Archive for February, 2012

When I first came to the IHR two years ago I had to learn pretty fast all about podcasting – how to use the recorder, post-production, metadata and so forth.  I quickly learnt the first rule of audio recording – get the audio volume clear whilst recording as there is just no way to clean it up very well in post-production.  There is still the occasional recording that doesn’t come out too well but I think for the most part we do quite well.

Recently, my new learning curve has been video filming and editing.  When I applied for this job no one warned me that I might soon need to learn how to become a film director!  Well, I’m no Steven Spielberg and whilst the thought of blowing lots of things up as rampaging robots charge through Senate House has its appeal aka Michael Bay-style, the extent of my filming career will be somewhat more ‘amateur’ than Hollywood.  Let’s put it this way, I’m not expecting a call anytime soon.     

My first video was a screencast; a merging of a slide show with the audio recording.  So far I’ve only done this the once – for the session  Following ‘The Absent-minded Beggar’: A case-history of a fund-raising campaign of the South African War.  Looking back at it now I think it needs to be in a higher resolution as it looks quite blurry, but otherwise it seems to work fairly well.  Since then I’ve created various ‘edited’ cuts from the live stream videos.  These are low quality videos anyway as they are made using a webcam designed more for live streaming the video and audio, than for later use.  Nonetheless I’ve slowly learnt how best to incorporate slides with the video and switch between the two. 

At the moment I’m working on the live stream material from Magnus Huber’s talk for the Digital History seminar.  This time around I’m not only reliant upon the live stream video but also have back-up camcorder footage to play with.  I’m hoping to merge the two – if I have time and if the quality of one video doesn’t look too different than the other.

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Latin American History
Mexican Nationalism: History and Theory
David Brading (Cambridge)
4 October 2011

Flag of Mexico

In 1821 Mexico gained independence from Spain and formed a Republic.  By the 1880s a ‘reformation’ had begun to occur in the Mexican church, trade had moved primarily with Europe to Mexico’s North American neighbours, and modernisation went hand-in-hand with a government based around dictatorship and a cast based society.  Amongst, all of these changes in Mexican society were the growth of a nationalist ideology straining to break free of its Spanish roots and searching for a new ‘Mexican’ identity.  David Brading is both successful as an historian in English-speaking countries and in Mexico itself.  Indeed, several of his books are reprinted regularly in Mexico and viewed as essential texts in their universities.  This talk, then, on Mexican nationalism, comes from a man who is by-far one of the leaders in his particular field.  Brading looks at the multi-faceted nature and history of nationalism in Mexico especially where it intersected with major events such as civil war, religious transformation, and growth of urbanisation and modernisation. 

To listen to the podcast please click here.


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Latin American History
15 November 2011 
Roy Hora (Universidad Nacional de Quilmes/Conicet, Argentina)
Great wealth in Argentina, 1810-1930

Buenos Aries panorama

Very little research has been done on the very wealthy of Argentina between the late colonial period and the beginning of the Second World War.  Many assumptions have been floated around but none based on much substance.  Roy Hora’s investigation is therefore useful in deconstructing the truth concerning Argentina’s wealthy ‘classes’.  In the earlier period the merchant classes, rather than landowners, seem to have been able to build up the most wealth but by the end of the nineteenth century industrialists had over taken both landowners and merchants, especially in Buenos Aeries.  Hora bases his research on probate records which – whilst still holding difficulties for the historian – are more reliable as the nature of tax in Argentina in this period meant that the wealthy had little need to hide their wealth from official records.  Of course, the records only account for wealth at death, which is a limitation to the evidence as the elderly tend to act differently with money than the young or middle aged.  In general, Hora’s research has revealed a group of people previously hidden away in shadows and has shown that changes in scale and structure of fortunes between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries transformed greatly moving from one group to another with some rapidity. 

To listen to this podcast click here.

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Yesterday was the first Digital History seminar this term and, as what has become a continuing thread for many of the papers, the focus was again on the Old Bailey Proceedings.  However, this time the topic was rather different – at least from an historian’s perspective – Magnus Huber (Gissen) is a linguist and his area of investigation was to look at what – if anything – the proceedings can tell us about spoken English in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.   

If anyone would like to watch the recording it is currently available on the ‘past live streamed events’ section of History SPOT.  Over the coming week’s I will be reviewing the video and audio to produce a smoother edited edition which will then be archived in the Digital History seminar section of History SPOT.   So watch this space!

As per usual I was sat in one corner of the room monitoring the live stream for the session while seminar conveners Peter Webster (IHR) and Richard Deswarte (History Data Service, University of Essex) entered the ‘Twitter-sphere’ to keep the digital world abreast of what was happening in the room and to field any questions from the online audience that were not directed through my ‘chat’ pop-out. 

Those who were watching, either in the room or online, will have been aware that we started with a few technical issues, however – thankfully – I was able to resolve these fairly quickly.  The problem amounted to the failure of the wired internet connection (either the cable or the connection itself).  We were therefore reliant on wifi which was far from ideal but did nonetheless seem to withstand the high broadband usage I was chucking at it. 

The next session promises to be something of an interesting experiment for us as the speaker, Dan Cohen – will be speaking from his home institution of George Mason University in Washington DC.  Dan will be using the same live stream system that we use while we in the room will maintain a skype connection with Dan in the background to deal with any technical hitches and for the post-paper questions.  Those of us in the room, therefore, will be joining our other online viewers by watching the seminar on the computer screen (via a projector in our case).  I’m quite excited by this prospect as I have not yet had the opportunity to watch any of our live streams in real-time for obvious reasons. 

Digital History Seminar
Dan Cohen (George Mason)
Finding Meaning in a Million Victorian Books

The next session will be live streamed at approximately 5.15pm GMT on Tuesday 6 March 2012.  For those of you who would like to attend the event in person we will be gathering in S261 on the second floor of Senate House (a slight change from normal).  This can be reached either through the Senate House North Block stairs or via Stewart House (instead of turning left towards the usual room (ST276) keep on going forward.

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Just a quick reminder that we will be live streaming the Digital History seminar tonight at 5.15pm GMT.  Tonight’s session is given by Magnus Huber (Giessen) who will be talking about spoken English in the 18th and 19th centuries derpived from evidence in the Old Bailey corpus. 

For more information or to view this show click here.

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Digital History
17 May 2011
Professor Adrian Bell (Reading) and Dr Andy King (Southampton)
The Soldier in Later Medieval England Project – did it do what we wanted it to do?

Re-enactor in armour at the Tewkesbury Medieval FestivalThe research project: The Soldier in Later Medieval England was supported by the universities of Reading and Southampton between 2006 and 2009 and was run by Professor Adrian Bell, Dr Andy King.  It was never intended as a digital project which is somewhat ironic considering that this project has been selected as the opening discussion for a new IHR seminar group focused on analysing digital projects.  However, the impact of the online resource has been staggering.  Between 27 July 2009 and 15 October 2009 the website received 3.4 million hits with at least ¼ million unique visitors.  That’s somewhere around 3,000 visitors per day.  This was not just a brief ‘fad’ either.  For example in May 2011 the site received 15,000 visits.  In this session Adrian Bell and Andy King discuss the success of the project and particularly the online database.  They explain what their original brief was, what they planned to achieve (and what they feel they did, in the end, achieve), the methodology behind the project, and where they plan to take the research in the future.  The online database allows visitors to search the service records of soldiers in later medieval England using the Muster Rolls as its source.  The success of the online database comes not just from providing a useful resource but, as Adrian Bell explains, from various high profile promotions.  In July 2009 they appeared on the BBC website receiving a staggering 1.5 million hits on that day alone.  Since, the project has been advertised in a double page spread in the Daily Mail, in several magazine articles, and on various radio appearances.

To listen/watch this podcast please click here.

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Digital History
31 May 2011
Professor Richard Rodger (Edinburgh)
Space, place and the city: a simple anti-GIS approach for historians


William EDGAR- City and Castle of Edinburgh 1765


If you suggest using GIS (geographical information system) to an historian they might look back at you blankly or with a look of mild horror on their face.  For many historians GIS is viewed (not unfairly) as a complicated tool best left to others.  However, its potential usefulness in answering and revealing research questions is pretty much indisputable.  Richard Rodger wants to show that working on the spatial does not necessarily require GIS work and where it does, it is often highly rewarding.  In this paper Rodger wants to look at alternatives to GIS, to more simple processes for investigating the spatial.  He does this not just with the academic historian in mind, but also the local historian, the student, and other interested researchers.  Using pre-established geo-referencing tools and by following straight forward techniques can be highly rewarding and relatively easy to learn.  Take the Google Maps platform as an example.  Rodger describes in this paper how to use Google tools to map spatially various statistical data with minimum of effort.  Then there is his own project, Visualising Urban Geographies, which uses Edinburgh as a template for building mapping tools specifically designed for use by historians.  By investigating data by addresses or districts, this project allows historians to create spatial boundaries to link maps to the boundaries of data.  In other words a set of district records can be mapped accurately and displayed in a way useful for interpretation. 

Rodger wants everyone to be able to investigate the spatial and emphasises that it does not necessarily need to be complicated or time consuming. 

To listen to this podcast/video please click here.


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Archives & Society
29 March 2011
Leon Robinson (Positive Steps Organisation)
Unveiling the unknown: archiving the Black contribution to the performing arts over three centuries

“I don’t want any more black artists to pass away without being acknowledged for the great work that they had done.” 

This is Leon Robinson’s driving force for looking into long forgotten black artists from Victorian Britain.  Leon comes from a performing arts background but through his interest in collecting photographs and play bills of Victorian performers has moved into talking about history as a way of promoting what has almost become a lost history for the benefit of people today. “This is British Entertainment History” not just black history, Leon states firmly. 

Our second ever live stream was therefore a lively passionate affair with Leon showing various photographs, advertisement posters and videos.  Leon’s collection derives primarily from postcard fairs and it is now a large and rare collection of known and forgotten performers.  Indeed, Leon states that it was those performers that were unknown that most interested him when thumbing through the dealers stands.  The excitement of the hunt comes through clearly.  Indeed, one of the most interesting parts of Leon’s talk (other than his clear enthusiasm for the subject) is his story of how he collected these sources over many years; how he created his archive himself and learnt about what was out there and where to look.   Uncovering history is however, only part of it – Leon is not collecting for collecting sake he wants to spread the word and let other people know about what he is learning and finding.  Through his Positive Steps Organisation, Leon has created various videos (some of which he shows) about the history of black performers and his attempts to get young people involved through the use of lenticulars of those performers. 

Leon also highlighted a problem in cataloguing systems especially related to finding or identifying the colour of Victorian performers.   As an example Leon discussed a poster advertising a dance group with no images.  On another occasion when Leon went to an archive they told him that they had no materials on black entertainers but when Leon turned to leave he noticed a poster on the wall with the name Florence Mills  which he recognised as being a black artist.  There is a very real problem here of identification especially when there is no visual imagery to give us that identification.   

I was at the session itself and have since reviewed the video and both times I found it hard not to get enthused and excited about what Leon was talking about.  He reaches down to the heart of what makes an historian tick (the excitement of searching archives and discovering new things about our subjects) but expresses that enthusiasm in a way that few historians would allow of themselves.  This of course comes from Leon deriving from a performing arts background.  His interest is in the excitement of presentation of these sources and what they can say more than writing of articles and books.  I think one of the questions that we received from our online audience summed up my thoughts on this: it was great to see the “physicality of the archives emphasised so much”.

To listen/watch this podcast please click here.

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Digital History
15 November 2011 
David Thomas and Valerie Johnson (TNA)
Does the Digital change anything?

Digital preservation is a hot topic in the world of archiving – just how do you preserve the digital record?  What do you keep?  What do you ignore?  These issues have always been crucial for archivists attempting to judge what will be useful for future researchers.  However, the digital poses specific problems as well.  For born-digital records when do you consider them complete?  A website (for example) can change regularly but still be considered complete – how do you archive something like that?  These are issues that David Thomas and Valerie Johnson from the National Archives tackle head-on.  David Thomas notes the American National Archives attempt to preserve US digital material on a scale beyond anything achievable in Britain.  However, does the scale necessarily matter?  Thomas believes that the concern over digital materials becoming unusable due to format changes  have, for the most part, proved unfounded.  Most projects, for instance, can still be accessible.  The issue is one more of survivability.  Of JISC and AHRC funded projects, Thomas believes around 10% have vanished entirely since the beginning of the dot.com boom. 

Valerie Johnson looks at the archive itself in more detail.  What should be kept and in what way?  How should archived digital materials be searchable?  What is the way forward?  There are hurdles still to overcome, and a recognition in the archive industry that digital materials will be scaling up over the coming decade and that means to catalogue and organise those materials are still required if those preserved materials are to be of any use to future researchers.  So does the digital change anything?  The answer here appears to be yes, but also no.


To listen to this podcast/video click here




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Next Tuesday (21 February 2012) the IHR will again host a live stream of our Digital History seminar.  This time on the topic of The Old Bailey Corpus: Spoken English in the 18th and 19th Centuries by Magnus Huber (Giessen).  This will be the first live session of 2012 and as a lead up I thought I would look back over the past live streamed events over the next few days. 

So starting tomorrow I will look at various past live streamed events from the IHR.  In the meantime please do add the date and time to your diaries! 


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