Yesterday we held the final Digital History seminar live stream for this semester. Professor Tim Hitchcock admitted that this was perhaps not his most interesting talk (in terms of historical antidotes) but an important one for the promotion of new technologies as a means to ask new research questions and gather data.
The Proceedings of the Old Bailey Online is certainly one of the success stories of early twenty-first century attempts at digitalising humanities research. So to hear ‘behind the scenes’ about the data that it is possible to gather from the Old Bailey archives was a refreshing alternative to straight forward discussion of history.
For my part, I was the man behind the webcam! Although I am an historian myself and one that works, like Tim, in the early modern period, I tend to find it difficult to focus on the paper at the same time as monitoring the live stream and managing the ‘chat’. I haven’t had a chance yet to have a re-listen to the paper but I plan to soon.
What has occurred to me however over the course of three Digital History seminars is the importance in talking more openly about how historians develop and make use of digital projects. We are used to presenting the results from our findings but not so much on how we came to those results in the first place. I believe that it is equally important to consider the route taken more closely; what tools were used and in what way? What were the limitations? What were the benefits? What are we trying to achieve in the first place? And, equally as important, how can we keep up with the new tools that computing is constantly providing us with? In the Q&A session Tim essentially motioned for historians to be trained in reading what has previously been the preserve of the sciences. I very much agree. But the question still remains – where do we get this training and how do we make it meaningful to us as historians?
I must say that I’m very much looking forward to the continuation of the Digital History seminar next academic year and will be very interested to see what they come up with. In the meantime, I’ll leave you to take a look at the videos taken from these sessions and let you consider those questions as well.