Dr Bob Nicholson's Research Blog|bob.nicholson@edgehill.ac.uk
12 04, 2014
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    Talk: Digital Detectives – Bridging the Gap Between the Archive and the Classroom

Talk: Digital Detectives – Bridging the Gap Between the Archive and the Classroom

By |April 12th, 2014|Digitisation, Featured, Teaching|2 Comments|

About 5 years ago, when I first started teaching, I led a small seminar group of 1st year history students. In the final class of the year we had a chat about how things had been going – whether they’d enjoyed their first year at university; if there was anything that they’d been struggling with; how their experiences compared to what they’d expected a history degree would be like. They were mostly fairly positive, in a shrugging, non-committal kind of way. However, after a bit of prodding one of the students said something interesting – something that has stuck with me ever since. “No offence”, he said –never a particularly promising start to a sentence – “but I’ve been a bit disappointed. I thought I was coming to university to learn about history, but all we do is talk about historians.”
This complaint – “I want to learn about history, not historians” – has stuck with me for two reasons. Firstly, I didn’t do a particularly good job of responding to him at the time. It was one of those questions that just caught me a bit off guard, like the time a student put his hand up in the […]

1 07, 2013

Welsh Newspapers Online – 6 New Titles Added.

By |July 1st, 2013|blog, Digitisation|0 Comments|

Excellent news! Welsh Newspapers Online have added six new titles to their database:

Cambrian News 1860 -1910
Cambrian 1804-1910
Cardiff Times 1858 – 1910
Monmouthshire Merlin 1829 – 1884
South Wales Daily Post 1893 -1900
Weekly Mail 1879-1910

I was really impressed with this free-to-access archive when I reviewed it back in March. The new titles represent a significant expansion of the database – particularly in its coverage of South Wales. I’ve run through my usual set of searches and discovered another example of the ‘You Kick the Bucket; We Do the Rest’ joke!

24 06, 2013

First Look: Gale Artemis

By |June 24th, 2013|blog, Digitisation|0 Comments|

Have you heard about ARTEMIS? Don’t worry, it’s not another one of the NSA’s high-tech spying programs – unless they’re looking for terrorists by scrutinizing our ancestors’ private communications, which, in the light of recent revelations, isn’t actually that implausible. I first became aware of the project a few months ago when I was invited by email to pass judgement on some prospective logos. I picked the other one, which just goes to show how much I know about corporate branding. At the time I wasn’t really sure what Artemis was, save for the fact that it was named after the Greek goddess of hunting, wild animals and virginity. I’ve been wondering which of her three characteristics the new project would resemble and, rather disappointingly, it turns out to be the first.

Artemis is Gale’s new research platform. It’s a space where users can access and analyse material from multiple digital archives using analytical new tools. In it’s own words:
“Artemis is a path-breaking research experience that unites Gale’s globally acclaimed digital archives and reference collections. By building a seamless research environment for multiple collections, Gale is creating the largest digital humanities and social sciences collection in the world. Starting with Eighteenth Century […]

22 06, 2013

First Look: Daily Mail Historical Archive

By |June 22nd, 2013|blog, Digitisation|0 Comments|

As an academic and bleeding-heart liberal I’ve long considered it my duty to read The Guardian. It’s hard going sometimes, but most days I manage to grit my teeth and get through it. Lately, however, my commitment has started to waver. In my weaker moments I find myself logging onto the Daily Mail website and gawping wondrously at its bi-polar diet of moral outrage and showbiz gossip. It seems that an eight year old American girl has been murdered by a sex offender that her family befriended in a Walmart, but on the plus side Abbey Crouch is showing off her beach body and Tulisa looks super slim in a tight print dress as she parties for the first time since her drugs arrest. It’s a relief just to know that she’s OK.

Of course, I’d never admit to reading any of this stuff. I leave The Guardian website open on my office computer in order to impress passers-by, but browse the Daily Mail  in incognito mode and only when the house is empty. After all, calling somebody a ‘Daily Mail Reader’ is just about the worst form of abuse imaginable in the lefty intellectual circles I frequent. If my occasional acts of […]

6 06, 2012

First Look: Nineteenth Century Collections Online

By |June 6th, 2012|blog, Digitisation|1 Comment|

It’s been nearly ten years since the launch of Eighteenth Century Collections Online [ECCO]. This ambitious project aimed to digitise “every significant English-language and foreign-language title printed in Great Britain during the  eighteenth century, along with thousands of important works from the Americas.” The definition of a ‘significant’ text remains open to interpretation, but the contents of the archive are undeniably impressive – in its present form it contains more than 180,000 titles. The unparalleled breadth of its coverage – along with the number of university libraries that took up subscriptions – quickly established it as a key focal point for the researching and teaching of eighteenth-century history.In other words, it’s a tough act to follow.

Enter Nineteenth Century Collections Online [NCCO]. This recently launched project follows in the footsteps of its eighteenth-century predecessor and, in the words of its publisher Gale Cengage, aims to be “the most ambitious scholarly digitisation and publication program ever undertaken.” The archive will contain millions of pages of nineteenth-century books, periodicals, diaries, letters, manuscripts, photographs, government records, pamphlets, and maps. More interestingly, it promises researchers the opportunity to subject these sources to some interesting new forms of qualitative and quantitative analysis. I’ve spent the last few days playing […]

10 01, 2012

Unlocking the Potential of Digital Archives

By |January 10th, 2012|blog, Digitisation|2 Comments|

Last night Jim Mussell posted an excellent review of the British Newspaper Archive on his blog. He makes a number of really important points that I skirted over in my own review. I recommend reading Jim’s post in its entirety. However, one of his arguments is particularly worth emphasizing:

 
This leads me to my second point: the way brightsolid have digitized this material also restricts possible uses. This is a resource for finding articles, not reading newspapers, and this is done by brightsolid’s search engine and database on the user’s behalf. There is no scope here for data mining, for analysis of textual transcripts, or for the interrogation of metadata. This actually runs counter to the dominant trend within both the digital humanities and commercial digital publishing, making BNA seem a little old fashioned. Gale Cengage’s NCCO, for instance, allows users to carry out rudimentary data mining. This is no mere moan about the way the project was executed. Taking advantage of the digital properties of digitized materials is the way in which we learn new things about them. Locking the data away means that users are stuck with old methodologies, treating the articles as if they were printed paper even though they clearly aren’t….

… […]

12 12, 2011
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    British Newspaper Archive – changes to the ‘fair usage’ cap.

British Newspaper Archive – changes to the ‘fair usage’ cap.

By |December 12th, 2011|blog, Digitisation|1 Comment|

When the British Newspaper Archive was launched a few weeks back a lot of researchers were frustrated to discover that the ‘unlimited’ subscription package actually had a ‘fair use’ cap of 1000 page views per month. When I e-mailed the archive’s customer service team about it they informed me that the archive was intended for ‘personal use’ only and that the cap was non-negotiable. Fortunately, they seem to have had a slight change of heart. The ‘fair usage’ section of the archive’s terms & conditions has now been updated to read:
Why do we have a fair usage policy for subscribers? Well, it is certainly not a way to penalise or hold back our customers from conducting their personal research.

We have this in place purely for the (very rare) cases where people might abuse the service, and it is designed to keep the price of subscriptions as low as possible for our customers.

You are permitted to view an average of 1000 pages per month (calculated over a 3 month period). If you get close to the limit, we’ll send you an email to warn you. We always contact users to establish the reason for abnormally heavy use of the site and […]

11 12, 2011

BNA security problems – bad link to blame

By |December 11th, 2011|blog, Digitisation|0 Comments|

If you clicked on any of the hotlinks in my review of the British Newspaper Archive you might have been taken to an address with “www1.” at the start. If you were also using IE or Firefox this might have resulted in your browser warning you about a security risk. It’s a false alarm; a minor glitch that stems from the addition of the “1″ after “www”. The BNA have assured us that their website is completely secure and that the problem has now been resolved. I’ve fixed the links in my own review – if you’ve linked to the archive on your own blog it would be worth double checking to make sure that the address is correct.

Thanks to Charles Robinson for alerting me to the problem.

5 12, 2011

Hit-term Highlighting: a half-baked solution

By |December 5th, 2011|blog, Digitisation|0 Comments|

In my recent review of The British Newspaper Archive I moaned about the fact that ‘hit-term highlighting’ was mysteriously absent from its interface. Unlike every other archive on the market, the BNA doesn’t highlight your search term on the article image. Here’s how it works in other databases:
In this example, I performed a keyword search for the term ‘Victorian’. One of the articles it returned was this lengthy piece from the Liverpool Mercury. It’s 5616 words long. Fortunately, thanks to hit-term highlighting, I can just skip straight to the word shaded in green and read the part of the article that I’m interested in. A similar search on the BNA would require me to carefully read a column and a half of text in order to find the word I searched for. This really slows down the research process when you’ve got 500 articles to analyse.
With any luck, brightsolid will address this problem with an update to the BNAs interface. This might take a while – in the meantime, there’s a temporary solution to the problem that should save us all a bit of time:
Step 1: perform a normal keyword search.
Step 2: open up an article.
Step 3: Click the […]

4 12, 2011

The Past Belongs to Brightsolid

By |December 4th, 2011|blog, Digitisation|5 Comments|

On Friday night I had an illuminating Twitter conversation with Will Tattersdill (@faceometer) – a fellow researcher who shares some of my concerns about the new British Library Newspaper Archive. He pointed out an interesting passage in the archive’s terms and conditions:
What you can use the service for:

You can only use the website for your own personal non-commercial use e.g. to research newspaper archives and other archives featured on the website that you are interested in and to purchase goods that we may sell on the website. We are also happy for you to help out other people by telling them about the newspaper archives and other information available on the website and how and where they can be found. However, you must not provide them with copies of any of the newspapers (either an original image of the newspapers or the information on the results page), even if you provide them for free.
It’s easy to brush this off as a classic example of small-print gobbledegook - the  kind of thing we all mindlessly agree to every time we’re forced to update iTunes. But, the more I think about it, the more astonishing this passage seems to be. Are they really […]