On Monday November 9th I went to a sponsored Miami University Humanities Center talk called "Connected Histories" at Bachelor Hall. Professor Robert Shoemaker, 18th-century historian from Sheffield University, and Professor Tim Hitchcock of the University of Hertfordshire, spoke about digital repositories of 18th-century history funded by the British government that they have created especially for the sake of preserving "other" histories.
I thought the projects they spoke about were so fascinating that I wanted to share it.
Their finished project is called The Old Bailey Online. It's the proceedings of London's Central Criminal Court from 1674-1913. It's a fully searchable edition of the largest body of texts detailing the lives of non-elite people ever published, containing 197,745 criminal trials held at London's central criminal court. In addition to the texts themselves, the site provides historical background and information about related sources. There's even a trial of the day!
Some of their upcoming projects build on the ideas of connecting texts to related sources. One is called Plebian Lives and the Making of Modern Lives. It will use recent technical advances in the creation and analysis of multiple digital resources to create a comprehensive electronic edition of primary sources on criminal justice and the provision of poor relief and medical care in eighteenth-century London. It's going to allow users to register and add biographical information to a wiki, among other things.
The other is called Connected Histories, which is going to be a new community and website for aggregating digital resources in British History. It will point to sources like British History Online, the Burney Newspaper Collection, Parliamentary Papers, Charles Booth Online Archive, Collage, etc.
Perhaps the most exciting project will be a Firefox extension called Scrutiny. It will be used for entity recognition within research data. It will be able to scan web pages selected by individual users and highlight entities that it thinks will interest them. Users will be able to train Scrutiny to identify entities which are relevant to their field of research both by using pre-defined, subject-specific 'entity recognition files', and by refining Scrutiny´s understanding of their personal interests through an iterative process of accepting or discarding the suggestions which Scrutiny presents. Scrutiny will be developed using natural language processing, including `named entity recognition´ based on a Bayesian learning methodology.
I'll be honest I don't understand all the details (I got the above wording from their website), but Scrutiny will be designed to help researchers shift through the large number of documents now available digitally to find what is relevant to their research. The example they gave during their lecture was domestic violence. In the 18th century the term domestic violence didn't exist, but there were still cases of it (namely one spouse killing another). Scrutiny could be trained to find matches between one case that was definitely domestic violence and then other cases located in another collection.
The Old Bailey Online can be used now. The other projects should be finished in February or March of 2010. I'll keep you posted, especially as I hear more about Scrutiny!