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Research Training


Postgraduate Research Training Courses – Spring and Summer 2014

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SAS_IHR2012Each year the IHR runs a wide-ranging and extensive programme of training in skills for historical researchers from universities throughout the UK. Using a range of teaching approaches (workshops, seminars, lectures, hands-on practicals and visits), important and specialised skills are explained and explored by expert practitioners. Courses are short (from one day to one term), cover the whole range of necessary skills – from archival use and languages to databases and the internet – and are priced to be within the means of students.

Full details of all the available courses can be found here.

Managing your research: from creating to sharing

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shutterstock_120033487To be effective researchers historians must learn skills to enable them to manage their research processes so that everything they do is recoverable, usable, and useful. This workshop is intended to help postgraduate students and early career researchers to think more about what it is they do, to learn about digital tools that can help them become better and more efficient historians, and to recognise the importance of being able to share that research in terms of both the data/research gathered and in terms of publishing.

This workshop looks at various aspects of the research process, providing guidance, ideas, and training in how to be more efficient and better at the research that you do. It is part of the History DMT (data management training) project between the Institute of Historical Research (London); the Department of History (Hull); and the Humanities Research Institute (Sheffield). The workshop is FREE and refreshments, including lunch are available.

To register for the workshop please fill in a booking form on the Institute of Historical Research website.

 A number of bursaries are available to help with travel costs so please indicate if you are interested in one of these in your application. 

Morning

10.30                     Coffee & registration

11.00                     Introduction (Matt Phillpott)

11.15                     Researchers projects – managing their data

11.45                     Bibliographical Tools

12.15                     Practical activity

13.00                     Lunch

Afternoon

14.00                     Sharing Data

14.30                     Open Access

15.00                     Break

15.15                     Practical Activity

16.00                     Conclusion

16.30                     Workshop ends

This is the second of three workshops for the History DMT project. The previous workshop was held in Hull in December (see this previous blog post for full details). The third will be held in Sheffield in April. Each session is intended as a standalone; however, if you attend more than one session we believe that this would be highly beneficial.

Location: Senate House (University of London)

Date: 27 February 2014

Time: 10.30am-4.30pm

Places are limited. To reserve a place please fill in the booking form here. If you would like to learn more about the workshop then please contact Matt Phillpott at matt.phillpott@sas.ac.uk who is happy to help.

Places still available – Methodologies for Material Culture: Literary Culture

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Picture_0274Places are still available for this one day free workshop on the topic of Material Culture.  The workshop takes place at Senate House (London) this coming Monday, so if you would like to join us please sign up fast!

This is the second in a series of AHRC Collaborative Skills Development workshops intended to start a conversation about the analysis of pre-modern material culture across different disciplines and categories of evidence – from pots to pamphlets and jewellery to armour. This second workshop will consider ways of analysing the lifecycle of the book, exploring peoples’ relationships to textual artefacts through an understanding of manufacture and evidence of ownership, readership and collection. There is no need to have attended the first session to understand the second, so please do feel free to sign up and join us.

Date: 23 September 2013
Time:10.00 – 17.00
Location: Senate House Library, Senate House, Bloomsbury (London)
Course tutor: Dr Karen Attar, Senate House Library
For full details and the opportunity to register please check out the IHR events pages here.

Building and Using Databases Online Course

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In January 2013 we launched our first comprehensive online training course that enables you to learn why you might wish to use databases for historical research and how you would go about it.  The course takes you through the basics of creating the databases and shows you the main tools that can be used to analyse the data.

Building and Using Databases for Historical Research is a non-tutor led course – meaning that it can be taken at any time and completed at your own pace.  The fact that there is no tutor involved does mean that there are fewer opportunities for feedback, but there are forums for fellow students to discuss their issues and questions and we do keep a close eye out for any technical problems or misunderstandings coming out of the way part of the course is presented.  That said, we do offer feedback on the final exercise – which can be submitted at any time, so there is an opportunity to check that you have understood things properly.

The brief segment below comes from the second module in the course – looking at filtering data.

 

2. Filter by Form

The Filter by Form approach to filtering data in a table is much more flexible that Filtering by Selection, in that it allows you to specify the criteria to be used rather than selecting it from a value in a field. More importantly, this tool allows you to specify a variety of different kinds of criteria, as well as choosing more than one criterion in combination to apply in your filter.

The Filter by Form tool is located in the ‘Advanced’ menu of the Filter tools. When you click on this tool the ‘form’ appears into which you can add the criteria that you wish to apply to the table. The form itself looks like a blank row in the table, which can be a little confusing, but it is simply a means by which you can apply criteria to one or more fields.   

 B4iii

Filter by Form options

For example if you wished to filter your People table records to only show you the information for women with the surname Smith, you would enter the criteria:

  B4iv

Filter by Form criteria

 

Note that the quotation marks are added automatically, unless you have spaces in your criteria, in which case you will need to add them manually.

When you toggled the form ‘on’, you would only see the 65 records of women with the surname ‘Smith’ – that is, only those records where both criteria were matched. When adding criteria into a Filter form in this way, it is important to remember that if your criterion contains spaces, then your criterion needs to be enclosed with double quotation marks (“): for example the criterion:

All Hallows Honey Lane

will return an error message when you try to apply the filter, whilst

“All Hallows Honey Lane”

will work perfectly well.

 

To find out more about this course check out our research training pages.

Designing Databases for Historical Research

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Cover smallThe Institute of Historical Research now offer a wide selection of digital research training packages designed for historians and made available online on History SPOT.  Most of these have received mention on this blog from time to time and hopefully some of you will have had had a good look at them.  These courses are freely available and we only ask that you register for History SPOT to access them (which is a free and easy process).  Full details of our online and face-to-face courses can also be found on the IHR website. Here is a brief look at one of them.

Designing Databases for Historical Research was one of two modules that we launched alongside History SPOT late in 2011.  Unlike most courses on databases that are generic in scope, this module focuses very much on the historian and his/her needs.  The module is written in a handbook format by Dr Mark Merry.  Mark runs our face to face databases course and is very much the man to go to for advice on building databases to house historical data.

The module looks at the theory behind using databases rather than showing you how to build them.  It is very much a starting point, a place to go to before embarking on the lengthy time that databases require of their creators.  Is your historical data appropriate for database use or should a different piece of software be used?  What things should you consider before starting the database?  Getting it right from the very beginning does save you a lot of time and frustration later on.

If you need more convincing then here is a snippet from the module, where Mark discusses the importance of thinking about the data and database before you even open up the software.

***

 

The very first step in the formal process for designing a database is to decide what purpose(s) the database is to serve. This is something that is perhaps not as obvious or as straightforward as one might expect, given that databases in the abstract can indeed serve one or more of a number of different kinds of function. In essence, however, there are three types of function that the historian is likely to be interested in:

  • Data management
  • Record linkage
  • Pattern elucidation/aggregate analysis

Each of these functions is a goal that can be achieved through shaping of the database in the design process, and each will require some elements of the database design to be conducted in specific ways, although they are by no means mutually exclusive. And this latter point is an important one, given that most historians will want to have access to the full range of functionality offered by the database, and will likely engage in research that will require all three of the listed types of activity. Or, to put it another way, many historians are unlikely to know precisely what it is they want to do with their database at the very beginning of the design process, which is when these decisions should be taken. This is why, as we shall see later in this section, many historians are inclined to design databases which maximise flexibility in what they can use them for later on in the project (a goal which will come at the price of design simplicity).

The data management aspect of the database is in many cases almost a by-product of how the database works, and yet it is also one of its most powerful and useful functions. Simply being able to hold vast quantities of information from different sources as data all in one place, in a form that makes it possible to find any given piece of information and see it in relation to other pieces of information, is a very important tool for the historian. Many historians use a database for bibliographical organisation, allowing them to connect notes from secondary reading to information taken from primary sources and being able to trace either back to its source. The simpler tools of database software can be used to find information quickly and easily, making the database a robust mechanism for holding information for retrieval.

***

Unlike the other courses on History SPOT this particular module also doubles as the unofficial first part of a much more comprehensive training course on Databases for Historians, which we have made available online.  This larger course is not free but well worth the price and effort.  By the end of that course you should be ready to use databases for analysing almost any kind of historical data that you might wish to use it with.   There is more information on that course on the module pages and also on the IHR website (as listed below)

If you would like to have a look at this module please register for History SPOT for free and follow the instructions (http://historyspot.org.uk).  If you would like further information about this course, and the others that the IHR offer please have a look at our Research Training pages on the IHR website.

 

Managing your Data for Historians – new AHRC-funded project History DMT

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(Shutterstock)

(Shutterstock)

Historians don’t often like to think about data management.  Indeed, it is almost considered an ugly word or a taboo.  Data Management gets in the way of the interesting stuff – the research, the learning.  Nevertheless, it is vital to the work that we do.  History is data.  It is the essential essence of the subject.  Yet, it is so easy to leave your folder system in a complete mess or not to consider issues of preservation or back-up until necessary (or until your hard drive dies on you!).  Stuff that you produce now, for current use is understandable, but 6 months down the line, a year?  Perhaps not so much.

It is for this reason that the Institute of Historical Research in partnership with the Department of History at the University of Hull and Sheffield, as well as the Humanities Research Institute (Sheffield), applied to the AHRC Collaborative Skills Development strand late last year, to undertake a project called History DMT.  The bid was successful and work began in February.

History DMT stands for Data Management Training and Guidance.  We seek to integrate best practice, good principles, and skills of research data management within the postgraduate curriculum and among early career historians through a series of specialist workshops at London, Hull, and Sheffield and through the development of a free online training course dedicated to the research data types that historians are most likely to come across in their research.

Various pathways will enable a hands-on approach to research data management that covers the many types of data which historians generate, as well as the means with which to share that data. These will cover:

  • Textual materials
  • Visual sources
  • Oral History
  • Statistical data

Over the coming months the History SPOT blog will contain various posts about this project as it progresses, so please keep an eye out.

Further Information

This is an AHRC-funded project, as part of the Collaborative Skills Development strand. History DMT is led by the Institute of Historical Research in collaboration with the Department of History, University of Hull and the Humanities Research Institute, University of Sheffield. The principal grant holder is Professor Matthew Davies (IHR), with Dr Matt Phillpott (IHR) acting as project manager. Chris Awre (Head of Information Management within Library and Learning Innovation, University of Hull) and John Nicholls (Hull) will lead at the University of Hull, and Michael Pidd (HRI Manager, University of Sheffield) and Sharon Howard (HRI, University of Sheffield), from the University of Sheffield.

Text Mining for Historians: Natural Language Processing

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The Institute of Historical Research now offer a wide selection of digital research training packages designed for historians and made available online on History SPOT.  Most of these have received mention on this blog from time to time and hopefully some of you will have had had a good look at them.  These courses are freely available and we only ask that you register for History SPOT to access them (which is a free and easy process).  Full details of our online and face-to-face courses can also be found on the IHR website. Here is a brief look at one of them.

When the Institute of Historical Research began building research training modules online, we decided fairly early on that they needed to be much more than just text.  In the Tex Mining for Historians module we included various videos to help learners to improve their knowledge of the subject.  One of these was a very simple introduction to natural language processing.

This video – available on the course and on vimeo is very short and discusses natural language processing (or NLP for short) in very basic terms.  This is intentional as the rest of this section of the module looks at the subject in much more detail.

[vimeo http://www.vimeo.com/47013183 w=500&h=281]

What is Natural Language Processing? from History SPOT on Vimeo.

If you would like to have a look at this module please register for History SPOT for free and follow the instructions (http://historyspot.org.uk).  If you would like further information about this course, and the others that the IHR offer please have a look at our Research Training pages on the IHR website.

Designing Databases for Historical Research

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A sample page from the Databases course

A sample page from the Databases course

The Institute of Historical Research now offer a wide selection of digital research training packages designed for historians and made available online on History SPOT.  Most of these have received mention on this blog from time to time and hopefully some of you will have had had a good look at them.  These courses are freely available and we only ask that you register for History SPOT to access them (which is a free and easy process).  Full details of our online and face-to-face courses can also be found on the IHR website. Here is a brief look at one of them.

Designing Databases for Historical Research was one of two modules that we launched alongside History SPOT late in 2011.  Unlike most courses on databases that are generic in scope, this module focuses very much on the historian and his/her needs.  The module is written in a handbook format by Dr Mark Merry.  Mark runs our face to face databases course and is very much the man to go to for advice on building databases to house historical data.

The module looks at the theory behind using databases rather than showing you how to build them.  It is very much a starting point, a place to go to before embarking on the lengthy time that databases require of their creators.  Is your historical data appropriate for database use or should a different piece of software be used?  What things should you consider before starting the database?  Getting it right from the very beginning does save you a lot of time and frustration later on.

If you need more convincing then here is a snippet from the module, where Mark discusses the importance of thinking about the data and database before you even open up the software.

 ***

The very first step in the formal process for designing a database is to decide what purpose(s) the database is to serve. This is something that is perhaps not as obvious or as straightforward as one might expect, given that databases in the abstract can indeed serve one or more of a number of different kinds of function. In essence, however, there are three types of function that the historian is likely to be interested in:

  • Data management
  • Record linkage
  • Pattern elucidation/aggregate analysis

 

Each of these functions is a goal that can be achieved through shaping of the database in the design process, and each will require some elements of the database design to be conducted in specific ways, although they are by no means mutually exclusive. And this latter point is an important one, given that most historians will want to have access to the full range of functionality offered by the database, and will likely engage in research that will require all three of the listed types of activity. Or, to put it another way, many historians are unlikely to know precisely what it is they want to do with their database at the very beginning of the design process, which is when these decisions should be taken. This is why, as we shall see later in this section, many historians are inclined to design databases which maximise flexibility in what they can use them for later on in the project (a goal which will come at the price of design simplicity).

The data management aspect of the database is in many cases almost a by-product of how the database works, and yet it is also one of its most powerful and useful functions. Simply being able to hold vast quantities of information from different sources as data all in one place, in a form that makes it possible to find any given piece of information and see it in relation to other pieces of information, is a very important tool for the historian. Many historians use a database for bibliographical organisation, allowing them to connect notes from secondary reading to information taken from primary sources and being able to trace either back to its source. The simpler tools of database software can be used to find information quickly and easily, making the database a robust mechanism for holding information for retrieval.

 ***

Unlike the other courses on History SPOT this particular module also doubles as the unofficial first part of a much more comprehensive training course Building and Using Databases for Historians, which we have made available online.  This larger course is not free but well worth the price and effort.  By the end of that course you should be ready to use databases for analysing almost any kind of historical data that you might wish to use it with.   There is more information on that course on the module pages and also on the IHR website (as listed below)

If you would like to have a look at this module please register for History SPOT for free and follow the instructions (http://historyspot.org.uk).  If you would like further information about this course, and the others that the IHR offer please have a look at our Research Training pages on the IHR website.

Text Mining for Historians: Natural Language Processing

by

The Institute of Historical Research now offer a wide selection of digital research training packages designed for historians and made available online on History SPOT.  Most of these have received mention on this blog from time to time and hopefully some of you will have had had a good look at them.  These courses are freely available and we only ask that you register for History SPOT to access them (which is a free and easy process).  Full details of our online and face-to-face courses can also be found on the IHR website. Here is a brief look at one of them.

When the Institute of Historical Research began building research training modules online, we decided fairly early on that they needed to be much more than just text.  In the Tex Mining for Historians module we included various videos to help learners to improve their knowledge of the subject.  One of these was a very simple introduction to natural language processing.

This video – available on the course and on vimeo is very short and discusses natural language processing (or NLP for short) in very basic terms.  This is intentional as the rest of this section of the module looks at the subject in much more detail.

[vimeo http://www.vimeo.com/47013183 w=500&h=281]

What is Natural Language Processing? from History SPOT on Vimeo.

If you would like to have a look at this module please register for History SPOT for free and follow the instructions (http://historyspot.org.uk).  If you would like further information about this course, and the others that the IHR offer please have a look at our Research Training pages on the IHR website.

Text mining for Historians

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Example page from the Text Mining course

Example page from the Text Mining course

The Institute of Historical Research now offer a wide selection of digital research training packages designed for historians and made available online on History SPOT.  Most of these have received mention on this blog from time to time and hopefully some of you will have had had a good look at them.  These courses are freely available and we only ask that you register for History SPOT to access them (which is a free and easy process).  Full details of our online and face-to-face courses can also be found on the IHR website.

I thought that it might be useful to talk a little more about these courses on the blog and provide a brief sample.  Over the coming months I will post up a series of blog posts about each of our training courses, and give you a little sneak peak so that you have a better idea what to expect.

I have chosen the Text Mining module as the first, for several reasons.  First, because it is probably the one that exemplifies what we are trying to do the best.  That is, to make digital tools accessible to historians through a series of introductory training courses.  The Text Mining for Historians module does just this, beginning from the very simple and slowly moving forward toward the more complex.

Text mining is not a tool of itself, but a series of tools that enables us to explore, interrogate, and analyse large bodies of text or texts.  Imagine, if you will, that you have gathered together a corpus of text – perhaps it’s a diary or series of diaries from a particular period, perhaps it’s a series of publications on a particular subject, or maybe it’s a set of official records spanning many decades or even centuries.  Normally you would wade through these documents one at a time and take notes.  Text mining allows you to automate certain elements of this task and helps you to discover trends and connections that you might never be able to do looking at the texts through traditional methods.

This training module takes you from the theory (i.e. what is text mining all about) through to its application for historical texts, and eventually on to the more complex areas of what is called topic modelling, natural language processing, and named entity recognition.  In this post I’m going to quote from the opening section of this course as it gives a description of what historians might consider a good use for text mining.  In this example we are looking at the Old Bailey Trial accounts used on the popular Old Bailey Proceedings Online website:

 ****

Would you like to know how often the word ‘guilty’ appears in the Old Bailey trial accounts? The answer is findable using a standard search engine on the Old Bailey Online website (it’s 182612). How about how many people were found guilty? The answer is 163261. What about the number of defendants found guilty of murder? The answer is 1518. These last two figures are not possible to find through the standard search engine as they are an entirely different type of question; we are not looking for how many times the word ‘guilty’ appears in the proceedings but how many trials resulted in a guilty verdict. We want to discover something meaningful within the body of texts, automatically rather than manually checking each and every trial account.

This is a relatively simple example of text mining where the original documents have been marked up and tagged by surname, given name, alias, offence, verdict, and punishment. To calculate those results manually you would have to work your way through 197,745 criminal trial accounts (some 127 million words in total).

This form of text mining, however, is little more than an advanced search engine – useful but limited. As the creators of the Old Bailey Online themselves admit (and have attempted to redress in a subsequent project):

‘Analyzing this kind of data by decade, or trial type, or defendant gender etc., can re-enforce the categories, the assumptions, and the prejudices the user brings to each search and those applied by the team that provided the XML markup when the digital archive was first created’.

Dan Cohen et al, ‘Data Mining with Criminal Intent’, Final White Paper (31 August 2011), p. 12.

In other words the search options and text tagging were emphasising and reinforcing a pre-determined expectation of what the resource creators believed was the important data. Text mining tools can help to explore alternative questions more openly.

The Data Mining with Criminal Intent (DMCI) project has done just this by enabling researchers not only to query the Old Bailey site but to export those results to a Zotero library to be managed and from there toVoyeur and other text mining tools for text analysis and visualisation.

The team behind the project uses the example of an investigator trying to understand the role poison might have had in murder cases. Using the search engine brings up 448 entries for ‘poison’ but doesn’t tell us much about what this means. Using Zotero and Voyeur it is possible to filter out the stop words and legal terminology common in all entries to find out what other words commonly appear near to the word ‘poison’. Through this method of text mining it was possible to conclude that poison was probably more commonly administered through drinks such as coffee than through food (see pp. 6-7 of the white paper report Data Mining with Criminal Intent’).

****

If you would like to have a look at this module please register for History SPOT for free and follow the instructions (http://historyspot.org.uk).  If you would like further information about this course, and the others that the IHR offer please have a look at our Research Training pages on the IHR website.

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