2007 AHC-UK Annual Conference
Distributed Ignorance and the Unthinking Machine: The Challenges of Teaching History and Computing
Saturday, 17th November 2007
The National Archives, Kew, London
10.00-10.10 Welcome and Introduction
10.10-10.45 Session 1
Postgraduate Research Training and ICT: the Roles of Computing in the PhD
Simon Trafford, Institute of Historical Research, University of London
With demands from the funding councils that training in research skills form an integral component of all research degrees, recent years have seen a far more systematic approach to students’ acquisition of scholarly methods and techniques during the PhD. Rather than traditional ‘learning it by doing it’, research students are coming to expect formal tuition in the skills needed for their research, and departments are increasingly making provision for this, with assistance from the substantial sums of money now forthcoming from the funding bodies for the purpose.
How does ICT fare in this new world? Most students now emerging from undergraduate history degrees have a general confidence in using computers, a good understanding of word processing and the web, and perhaps some more specialised experience using databases, bibliographies or other research tools. Considerably fewer have also used some statistical packages or attempted to construct their own databases, but very few indeed have very much understanding or experience of ICT beyond that, and particularly not of the sorts of specialised computerized tools for spatial, numerical and textual analysis which are already commonplace in the social sciences. It is not uncommonly only once history students have begun their postgraduate research that they even become aware of these types of packages and begin to acquire the skills in them that they require. Perhaps this is inevitable, but it can pose problems both for the students themselves and for those providing the training. However, the funding councils’ new interest in postgraduate training – backed by their cash – may offer a new opportunity for the discipline to encourage the development of a more comprehensive ICT skills set amongst its newest practitioners, although the content of that skills set will, naturally, be a matter for debate.
This paper is an attempt to address some of these questions, drawing upon the Institute of Historical Research’s experiences in providing postgraduate training to a national constituency in both traditional and ICT skills for historical research.
10.45 - 11.15 Coffee
11.15-11.50 Session 2
Search strategies and challenges - How to get the best out of The National Archives's online catalogue
Jone Garmendia, Senior Archivist, Catalogue Manager, The National Archives
Online information retrieval and the digital revolution have fundamentally changed The National Archives (TNA). Automated finding aids and related technology have altered working practices and user expectations. With over 3 million page views per month, TNA's Catalogue has established itself as one of the main international web resources for historical research. In addition, The National Archives makes available other web-based resources that offer digitised images, enhanced metadata and born-digital records. Today's researchers (and users from all backgrounds) need to apply specific intelligence and techniques to interrogate these resources and make sense out of this very disparate magma of data. This talk includes a short live demo of TNA's Catalogue and Global Search.
11.50-12.25 Session 3
The creative use of IT in undergraduate and postgraduate history teaching
Mark Knights, University of Warwick
This paper will disseminate ideas and practices about how collaborative technologies can assist teaching at both undergraduate and postrgraduate level. The use of wikis will be explored in the context of a first year unit on the Enlightenment that required students to write their own mini encyclopedia using a wiki, thereby emulating the collaborative pooling of knowledge idealised in the period they were studying. The paper will also explore the role of wikis in a virtual research environment that delivers a collaboratively taught MA programme (enabled by JISC funding). The programme combines web tools with web-based video-conferencing to produce a framework that adds value to electronic primary resources and brings together students and tutors who are physically apart, thereby enriching the teaching and learning experience. The paper will highlight some of the project's challenges and benefits.
12.25-1.45 Lunch and AHC-UK AGM
1.45-2.20 Session 4
How do you know it is true? Digital Diplomatics for the History Syllabus
Prof Michael Moss, HATII, University of Glasgow
The web is full to overflowing with information of all kinds. Like its analogue equivalents some is useful and some is not. As a profession, historians have shied away from exploiting these resources, suspicious about their provenance, authenticity and veracity. Writing with Laurence Brockliss of the University of Oxford, I have drawn extensively on information deposited on the web by family historians in writing about military doctors who served in the French wars and their descendents. When we present our findings we encounter just such reactions: ‘How do you know it is true?’ This puzzles us, because this question lies at the heart of the historical enterprise, rooted as it is in the critical use of sources. While historians seem willing to overlook the issues and opportunities presented by the digital environment to the conduct of research, other disciplines are grappling with them and sometimes reinventing tried and tested approached to information discovery and handling. For example triangulation has for long been an essential feature of historical inquiry, and yet observers of clickstreams seem to think it is a novel feature of the web. This paper will explore what approaches can be adopted in the teaching of history to equip students at all levels with the skills to handle information critically. It will consider what new skills might be required in approaching digital content that differ from the analogue. It will argue that the inclusion of such content in the history syllabus is not faddist, but essential if the discipline is to thrive in the future.
2.20-2.55 Session 5
Using ICT in degree-level history teaching: issues of progression and differentiation
Prof Geoff Timmins,
National Teaching Fellow,
University of Central Lancashire
Progression in the context of this paper is concerned with the ways in which the activities undertaken by history students can be made more challenging as they proceed through their programmes of study. Linked with progression is the concept of differentiation, which deals with the learning increments that arise as students move from one level of study to the next. The notion of achieving progression is raised as a key curricular component in the history benchmarking statement and can be applied in relation to the other key components that are discussed, namely content selection, teaching strategies, skills enhancement and assessment tasks.
Since history benchmarking urges departments to consider providing opportunities for all their students to develop skills and abilities in the use of ICT, the question arises as to how they might do so in a progressive manner, thereby adding value to their learning experience. Some indication of the type of approach that can be adopted is given in the statement, with the suggestion that students might move from the critical use of internet resources and facilities to the construction, analysis and management of complex historical data bases. Such an approach to progression may well have merit, but it invites questions about other possibilities that might be devised for history programmes; about what actually is being achieved in terms of the progressive acquisition of ICT skills by history undergraduates; and what constraints and opportunities exist in furthering curriculum development in this area.
In addressing these questions, the proposed paper will use the history benchmarking comments on progression as a starting point. Drawing on surveys undertaken more generally into progression and differentiation in undergraduate history provision, it will consider examples of approaches that have been adopted and of the underpinning rationale for them. Consideration will be given to on-line provision in the proposer’s own department and of how it relates to a general framework of progression and differentiation relating to its history programmes. .
3.25-4.00 Session 6
'It's not what you know it's the way that you know it' - key skills in history and computing
Ian Anderson, HATII, University of Glasgow and Derek Harding, University of Teeside
This session presents the results of recent research by the Association for History and Computing on the provision of history and computing in UK Higher Education. The research encompassed a survey of online course material, interviews with history lecturers and a survey of post-graduate IT skills. The results paint a picture of widespread use of, and access to, online historical sources, secondary literature and virtual learning environments but far more limited use of computer applications to explore historical issues and even less training in the creation of historical research material in electronic and digital format or advanced ICT methods. The second part of this session presents ideas on the key skills and methods that the undergraduate, post graduate and amateur historian require in the 21st Century. Conceived as a book 'History Methods for the 21st Century' the concept is to provide a work that bridges the gap in ICT provision outlined earlier. The aim is to support the provision of modern historical methods training in the absence of staff with wide ranging ICT skills in history departments or adequate ICT support services. The scope is introductory but introduces more sophisticated methods and tools and points those interested in developing particular methods to more advanced texts. Proposed topics include the role of theory, search services, digitisation, organising data, Web 2.0, prosopography, population studies, GIS, local studies, sound archives, visual archives, text mining, data mining, economic and statistical analysis. In turn, this work may help embed aspects of history and computing more firmly into the history syllabus and provide students with a more rounded education better suited to today's world.
4.00-4.30 Session 7
Discussion Session 'Towards a curriculum for history and computing?'
4.30 Thanks and Departure.