As part of our AHRC-funded collaborative research project on “Historicising the dot.com boom and contextualising email archives”, we have recorded an introduction to our project and its aims. In case you are interested, you can find the presentation here.
As part of our little series of resources in digital history, I wanted to make you aware of a new journal: Digital Humanities in the BeNeLux, which is open access here. The first issue has an interesting introduction on “Integrating Digital Humanities”, but many of the examples are obviously not in our area of expertise. Nevertheless, the introduction by Julie Birkholz and Gerben Zaagsma, is useful in outlining important features of the field that are not necessarily obvious to anyone not engaged directly with these questions:
“Much ink has been spent, and occasionally spilled, trying to define the Digital Humanities and its place among the academic disciplines. Yet whether it is seen as a field of its own, a sub- or inter-discipline, or a set of practices, most proponents agree on some basic characteristics, with interdisciplinarity probably topping the list. As early as two decades ago, Willard McCarty was among the first to assert that DH constituted an interdiscipline, due to its “common ground of method [which] makes it possible to teach applied computing to a class of humanists from widely varying disciplines” (McCarty 1999). At the same time, DH challenges existing and ingrained research practices (perhaps sometimes more imagined than real), according to which humanities research questions must always derive from domain knowledge, by proposing new data- and method-driven approaches to research in the humanities. [my emphasis]
In practice, Digital Humanities projects typically involve, and bring together, a variety of practitioners from different backgrounds: academics from various fields and disciplines, librarians, archivists and museum experts. [my emphasis] All of this could easily be construed as providing evidence of the existence of some sort of shared field; yet the influence of the digital on the various phases of our research practice (whether information gathering, processing, analysis and dissemination) comes in many forms: sometimes it is obvious, sometimes it is tacit and implicit, and sometimes aspirational. …”
For organizational history, this raises a number of questions, for example, what new data- and method-driven approaches could be relevant for us, and how we could collaborate more with organizational archivists going forward. So far these debates are very much in their infancy in our field, but are likely to become more important in the years to come.
In another instalment of our digital history series, I wanted to highlight that there is increasingly work being done involving crowdsourcing. Many of you may have read the media reports that during the lock down, a crowdsourcing project to digitise rainfall records has barrelled ahead as people enthusiastically engaged. The project is now complete. Does make you wonder what other archival resources may benefit from such an approach.
The National Archives UK has been exploring this recently as well and the potential for expanding this is really not something that was on my radar at all until recently. An interesting insight into what is happening is provided by a chapter by Alexandra Everleigh, ‘Crowding out the Archivist?’ in an edited volume on Crowdsourcing our Heritage. I am not aware that there are any organization or business-focused crowdsourcing projects underway, but may just be my ignorance. Do let us know if this is something that is being explored or ongoing in an archive near you!
If you are interested in how our research practices are likely to shift as a result of the ‘digital tsunami’ that is facing archives, digital history is the place to go. But business and organizational historians have not really been part of these debates so far. We are starting a series of occasional posts about some of the resources that are out there on digital tools and debates.
For a bit of reading, a good place to start is Ian Milligan’s History in the age of abundance? How the web is transforming historical research (2019). We have a review in Business History by Adam Nix, and he has kindly agreed to make the code for 50 free offprints available – just click here. (FYI – when they are gone, they are gone.)
Here’s the opening to get you started:
“The late twentieth century and early millennium are fast becoming focal periods for historians; as Milligan notes, we are now further from the 1990s than we were from the 1960s when substantive historical work began on that pivotal decade. Given the tendency towards comparatively recent historical contexts, business historians are likely to be among the first to start exploring these periods. However, to do so, they will need to engage with a new and challenging set of sources: sources that were created digitally; sources like those deriving from the World Wide Web. Ultimately, it is this engagement that Milligan’s latest book seeks to encourage and enable, and in doing so, he provides readers with a comprehensive and well-articulated view into the web as a focus for historical research. …”
Ian Milligan has posted about the review here in case you are interested.
I am really pleased to announce that, together with a team of investigators including Dr Adam Nix (De Montford University), Prof David Kirsch (University of Maryland and University of Oxford) and our heritage partners, The National Archives (UK) and the Hagley Museum & Library (USA), we have been awarded funding from the AHRC to investigate how historical researchers may be able to research emails as historical sources, and use this resource to historicise the dot.com boom from the perspective of a software development company. See below for a description of our new project!
Historicizing the dot.com bubble and contextualizing email archives
Future researchers will have to engage with emails if they are to understand the lives of those who lived in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. This is particularly true of organizations and their employees, for whom email has become the default form of internal and external communication. As it currently stands, publicly available email archives are rare, and there has been minimal engagement with them as a historical resource. Indeed, one of the most well-known examples, the Enron Email Corpus, only exists because of high-profile legal proceedings that followed the firm’s bankruptcy and has seen minimal historical investigation since its publication. While this is partly due to its comparative recency, the reading of emails as a historical source is a developing practice and requires particular skills and knowledge that are not traditionally associated with historical enquiry. Despite this, archives and other heritage organizations are increasingly collecting and preserving email data and we are fast moving into the period where the events of the 1990s are of historical interest. We believe that our project offers a timely opportunity to address the gap between current efforts to preserve email and the future requirements that will allow them to actually be read and engaged with.
To address this issue, we seek a better understanding of how email archives can be made more accessible for the purposes of historical learning and research. The problem we focus on here is that, while emails offer valuable insight to researchers, a lack of context often presents a challenge to those wishing to understand their content, inter-relationship and wider historical significance. This de-contextualization can represent a barrier to engagement, to both trained historians and general interest users. Furthermore, existing examples of email archives often purposefully remove personal information, further disconnecting emails from their authors, recipients and connection to related material. For these reasons, our project will make an email archive available in such a way that maintains the relational and network properties that emails hold, as these allow individual emails to be understood in terms of their connection to those that precede and follow them. Furthermore, we will bring the historical context back to otherwise de-contextualized data, allowing researchers to interpret isolated items of communication in a way that appreciates the wider historical circumstances in which they were created.
We will address this challenge through a UK-US collaboration between three universities (University of Bristol, De Montfort University, University of Maryland) and two heritage sector partners (The National Archives, UK, and Hagley Museum and Library, US). Through these collaborations, the project will focus on accessioning and re-contextualizing a worked example of an email archive from a failed US software company from the dot.com era, making it available in various forms to suit the diverse requirements of its potential readers. More specifically, the project has three overall work packages that together deliver on the project’s aim and objectives. The first aspect of the project centres around work linking the constituent emails in the archive together to retain the basic network structure of the communications and making relational links to otherwise disconnected emails based on their content. This will be combined with a user interface that allows the whole archive to be searched and read. The second aspect of the project provides a historical case study of the failed US company based on its archive and will require the development of both a narrative explanation of its history and an online platform for public engagement with it. The final package focuses on the project’s legacy and deals with issues of long-term preservation of the archive, description of best practice, and engagement with project stakeholders.
Political History in the Digital Age: The challenges of archiving and analysing born digital sources.
The vast bulk of source material for historical research is still paper-based. But this is bound to change. Dr Helen McCarthy considers the lessons from the Mile End Institute’s conference on Contemporary Political History in the Digital Age. The specific challenges of using a ‘born digital source’ is an area that requires considerable attention. For political historians, the advent of ‘e-government’ and personal digital archives, and the many formats and artefacts involved, is thrilling but also intimidating.
Historians like digging around in archives.
The materiality of the primary source is part of the allure of historical research: rummaging through dust-covered files, turning the decomposing pages of thick-bound volumes, removing rusty paperclips, perusing bundles tied with ancient string – it’s all part of the voyage of discovery into the past which drew most of us to our careers as historians.
To continue reading go to the LSE blog.
Academy of Management Meeting, Atlanta
Frontiers of Digital History Methods and Tools for Management, Organization, and History Scholars
Friday, Aug 4 2017 2:00PM – 4:00PM
Session Type: PDW Workshop
Scheduled: Friday, Aug 4 2017 2:00PM – 4:00PM at Hyatt Regency Atlanta in Hanover Hall E
Organizer: Robin Gustafsson, Aalto U.
Organizer: Mirko Ernkvist, Ratio Institute
Presenter: Charles Edward Harvey, Newcastle U.
Presenter: Mirko Ernkvist, Ratio Institute
Presenter: Mairi Maclean, U. of Bath
Presenter: Johann Peter Murmann, U. of New South Wales
Presenter: Michael Rowlinson, U. of Exeter
Presenter: David A. Kirsch, U. of Maryland
This PDW This PDW sets out to provide a broad overview and insights to management, organization, and history scholars at large on the current research forefront in how digital databases, methods and tools could contribute to the integration of management, organization, and history research. Overall the PDW centers on the idea for outlining opportunities and current frontier work with digital methods and tools for systematic digital reconstruction of historical sources, rigor and transparency of analysis and inference from evidence. These methodological advances enable new forms of scholarship and research groups collaborations. This PDW will: (1) introduce the participants to the historical developments of digital databases, tools and methods; (2) provide perspectives by forerunner management, organization, and business history researchers on methodological advantages, challenges and opportunities with digital history methods and tools for the integration of management, organization, and historical research; (3) present leading recent research work with digital methods and tools using large-scale digitized historical sources and evidence; (4) provide ample of time for Q&As and open discussions.