Seminar Programme

Venue: John S Cohen Room 203, 2nd floor, IHR, North block, Senate House
Time: Tuesdays, 5.15 pm


Autumn Term

8 November 2016
Will Finley, University of Sheffield
Title: ‘Making an Impression: Book Illustrations and their Technologies in Britain, 1780-1850’

6 December 2016
Ruth Ahnert, Queen Mary University London
Title: ‘Tudor Intelligence Networks’

We kill people based on metadata.’ These words, from the former director of the NSA, were the shocking revelation of 2013. The agency was systematically collecting the digital metadata of millions of Americans and foreign targets to determine potential sources of threat. This paper turns these methods onto the past, tracing intelligence networks in the metadata of 132,000 Tudor letters that survive in the state papers archive (now digitized at State Papers Online). By analyzing the metadata from these letters we are able both to map the social network implicated in this correspondence, and to measure the relative centrality of each of its members using a range of mathematical models from the field of complex networks. Co-opting the surveillance measures of one government, therefore, allows us to uncover the surveillance practices of another, historical government, and to discover how these practices were used to overcome – and often to execute – enemies of the state.

Winter Term

17 January 2017, Anthea Seles, The National Archives
Title: ‘Digital records sensitivity review’
Joint Seminar: Archives and Society

31 January 2017 Keith McClelland, University College London
Title: ‘Documenting British slave-owners in the Caribbean c.1763-c.1860’

14 March 2017 Robyn Adams, University College London
Title: ‘Lives and Letters Project’

25 April 2017 Tim Hitchcock, University of Sussex
Title: ‘tba’.


Spring Term

24 February 2015

Jack Grieve (Aston)

Title: Tracking the Emergence of New Words across Time and Space

Very little is known about how new words spread in language. New words are regularly identified by lexicographers, linguists, and the news media, but until recently we have not had access to sufficiently large geo-coded and time-stamped datasets that would allow for the detailed analysis of the geographical diffusion of lexical items in real time. However, with the rise of social media and smart phones, it is now possible to compile very large corpora that meet these requirements, allowing for new words to be identified and mapped across time and space and for the first time. In this presentation, I identify numerous newly emerging words based on a multi-billion word corpus of American tweets from 2013-2014 and map their geographical spread across the United States.

10 March 2015

Julia Thomas, Nicky Lloyd and Ian Harvey (Cardiff)

Title: Lost Visions: retrieving the visual element of printed books

Despite the mass digitization of books, illustrations have remained more or less invisible. As an aesthetic form, illustration is conventionally positioned at the bottom of a hierarchy that places painting and sculpture at the top. The hybridity or bimediality of illustration is also problematic, the genre having fallen between the cracks of literary studies and art history. In a digital context, illustration has fared no better: new technologies can aid the editing of a literary text far more successfully than they can deal with the images that accompany it.

This paper focuses on the challenges and the implications of an AHRC-funded Big Data project that will make searchable online over a million book illustrations from the British Library’s collections. The images span the late eighteenth to the early twentieth century, cover a variety of reproductive techniques (including etching, wood engraving, lithography and photography), and are taken from around 68,000 works of literature, history, geography and philosophy.

The paper identifies issues relating to the improvement of bibliographic metadata and the analysis of the iconographic features of the images, which impact on our understanding of ‘the image’ in Digital Humanities and the negotiation of Big Data more generally. The work undertaken as part of the Lost Visions project allows for the further development of Illustration Studies, repositioning visual culture in the largely text-based process of digitisation and problematising modes of textual production.


24 March 2015

Sophia Ananiadou (Manchester University)

Text Mining the History of Medicine

I will present the results of a collaborative and interdisciplinary project between the National Centre for Text Mining (NaCTeM) and the Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine (CHSTM) at the University of Manchester, demonstrating the capabilities of innovative text mining tools to allow the automatic extraction of information from two historical archives: the British Medical Journal (BMJ) (1840 – present) and the London-area Medical Officer of Health (MOH) reports (1848-1972). NaCTeM’s text mining tools have enriched these historical archives with semantic metadata automatically by extracting terms, named entities and events.  The development of a semantic search system focused on the understanding of historical changes in lung diseases since 1840.

Summer Term

12 May 2015

***Please note this session has been cancelled***

Susan Rennie (Glasgow)

A Pilot Historical Thesaurus of Scots (Title TBC)


26 May 2015

Matthew Nicholls (Reading)

Virtual Rome: a digital reconstruction of the ancient city

Dr Matthew Nicholls of the Department of Classics at the University of Reading has made a detailed digital reconstruction of the city of Rome as it appeared c.AD315. In this talk he will introduce the model and discuss some of the tools and methodology involved in its creation, including questions about date, level of detail, and conjecture. He will then talk about the paedagogical uses of digital modelling and the digital Rome model’s potential as a research tool: current work includes investigation of illumination at specific times of day and year, and sightlines within the ancient city to, from, and between major monuments.

9 June 2015

Stephen Rose (RHUL)

Writing a Big Data history of music

This seminar introduces the project A Big Data History of Music, which aimed to unlock the musical-bibliographical data held by libraries in order to create new research opportunities. The project cleaned and enhanced aspects of the British Library catalogues of printed and manuscript music, which are now available as open data from Analyses and visualisations of these datasets exposed previously uncharted patterns in the history of music, for instance involving the rise and fall of music printing in 16th- and 17th-century Europe, or the rise of nationalist colourings in music of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The detection of these long-term trends permits new ways of linking music history to wider histories of culture, economics, society and politics.

23 June 2015

This is a joint session with the Archives and Society seminar

Exploring Big and Small Historical Datasets: reflections on two recent projects.

Abstract: Researchers from two recently funded projects, ChartEx (Digging into Data Challenge, 2012-14) and Traces Through Time (AHRC, 2014-15), reflect on the development of new tools for historians working with digital data employing analytical solutions from Natural Language Processing, Data Mining and Human Computer Interaction.

Part 1: Sarah Rees Jones and Helen Petrie: ‘Chartex overview and next steps’ (20 minutes)

Part 2: Sonia Ranade and Emma Bayne: ‘Traces Through Time overview and next steps’ (20 minutes)

Part 3: Roger Evans: ‘NLP and Data Mining: From Chartex to Traces Through Time and beyond’ (10 minutes)


Past Events

Autumn Term

7 October Introducing Paper Machines
Jo Guldi (Brown University)Historians of the twentieth century have to contend with a technological problem, the issue of archives too large to process by traditional methods.  While textual encoding, tagging, and n-grams can reveal certain patterns in digital archives, topic modeling and topic frequency, applied to hand-tailored archives, can help the historian make informed decisions about where in an archive to start looking.  Digital methods, in this way, are driving historians to longer and longer time scales, making it possible for even younger scholars to perform a ‘distant reading’ on big questions that range over nations and centuries.  The talk will follow parts of the argument of The History Manifesto (2014), comparing how a historian’s search for periodization, agency, and causality in the data compare with use and abuse of digital data in other digital fields.Jo Guldi is author of Roads to Power (2012), What is the Spatial Turn? (2012), The History Manifesto(2014), and the digital toolkit Paper Machines (2012).  She is Hans Rothfels Assistant Professor of Modern Britain and its Empire at Brown University.  Her next project, The Long Land War, examines a century and a half of movements for land and water around the globe.
4 November Interrogating the archived UK web: Historians and Social Scientists Research Experiences
Dr Gareth Millward is currently a Research Fellow at the Centre for History in Public Health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.  He has research interests in disability and government policy, and more recently notions of the ‘public’ in British vaccination programmes.  For the BUDDAH project he is researching disabled people and the Web.Richard Deswarte is a Lecturer in Modern European History at UEA with research interests in the European idea and integration, as well as Digital Humanities.  On the BUDDAH project he is examining the presence and rise of Euroscepticism.Dr Peter Webster is currently the British Library lead on the BUDDAH project and Web Archiving Engagement and Liaison Officer at the BL.  Alongside scholarly interests in Web Archiving and Digital Humanities, Peter researches on the history of religion, the Anglican Church and the relation between church, law and state in 19th and 20th century Britain.
The emergence of the WWW has been one of the most profound and influential phenomena of the last twenty years.  One of the dominant features of the WWW is its changing nature both in terms of content and its technological underpinnings.  The content of the WWW is an immense resource full of potential for academic researchers both in its current state and in its previous constantly changing forms.  Over the last decade, in particular, archives of WWW materials have been emerging.  These archives are still very much in a nascent form but are beginning to be made available and to be utiltised by a range of scholars.  The UK Web Archive hosted by the British Library is at the forefront of trawling and making available for researchers archived versions of the UK WWW dating back to the 1990s.  It is currently engaged jointly with the Institute of Historical Research (IHR) and the Oxford Internet Institute (OII) in the ‘Big UK Domain Data for the Arts and Humanities Project’ (BUDDAH) where a new research interface is being developed in conjunction with a number of humanities scholars who are at the same time exploring the UK Web Archive to identify its strengths and weaknesses for academic research.  Peter Webster will introduce Web Archiving, the BUDDAH project and the new research interface, while Gareth Millward and Richard Deswarte will relate their experiences in using the resource to research respectively the history of disabled people and accessibility on the WWW, and Euroscepticism.
18 November Citizen History and its discontents
Mia Ridge (Open University)An increasing number of crowdsourcing projects are making claims about ‘citizen history’ – but are they really helping people become historians, or are they overstating their contribution? Can citizen history projects succeed without communities of experts and peers to nurture sparks of historical curiosity and support novice historians in learning the skills of the discipline? Through a series of case studies this paper offers a critical examination of claims around citizen history.
26 November Mapping Eighteenth-Century Tourism in the English Lakes
Ian Gregory and Chris Donaldson (Lancaster)Joint session with British History in the Long-Eighteenth Century seminarPlease note: this session takes place in the Wolfson Room NB01, Basement, IHR, North block, Senate House


Autumn 2013

Venue: Athlone Room, 102, Senate house, first floor, unless otherwise stated

Time: Tuesdays, 5.15 pm

Seminars are usually streamed live online at HistorySpot. To keep in touch, follow us on Twitter (@IHRDigHist) or at the hashtag #dhist.

15 October

Adam Crymble (King’s College London)
The Programming Historian 2: Collaborative pedagogy for digital history

29 October
Rob Nelson (University of Richmond)
Ideology and Algorithms: The uses of nationalism in the American Civil War and topic modeling in historical research

12 November
Rob Iliffe (University of Sussex)
Re-writing a life: Isaac Newton as revealed from his digital archive

26 November
Erica Calogero (University of Brighton)
Neither Art nor History: Revealing what counts in representing lost, altered or imagined historic architecture


Spring Term 2013

8 January
Stephen Robertson (University of Sydney)
‘Mapping Everyday Life: Digital Harlem, 1915-1930’
Venue: Holden Room 103, First floor, Senate House

26 February
Tim Sherratt (Independent Scholar)
‘Exposing the Archives of White Australia’
Venue: Beford Room G37, Ground floor, Senate House

12 March
Ben Schmidt (Princeton University)
‘Unintended Consequences: Digital Reading and the Loci of Cultural Change’
Venue: Bedford Room G37, Ground floor, Senate House

All seminars meet at 5:15PM (London local time)

Seminars are normally streamed live online at HistorySpot. To keep in touch, follow us on Twitter (@IHRDigHist) or at the hashtag #dhist.

Podcasts: Available online

Autumn Term 2012

4 September
William J. Turkel (University of Western Ontario)
Doing History in Real Time
A workshop sponsored by the IHR Seminar in Digital History
Venue: Bloomsbury Room G35, Senate House, South block, Ground floor

9 October
Camille Desenclos (ENC, Sorbonne)
Rethinking Historical Research in the Digital Age: A TEI Approach

23 October
Luke Blaxill (King’s College London)
Quantifying the language of British Politics 1880-1914
Venue: Gordon Room G34, Senate House, South block, Ground floor

20 November
Ian Gregory (Lancaster)
Using GIS to explore Historical Texts

4 December
Jason M. Kelly (IUPUI)
An Ecology for Digital Scholarship