disciplines. Whether your work has confronted selection bias, bias inherent in a source, researcher bias, or any other form of bias, we would like to hear from you. By bringing together researchers from disparate areas of history, who might never usually come across each other’s work, we hope to explore a common problem and to collectively discuss ways of confronting this problem. Read more

3D scans – bringing History to a wider audience.

by James Lloyd – @jtlloyd3

James is a PhD student at the University of Reading/Exeter in Classics. His thesis is entitled: ”Music and Ritual in Ancient Sparta: the lead votive figurines of the Sanctuary of Artemis Orthia”

In recent years, there has been a flurry of new technologies emerging at a price which makes them (just about) affordable, notably 3D scanners and printers, and such technologies have attracted attention in the news of late for their employment in the digital recreation of artefacts and archaeological sites destroyed by IS. Indeed, 3D printing is a wonderful tool for bringing the past to life: Museum3D, for example, uses its 3D prints to engage museum visitors with low-vision and Alzheimer’s. However, as this post will show, 3D scans are just as important to public history. Read more

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

Putting down the books: when is research ‘complete’?

By Jess Hope

When I was an undergraduate, I wrote a history essay where my main primary source was an ‘eyewitness account’ of the events I was describing. It was detailed and colourful, full of vivid descriptions, quotes and recollections. It was great fun both to read and to write about.

It was only later that I discovered that this particular ‘eyewitness’ may not have actually, exactly….well, been there. Read more

When is Research Worth it?

By Matthew Tibble

Matthew is an MPhil student in Early Modern History at the University of Cambridge. He is currently researching religious counsel during the mid-Tudor period.

I have been studying history for the better part of four years, yet it was only recently that I managed to fulfil the archetypal ambition of making an original ‘discovery’. Like so much of modern historical research, it began by persistently trawling through online resources, flicking through digital facsimile images of countless early printed works, and noticing a small peculiarity. Laurence Saunders, a clergyman who died on 8th February 1555, had purportedly written a book that described in great detail the trial of two Protestant martyrs, Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley, who had later been burned at the stake by Mary I. The trial is known to have taken place in October, eight months after Laurence Saunders’ death, inherently undermining his contention that, ‘I was there presente at the doing of thys…and heard al for the most part with mine eares’.[1] 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

Historical Voices

By Kayt Button, @kayt_button

Today we collect a vast array of readily available information in the form of statistics, stories, reports, and videos available publicly on the internet or through more official channels. These are created by journalists, public servants, and the public at large who are able to self-publish. Before the advent of what has been named “Big Data”, events were written down, or photographed, by a few individuals and published. Before that, pictures and oral histories recorded important events. All these sources have their own difficulties – in the case of Big Data, as the name suggests, the volumes of available information can be overwhelming. Hard copy written sources were authored by someone and understanding the writer can be as important as what they reported, which is also true of oral history, drawings, and photographic evidence. Read more

To ask or not to ask: that is the question

By Emily Ward, @1066unicorn

Palms sweating, mouth dry, heart pounding in my chest, my thoughts racing. I realise that I’m going to do it. Tentatively I gather my courage, swallow down the fear and start to raise my hand. Hand up, there’s no going back; I’m spotted and heads turn my way. Eyes on me, I open my mouth. Barely formulated sentences tumble out. I wait. Then clearly I have made enough sense that the watching eyes turn forward again. I have just asked my first question at a history conference.* Read more

How people saw: looking at photographs in history

By Jess Hope

“To the complaint, ‘There are no people in these photographs,’ I respond, ‘There are always two people: the photographer and the viewer.” – Ansel Adams

How do historians approach photographs as sources? Those of us who study the mid-19th century to the present can access a wealth of moments ‘captured’ on film, ranging from portraits and images of domestic life to war photography and documentary photojournalism. Historical photographs provide fascinating contextual information: who was present at a certain event, what they wore, the kinds of wallpaper designs that were fashionable at the time. But can we rely on what we see? And how should we interpret it? Read more

How do historians write?

By Tom Goodwin, @tgooders

Thomas is an MPhil student in Early Modern History. He is currently researching sixteenth-century Italian heretics and their use of the printing press.

I spent the morning putting in a comma; I spent the afternoon taking it out – Oscar Wilde

Writing history remains something of a dark art. From the beginning of your degree in history, there is a great deal of focus on how to do research: that is, how one should approach sources and analyse historical arguments, covering a wide range of different methods and theoretical approaches. Read more

And the rest as they say… (a manifesto for Techno-enviro-cultural-socioeconomic-politics)

By Kayt Button

When we think about historical research, it is easy to picture someone trapped behind piles of dusty literature and papers, getting lost in the minutiae of their chosen subject. After all, years of study of history have preceded their final, chosen, specialised subject of “The Pig War of 1859”!

Read more

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