Welcome to the Digital Age: New Digital Practices, Projects, and Audiences

Digitisation has become an almost fundamental part of human life in the twenty-first century. Communication, entertainment, culture and increasingly education are becoming digitised to greatly enhance our capacity to create and learn. At the New Digital Practices, Projects, and Audiences workshop at the University of Liverpool, we were presented with questions surrounding the future of the digital humanities, historical research and teaching at the university. What new forms of knowledge/educational benefits might digital projects bring? Are there significant limitations? To what extent does technology drive the shape, content and methodology of digital projects? What audiences are we trying to reach? How should digital projects be evaluated for their academic contributions for academic credit?

But what exactly are the digital humanities and how are they changing the academic landscape at universities? The digital humanities involves the collaborative, interdisciplinary and computationally engaged research, teaching and writing, allowing new kinds of teaching and research possible such as Virtual Reality and Digitised Primary Source Bases.[1] Thus, the field both employs technology in the pursuit of humanities research and subjects technology to humanistic questioning and interrogation, often simultaneously.[2]  Debates in the Digital Humanities (2016) acknowledges the difficulty in defining the field: “Along with the digital archives, quantitative analyses, and tool-building projects that once characterised the field, Digital Humanities now encompasses a wide range of methods and practices: visualisations of large image sets, 3D modelling of historical artefacts, ‘born digital’ dissertations, hashtag activism and the analysis thereof, alternate reality games, mobile maker-spaces, and more. In what has been called ‘big tent’ Digital Humanities, it can at times be difficult to determine with any specificity what, precisely, digital humanities work entails.”[3] Typically, the digital humanities involves the open access of secondary and primary materials, data mining tools, digital archives, online publishing and Analysis of Macroscopic Trends in Cultural Change. But what exactly is the potential for the digital humanities at the university?

BAFTA nominated screenwriter, director, and activist  Tina Gharavi opened the workshop, discussing how history and culture can be presented creatively through documentary and sensory stimulation. Tina began with a screening of her 2015 documentary People Like Us, a short film exploring the experiences of wrongful conviction and exoneration in mass incarceration era Louisiana. The film gives an insight into ‘live after death row’, using artful, snappy editing, immersive sound and metaphorical images, overlaying oral history interviews, to capture the psychological and emotional experience of an exonerees.

“My film weaves the emotional experience of those who have been released as they come to terms with what has happened in their lives.” – Tina Gharavia, Feb 2017.

Tina’s work highlights the unexplored avenues of oral history interviews. While many historians have used oral history, television and documentary extensively, Tina explores the more creative and sensory avenues, presenting the viewer with difficult questions in an attempt to create empathy and understanding. By using film to not only inform, but as a reflective, engaging platform, new ways to present and understand oral history can be explored. Tina also discussed her work-in-progress  Tribalism is Killing Us, which was created through a collaborative storytelling platform. Through this, many participants could contribute, comment and edit the documentary, allowing a greater collaboration between disciplines when presenting visual information.

Zoe Alker  (UoL) also discussed new ways of presenting visual data through VR technology, evidenced to be particularly good at engaging students in the classroom. Through basic programming and tools such as SKETCHUP© to create historically correct environments, such as  Jeremy Bentham’s panopticon, an institutional prison which was never built, and enabling the exploration of the virtual environment with VR technology. Through VR, the potential for teaching and learning seems endless. Allowing students to explore and possibly create historical environments teaches skills in programming, computing, understanding source accuracy and an exploration in the history of senses/history of emotions while using the VR headsets. Furthermore, realistic events such as court room environments could be animated and overlaid with recorded sound, allowing deeper immersion. Zoe also noted that her software allowed the user to set their height-view within the VR environment, allowing the historian to ‘see’ as a historical actor once did. VR (and perhaps educational gaming) have the potential to open new avenues for historical understanding, presentation, and exploration as well as new ways to teach and engage students in the classroom.

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Primary sources are integral to historical research and digitisation has allowed  libraries, students and academics to easily curate and access these materials. Tom English, Library Reference Executive at Gale Cengage Learning, demonstrated the benefits of data mining of digital archives. Using the Nineteen Century Collections Online, Tom demonstrated how data (including newspapers, monographs, articles etc.) could be effectively ‘mined’ and analysed, using tools such as data frequency, key word searches and multimedia graphs. Benjamin Ehlers, Alexandra Greco (UGA), Nicholas Fuqua and Joe Kelly (UoL) discussed ‘Slavery and the 19th century Atlantic Economy’, a developing digital resource that taps into sources from archival repositories in Liverpool and Savannah, unifying the University of Liverpool and the University of Georgia through collaborative digital work benefiting students and academics alike. Clearly then, the digital humanities has a lot to offer in terms of putting primary and secondary sources online. Data sites such as JSTOR have become part of a modern historians everyday life and enable groundbreaking research anywhere, at anytime. Speaking from experience, the digitisation of more sources, such as local newspapers will help find information and allow research which was previously difficult to undertake.

Finally, Jon Hogg (UoL) demonstrated his new Open Access electronic textbook Using Primary Sources, which provides students with a digital guide to historical research. The online textbook currently has three sections: Early Modern Sources, Medieval Sources and Modern Sources. Within each are a number of useful chapters written by academics and postgraduates on using different thematic primary sources such as memory, environment, religion, and social class. Alongside the chapters are a number of scanned primary source materials which compliment the chapter. Due to its online nature, the textbook can be edited and updated with new chapters and materials almost anytime, giving it endless possibility. Furthermore, its use in the classroom is highly useful. The textbook outlines ways of analysing and understanding primary sources, while actively engaging with the material within the textbook itself. Using Primary Sources is thus a huge resource for lecturers and students, allowing a unique way of engaging with texts as well as providing a basic source for theoretical and methodological primary source analysis.


Overall the workshop was engaging, useful and interesting, raising questions about the future of history and the digital humanities. Perhaps the largest conclusion drawn was the potential of the digital humanities; its potential for teaching, learning and education across all levels. Film, VR, Source bases and Online Textbooks are all clearly incredibly useful materials that are marrying history and digital humanities, each have vast (possibly endless) potential. So where does it end? In an age increasingly reliant on technology, perhaps the biggest question we could ask is should we move towards digitising history? In my opinion, the answer is simply yes. The digital humanities allow new ways for historians to present and engage with the past, engage increasingly distant students (usually due to smart phones), and collaborate and learn with one another. If visualising sources is becoming increasingly popular, then why shouldn’t historians follow foot? If more students are using smartphones in lectures, why not create apps to engage them inside and outside the classroom? If historians can now work and create with one another from all reaches of the world – why shouldn’t they? However, I also think that the skills of manually searching for primary sources, giving live presentations and networking should not be forgotten. As we rapidly speed towards the digital era and realise the intriguing potentials for the digital humanities, we should do what we do best as historians, and not forget from whence we came.


[1] J. J. O’Donnell, ‘Engaging the Humanities: The Digital Humanities’, Daedalus, 138.1 (Winter 2009), pp. 99-104
[2] R. Scholes, and C. Wulfman, ‘Humanities and Digital Humanities’, South Atlantic Review, 73.4 (Fall 2008), pp. 50-66.
[3] M. K. Gold and L. F. Klein, Debates in the Digital Humanities 2016 (Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press, 2016)

NuclearBrink Living at the Nuclear Brink: Yesterday and Today


The University of Stanford is currently offering an interesting and unique online course: NuclearBrink Living at the Nuclear Brink: Yesterday and Today. The course offers an introduction to the history of nuclear weapons, focusing on topics such as Deterrence, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Berlin Wall, Proliferation, Nuclear Terrorism, Nuclear Policies and so forth. See an outline of the course here:

Week 1: Introduction; What Are Nuclear Weapons and Why Were They Developed?
Dr. William J. Perry; Dr. Joseph Martz; Dr. Siegfried Hecker

Week 2: Nuclear Proliferation in the United States and Around the World
Dr. William J. Perry; Dr. Joseph Martz; Dr. Siegfried Hecker

Week 3: Under a Nuclear Cloud: Early Cold War
Dr. William J. Perry; Dr. David Holloway

Week 4: Fear and Loathing and Relief: Later Cold War
Dr. William J. Perry; Dr. David Holloway

Week 5: A Lack of Intelligence
Dr. William J. Perry; Philip Taubman

Week 6: Dilemmas of Nuclear Policy
Dr. William J. Perry; Dr. Scott Sagan; Dr. David Holloway; Dr. Andre Kokoshin

Week 7: New Nuclear Dangers: Nuclear Terrorism
Dr. William J. Perry; Dr. Martha Crenshaw; Dr. Siegfried Hecker

Week 8: New Nuclear Dangers: South Asia and Proliferation
Dr. William J. Perry; Dr. Scott Sagan; Dr. Martha Crenshaw; Dr. Siegfried Hecker; Dr. Andre Kokoshin

Week 9: What Has Been Done, and Can Be Done, about Nuclear Dangers
Dr. William J. Perry; Amb. James Goodby; Secretary George Shultz

Week 10: What Next?
Dr. William J. Perry; Joseph Cirincione

The course is currently on its fifth week but you can still sign up and ‘play catch up’ the course offers a number of videos, lectures and a wide array of primary and secondary material.

“The key goals of this course are to warn you of the dangers you face and to give you some insight on what could be done to avoid those dangers. My challenge in this course is to make vivid to you that the dangers of nuclear weapons, far from being historical curiosities, are existential dangers today. You will have the opportunity to engage in discussions about these topics with both world experts and peers from around the globe.”

– William Perry

It should be noted that the course does primarily focus on the American nuclear bomb, but does offer segments of history regarding South Asia, Eastern Europe, Russia and the United Kingdom. Another thing to consider is that it takes an anti-nuclear approach. William Perry  outwardly states that he hopes the course will help people take action against nuclear weapons. This political stance should be considered when embarking on the modules, as some information and arguments may be distorted and one-sided. However I would encourage all those interested in the history of nuclear weapons, and the fear surrounding them, to sign up!

NWCDTP Conference: Thinking, Making & Meaning

This year the annual AHRC North West Consortium Doctoral Training Partnership’s Annual Conference was held at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester between the 19th and 20th October 2016. 

What exactly is ‘making meaning’? What does it mean to ‘think’ historically? And how do we ‘make meaning from the act of making’? These are the questions the NWCDTP Conference: Thinking, Making and Meaning attempted to answer. The conference brought together a national funding body, the networks attached to it, and the local communities and individuals – both educators, students and collaborators – together, each with their own research questions, objectives, expectations, experiences, emotions, backgrounds, disciplines and opinions.


Networking reined primarily at the conference – as students just starting, completing, or finished their research met with experienced and new educators across the national funding council. It was here that I realised that ‘Nuclear Culture’ and all the theories, methods and ideas that surround it, stretch far beyond the limited landscape I had envisioned beforehand.

At the conference, we heard from the Director & Deputy Director of the NWCDTP introducing us, as the new cohorts, to the mammoth, regional scheme to support and produce ‘the new researchers of today’. The Director reflected upon our proposals, and how we had been selected not just based on our academic abilities, networks and passion for our disciplines, but because we were going to engage with the wider public. At first I thought this was strange: for by nature our thesis’ will be personal, a personal journey of research, development and academia that will contribute to wider human knowledge. How can we possibly project something so specific, so complex, and so personal, onto the wider public? How could we ‘make’ our research into something that anyone could ‘make meaning’ from it – so to speak.

The Director instructed the new cohort to introduce themselves, and their research, to as many people as possible and form a group with people researching something similar. After a brief scramble, I found myself sitting in a large group of other students, all of whom were united by an interest with place and community. Suddenly, my interest in nuclear cities was interlinked with many other disciplines: Poetry, English, Dance, Archeology, Religion, Film. All of which sought to use the same methods as me to make meanings in our research. It was then I realised the true benefit of working within a consortium, the connections. Sitting in a group of fellow researchers, with the same interests but different disciplines, time periods, theories and objectives, made me see how many bridges I could cross to reach my end goal and the proposition of collaboration where I had perhaps not seen it previously.

And thus, we heard the legacies of the NWCDTP from current, final and finished students themselves. We heard how archives were being used, challenged and analysed in new ways, how new connections to museums were set up and how the NWCDTP could provide museums with new resources and contracts through placements and small research projects. We heard how development skills bridging many sectors could be mutually enhancing, such as marrying American Finance and Gothic Literature. We learned of new ways to engage with material objects – how to identify with them, understand them and see the complex ‘meanings’ that entangle seemingly ordinary objects such as photos, wardrobes and textiles. We were introduced to the NWCDTP’s passion for public engagement, for blog writing, public speaking, conferences and workshops and most importantly how to make research not only meaningful for academia, but how to make it meaningful to the public. In this way, the NWCDTP sought to stretch its influence to local communities and other participants across the world. We were introduced to philosophical advancements in understanding the body, horror, uncertainty and ideology, and practical advancements in the use of linguistics, Google Ngram & corpus programmes. The conference was a celebration, and an introduction, to the consortium’s legacies and future endeavours. 


I was subsequently left with the questions: How could I ‘make meaning’ with my research? How does it create ‘meaning’ through ‘making’? Are there new ways of ‘thinking’ about nuclear culture and nuclear anxiety that I have not considered? I thought of how I would ‘make’ history conducting oral history interviews, and how meaning would be created through analysis and memory. How I would draw ‘meaning’ from other historiography, from newspaper articles and testimonies. How meaning is not only created by the historian, but also by the reader, the participants, the memories that form the research. Imagination, Emotions, Visibility, Anxiety, Memory, Experience; these are all territories historians are starting to explore deeply, but I feel we should also consider the question: How, and why, do historians ‘make’ and identify particular meanings in physical and mental historical world. 


Thank you for the AHRC NWCDTP for inviting me for the conference: I would also like to highlight the academics and workshops I attended during the conference, all of which were extraordinarily fascinating and engaging.
– Unfolding the Archive by Jo Darnley (Manchester Metropolitan University)
– Writing through the Fragments: Ekphrastic Encounters with Michael Landy’s Breakdown by Lindsay Polly Crisp (Goldsmiths, University of London)
– Dorcas Stories: Archives as Mechanisms of Creating and Meaning by Rose Sinclair (Goldsmiths, University of London)
– Public Speaking by Dr Margarida Dolan (International Consultant)
– Keynote Speeches by Dr Scott Thurson (University of Salford) and Professor Leon Cruickshank (Lancaster University)
– Making Meaning from MERZ: A Cultural Moving Target by Jackie Haynes (University of Cumbria)
– Relations by William Titley (Manchester Metropolitan Univerisity)
– Making and Breaking the Bronze Age by Matthew G. Knight (University of Exeter)
– Tracing out the Textual Waive: Women and (out)laws in Pre-modern England by Bethany Jones (University of Lancaster)
– Impure Knowledge’s of the Writing Bodylies: The case of Leonid Lipavsky’s “Research into Horror” by Mariia Semashyna
– It’s an Art: Using Digital Humanities to draw meaning from texts by Emma Franklin (Lancaster University)
– New Labour, Same Old Neo-Liberal Danger: Ideology, and New Labour’s Reforms to the NHS by David Ian Benhow (Keele University)
– The Giant Vampire Squid in the room: Gothic Finance and Financial Gothic, Revealing Spectral Capital as the Ghost of American-Gothic by Amy Bride (University of Manchester)
– Choosing Futures: Calculation as Fiction in Risk Management by Conrad Moriarty-Cole (Goldsmiths, University of London)