I started work on History SPOT on the 15th March 2010 so for me it felt quite appropriate that one year almost to the day we presented to the world the IHR’s first Research Seminar ‘live’ online. The Metropolitan History seminar and British History in the 18th Century seminar was very kind to agree to the live streamed event for their joint seminar presented by Professor Jerry White (Birkbeck) on the topic of City Rivalries and the making of Modern London, 1720-1770.
The session seemed to go well, even with the unexpected additional visitor – a tiny mouse – who decided to attack Jerry White’s feet half way through the paper! There were at least 40 people in the room and an additional 30-40 watching online. From what was said on the ‘chat’ facility we had representatives from Switzerland, Germany and the US (as well as Britain of course).
The session was opened by the Director of the IHR, Miles Taylor at which point the streaming started. We then moved on to Jerry White’s interesting paper and to the post-paper questions. We had three questions from our online audience all of which were good. Dr Matthew Davies kindly took on the role of advocate for the online audience – reading out the questions for the speaker to respond.
For the most part the technology worked well. After a few adjustments the volume of the microphone was clear enough for people to hear Jerry White speaking. The webcam synced pretty well with the audio and gave a fairly clear image of the speaker and chair. There was a problem, however, when we came to the audience asking questions. The microphone was just not powerful enough to pick up their voices (something to learn for the future!). So we improvised by asking the chair to repeat the questions and by adding summaries of the questions to the chat in text form. The advertisements on screen were also a bit of a nuisance and now that we know that there is indeed an audience for these live sessions we will be looking into alternative means to stream the session across the web (minus adverts).
The only other technical problem that became apparent was the chat feature. Although the sign-in was fairly straight forward one misstep could find a person unable to gain access as only one account can be created per email address (and no obvious way to reset passwords and usernames). Secondly, once registered all the previous messages on the chat would vanish from the viewer’s screen. Again, something to take home for next time!
Which brings me to the announcement for our second live streamed event. On Tuesday 29 March Leon Robinson (Positive Steps Organisation) will be speaking to the Archives and Society seminar group on ‘Unveiling the unknown: archiving the Black contribution to the performing arts over three centuries’. Leon is promising that this will be an exciting and dynamic session with images, videos and entertainment mixed in with an important discussion about a largely forgotten impact of Black performances in the arts that goes back to the Victorian era.
Please check the IHR webpage and stay tuned for further updates!