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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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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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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.

Read Full Post »

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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Two new inter-related free modules are now available on the History SPOT platform beginning a series on digital tools.

The first is about semantic mark-up – this is a beginner’s guide to marking up a text in XML so that it is searchable for information pertinent to historical research.  Semantic mark-up is extremely common in History digital projects.  Take for example the Old Bailey Proceedings Online or TAMO (The Acts and Monuments Online, otherwise known as the John Foxe Project).  Both websites have marked up their texts so that you can find specific persons, places, and types of information from an index or via a search engine.  Our module will guide you from beginning to end of that process from the starting point of no knowledge whatsoever (beyond some basic knowledge of using computers).

The same is true for the second module, on the topic of text mining.  Where semantic mark-up enables you to find known information more easily, text mining gives you the opportunity to add additional structure to unstructured text (or texts) to enable research on relationships otherwise difficult to identify.  For example, text mining would enable you to explore a large body of text, such as the Old Bailey records, and ask questions about associations: does, for example, mention of wine or beer appear most often with acts of violence or illness?  You would presume it does, but text mining will allow you to confirm that fact.

Now, text mining is undoubtedly a more specialist tool and to use it properly requires some extensive technical expertise.  Our module tries to introduce you to the subject lightly and builds upon the training given for semantic mark-up.  Beginners should be able to work their way through the module and understand what they are being asked to do and why.  The module won’t tell you everything there is to know about text mining, nor will it train you in using development tools (although it will show you where you can go to get some basic knowledge on these).  What it will do is show you what is involved and what you might get out of it before taking extensive time to learn the tools in-depth.

Sample page from the Text Mining module

In addition to these two digital tools training modules, we have a tool audit (a list of various digital tools with a little introductory information) and a series of case studies.  These are on the topics of semantic data, text mining, visualisation, linked data, and cloud computing.

These training materials are all outcomes from the JISC funded HISTORE project.  For more details of that project please visit the HISTORE Blog and the Digital Skills workshop podcasts on History SPOT.

 

To view the Digital Tools course materials click here.

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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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