Tuesday 3 June 2014 – Sir Deian Hopkin – Digitising the First World War: opportunities and challenges

The IHR Seminar in Digital History would like to welcome you to its first seminar of the 2014 summer term.

Speaker:  Professor Sir Deian Hopkin (President of the National Library of Wales)

Title:  Digitising the First World War: Opportunities and Challenges

Date:  3 June, 2014

Time:  5:15 PM (BST=GMT+1)

Venue:  Athlone Room, 102, Senate House, South Block, First floor, or live online at HistorySpot

Abstract:  One of the most important legacies of the commemoration of the First World War will be an extensive range of new digital archives.  The Imperial War Museum is leading a partnership of many hundreds of organisations, many of whom are involved in capturing records, visual artefacts, memoirs and much else.  The National Archives now offers a wide variety of resources, from war diaries and nurses’ records to interviews with prisoners of war and records of military service appeal tribunals and has launched a crowd-sourcing site to identify data contained within war diaries.  The National Library of Wales hosts the People’s Collection, also a crowd-sourcing platform, which enables individuals and organisations to upload diaries, letters, photographs and other artefacts, and a dedicated website provides searchable access to Welsh newspapers during the war, part of a much larger collection of Welsh Newspapers Online.  And there is much else, on the same lines, taking place in libraries, record offices and among informal groups across the country.

In his acclaimed book, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, Thomas Piketty pays a particular debt to improvements in the technology of research, most specifically computers, which enabled him to process data on a huge scale and offer a new synthesis; indeed he claims his work to be as much about history as economics.  Twenty years ago, there was a rush of enthusiasm for the use of computing technology by historians.  Since then, despite huge technical advances and a communications revolution, there is a sense that most historians have remained aloof from these new developments.  Some of the tools available in the 1980s and 1990s have not evolved and there is much less written nowadays about techniques and methodology; indeed there appear to be little provision for historians to develop the particular skills needed to exploit rich digital archives, especially structured data.

While the new resources appear to offer exciting prospects, are we any nearer being able to exploit them?  This presentation will discuss the opportunities which are now available but the challenges that still remain.

Speaker:  Professor Sir Deian Hopkin spent 43 years in higher education, retiring as Vice Chancellor of London South Bank University in 2009. He was a co-founder of the Association of History and Computing and active in the CTI, the History Data Archive and other initiatives in the 1980s and 1990s. He is currently President of the National Library of Wales, a trustee of the IHR Development Trust and Chair of the Wales Programme Committee for the First World War Centenary.

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

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