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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.   

 B4iii

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:

  B4iv

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

“All Hallows Honey Lane”

will work perfectly well.

 

To find out more about this course check out our research training pages.

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Cover smallThe 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:

  • Data management
  • Record linkage
  • 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.

 

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A sample page from the Databases course

A sample page from the Databases course

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:

  • Data management
  • Record linkage
  • 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 Building and Using 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.

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Cover smallToday we are presenting the second of our recent additions to online training.

The Institute of Historical Research are very pleased to announce the launch of our first extensive and comprehensive online training course: Building and Using Databases for Historical Research.  The online course covers the entire life-cycle of creating and using a relational database and can be undertaken at any time and completed at your own pace.

Depending on the type of data that you are using to carry out historical research, databases – such as Microsoft Access – can be an essential tool for the historian.  However, few courses teach databases with historical data in mind or the needs of the historian.  We believe that this course can fill that gap.  The IHR have been running face-to-face training in Databases for a very long time, so the expansion to also provide the course online was an obvious choice for us.

Module 1 from the Databases course

Module 1 from the Databases course

 

Here is the information that we have on our website:

The aim of this training course is to equip you with the skills required to build and utilise a relational database suited to historical research. It is a non-tutor led course that can be completed at your own pace and at a time of your own choosing.

This course is a continuation of the free online course Designing databases for historical research handbook, which provides a free introduction for historians who wish to create databases. Building and Using Databases for Historical Research takes you through the entire process of creating and using databases and is, therefore, a much larger and comprehensive course. As such it is recommended to work your way through the Designing databases for historical research handbook before embarking on this course.

When you register for this course you will work through three modules that look at the following aspects of building and using databases:

Module 1 introduces the tools and techniques used in building a database for historical research. It covers the process of constructing related tables to accommodate your data, as well as introducing a number of practical measures that you can employ to control the quality of the data that you create. The Module also addresses what you need to do to incorporate existing data into a newly-constructed database.

 

Sample page from the Databases course

Sample page from the Databases course

Module 2 introduces the numerous ways that database tools can help you ask research questions of your data, ranging from simply finding individual instances of information at the micro level, through to providing complex networking and record linkage overviews. This Module also provides a basic introduction to employing queries highlight statistical patterns in large bodies of data through aggregation tools.

 

Module 3 addresses two main aspects of using a database in a historical research project: ‘managing’ the database and generating research output. The former element introduces various methods for ensuring good practice in terms of file and version control, back up and documentation – all important aspects of making sure the database is useful to your research; whilst the latter looks at ways of extracting data in various formats (including visual) to share with other historians.

 

The course costs £99 which includes access to the online materials, discussion forums and example data for a four month period.  The course ends with a final exercise where you can test the knowledge that you have gained and receive some feedback.

For further information check out the IHR research training pages or have a look at the Designing Databases for Historical Research Handbook which contains more information on the course as well.

 

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With the launch of History SPOT the Institute of Historical Research have also launched a brand new handbook written by our own Dr Mark Merry on the subject of designing databases for historical research. Mark is the primary tutor on our various Databases course and has an encyclopaedic knowledge of database structure and function. As such this handbook provides both tuition and guidance for historians on what purpose a database should have and, once built, what can be done with it.

The handbook basically provides an introduction to designing databases for use in historical research; providing an overview of important concepts – both historical in nature and in terms of databases – that the historian will need to consider before embarking upon designing a database. It also provides a number of starting points for overcoming certain design problems that specifically affect historians when they come to wrestle their sources into a database.

So for anyone out there who wishes to make better use of databases, needs a refresher, or would simply like to gain a glimpse at the type of training we can offer on a face to face basis please check out History SPOT and Mark’s Databases handbook.

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I have been waiting to write that title for well over a year now.  After a delay of over 5 months History SPOT is finally ready to launch!   

Research Seminars, Lectures and Conferences

History SPOT is brimming full of podcasts from IHR seminars, conferences and lectures from 2009 to the present.  In addition to our extensive archives you will have access to all new podcasts from the IHR in the coming months and have the opportunity to discuss, comment upon and debate their content online.   

SPOTLight

In addition to the podcasts themselves History SPOT contains an archive of SPOT Newsletter reviews and abstracts which have thus far appeared on this blog along with various other additional resources.  The SPOT Newsletter will be growing over the coming months adding opinions, additional facts and information, and mini bibliographies.

Historical Research Training

History SPOT presents to you for free and for the first time material from our research training courses and from our expertises as a research institute.  Initially we have provided two research handbooks: one on the subject of Databases for Historians and another on podcasting.  More will follow soon.

Interact

History SPOT is not just a place to search for content it is also designed so that you can interact with the subject matter.  When you listen to one of our podcasts let us and other users know what you think.  Is there something that you disagree with or do you have something to add to what our speakers discuss? 

In addition you can create your own profiles, take part in social networking through Groups and Friends and create basic web pages.  You can also write your own blog posts and discuss our activities with each other in various group forums. 

Click below to access the site

 

 

History SPOT will be in Beta Mode for approximately one month while we iron out the final glitches and errors, however we would very much appreciate your feedback.  Do you like the new site?  Is there anything that you don’t like?  What could we do better?  Is there anything missing?  Please do let us know at History.spot@sas.ac.uk or through the Contact UsLINK option on History SPOT.

At some point soon I will write up another blog post here about the road to launch but in the meantime please do register for History SPOT, have a look around, and let us know what you think.

I hope you enjoy the site!

Matt

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