Monday, December 31, 2012

Crymble Awards: Digital Humanities & History Best of 2012

In keeping with the tradition I established last year, I thought it fitting to again take a moment on the last day of the year to acknowledge some of the people and projects that inspired and influenced my academic growth the most in the past year.

These days there is much talk about the impact of research - particularly in the UK with the impending "REF" that has academics across the country scrambling to demonstrate that they are "world class". We're always looking for ways to quantify who has the most influence, and unfortunately that's more often than not meant counting up citations. But the people I cite are not always the ones who have given me most cause to think, or those whose efforts I've appreciated the most. And that's where the Crymble awards are important for me. They're a chance to acknowledge that which often goes unacknowledged. And a chance to challenge the notion that a footnote is the only worthwhile measure of success.

Last year the awardees included six men who worked on five projects: Tim Hitchcock, William J. Turkel, Tim Sherratt, Ben Schmidt, Sean Kheraj, and Jeremy Boggs. Though all six continue to produce inspiring work, I've decided to exclude past winners. I will however stick with five projects as the magic number of awards. And this year I'm pleased to say the gender imbalance is improving - if only slightly.

In no particular order, I present this year's winners:

  • Julia Flanders, "Faircite: towards a fairer culture of citation in academia"

    I emailed the journal Digital Humanities Quarterly back in January to suggest that the journal adopt fairer citation practices that would see a wider range of team members on collaborative digital humanities projects credited publicly for their work. The response I got from Julia the editor was astounding, full of energy and enthusiasm. She encouraged me to pursue the matter further, gave the idea a catchy name, and even helped put together a formal proposal for the Alliance of Digital Humanities Organizations which she supported and presented. I'm happy to report a number of projects have responded positively to Faircite and have begun offering more inclusive suggested citations that acknowledge the work of their team members - a trend I hope to see continue to grow. (See the Old Bailey Online, and Voyant Tools for examples). Thanks to Julia for her support.
  • Luke Blaxill, "Quantifying the Language of British Politics 1880-1914" Paper presented at King's College London, 2 November 2012.

    Luke's a (recently) former colleague of mine at King's College London. His work ties together corpus linguistics with historical inquiry in a way that's so simple, yet so effective. What I love about Luke's research is that his distant reading approach to history has so effectively challenged conventional historical wisdom in a way that close reading could never highlight. I've incorporated many of the principles and tools I learned of through Luke into my own research. You can hear a version of his talk on the IHR History Spot archive. For those of you looking for a digital humanist with some great textual analysis skills, you'll be happy to hear Luke has recently received his doctorate in history and digital humanities, and I'm sure he'd love to hear from you!

  • Peter King, "Ethnicity, Prejudice and Justice, The Treatment of the Irish at the Old Bailey 1750-1825" (under review).

    It's always a little frustrating to find someone's just published the very topic you had been working on. But in this case, the experience turned out much better than I could have hoped for. Peter King is a Professor of History at Leicester University and very willingly shared his pre-publication work with me, has answered questions, provided advice, and even made a trip down to London to watch me present a response paper to his work. I think it's fair to say he has been amicably combative about my work, and has pushed me to continue to improve.

  • Andrew Marr, The Open University et al. "Andrew Marr's History of the World" BBC One. Television Series: October-November 2012.

    This one may perhaps look like the "one of these things just doesn't belong here" entry. Andrew Marr is a BBC journalist who presented an eight-part "world history" this autumn in the UK. I found myself unable to get enough. The team behind the series did an amazing job of finding specific examples to illustrate broader themes that captured what was unique about entire civilizations. It forced me to consider the scope of my own piddly 20 year local study and how that fits into the broader spectrum of human history. Kudos not just to Andrew Marr, but also to the Open University and everyone involved in the project. I'm sure there were many of you.

  • Fred Gibbs and Miriam Posner "The Programming Historian 2"

    Fred and Miriam joined the Programming Historian 2 team of which I'm a part right at the beginning and have been been invaluable to getting the project off the ground. Miriam has taken on the role of our outreach officer, and Fred one of our general editors. Thanks very much to both of them for all their hard work on the project. (And though I said I wouldn't re-award past winners, I feel compelled to mention that William J. Turkel and Jeremy Boggs are also instrumental team members!).
Thanks to this year's winners for all your inspiration.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

How to Download Multiple Records using Python

I'm pleased to announce my latest endeavour to teach historians how to program computers in aid of their research has been published and is freely available on the Programming Historian 2 website.

Full Lesson: Downloading Multiple Records Using Query Strings

The hands-on lesson builds upon some introductory Python tutorials also available on the site and is intended to teach practicing historians how to use Python to discriminately download a copy of sources found in scholarly databases to their own computer for further processing. Thanks to Fred Gibbs, Miriam Posner, and Sara Palmer for their assistance working the lesson into shape. The abstract is available below:

Downloading Multiple Records Using Query Strings

Downloading a single record from a website is easy, but downloading many records at a time – an increasingly frequent need for a historian – is much more efficient using a programming language such as Python. In this lesson, we will write a program that will download a series of records from the Old Bailey Online using custom search criteria, and save them to a directory on our computer. This process involves interpreting and manipulating URL Query Strings. In this case, the tutorial will seek to download sources that contain references to people of African descent that were published in the Old Bailey Proceedings between 1700 and 1750.

For Whom is this Useful?

Automating the process of downloading records from an online database will be useful for anyone who works with historical sources that are stored online in an orderly and accessible fashion and who wishes to save copies of those sources on their own computer. It is particularly useful for someone who wants to download many specific records, rather than just a handful. If you want to download all or most of the records in a particular database, you may find Ian Milligan’s tutorial on Automated Downloading with WGET more suitable.

The present tutorial will allow you to download discriminately, isolating specific records that meet your needs. Downloading multiple sources automatically saves considerable time. What you do with the downloaded sources depends on your research goals. You may wish to create visualizations or perform various data analysis methods, or simply reformat them to make browsing easier. Or, you may just want to keep a backup copy so you can access them without Internet access