Digital methods underpin all stage of my research process, from data collection and analysis through presentation of results.
From Immigrant to Settler
Historical data is notoriously incomplete and challenging to standardise but dealing with data is an essential part of the modern historians role.
For this project, I developed relational database of more than 18,000 artefacts and demographic information on single female assisted immigrants extracted from shipping records.
Spatial data requires more specialised tools, but these skills are highly transferable and therefore very desirable for students. Knowing how to geo-rectify a historical map or how to create a simple site plan are now basic tools for anyone working on historic sites.
In my case, the unique taphonomy of the Hyde Park Barracks site means that artefacts can be traced to located within different parts of rooms. Using a Geographic Information System like ArcMap lets me look at the distribution of different types of artefacts and, ultimately, for different activities between and even within rooms.
One of the challenges of working at Hyde Park Barracks is that it has been restored to look like the earliest convict period. Over nearly two centuries the site has gone through many different stages and many buildings, including at least three kitchens, have been built and then destroyed.
3D reconstructions produced in SketchUp are a simple but very effective way of combining archival and archaeological information to represent different phases of occupation.
The final method I used extensively in this project was digital illustration. In the modern workplace, familiarity with illustration and photo editing software is a valuable skill.
Over the last 15 years manuscript (hand-written) recipe books have become increasingly important for historians studying food and medicine, women’s literacy, and their social networks. While more and more have been digitised, it’s generally not possible to use OCR to make searchable transcriptions. This prevents large-scale comparisons of the corpus as a whole or quantitative analysis of ingredient use or recipe frequency.
One solution for creating more transcriptions is the use of crowd-sourcing platforms. My identification of Margaret Baker and research on her cookbooks came out of the Early Modern Recipe Online Collective transcribathon and since then I’ve been using From the Page to transcribe the Dorothea Rousby cookbook which was digitised by Stanford Libraries.
Use of digital platforms for transcription is perfect for the classroom, and allows me to teach paleography and basic XML mark-up in a real-world environment. Transcription events have the added benefit of providing a collaborative and supportive environment for students to practice transcription, in concert with more advanced scholars, while contributing to real research goals.