Saturday, December 31, 2011

Crymble Awards: Digital History Best of 2011

It's the last day of the year and I thought it'd be fitting to write briefly about the research and projects published this calendar year that's had the most impact on my personal scholarly development. With all the talk of research impact these days, particularly in the UK, I think it's important to acknowledge that not all influential work gets cited. Much of it inspires our own research indirectly by introducing us to new techniques, ideas, or source materials. Here is my own list of my favourites for 2011 in no particular order. I've dubbed these awards the "Crymble Awards", so fee free to put that on your CVs. Unfortunately, that's the only prize. But as my grade 1 teacher always said, "everyone likes a warm fuzzy".

  • Tim Hitchcock and William J. Turkel, "The Old Bailey Proceedings, 1674-1913: data mining for evidence of court behaviour" (paper presented at the Digital History Seminar, the Institute for Historical Research. London, 16 May, 2011).

    This paper and its accompanying visualisations (see the pdf for the whole paper), takes traditional historical research questions down the path of large-scale analysis. Using the proceedings of the Old Bailey, Turkel and Hitchcock were able to step back from the content of the transcripts, and looked at the proceedings as data rather than something to be read. The result of the study was some interesting new insights into court room practices in the mid nineteenth century that challenged previous conclusions.

    These insights were only evident through a large-scale visualisation that plotted the lengths of each trial transcripts by year on a logarithmic scale. That may sound complicated, but it's really quite simple, and that's what makes it so great. Anyone looking at the graph is clearly drawn to the same conclusions as the researchers: something funny is going on in the mid nineteenth century. Unlike with so much historical research, the data told the researchers where the question was, rather than the researchers seeking an answer to a predefined question. This serendipitous approach is something for which I think the world is ready for more.

    Obviously as historians we cannot merely stop reading content when forming our conclusions about the past; however, I think this paper demonstrates that content isn't the only way of learning new things. Sometimes, as in this case, it's the word-length of the trial transcripts that points us towards new knowledge. And we shouldn't be afraid to get off the beaten path a little, and experiment with content in ways that it perhaps was never intended to be used by its original creators.

    On Twitter: @williamjturkel and @TimHitchcock

  • Tim Sherratt, "Discontents" blog.

    One of the few research blogs I still actually read. Sherratt has done extensive work combining Python with datamining as a way of extracting useful information from online sources. He lives and works in Australia and has done extensive work with the Trove newspaper database, which contains transcribed versions of historical Australian newspapers. Not only is the work unique, in that he's looking at sources in a way most scholars don't bother, he is very open with what he's doing and how he does it, making the blog an excellent learning tool for those looking to expand into the realm of digital history. This is of course the style of blogging that Bill Turkel championed on his now retired "Digital History Hacks".

    Sherratt's work has taught me more this year than just about anything else I've ready and I hope he continues to provide more into 2012.

    On Twitter: @wragge

  • Ben Schmidt, "Sapping Attention" blog.

    Like Sherratt, Ben Schmidt keeps a research blog that chronicles his own work and the challenges that he has to overcome. Schmidt is working on a PhD in history at Princeton and his work into linguistic analysis is both far beyond what I myself am capable of, as well as creative and intriguing to follow, even for a non-specialist like me. Schmidt also has a talent for extraordinarily beautiful visualisations which are both technically complicated, but semantically transparent, supplementing his text with an effective means of showing how the data supports the conclusions. Some great examples are in his posts, "Comparing Corpuses by Word Use" and "Predicting publication year and generational language shift".

    I sincerely wish more digital historians - myself included - would keep such open and inspirational research logs as Schmidt and Sherratt that celebrates not only the conclusions that are of interest to historians studying similar topics, but to all digital historians who are interested in learning new ways to interrogate and understand the past.

  • Sean Kheraj, "Nature's Past" podcast.

    Sean has been producing a monthly podcast for a few years now, which looks at environmental history in Canada. Though his research focus is significantly different than my own, I can't help being impressed by the quality of the work he puts into the project. He does all the writing, recording, and editing himself, and it comes out radio quality both in terms of the sound, and the organization of each episode. If nothing else, Kheraj has showed that if you're going to do something, do it well.

  • Jeremy Boggs, "the Praxis Program" Website Design

    I have to admit, this one I'm attributing to Boggs though his name does not appear officially as the web designer. It does, however, have all the elements of a Jeremy Boggs website. The fonts move beyond the traditional subset of web fonts, but never take away from the content by becoming too showy, or too difficult to read. The simple, complimentary colour palatte sets the mood, without being distracting, as do the graphics, which are minimalistic but essential to the design.

    I've yet to come across anyone in the academic web design community that can put together as elegant a site as Boggs, and the Praxis website is an excellent example of that. May there be many more examples next year.

Congratulations to all of our winners. And thanks for the great work. It's inspired me, even though none of your work had been peer reviewed.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

How to Record a Presentation for the Web (Well)

By Adam Crymble

Few things are as ephemeral as speech. It is spoken, and it is gone. This is fine if you have just delivered the worst presentation of your life and want nothing more than to forget it. But, there are speeches worth saving. Research is global; not everyone who is interested in the speaker will be able to attend in person. Not everyone who will be interested is interested now – for example, a first year student may want to hear the presentation four years from now when she is working on her Master’s degree.

Academia has developed a solution to the ephemeral speech and it has become increasingly popular. The recorded lecture, often mistakenly referred to as a “podcast”, is a way of archiving what transpired at an event and making it available online. Many conferences and public lecture organizers are adopting this idea to increase the reach of their event to those outside the immediate room in which the presentation occurs.

However, while the solution is in place, the skills needed to enact it well are not. The recording process is frequently an afterthought, thrown into the hands of an inexperienced graduate student or an already taxed session chair. The recorder is left fumbling with a device he or she has likely never used, hoping desperately that they get it right on the first try.

Predictably, the results are usually poor. Even comparatively good examples often suffer from low-quality audio. Frequently, listeners will feel the recording lacks context and they will be frustrated if the speaker refers to slides that have not been included with the recording.

All this can be avoided with a little bit of planning and practice to ensure your recorded presentations are good recorded presentations that do justice to your speakers and your listeners.

Listen to or Watch a Good Example

Start with the best. No one has better online presentations than TED. “Ted Talks” are live presentations by passionate speakers that have been recorded and posted to the website. They have become an Internet sensation and anyone considering archiving a speech should watch at least one Ted Talk. I am not suggesting you do as TED did and hire multiple professional cameramen, a director and a sound editing team. What I am suggesting is that you follow TED’s lead on the following key points.

Talk to your Speaker Beforehand

I do not mean simply get permission to record – although of course this is important and you should get permission in writing. Instead, I mean find out what type of presenter your speaker is. Do they use PowerPoint slides, and if so do they own the copyright or have permission to use all of the material? Do they wander around the room as they speak? Do they ask the audience to participate frequently?

By asking questions about the style of presentation the person intends to deliver you can preemptively find solutions to problems before they arise. If your speaker tells you she likes to move around a lot during the presentation, use this advanced knowledge to track down a wireless microphone that can clip onto her lapel. If your presenter plans to use a PowerPoint presentation with images that violate copyright, suggest he look into using images licensed by Creative Commons so that you can legally share his presentation.

Dedicate Someone

As soon as you decide to record the presentation, find someone whose sole job will be to handle the audio equipment and get him or her to practice. Days before the event, the recorder should know exactly how to use the recording equipment, what volume levels are suitable, and how close to the speaker the device will have to be. If the microphone must be clipped onto the speaker, the recorder should try the mic on a few locations on his or her own shirt to see how placement affects sound quality.

If the chair and the speaker are fairly far apart – more than a few feet – then be sure to check if the device will clearly pick up the chair’s voice. If it sounds like he or she is far away or “tinny” then consider getting a second recording device and record both people independently.

The audio testing should be done in the same room as that in which the presentation will take place, and if required, your recorder should make note of nearby power outlets to determine if an extension cord is needed.

By spending even one hour practicing and preparing, your recorder will be confident when the time comes for them to do their job.

When that time does arise, it is best to push the record button well before the presentation starts. The audio can always be edited later, but once a presentation starts – and often they start unexpectedly – what has been missed is gone. Make sure your recorder gets the speaker introduction, as well as the speech.

If the presenter is using slides, have your recorder note the time in the recording when the slides transition. This will make it much easier to combine the slides and the audio later.

The Context of the Room

A major complaint of listeners who access presentations online is the lack of context. When attending an event in person, you have the context of the physical space, the other people in the room, and even other presentations you have heard or plan to hear at the same event. When you listen online, this context disappears.

The chair of the session or the person introducing the speaker can provide this context, as long as they have been warned ahead of time. Most people in this position do their introduction the same way whether they are being recorded or not. That is, they speak only to those listeners in the room and often seem uncomfortable at the idea that people might be listening that they cannot see. Rather than address this virtual audience, they pretend it does not exist.

To get beyond this barrier, sit down briefly with your chair and give them some pointers on providing context to the online audience. One effective way of dealing with this problem is to have the chair acknowledge both audiences in the introduction. Thank everyone for coming, but also thank your online listeners. Provide a short blurb about the event and why you have gathered for it. The listeners in the room will recognize that your blurb is for the benefit of the online audience and will not be put off.

If you are recording multiple sessions with the same audience present, this can become repetitive and strange. In that case, record this context information later and it can be added to the start of your presentations in the editing stage. If you are not sure what context is missing, ask a colleague to listen to the recorded presentation; they will be able to tell you what needs to be added.

Question Period

Decide if you plan to include the question period in your recording. Often this means seeking the permission of everyone in the audience, but will vary depending on your jurisdiction and university policy. The challenge with question period is that it is often difficult to catch the questions on the recording device, particularly in a large room.

One solution is to require people who want to ask a question to go to a microphone. This can be obtrusive and adds to what is already a complex process, so you may decide to end your recording after the speaker finishes the formal presentation. By ending early, one tends to avoid the chair thanking everyone for coming and inviting them to head to the pub; the result is a more professional conclusion.

After the Fact

The work does not end when the recorder pushes the stop button. The audio will have to be edited. If your presenter used slides, ask for them and plan to create a “slidecast” that will pair the audio with the relevant slides. It is also a good idea to get a one to two paragraph abstract of the talk from the speaker, a one to two sentence bio of the presenter, and a half-dozen keywords that allow online visitors to find the presentation. Search boxes still cannot let us find out what is in an audio or video file, so you will need to provide enough information with the recording to let interested people find it.

Once you have received the slides and contextual information, you are ready to edit. This can be done by anyone and need not be the same person who made the recording. However, if you have more than one lecture it is a good idea to dedicate this job to one person. This will ensure that all of the recordings are consistent.

Editing the Audio

There are a number of good audio editing programs available. Audacity is an open source, free program that you can use to edit the audio and to adjust volume levels if needed. Mac users will find GarageBand, preinstalled on most new Mac’s, a useful tool for achieving the same.

If possible, try to avoid too much “dead air” at the beginning or at the end of a file. It is also a good idea to make sure you end the recording at a suitably calm point. Stopping abruptly in the middle of applause is less professional than fading down the volume or waiting for an appropriate break. MP3 is still the industry standard file format for audio, so if given the choice between formats, MP3 is a safe bet.

Adding the Slides

Often with online presentations if slides are available they will only be provided as a separate PowerPoint file available for download. This is better than nothing, but often it is not clear when the speaker transitioned slides and the listener must fumble to figure out which slide to look at. Because your recorder kept notes while listening to the speech, it should not be difficult to combine the slides and the audio into a video.

Again, Mac users should find iMovie installed on newer machines. This program makes it easy to drag slides and combine them with audio. If you do not have a Mac, SlideShare (, a website dedicated to sharing slides, now allows you to combine audio and slides, and to adjust timing all within your Internet browser window.

Share it

Once you have finished editing the presentation, you are ready to share it. Post it to your event website, department website, or to a video or audio sharing site. Make sure you let the presenter know it is available, and finally, promote the presentation as widely as possible. By promoting the recorded presentation, your conference or lecture can live on beyond the end of the live event and can continue to engage listeners for years to come.

Taking a few moments to plan and adding a little extra time editing will ensure the recorded presentation is almost as good as the original. Some presentations are worth saving, and those that are, are worth saving well.

Adam Crymble is the Webmaster for the Network in Canadian History & Environment, an organization that has archived over 150 academic presentations. Adam would like to thank Sean Kheraj for his comments on a draft of this article.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Is Digital Humanities a Field of Research?

If you are a Canadian graduate student, the answer is currently: no.

At least according to SSHRC, the Canadian national research funding body. Canadian graduate students applying to fund their studies must choose one of five “multidisciplinary selection committees” to review their proposal. These committees are designed to ensure that someone with an expertise in your field – broadly construed – will be able to critique it fairly. Unfortunately, digital humanities does not appear in the list and SSHRC’s official suggestion is that students choose as best they can from the choices available.

  1. Fine arts, literature (all types)
  2. Classical archaeology, classics, classical and dead languages, history, mediaeval studies, philosophy, religious studies
  3. Anthropology, archaeology (except classical archaeology), archival science, communications and media studies, criminology, demography, folklore, geography, library and information science, sociology, urban and regional studies, environmental studies
  4. Education, linguistics, psychology, social work
  5. Economics, industrial relations, law, management, business, administrative studies, political science

This puts Digital Humanities students at a distinct disadvantage, as their work will only be deemed valuable if it contributes to history, literature, geography, or some other traditional research discipline, and cannot be judged on its own merits.

Please join me in telling SSHRC that Digital Humanities is an academic discipline, and one that deserves recognition within the SSHRC infrastructure. I have sent the following letter asking for a review of their current practice. If you support the measure, please send a brief, polite message to Roxanne Dompierre, SSHRC Program Officer (, outlining your support or let SSHRC know on Twitter (@SSHRC_CRSH).

Thank you very much

Adam Crymble


Ms. R. Dompierre

SSHRC Program Officer

RE: The inclusion of “Digital Humanities” as a category for graduate study

Dear Ms. Dompierre,

I respectfully submit a request to the SSHRC Doctoral Committee to add “Digital Humanities” as a category in one of your multidisciplinary selection committees.

Digital Humanities is a vibrant worldwide community of multidisciplinary scholars with PhD and MA programs in Canada, the US and Europe. This is a rapidly expanding field with more international involvement every year. It is a community that is researching and working within and beyond academia, with traditional peer-reviewed research, community outreach, and government partnerships. Research ranges widely from user studies, to humanities data mining, to digital tool construction.

The value of digital humanities research is clearly recognized within Canada. Recent SSHRC digital humanities funding initiatives for faculty include “Image, text, sound and technology” and “Knowledge Syntheses on the Digital Economy” (2010), as well as “Digging Into Data”, which was jointly funded by SSHRC, the NEH and AHRC. Despite ample funding at the faculty level, funding opportunities for students have not yet caught up with this trend.

The current advice from SSHRC for students studying within this emerging field is that they should apply to an evaluation committee with a traditional discipline that touches on the themes of their research. Working in a multidisciplinary field such as digital humanities, applicants are put at a distinct disadvantage when competing for funding against scholars doing traditional research within a single field. This is particularly the case when the judging criteria asks evaluators to assess how the research will impact that traditional discipline, something which may not be the explicit aim of the multidisciplinary research.

I urge SSHRC to make a positive step towards removing the ambiguity for digital humanists and encouraging the participation of new scholars in this developing research area by explicitly adding “Digital Humanities” to one of the multidisciplinary selection committees.

Thank you for your consideration.

Adam Crymble

SSHRC Applicant

PhD Candidate, King’s College London

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Review: Lunch at the British National Maritime Museum

I'm going to give the collections and exhibits at the British National Maritime Museum (Greenwich), a free pass at the moment, because much of it is still under construction for the next few months. I will say I was under-awed at what was there, and frustrated on occasion that the panels were positioned for 6 year olds, not 6 foot tall adults. Nevertheless, I'll give them the benefit of the doubt for now and will leave my comments about the exhibits at that.

What was noteworthy, however, was lunch. I've learned not to expect much from British restaurants. Particularly those in museums. Usually I'm happy if my prepackaged sandwich has wholewheat wonderbread and at least two distinguishable flavours. If I can find a side made with something other than potatos, I'm awestruck.

So, upon visiting the Museum Café, with its beautiful views of Greenwich park, I was completely bowled over at the quality of the food. It was fresh, home made, healthy, and delicious. I had gone in expecting deep fried fish and chips - appropriate for a Maritime Museum I thought - and instead came out with a homemade pork and pickle pie (clearly made by someone who knew their way around a kitchen), and a wonderful toasted pecan and gorgonzola salad. My wife had delicious smoked salmon on a bagel and a slice of perfectly ripe watermelon. To our surprise, and that of everyone before us, the fresh fruit was included with every sandwich, prompting more than one person to put down their bag of chips (crisps).

The tragedy is of course, that a healthy lunch is noteworthy at all. At institutions that focus on drawing families, it's disheartening to see all too often that the only options are deep fried. In one case - Hampton Court - the food was so bad that my family left most of it on our trays and went hungry until we could get home. Museums have the opportunity to act as examples for the community, as cultural centres of sharing and learning. I hope more of them follow in the footsteps of the British National Maritime Museum, and extend that to a good, healthy meal.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Where are the Digital Humanists?

This year has brought a lot of discussion about just what the digital humanities are. Self-described digital humanists have blogged on what they think makes a digital humanist and what doesn't. As with all definitions of identity, everyone has a slightly different opinion.

I won't rehash those discussions here. Instead, what I'd like to do is ask where the digital humanities are by looking at the participants of two major crowd-sourced activities from the past 12 months: the Day in the Life of the Digital Humanities (Day of DH) [March 18, 2011], and Hacking the Academy (Hackacad) [May 21-28, 2010]. If you are unfamiliar with these projects, a brief background will help.

Day of DH asks self-described digital humanists to blog or otherwise record their activities on March 18, 2011. The project is based at the University of Alberta in Edmonton. Participants are pre-screened before being given a blog, though it's not clear who if anyone was rejected. Selection is self-applied and because there is no physical meeeting, participation is open worldwide.

Hackacad was a crowd-sourced book written in a week. The project was initiated by the Center for History & New Media at George Mason University in Virginia. Anyone could contribute a chapter (blog post), as long as it was submitted by the end of the week. Though this was not targetted specifically at Digital Humanists (more technologically literate public historians and researchers, I think), it did attract quite a few DH-type articles. Like Day of DH, there was no requirement to physically be somewhere so it was open to participants worldwide.

Last year, I compiled data on where the Hackacad contributors were writing from. Meg Stewart compiled my data in an easy-to-read map. What I argued at the time, was that contributors were skewed towards those who lived near, or had likely met or worked with the organizers and was not truely representative of the "crowd" of possible contributors. This isn't meant to be a criticism of the organizers who pulled off an impressive feat with their crowdsource experiment. Rather, it shows us that when crowdsourcing anything, one must ask who's in the crowd and who got left out.

So to take a closer look at that, I have made some maps. The first shows where the Hackacad contributors came from, the second shows where the Day of DH contributors live, and the third shows the people who contributed to both projects. (The tags won't lead you to anyone's house; just the city in which their university or institution is located). You can view each map in Google Maps and explore the data by clicking on one of the images below.

Hackacad 2010 Contributors

Day of DH 2011 Contributors

Hackacad 2010 + Day of DH 2011 Contributors

What this shows us in both cases is that the personal and professional networks of the organizers influence who participates. If one only looked at the Hackacad map, one would be forced to conclude that digital humanists - broadly defined - lived almost exclusively in the North Eastern United States. There are pockets of Digital Humanists in southern California, and a few solo scholars plugging away through much of the western world, presumably in great loneliness. As English was the language of the book, the great empty continents are perhaps not too surprising, but they are telling in terms of who belongs to this great academic discussion.

The Day of DH map tells a different story. That is: Digital Humanities is not so focused on the US. There are strong communities in Europe, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Mexico. The trickle of Asian-based DH people suggests there's obviously a lot more, but perhaps few have the command of the English language needed to participate more fully in this English-language discussion.

The third map surprised me. Only a handful of people participated in both events. Though, I did recognize most of the names from either Twitter or active blogs, suggesting that as with most things, there is a small vocal core to every community.

So where are the digital humanities?

Well, it depends. The top cities, according to Hackacad are:

  • Fairfax Virginia (project home): 12

  • New York: 11

  • Boston: 8

  • Los Angeles: 8

  • . . .

  • Edmonton: 0

According to the Day of DH:

  • London: 19

  • Edmonton (project home): 14

  • Oxford: 10

  • San Francisco / Bay Area: 10

  • Los Angeles: 8

  • . . .

  • Fairfax VA: 3

What does this all mean? Well I think for one, it shows that in any crowdsourced activity, those close to the organizers will be overrepresented in the results. Edmonton is not - to my knowledge - a Mecca of digital scholarship, though I will say they do some fantastic work there. Instead, Edmonton is where the Day of DH exists out loud. The organizers live and work there and have almost certainly discussed the project with staff and students. This encourages participation in a way that goes outside of the crowdsource and instead is based on face to face interaction.

Overall, I think the maps, if combined, give us a good idea of where the digital humanities are. Certain areas are surely over represented (London, I think fits this category). Some are vastly under-represented (Australia & NZ). Perhaps most interesting is that the top schools in terms of reputation, according to Times Higher Education, often don't appear at all on these maps.

The top 10 schools by reputation and the number of Digital Humanists based on these two events are as follows:

  • Harvard: 2

  • MIT: 0

  • Cambridge: 1

  • UCAL - Berkley: 0

  • Stanford: 6

  • Oxford: 11

  • Princeton: 0

  • University of Tokyo: 0

  • Yale: 0

  • California Inistutute of Technology: 0

It would seem that these schools havn't built their reputations on innovative humanities research!

We can also conclude that the self-identified digital humanists are primarily: urban, working in Western countries, at major research focused universities. But hey, we probably already knew that, huh?

Thursday, February 3, 2011

New Omeka Theme Released

For those Omeka users out there, you've now got one more free design option for your site. I have recently released my theme, "Easy Colour", freely available on the Omeka website.

For those without website design experience, a free theme can save you thousands of dollars. The one I have created is designed to make it easy for users to customize the colour palatte to suit their own tastes or institutional colours.

I hope you find it useful!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Distant Reading by Using a Written Index

Today, gauging the general pulse of what people are saying or talking about or reading is fairly easy. Twitter's "Trending Topics" are one of many methods for seeing what people are interested in right now. Others include a scan of the top stories in today's newspapers, or a comparison of today's blog posts by keyword.

But how do we gauge that same pulse historically? What were people interested in 200 years ago? Can we really know?

One method is to look at what people read. For example, in 18th century London, the Gentleman's Magazine was the most successful magazine that targetted a wealthy and powerful audience. The Gentleman's Magazine published for over 200 years, starting in 1731 and during the late eighteenth century was England's most respectable magazine. In the first issue, the editor declared the magazine was originally conceived to "give monthly a view of all the pieces of wit, humour, or intellligence, daily ofered to the Public in the Newspapers, (which of late are so multiplied, as to render it impossible, unless a man makes it a business, to consult them all)".

Since we know that the magazine sold well, it's fair to assume that the editors were providing content that people wanted to read and is therefore a relevant measure of what people found interesting, broadly construed. That's not to say everyone who read it thought every article spoke to their soul. It's just to suggest that people vote with their wallets and one of the strongest indicators of a publication's influence is the number of copies it sells and for how long its able to continue publishing.

This magazine has since been digitized by Google Books, but to my knowledge, there is no accessible machine-readable text version freely available. However, there is a paper subject index of all the essays written for the magazine. The index was compiled in 1821 by some poor chap whose father insisted upon the task. The index won't give you the same full-text search option we've come to love in search engines. It is organized thematically into categories selected by the indexer. This means there is a fair degree of bias in terms of what was categorized, how it was categorized, and what was overlooked. However, with 675 pages of topics, along with the various page references to find the article, the index itself provides a useful gauge of what was appearing in the magazine during the 30 year period covered by the index (1787-1818).

reading John Bull's mindEach page is split into two columns. Using the columns as a unit of measure, I have compiled a list of the 34 most prevalent subjects from the Index and graphed them as a word cloud. France had the most 11.5 columns of entries and Africa had the least with half a column. Given the status of the magazine with Britain's upper classes, and given the fact that the magazine was successful, and therefore publishing content its readers wanted to consume, I believe it is fair to say that this word cloud is a fairly good - yet rough - illustration of what was important to wealthy Englishmen from 1787 to 1818.

Given the international affairs between Britain and various countries of the world during this era, the countries that appear most prominently are perhaps not a surprise. However, there are a few observations that I think are worth noting. Overall, I would suggest this wordcloud shows us what the wealthy people of late eighteenth, early nineteenth century England were worried about. Without reading the articles, or even knowing what the titles of the articles are, it would seem that these "Gentlemen" were writing essays about countries with which England was at war or at odds: France, Ireland, America. Less frequently appearing are Scotland and Wales, both passive at this point in terms of relations with England, along with Switzerland who tended to stay out of things.

The third most common term is "Naval Action" and "Buonaparte" is high on the list. Fires (7 columns), Storms and Murder all appear on the list. The first two threaten commerce, and murder is an obvious concern. Cowpox (which had been discovered could be used to vaccinate against Smallpox) is as prominent as Scotland or England. However, notice theft, rents, or poverty don't appear at all.

By applying my historical knowledge of Britain during this era, my distant reading of the Gentleman's Magazine suggests to me the following conclusions:

Wealthy Englishmen in the late eighteenth, early nineteenth century were interested in whichever country was currently causing the most trouble. They wanted to be kept informed of things that could kill them, or things that could disrupt their trade. They were interested in discussing the structure of the Anglican church, but less interested in discussing other religions, or directly engaging with the Bible. And finally, London was more important than America.

Is this perfectly accurate? No, of course not. But it is a macro-analysis of the interests of wealthy male Englishmen from 1787 to 1818. And it only took 20 minutes.

I would be interested to hear from others who are engaged in distant reading, or comments and concerns you may have about my methodology and conclusions, from digital humanists and historians alike.

Monday, January 3, 2011

My C.V. is Better Than Yours

Sure, you may have more publications, conference presentations and funding. You may have a better job than I do or more awards. The contents of your C.V. may make mine seem underwhelming.

But my C.V. is better. In fact, I’m confident that if we applied for the same competition, it would be my C.V. that had the committee members talking over lunch. “Did you see that guy’s C.V.?”

My C.V. makes noise. It moves by itself. It’s shiny.

See why My C.V. is better than yours: My C.V.

I’ve taken up the challenge of Dr. Tom Scheinfeldt in his blog post “New Wine in Old Skins: Why the CV needs hacking”. In that post, Scheinfeldt urged academics to come up with new ways of presenting their achievements. Ways that moved beyond the traditional lists that have largely remained unchanged since the eighteenth century.

So I'd like to extend a challenge, particularly to the digital humanists out there. Let 2011 be the year you make your C.V. better than mine. And let me know about it.