Digital History

Edwired has posted a great summary of the debate surrounding digital history.

She writes:

During the month of May, Bill Turkel wrote a series of provocative posts about what digital history is and isn’t. Given how busy I’ve been, I’ve only just now gotten to those posts and I would argue that they should be required reading for historians–not just digital historians.

In particular, the second post in the series, which focuses on information costs and the swelling ocean of historical information that will inundate our profession over the next couple of decades, raises issues that we all need to grapple with. As of today, the historical information that is available online is still idiosyncratic, but within two decades it will, as Bill writes, reasonable to assume that the vast majority of historical archives in the developed world will be online and searchable.

When that happens, the only way that historians are going to be able to grapple with this ocean of content will be something that we might call computational history–Bill likens this concept to bioinformatics.

What Bill has in mind is not the same thing as the quantitative history of the 1970s when so many historians believed that access to mainframe computers would generate new insights into old data. To be sure, quantitative analysis will be part of the new computational history, but only a part. As Bill points out, “Having nearly frictionless access to vast amounts of source material makes it possible to undertake projects that hinge on attested, but very-low-frequency evidence.” When we have virtually full access to virtually all the material in virtually all the archives in the developed world, we are going to have to have new analytical tools for working with that data–tools that we’ll have to develop in collaboration with colleagues in the computational sciences. In addition, we’ll find ourselves faced with all sorts of data mashups that will constantly reinvent the way that data is used and understood.

For more on the development of some of the technical tools that will begin to make these new research methods possible, see Dan Cohen’s recent post on the “Million Books Workshop” at Tufts.

You may have noticed that I keep emphasizing “the developed world” here. That’s because I am not as optimistic as Bill that all the archives of the world will go online in the next two decades. I’ve been to archives in the developing world and they have more pressing concerns–keeping dry rot, looters, and squatters out of their facilities, being able to actually pay their staff, etc.

Because I think Bill is right in general about the unprecedented and almost frictionless access that we’ll have before I retire, I worry that historical study beyond the developed world will become ever more marginalized. It’s hard enough to do archival work in Cambodia, Bhutan, or Malawi today. Imagine what it will be like when places like these are essentially “off the grid.”



This is an extension for the Firefox web browser and is designed to make research on the internet much easier.

This is what they say:

Zotero [zoh-TAIR-oh] is a free, easy-to-use Firefox extension to help you collect, manage, and cite your research sources. It lives right where you do your work — in the web browser itself.

Go here to download or here to watch the tour.


I am pretty new to the whole face book thing but my early fumbling have suggested that it could be a great tool for historians.

My aim is to gather together as many fellow history bloggers as possible into one place. This will give new bloggers/historians instant access to likeminded people.

So here’s how to join:

  1. Register at Facebook
  2. Search for my name – Gary Smailes.
  3. Ask to be my friend and I will join you up the military history network

Simple! -ish


I came across the site today through a news article which suggested they added 3 million Revolutionary War pension files, thanks to a deal with FamilySearch. currently adds about 2 million documents each month from the National Archives. let’s users annotate entries, tag them and create communities around historical topics.

I had not come across the site and raced to see what they had to offer. The site looked great and the concept was a winner. So what’s my problem? Well they expect you to pay!

Site like Footnote just don’t get it. This information should be free to all.

Future of Jstor

IMproPRieTies has posted a very interesting article on the future of Jstor.

I say make it free for all but I would.

Wiki Archive

Gavin Robinson has written as great post about UK National Archives’ Your Archives.

He says:

First the good points. The scope of the wiki is much bigger than I was expecting. I thought it would only include PRO holdings, but it actually covers the National Register of Archives too, which effectively means that the site can include any archives in the UK. This is the first sign that the merger of the PRO and NRA to form the National Archives is having some tangible benefits – I previously suspected that it was just vacuous rebranding but Your Archives promises to prove me wrong. This is a particularly important benefit because there isn’t necessarily much logic to which repository documents end up in, especially older documents. For example, the records of the Parliamentarian Ordnance Office, which were a major source for my work on saddles, are split between the PRO, the British Library, the Bodleian Library, and the Museum of London. Even the ones at the PRO are illogically split between SP28 and various WO classes rather than being kept together. As far as I know, the best guide to these sources is an appendix of my unpublished PhD thesis, which is hardly ideal

However, the thrust of the blog post is the limiting activity the PRO has set on the wiki.

For me it shows the PRO just doesn’t get the internet. Information is their business. In fact they are in many ways the custodians of information, protecting it from all but the worthy. Yet the internet has changed this. The PRO could play a very important role to play in the development of historical information on the intent. The potential for digitalisation projects and co-ordination of research efforts is almost limitless. However, they must first stop seeing themselves as protectors of the information and begin to realise that they are in fact distributors.

Facebook Military History Network

OK – I have blogged about it and moaned to just about anyone who will listen. You know my mantra by now.

‘The internet has changed the world’

‘Its all about building communities and networks’

Well its time to try something a bit different.

I have set up a Facebook network called Military History.

Facebook is straight forward. You register an account and then join the network. This then brings everyone together in a large network. Facebook has all the facilities you would expect – forum, pictures, comments etc.

However, the point of the exercise is to see if we can try and build a community of dedicated online military historians.

So I need your support with this. Go and register, join the community and then blog it!