Digital Humanities

Letter addressed to the wife of Cornelis Berghe, who lives in the Nieuwe Wal Strate in Flushing

At Leiden University, I am heading a digital humanities project for which I received a Faculty of Humanities Teaching Innovation Grant of Leiden’s ExpertiseCentrum Online Leren (ECOLe).

This project aims to further develop History Mapper, a software application which I have created with Steven Ottens, software developer at Geodan ResearchHistory Mapper is a simple tool to map and visualize correspondence networks. With this tool, students can create a database together in a shared Google spreadsheet, which they can simultaneously visualise. Their spreadsheet is linked to a web page that visualizes the data they have entered into the spreadsheet. Through this application students learn to organise their data in a way computers can work with, they learn how digital tools can help them get new information out of their old sources, and they also are challenged to investigate the limitations of digital methods. The visualisation gives the opportunity to discuss the progress of the students during a class and to check if all the information is entered correctly.

During a class the progress of the students can be shown and discussed

The basic application is already available and has been tested by students. With the grant from ECOLe, Steven Ottens from Geodan’s research department will further develop the functionalities of the tool, adding different characteristics that can be represented, such as nationality and gender. Presently the web tool is only suitable to visualise one dataset. By the end of 2017, the project intends to yield an environment in which multiple datasets can be entered and visualised at the same time, so more lecturers and students can use this software in their teaching and research.

To take a closer look at the current possibilities History Mapper offers, click on the image below. You need to log in with a Google account to be able to access the visualisation. Please note that the current online version visualizes 100 letters, and that the visualisation possibilities of the application will be improved in the current project.

With History Mapper, the students learn to organize their data in a spreadsheet. They also learn that every individual needs to have a unique code for the computer to recognize that individual. This is especially important for early modern correspondence, as there are many ways to spell a name. When they enter a new letter, they first need to check if the author and recipient have already been assigned a unique code. If not, they have to enter that person in the list of correspondents and assign them a code. Then they can enter the details of the letter: author, recipient, place of writing, address of recipient, date of writing, and information about the letter’s content. They enter the coordinates of the address. As the students are all working in the same spreadsheet, they can make a lot of progress in only one lesson. The lecturer is able to supervise their progress through the visualisation and through the google sheet, to which the lecturer also has access.

Together with my students, I will be testing the new features of History Mapper during the BA course ‘Violence at sea. War and privateering in the early modern time’, which I will teach in cooperation with the National Maritime Museum and the Dutch research institute for history and culture Huygens ING.

All students work within one file, they only enter the details of the letters assigned to them. In the ‘key’ (‘sleutel personen’, the other sheet of the file) they check if the individual has already been entered. If not, they enter the individual and assign this person a unique code.