Richard Deswarte Prize in Digital History (pre-announcement)

Yesterday was the first seminar in our 2021-22 programme, a wonderful paper from Harry Raffall on public history, virtual reality, and historical understanding. But it was also the first IHR Digital History seminar since the death of our convenor Richard Deswarte. As seminar chair for the occasion, I knew I wanted to say a few words about Richard, to mark his loss and what that loss means to us as convenors. But it was also an occasion to announce something that we – with our alumni convenors – have been working on since July: a prize that will celebrate the best of digital history in Richard’s memory. More details will follow. Until then, I post my words on Richard and the prize below.

My name is James Baker. I’m a convenor of the IHR Digital History seminar, and I’m delighted that we are back for our 10th full year of seminars, with a wonderful range of talks, details of which can be found on our website. I am also, however, the bearer of bad news. In July we lost Richard Deswarte. Richard was a founding convenor of the IHR Digital History seminar. He was a colleage, a friend, a salwart, an after seminar pub trip organiser, the kindest and more generous seminar chair, the writer of the longest and most thoughtful emails, a man who always had time for us, perhaps too much time, often with an apology for a late reply or for having missed a detail, an indication of the time we all knew that Richard also had for people other than ourselves. I don’t claim to have known Richard very well. It was clear to me from the memorial event that University of East Anglia held that many parts of Richard’s life I knew little of until his death. But to speak of Richard in the past tense still pains me. And I know if it pains me, it must still devastate those to whom he was closest. I will miss Richard most in this space, online or at the Institute of Historical Research, in this space for discussing historical research made possible by the use of computational technologies, but also – always bubbling under the surface – a space for reflecting on our collective navigation of the digital anthropocene. For Richard, the latter manifested itself in the web, in our use of it as a source, as an accidental archive, a place from which we might make meaning of social change. We as a group of convenors will have to adjust to lacuna created by Richard’s loss, the spaces where his perspective on history, his very particular, open, constructive line of questioning, and – above all – his voice will be absent. That then is one way in which we will remember him, because of his absence. But I’m delighted – such as it is – that we will also be remembering him in a more formal way. Today I announce that, with permission from Richard’s family, the IHR Digital History seminar will in due course be launching the Richard Deswarte Prize in Digital History, an annual prize that will celebrate the best of digital history, funded with generous support from the School of Advanced Study and some to be confirmed sponsors. More details will follow. In the meantime, we will regroup and keep working in Richard’s honour. If you had the pleasure of encountering Richard in and around our seminar, and wish to make a contribution in his memory, I direct you to where you can find links to suggested donations.

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