Digital History

Introduction into Digital History


I’m Sinead and I’m a final year student at the University of Hertfordshire, studying History. I’ve created this blog to accompany the digital history module I’m taking. It is my platform to examine and explore digital history projects and apply the things I’ve learnt from the module.

I’ll start the blog with a brief examination of the digital history project, the Old Bailey Online. I’ll briefly run through a few of its features.

Digitisation of Trials: Starting out with high definition page images of the trials, which were converted into GIF and JPEG files for easy uploading to the internet. The project then used a dual methodology for creating searchable text of the trials. Early trials were marked up using the method of double rekeying, while the later trials were created using OCR software and rekeying both methodologies were compared and manually resolved. While time consuming the manual typing and checking ensures the accuracy of the text and this is vital for creating a accurate and reliable body of resources and for the accuracy of searching. The inclusion of the page images of the trials with the searchable text allows for searchability while also keeping a feel of the primary source.

Searching: The search feature of the website is very useful. Firstly, it retains the Boolean search features most of us are used to using but it also has an advanced search option which offers a more structured search. A great search feature is the ability of generating statistics automatically for the user. However, this would not be possible without the use of marked up text.

Marked Up Text: Aside from the fact that the project informs you of the categories created for the use of statistics in the ‘about this project’ section, each trial has a link to the XML marked up text. This allows you to see the categories created that allows for structured searches and the creation of statistics. Again, this was carried out manually and with computer software. The great thing about using marked up text is the accessibility and speed with which a researcher can search through the 197,745 criminal trials, a daunting prospect if done manually. Yet the marked up text and the advanced search features allow the researcher to refine their results and receive them within seconds.

API: A feature I’ve only just learnt about and still need to fully understand but one that I can see the use for. The Old Bailey Online uses API to export data/statistics to Zotero (a bibliographical web tool) and Voyant Tools (a suite of tools for linguistic analysis). This software to software interface allows for data from the Old Bailey to be exported to either one of these other tools and removes the need for the research to do this manually.

Web Design: The design of the website allows for ease of use and accessibility. The headings are self explanatory, the search feature can be accessed through several links on every page of the site, the images are on a high quality for viewing digitally and the text is easily readable.

I’m sure anyone who has used this digital history project will already appreciate how good a resource it is for research into crime without me having to point out its features. Personally, I think the project is good because of its transparency in its methods of digitisation. The explanations it provides of how and why certain methods of digitisation were used is very helpful in introducing digital history to students.