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Digital History seminar
21 February 2012
Magnus Huber (Giessen)
The Old Bailey Corpus: Spoken English in the 18th and 19th Centuries
 

The Old Bailey Proceedings Online is a heavily used resource by historians of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries who want to look at social and cultural history, particularly of the ordinary people.   The ‘from below’ perspective that the proceedings can provide especially due to its mark-up online has truly moved the discussion forward.  However, as the project was originally underway at least one person saw another possibility for the resource. 

Magnus Huber is an historical-linguist and he viewed the Old Bailey corpus as a largely untapped resource for rediscovering spoken English in a period before audio or visual recordings.  Huber has analysed the texts for long variations and change in spoken English as expressed in the court trials.  He has asked and attempted to answer how accurate such a study can be.  Does the written record accurately record spoken English?  Even where the scribe has noted down direct speech, can we be sure that this is correct?  What about the problem of summarising or changes in word-forms such as “can’t” rather than “cannot”?  From an historians point of view some of this is not important to gaining an historical sense of what the resource is telling us.  However, from a linguists point of view there are important differences and the records cannot entirely be trusted to tell us everything that we would like to be able to assume.  A lack of internal consistency in the text is a problem and even comparing to other parallel documents cannot necessarily tell us the entire story. 

Nevertheless, Huber’s study of the Old Bailey records has enabled him to reconstruct much more than would otherwise be possible.  The quantity of material of the same form over a lengthy period of time that the Old Bailey records provide is a gold mine of information.  Now marked-up with the latest digital technology and using digital tools to analyse and ‘mine’ the evidence, the Old Bailey proceedings are continuing to provide almost endless possibilities for research.  

 To listen or watch 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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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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