Posts Tagged ‘databases’

The next IHR live stream will take place at 5.15pm on 14 May 2013 with the Digital History seminar.  Details below:

Digital History seminar
Matthew Hammond
The People of Medieval Scotland database: structure, prosopography and network visualisation
The People of Medieval Scotland 1093-1314 website (click on image to view)

The People of Medieval Scotland 1093-1314 website (click on image to view)

This is a seminar about a prosopographical database, ‘The People of Medieval Scotland, 1093-1314’, which has been in production since 2007, and which has been freely available online since the summer of 2010. Since the relaunch of the database last year, we have had over 40,000 unique visitors from across the globe. Now nearing completion, the database contains records on over 20,000 individuals, drawn from over 8500 medieval, mostly Latin documents. The paper will examine some of the PoMS project’s technical innovations as well as the new directions we hope to take in the coming years.

The seminar will take you behind the scenes of the public website to see how this database evolved from the factoid prosopography model created for the ‘Prosopography of Anglo-Saxon England’ (PASE) by John Bradley of the Centre for Computing in the Humanities, now Department of Digital Humanities, at Kings College London. PoMS has developed what might be called a ‘transactional model’ of factoid prosopography, due to the fact that it is comprised almost entirely of transactional documents like charters. Rather than simply recording events, the transactional model is explicitly interested in relations between individuals as recorded in the documents. We will examine the new structures PoMS incorporates to allow end users the ability to research the terms of the transaction, and thus the nature of the interaction between people, as well as multiple transactions happening at different times within the same document. We will look at the work of Michele Pasin, formerly of DDH, in developing new ways for users to both search and visualise these transactions. The seminar will finish with a consideration of the capabilities of the database for studying the social networks, and visualising the relationships between large numbers of people.

Matthew Hammond is a Research Associate in the School of Humanities at the University of Glasgow and former Lecturer in Scottish History at the University of Edinburgh. Since 2007, he has been a team member of the AHRC-funded projects that created the ‘People of Medieval Scotland, 1093-1286’ database (www.poms.ac.uk) and is now working on a Leverhulme-funded project to expand the capabilities of that database, especially in the area of Social Network Analysis.

To take part in the live stream visit History SPOT on 14 May at 5.15pm and open up the pop out video, slide show, chat, and twitter feed.

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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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Archives and Society seminar
6 November 2012
Kirsten Ferguson-Boucher (University of Aberystwyth)
Computer-Assisted Review


computer (shutterstock)Kirsten Ferguson-Boucher talks about Computer-Assisted Review (also called content analysis amongst other things).  There is a lot of detail here about the variety of elements that make up archival practices and the increasing need to rely on computers to aid in this task.  The issues surrounding Big Data – including volume (amount of data), velocity (the increasing flow of data), Veracity (preservation issues), and value (what do we gain by saving and managing this data for the future?) – are all vital elements in the Information governance and insurance agenda.

Ferguson-Boucher works here way through the complexity of the subject and makes comparisons between the UK and US approaches and legal variations.  She concludes that computers enable archivists and lawyers to reduce the error in their work, but this is by no means a replacements.  Computers need to be used in conjunction with human investigators to assess and analyse materials.

To listen to this podcast click here

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Digital History
Digital landscapes and Archaeology
Peter Rauxloh (Museum of London Archaeology)
6 December 2011

Internationally known as a leading expert on using databases in archaeology, the Museum of London’s Peter Rauxloh is the perfect person to talk about using digital technologies to understand the landscape.  Peter’s talk was live streamed by the IHR on 6 December and also recorded as a podcast. 

The talk centres on several case studies including Spitalfields Medieval Augustinian Cemetery in London.   The central question that he poses for this paper is what could not be done without digital technologies in archaeology?  Looking at tools ranging from Geo-referencing to three-dimensional modelling and more basic digital assets such as databases for recording large amounts of data (such as 11,000 skeletons at Spitalfields) it becomes immediately obvious just how important digital is to our understandings of archaeological remains and landscapes.  Take for instance the desire to know the orientation of all 11,000 skeletons and partial skeletons.  In the case of Spitalfield this information was not recorded for all finds but using GIS and other digital tools it was possible to work out the orientations from geo-referenced skulls and bone fragments.  It was also possible to map these against other landscape features such as to show how the burials related to the church or a line of wall.  From that data it was possible to show how people moved around the churchyard. 

Primarily Peter Rauxloh talks about the development of three digital technologies that have transformed the archaeological profession: 

  1. Databases (to handle and analysis large chunks of data)
  2. GIS (spatial distribution) 
  3. 3D Technologies (stratigraphic investigation)

Overall this is a highly useful introductory talk for anyone creating or making use of data obtained through digital means which examine archaeology and the landscape.

 To listen or watch this podcast please click here.

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Locating London’s past: a geo-referencing tool for mapping historical and archaeological evidence, 1660-1800

Part of the 1746 John Rocque map of London

Today History SPOT will play host to a live stream of this workshop on Locating London’s Past.  This should prove an interesting and exciting event for anyone interested in early modernLondon, in database and GIS practices, and mapping in general. 

So please join us at 2pm and 4pm for the following talks:

2pm     Introduction to the Locating London’s Past project

4pm     The future of the past – the role of historical mapping

If you would like to follow on Twitter the hash tag is #llp

 click on the logo to access the Live Stream Page for this event

Project Information

 Locating London´s Past will create an intuitive GIS interface that will enable researchers to map and visualize textual and artefactual data relating to seventeenth and eighteenth-century London against a fully rasterised version of John Rocque´s 1746 map of London and the first accurate modern OS map (1869-80). More than this, it will make these data and maps available within a Google Maps container, allowing for the analysis of the data with open source visualization tools. The interface will be readily expandable to include additional data sets and maps (both modern and historic).

Building on the partnerships created through the JISC funded Connected Histories project, and through a new collaboration with the Museum of London Archaeological Service (MOLA), Locating London´s Past will produce a working GIS-enabled public web environment that will allow existing electronic historical data about London to be repackaged and organised around space. The project incorporates four elements. First, a fully rasterised and GIS-enabled version of John Rocque´s 1746 map of London will be created and tied to a GIS enabled version of the first reliable modern OS map (1869-80). Second, standard geo-referencing will be incorporated into some 4.9 million lines of data drawn from the Old Bailey Online, London Lives, 1690-1800, datasets created by the Centre for Metropolitan History, and MOLA´s extensive database of archaeological finds. Third, using an API methodology, the historical GIS will be presented for public use and re-use both online and as downloads, within a Google Maps `container´ (giving access to satellite images, `street views´ etc), to facilitate `mash-ups´ with modern datasets (geological, flooding, land use, etc). This in turn will create an environment in which additional external historical datasets and GIS enabled historical maps can be added. Fourth, a series of open source visualization tools, with examples and documentation, will be made available through the interface to allow datasets with multiple variables about crime, social policy, taxation and material culture to be represented and analysed in conjunction with the three layers of GIS-enabled mapping (Rocque, OS, Google Maps).

By bringing within a single framework archaeological evidence of pipes and shards, and historical trial records, voting lists, insurance files and taxations records, this project will contribute to the `spatial turn´ in humanities and social science scholarship, not just by making geographical analysis possible, but by making it readily accessible.


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