Archive for March, 2013

Metropolitan History seminar
23 November 2011
Urbanising China in war and peace, Wuxi 1911-1945
Toby Lincoln (Centre for Urban History, Leicester)

Wuxi (Wikipedia)


Toby Lincoln examines Wuxi at the beginning of the twentieth century asking questions of its urban development, its composition as a city, and the effect of Japanese occupation in the 1930s.  Wuxi is an urban region in China.  Lincoln argues that Wuxi underwent a large expansion led by a modern capitalist drive, migration, and demonstration of state political power.  The occupation of the city by the Japanese led to a rebuilding of Wuxi that reflects surprising continuity and in so doing reveals the limits of Japanese occupation in the region.

Lincoln tells us that urbanisation is a long-term trend in China and that the interconnection between urban and rural landscapes demonstrates variances in lifestyle and practices.  Sometimes, urbanisation is seen in China as the effect of a decadent foreign imposition on traditional Chinese lifestyles whilst in other occasions it is viewed as Chinese progression.  Lincoln’s focus is on the overlapping geographies of Wuxi.  These are used as a way into the subject – focused on spatial understandings of flexible borders and connections between spaces.

 To listen to this podcast click here.

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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.

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.

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Digital History
From Cradle to Antipodean Grave: Reconstructing 19th Century Criminal Lives
Hamish Maxwell-Stewart (Tasmania)
8 May 2012


Senate House Paper_Page_18In this session of the Digital History seminar, streamed live on 8 May Hamish Maxwell-Stewart gave a fascinating talk about reconstructing the lives of convicts taken to Australia in the 19th and early 20th centuries.  Using digital tools (but not going too much into them) Maxwell-Stewart looks at what the records tell us – and it would seem they tell us a lot.  We have information on rates of illness and life expectancy; we have details about punishments and work-loads for convicts; we also have information about repeat offenders.  More than this, though, the project that Maxwell-Stewart is working on is enabling families in Tasmania to reconstruct their family pasts and reconcile themselves with a history that might well have a criminal basis.

This project has produced the Founders & Survivors: Australian life courses in historical context 1803-1920 website, which, as Maxwell-Stewart notes, is the result of a partnership between historians, genealogists, demographers and population health researchers.  The project seeks to record and study the founding population of 73,000 men, women and children who were transported to Tasmania.  Indeed, Maxwell-Stewart actively encourages similar collaborations believing that University historians still do not take genealogy or family historians seriously despite the amazing evidence that have been collected in those pursuits.

As an example of the information contained in the site I looked up my surname ‘Phillpott’.  There were no items under that spelling, although I am aware that the spelling of the name has changed over the centuries.  Most of my family resided in Kent during this period, and there is one record that contains a place of birth of Hollingbourne in Kent of a John Philpott.  I don’t think he is a direct relation, but his record shows that he was born in 1808, was married to Elizabeth and had one child.  John was a labourer and a protestant.  He was convicted of stealing bim cloths (I’m not entirely sure what those are?  Any ideas?).  Previous convictions are interesting: John Philpott was convicted for releasing a donkey from a pound and for assaulting a constable.  For his various crimes John Philpott was taken from Sheerness to Australia on-board the Westmoreland under John Brigstock.  The journey took 116 days.  It is certainly an interesting and highly useful resource.

 To listen to this podcast or watch the video click here.



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Latin American History
8 January 2013
Ben Smith (Warwick)
La Dictablanda: Soft Authoritarianism in Mexico, 1940-1968


In 1929 the National Revolutionary Party (PNR) was formed and later renamed Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI).  Between 1940 and 1970 this administration became increasingly authoritarian and at times oppressive.  This talk by Ben Smith examines what he calls soft authoritarianism in the acts of the PRI.

Ben Smith believes that historiography on this period in Mexican history is missing the everyday experiences of families under soft authoritarianism, or as the Mexicans would call it La Dictablanda.  He talks about the paradox of revolution and state, of how the revolutionary authority turned from democracy to an increasingly authoritarian state and of how extreme violence was used against the people even during periods considered relatively peaceful.  The paper focuses on four principal elements:

1)      Description of twin-paradoxes of the Mexican state.

2)      Historiography on the subject.

3)      Conclusions regarding the PRI state.

4)      La Dictablanda described.

Smith finishes his paper by examining one way people were able to make political statements with minimum fear of persecution – this was the use of humour as an act of subversion.

To listen to this podcast click here.

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History SPOT top logoJust a quick post today to draw your attention to the minor updates to the blog layout.  It’s nothing major; I would like to do more and really give the History SPOT blog a fresh look, but that will have to wait for another time – perhaps the summer when things are a little less hectic.  What I have done is the following:

  • A direct link to the History SPOT website (this is something that I should have added ages ago, but finally it’s here)
  • A drop-down menu listing the main categories for this blog – this makes it easier to separate the podcast summaries from the live stream and, in particular, the posts about research training online.
  •  Feed from the History SPOT Twitter feed @IHRDigProjects
  • A list of related blogs
  • And the Blog archive going back to March 2010 (has it really been that long?)

If anyone would like to see any other changes to the blog please let me know in the comments below.  I’d love to hear from you.

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Digital History seminar
Ben Schmidt (Princeton University)
Unintended consequences: digital reading and the loci of cultural change

Tuesday 12 March 2013, 5.15pm GMT

Live Stream (click here on Tuesday to view the live stream)
digital readingAbstract: Large scale digital reading is, as its critics have noticed, quite poor at telling us about individual intentions. But digital texts do create new fields for investigation of broad cultural trends which—where reasonably good metadata is available—can help historians to describe changes that appear largely driven by disciplinary or geographical structures rather than the choices of an individual author.

I will investigate this in two contexts; in the emergence of a new vocabulary of attention in the 20th century directly contrary to the ambitions of the psychological establishment; and the particular places authors of historical fiction fail to notice changes in language and culture.

Biography: Ben Schmidt is a Ph.D. Candidate in American intellectual history at Princeton and the Graduate Fellow at the Cultural Observatory at Harvard. His dissertation studies the emergence of modern conceptions of attention in psychology, advertising, and mass media in the early 20th century century United States. He co-developed Bookworm, a system for visual and statistical exploration of millions of books, newspaper pages, or journal articles, and writes about text analysis and the digital humanities at sappingattention.blogspot.com.

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