Digital history research team
The Digital History research team aims to provide researchers with support and expertise on the use of the latest digital tools, software and databases for historians, and also to provide guidance for the long-term storage of digital historical data.
Previously called the Methods workshop (“Pôle méthodes”), the Digital history research team or “Pôle histoire numérique” (PHN) has changed names to reflect the new emphasis in historical research on the use of digital tools and resources, and to encourage a greater understanding of their potential at both the national and international levels.
The group is composed of a team of about twelve, bringing together in equal numbers researchers and IT and R&D engineers.
Experience has shown that it is very difficult to offer concurrently detailed guidance to multiple individual digital-based historical research projects, each of which requires specific conceptual and software solutions. Instead, the Digital history research team has opted for a different approach; one in which individual researchers collaborate on collective digital projects. This approach allows the tools for digital data analysis, storage and presentation to be pooled, but at the same time remains flexible enough to adapt to the specific needs of each participating researcher.
This approach has led the PHN to develop the symogih.org project, a modular system for managing historical data (Système Modulaire de Gestion de l'Information Historique ). The project has built on existing expertise within the group with regard to the use of digital databases for historical research to develop a collaborative and open-ended research platform, enabling all kinds of primary historical data (texts, images and metadata) to be analysed and stored, according to the latest recommendations of the Text Modelling Initiative, and used for both spatial and relational analysis. The platform has been used successfully on the research projects of some fifty individual researchers, as well as about ten collective projects (see publications).
Beyond the issues and problems thrown up by individual research projects, the development of this digital research platform has generated a broader discussion within the PHN on the implications of using digital tools for historical research. These collective discussions have contributed to the further development of the platform, and also to exploring avenues for creating interfaces with digital tools used by other researchers, both in History, and in neighbouring disciplines in the humanities and social sciences, as well as in library and information science. In this way, the data generated by researchers in history may be linked to those derived from libraries and heritage institutions.
In addition to the assistance provided by the members of the Digital history research team to the research conducted by LARHRA members, and their participation in seminars and conferences, the group also participates actively in a number of national and international networks and partnerships in the field of digital humanities. The PHN’s ten-year experience in the field of modelling and managing digital data for historians is also the driving force behind the creation of the Data for History consortium, aimed at establishing an international community of historians and information systems analysts, in order to develop and manage a common model that would allow for domain specific, semantically robust data integration and interoperability..
The digital platform offered by the Digital history research team is based on three principles:
- a model allowing the creation of a collaborative digital database (BHP), able to store all kinds of historical data: prosopography; qualitative and quantitative analysis; data for intellectual, social, economic and religious history, etc.
- a geographical information system (GIS), allowing the spatial dimension to be integrated directly into any research project.
- a method for encoding digital texts in XML format (archive notes, transcriptions, document editions), based both on the recommendations of the Text Encoding Initiative and the framework of the symogih.org project, which allows interoperability between encoded texts and relational data.
In this way, effective, collaborative digital tools have been made available for the use of historians. The model (or ontology) used by the group will be progressively aligned with the CIDOC CRM, in collaboration with the Data for History consortium.