Recovering an ‘ephemeral’ life online

My first web page from 1995 (snapshot 1998)

During the past two decades, the Internet and its applications have become one of the richest sources of bibliographical information available to scholars. Through email lists, web-pages, blogs, video and sound-recordings, and publications in various guises, the traces of one’s  life on line can be rich and varied.  At perhaps no other time in history has there been so much recorded information about individuals, both public and private; often kept in perpetuity in the darkest anterooms of the web.

But finding information in the ‘dark-web’ isn’t always an easy task and requires a series of techniques and investigative scenarios to assist more contemporary bibliographical studies.  Perhaps surprising, a large amount of deleted web-page, blog post, and video can be recovered and studied through the use of various online archives, searching, and forensic techniques. As someone who has been active online for 17 years, the traces of one’s online life can reveal the centrality of the medium to significant life narratives; that are often both challenging and embarrassing. These sources can be used to embellish bibliographical narratives when coupled with other analogue and oral sources and have become a vital component of bibliographic investigations.

Bombing of Darwin, 70th Anniversary

Image of Hajime Toyashima, a Japanese Prisoner of War Captured on Melville Island after the bombing of Darwin

As it is the 70th anniversary of the bombing of the city of Darwin in Australia’s north, I thought I would re-publish my 1995 honors thesis on the subject completed at the University of New South Wales in Sydney.  The thesis is titled ‘the Question of Hajime’ and is a narrative-style history that explores the capture of a Japanese Prisoner of War, Hajime Toyashima, on Melville Island, after being shot down by local forces. It it a wonderful story and I hope you enjoy my rendering of it. This is not the best version I have,  but unfortunately it is the only one I can still locate (just click on the .pdf symbol below. 91pgs).

 

 

You may find the .html version easier to read; although orange was fashionable that year.

 

Founders and Survivors: Australian Life Courses in Historical Context; 1803-1920

Bill_Thompson_(Tasmanian_convict)_grey

Founders and Survivors: Australian Life Courses in Historical Context; 1803-1920

Project report. Dr Craig Bellamy, VeRSI, June 2010

I recently attended a project workshop for the ARC funded Founders and Survivors project:  http://www.foundersandsurvivors.org Led by Professor Janet McCalman from the University of Melbourne, Associate Professor Hamish Maxwell-Stewart from the University of Tasmania, and an interdisciplary team of genealogists, demographers, and population health researchers; the project seeks to link the most important records about the convict system in Tasmania to uncover new knowledge about the system and the lives of the people within it.

The project — at a reasonably early stage—presented many of the interim results of digitising and parsing the data about the 72,500 convicts that were transported to Tasmania in the first half of the 19th Century. The convict records in Tasmania are some of the most significant and detailed records of the lives, socio-economic position, bodies, and health of any group in the 19th Century.  The project has the bold ambition of not only linking and analysing the convict records, but also linking other detailed institutional records; such as Australian military records, to gain a rich, intergenerational perspective of the health and lives of Australians.  No other settler society has such intimate details of its founding population.

In one of the earlier presentations, Hamish Maxwell-Stewart explained that the records are being digitised, analysed, and presented according to significant life events. These events include birthplace, upbringing, and trial, the voyage to Australia, the convict’s behaviour under sentence and their cause of death. Many convict records and registers have already been digitised and made available through the State Library of Tasmania and other institutions, but many hours are also being spent painstakingly transcribing muster records, pardon records, departures, absconders, apprehensions, certificates of freedom, and other records that ‘fill the gaps’ to assist in reconstructing the chain of events that make up the lives of the largely working class people who were transported to Tasmania. There are 456, 663 records recorded in the system so far.

Associate Professor John Bass, who is mainly responsible for liking the data, explained to me in a coffee shop in Salamanca Place in Hobart, how the records are linked, the decisions that are made in matching, linking, and the eventual historical analysis of the data. John has been involved in record linking projects for many years; primarily in the health sector (to such a degree that he was awarded an Order of Australia for his work). He explained how he searchers for a ‘linkage key’ (name, date of birth, etc.) from say, the records from a particular convict voyage and then matches this to other records of ‘arrival’ or ‘leave of pardon’ or ‘marriage’. It is not a purely scientific endeavour and the raw data is later used by the historian who will formulate this evidence into their broader historical arguments (and the data is held in separate databases and links stored separately). As Hamish Maxwell-Stewart explained in one of his presentations, matching rates are generally high at above 50% but some; as in matching ‘arrival’ with ‘death’ or ‘departure’ has been higher. Only about 20% of ‘arrival’ and ‘death’ records have been matched so far, but the samples have produced some remarkable results.

Hamish Maxwell-Stewart discovered some interim results from analysis of the surgeons’ sick-list on the very long, 4-6 month voyage the convict ships took to get to Tasmania. He graphed what diseases where prevalent at what stage of the voyage (scurvy, digestive system, fever etc.) and speculated upon the broader policy arrangements or period of the voyage that may have contributed to the disease.  An argument repeatedly made by many of the historians at the meeting was that as long as the convict survived the voyage, transportation may have extended their life expectancy as life in a penal colony in Tasmania may have been healthier than working-class life  in 19th Century Britain.  However, Janet McCalman did stress the need to see results from the whole population first so that the sub-studies could be contextualised (and it isn’t good research practice to release results too soon as later results may contradict earlier results).

In 1834 at the age of 20, my great grandfather, Francis Fitzmaurice, was transported to Tasmania for stealing clothes. After a long history of well-documented recalcitrance in the convict system in Tasmania; being freed, having children, imprisoned, and freed again, he died of exposure to the elements on June 10, 1883.  I wonder if this is why I wear such large woolly jackets in the winter.

Menzies Lecture by Professor Graeme Davison, Monash University, Australia

Professor Graeme Davidson, an Historian from Monash University in Australia, delivered the annual Menzies Lecture at King’s College London on Tuesday Night (20th October).  The lecture is one of the events from the Menzies Centre for Australian Studies at King’s College. In his lecture titled ‘Narrating the Nation’ Graeme discussed the foundation narratives that settlers societies such as Canada, Australia, and the US have in common and the religious undertones of such narratives (I believe the transcript will be online again soon). The event was the first official event held in the Anatomy theatre at King’s recently renovated by the Centre for eResearch (CeRch) and Professor Alan Reid of Theatre Studies.

DSCF1009

Professor Graeme Davidson

DSCF1006

‘Narrating the nation’

DSCF1011

Professor Carl Bridge, Director of the Menzies Centre

DSCF1007

Dr Ian Henderson, Lecturer at the Menzies Centre and his partner Kwesi.

The ‘Dark Side’ of the Enlightenment

The Alchemist

“The Alchemist in Search of the Philosopher’s Stone,” by Joseph Wright, 1771

Dan Edelstein, a Stanford French professor, has been exploring an aspect of the Age of Enlightenment that is less familiar to most, the so-called “dark side” of the enlightenment. He described the differentiating factors. “The prevailing understanding of the enlightenment is one in which there was only scientific and rational thinking, but there was also a significant number of people contributing to the enlightenment who were absorbed in dubious scholarly pursuits like alchemy, mythology, astrology and secret societies.”(link)

These ‘dubious scholarly pursuits’ are still with us. ‘Web 2’ perhaps?

A vision of Britain through time

Another fantastic resource from the JISC.

engine

The JISC-funded A Vision of Britain Through Time website launches today,
giving access, often for the first time, to over two centuries’ worth of
facts, figures, surveys, maps, election results and travel writing showing
how 15,000 UK places have changed.

The changing story of Britain’s towns and villages can be explored in new
depth online, which unites more than 200 years worth of official documents,
maps and travel stories. http://vision.port.ac.uk/

Roy Rosenzweig fellowship for innovation in digital history

chnm-logo

(Roy Rosenzweig is the founder of the Centre for History and New Media at George Mason University in the US. The centre is progressive in both its approach to history and technological innovation. This fellowship may be of interest to you budding digital humanists out there).

In 2009, George Mason University and the American Historical Association will offer the first Roy Rosenzweig Fellowship for Innovation in Digital History. This award was developed by friends and colleagues of Roy Rosenzweig (1950–2007), Mark and Barbara Fried Professor of History and New Media at George Mason University, to honor his life and work as a pioneer in the field of digital history.

Continue reading “Roy Rosenzweig fellowship for innovation in digital history”