Machine Reading the Archive: End of progamme workshop

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S1 Alison Richard Building, West Road, University of Cambridge


United Kingdom

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This public workshop will mark the end of the 2017 programme of Machine Reading the Archive, a digital methods development programme organised by Cambridge Digital Humanities Network, Cambridge Digital History and Cambridge Big Data with the support of the Isaac Newton Trust.

It will showcase the digital archive projects created by this year's Track 2 participants as well as invited contributions from leading experts in the field.

*Please note: a sandwich lunch will be provided so please register so that we can cater accurately and cancel your tickets in the event you cannot attend*

Keynote speakers: Professor Andrew Prescott (University of Glasgow), John Sheridan (Digital Director, The National Archives)

Session 1: Re-reading the Archive
11.30 am - 12.30 am

Keynote presentation: Professor Andrew Prescott (University of Glasgow)


The archive is an expression of power. The way in which records are arranged and catalogued is shaped by the bureaucratic structures of the state. Is the rise of digital technologies changing and ameliorating the power nexus surrounding the archive? Or does the use of big data techniques reinforce the cultural and political authority of the archive? This talk will explore ways in which digital technologies are providing a means whereby the archive can tell the stories of excluded and marginal communities.

About the speaker:

Andrew Prescott is Professor of Digital Humanities at the University of Glasgow and Theme Leader Fellow for the 'Digital Transformations' strategic theme of the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

12.30 am - 1.15 pm

Session 2: Presentations by Machine Reading the Archive 2017 projects
1.15 pm - 2.30 pm

Discussants: Dr Lauren Kassell (Casebooks project, University of Cambridge); Professor Alan Blackwell (Cambridge Computer Lab); Dr Anne Alexander (Digital Humanities Network)

Session 3: Reflections on the Digital Archive
2.30pm - 3.30pm

Keynote presentation: John Sheridan (Digital Director, The National Archives)

As Digital Director, John is responsible for digital services, enabling The National Archives to fulfil its ambitions to become a digital archive by instinct and design. His role is to provide strategic direction, transform our digital offer, and to shape and drive forward our web-based services.

Prior to this role, John was Head of Legislation Services at The National Archives where he led the team responsible for creating the website, as well overseeing the operation of the official Gazette.

A former co-chair of the W3C e-Government Interest Group, John has a strong interest in web and data standards. He serves on the UK Government’s Open Standards Board which sets data standards for use across government. John was an early pioneer of open data and remains active in that community.

John’s academic background is in mathematics and information technology, with a degree in Mathematics and Computer Science from the University of Southampton and a Master’s Degree in Information Technology from the University of Liverpool. John recently led, as Principal Investigator, an Arts and Humanities Research Council funded project, ‘big data for law’, exploring the application of data analytics to the statute book, winning the Halsbury Legal Award for Innovation.

About the Machine Reading the Archive programme

Machine Reading the Archive aims to bring humanities researchers, archivists and computer scientists together to explore the challenges of working with archives in the digital age. Through a series of reading group sessions, practical workshops, technical demonstrations, field trips and a one day end-of-programme workshop, we hope to seed new collaborations and encourage the exchange of ideas and practices across professions and disciplines. The programme is born out of a recognition that the practice of making, curating and using archives has been changed by the adoption of digital technologies, at both an institutional and individual level.

Archives and library special collections are developing new roles as platforms for different kinds of data, held in a variety of formats from xml, to pdfs and tiffs, rather than physical containers for people, books and documents. Many researchers return from visits to the archive (or the archive’s website) having filled hard drives with collections of digital photographs of rare books, documents, manuscripts, maps, pictures and objects of scholarly interest whose fragility and immobility required the production of a digital copy. The digital archive thus seeds new private sub-collections on researchers’ laptops and tablets, at times a promising and overwhelmingly rich resources and at other times remaining invisible and inaccessible; while growing in scale and complexity over the trajectory of a scholarly life.

The primary aim of Machine Reading the Archive is to help participants develop a deeper understanding of the challenges and possibilities of working with archival data in the digital age, drawing on theory, methods and practice from the humanities, computer science and the archival profession. The program provides a chance to develop skills to engage with existing digital archives in new ways, to turn a cluttered hard drive of archival photographs into a refined dataset or to embark on the mission of text-mining to reveal new aspects in existing research or lay the groundwork for prospective projects. In addition to providing participants the chance to learn practical skills and experiment with digital methods using their own or provided datasets, the framework of the course is designed to ignite reflection on the significance of the ways private and institutional digital archives are sorted, structured and accessed and to discuss how these insular knowledge infrastructures impact and influence writing, thinking and the development of research projects.

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S1 Alison Richard Building, West Road, University of Cambridge


United Kingdom

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