Dr Simon Trafford, head of research training at the IHR, in his natural environment
Training in research skills for young and aspiring researchers has been central to the IHR’s remit since its foundation in 1921. In recent years, the training programme has expanded and diversified, reflecting both a great broadening in the scope of historical enquiry and also the increasing prevalence of highly specialised approaches that require of their practitioners detailed technical knowledge or computing skills. In the 2014-15 programme, which has just been announced, we have courses covering every aspect of current historical practice, ranging from the very traditional skills of archival use and analysis of written sources through to the currently burgeoning area of historical GIS.
Taught by University of London historians and other expert practitioners from national institutions, the programme has been designed to help students to acquire all the techniques necessary to their research quickly and inexpensively. The Institute’s training will also be of interest to those already established in an academic career but wishing to acquire or renew skills in particular types of specialist analysis. New courses will be announced throughout the year, but please see here for a complete listing of the current programme.
The Institute of Historical research are pleased to announce the release of InScribe Module 2: Script. This is the second instalment from the online platform InScribe: Palaeography Learning Materials and follows the introductory module released in January 2013.
The study of pre-modern scripts involves being able to identify specific letters, understand what is written down in a hand that is not necessarily familiar to us today, and being able to recognise the indicators that tell us the origin and date of production. The study of scripts in this way (Palaeography) is a useful skill to process especially for students who study any aspect of the pre-modern world.
Knowledge of the basic principles of Palaeography and the main features of particular script formats is an unavoidable requirement for anyone with an interest in the Middle Ages and a need to refer to primary sources. InScribe has been developed with that in mind. It is not a resource for expert Palaeographers, rather it is aimed at students that are required to consult primary sources (either medieval manuscripts or documents) and offers them with a chance to acquire the required knowledge and skills. Users are presented with a variety of textual and audiovisual resources that cover the whole medieval period with a focus on the English context. Besides detailed descriptions of each script, the student is given the opportunity to put that in practice by transcribing a range of selected manuscripts in the newly-developed transcription tool.
InScribe Module 2: Script
After the success of the introductory (free) module on General Palaeography, the School of Advanced Study have produced a new, second online module for our successful InScribe palaeography course. This module focuses on scripts, providing an opportunity to determine the origin and date of production of any given manuscript from medieval Britain. It starts with Insular Minuscule (a script form popular in sixth-century Britain) and ends with Gothic types in the 16th century. The module’s contents include:
Section 1 Introduction
Section 2 Insular Minuscule
Section 3 Anglo-Saxon and Caroline minuscule
Section 4 The Protogothic Transition
Section 5 The Gothic Explosion
As with the previous module, the Scripts module contains advice, videos showing Palaeographers as work, and various opportunities to practise your transcription and identification skills using digital copies of manuscript pages.
As ever, there’s a packed and diverse programme of training events coming up at the IHR, and I thought I’d draw your attention to some of the highlights.
On 8 May the 2014 Spring School in Oral History, held in association with the Oral History Society, will be taking place at the IHR. As in previous years, there will be a wide-ranging programme covering the theory and practice of oral history in depth, and you can find more details and information on registering here.
If gardens are your thing, then you might be interested in Historic Gardens: Research in Action, which provides an introduction to how archival research findings on historic gardens can contribute to garden restoration, conservation and management. Taught on Tuesday mornings (11.00-13.00), this courseadopts a case-study approach to the exploration of these relationships through a combination of lectures, seminar-based discussions and site visits. See here for full details.
Another long-running and popular course is Explanatory Paradigms: An Introduction to Historical Theory, which starts on 14 May and aims to provide a critical introduction to some of the most influential frameworks of explanation in historical work today. Taught on Wednesday evenings (5.30-7.00) by Professor John Tosh, Dr John Seed and Professor Sally Alexander, Explanatory Paradigms will explore one explanatory approach each week in depth through a combination of a lecture and seminar discussion based on the students’ own reading. Register here.
Finally, our big event of the summer will be the Summer School in Local History 2014: Local History and Heritage, back for a third time after its extremely successful first two years. This year we shall take a theme of Local History and Heritage. The school will introduce you to the most up-to-date methods, sources and successful approaches to the subject through an exciting programme of lectures and workshops.. An illustrious team of experts from the National Archives, the London Metropolitan Archives, English Heritage, the History of Parliament, the Survey of London and the VCH, as well as from universities throughout the UK will explore the historical, archaeological, art historical and architectural evidence for British localities. The school is open to all those keen to expand or update their skills in local history research. Again, more details can be found here.
History Spot has been a much-used and well-liked tool in the two-and-a-half years of its existence and has provided access to training materials and hundreds of podcasts and seminars to thousands of researchers throughout the UK and the world. Now, though, it has outgrown the systems on which it was originally built and we are making some changes which will, we hope, make it easier to find and access the materials which up till now have been available on History Spot.
Everything which was formerly accessible via History Spot has been retained and will continue to be available to researchers, but different types of resource are now to be found in different ways:
1) IHR Podcasts have been merged into the main IHR website at history.ac.uk and can be located and downloaded for free and without registration via the Events menu (under Podcasts: or follow this link: http://www.history.ac.uk/podcasts).
2) Online Research Training Courses can be reached via the Research Training pages on the IHR website (http://www.history.ac.uk/research-training/online). To access chargeable courses an account is still necessary. All the old History Spot accounts have been retained and will function with the new system, but on the first occasion that they are used it will be necessary to reset the password by following the procedure for a forgotten password (to change your password straight away, use this link: http://training.historyspot.org.uk/login/forgot_password.php). All the free and non-chargeable online courses, however, can now be accessed without an account or password by using the Login as a Guest button.
We hope that this will not cause too much disruption and that with the new arrangements even more historians and researchers will be able to use the tools that we provide and that History Spot has helped to popularise.
The IHR is delighted to announce the launch of this new course, which provides an introduction to how archival research findings on historic gardens can contribute to garden restoration, conservation and management. Taught on Tuesday mornings (11.00-13.00), Historic Gardens: Research in Action adopts a case-study approach to the exploration of these relationships through a combination of lectures, seminar-based discussions and site visits.
Researching the history of a garden or landscape is an absorbing and exciting activity that draws together documentation, maps, paintings, horticulture and other information to tell the story of the garden’s development and the people involved in its creation. The results will be a well-referenced report that describes chronological design overlays and planting and may identify the garden as of significant historic interest. This short course takes researching a garden’s history a stage further by a consideration of how these findings can contribute to a garden’s restoration, conservation and management. It also provides a practical understanding of the range of methodologies currently employed in the identification, protection and care of historic parks and gardens in the UK.
Examination of these issues is made through case studies chosen as examples of gardens restored to different historic periods and under different types of ownership and management. Visits will be made to the seventeenth-century formal gardens at Ham House (National Trust), the eighteenth-century landscape garden at Painshill Park (Painshill Park Trust), and the early twentieth-century garden of plantsman E. A. Bowles at Myddelton House (Lee Valley Regional Park Authority). Sources of evidence for restoration and plans for garden management will be studied in both classroom sessions and with expert guides during site visits.
Each 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.
To 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.
10.30 Coffee & registration
11.00 Introduction (Matt Phillpott)
11.15 Researchers projects – managing their data
11.45 Bibliographical Tools
12.15 Practical activity
14.00 Sharing Data
14.30 Open Access
15.15 Practical Activity
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org who is happy to help.
Places 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
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.
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:
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
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:
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.