In June, we hosted a discussion between Professor Lisa Jardine CBE and Professor the Lord Hennessy of Nympsfield sub-titled ‘openness and the national collective memory’. The distinguished historians explored the value of our archival heritage and considered why ‘sustaining the collective memory of the nation is a first-order requirement’.
The event was live-tweeted with the hashtag #sptrail and, while lots of digital topics were touched on, we want to re-visit and expand on some of the key themes that were raised. On Thursday 30 August, between 13:00 and 14:00 BST, we will host a live Twitter debate on the #digitaltrail @UkNatArchives featuring contributions from our Director of Technology David Thomas, Head of Digital Preservation Tim Gollins and Research and Policy Manager Valerie Johnson.
Listen to the podcast of the original debate and please do join us on Twitter on Thursday, using the hashtag #digitaltrail, for an undoubtedly fascinating review of our digital past and future.
Topics that we’re keen to discuss include:
Quantity – will there simply be too much information?
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Not long after I joined The National Archives someone asked me whether I thought there was any point archiving the ‘job vacancies’ or ‘careers’ sections of government websites. The person who asked felt these sections contained current information which would not be of interest once the posts advertised had been filled. As someone with an interest in both family and social history I disagreed. Although the ‘current vacancies’ section of a website archived 18 months ago probably would not be the most popular resource, I believe that this and other content related to work and employment captured in the web archive will be invaluable to the historians of the future.
The world of work is hugely important to family and social historians. A person’s job can tell us a great deal about their life. It can indicate their status in society, what quality of life they had and how educated they were, amongst other things. Most family historians researching in the UK will first find out about the occupations of their ancestors from a few words on a birth, marriage or death certificate or from a census return. Sometimes it is fairly obvious what the job entailed: my own family tree features a bus driver, a chauffeur, a cricket ball maker and a vast number of agricultural labourers, but some are more of a puzzle . The first image below is taken from my grandparents’ 1941 marriage certificate. My grandmother’s father’s occupation is given as ‘Carter’. A quick poll of colleagues in my office (none of whom are family history experts, I hasten to add) demonstrated that none of them knew what being a carter would entail. Continue reading »
TS – Have you ever wondered what happened to those departments that suddenly disappeared years ago? Or perhaps you are trying to find out which department does what Department ‘X’ used to do?
'Foreign Affairs' Visualisation
We have produced the first of a series of visual representations of how government departments change over time to help you access our records and sate your curiosity.
Why is this necessary? Well, The National Archives looks after government departments’ historical records and provides access to them. Departments are created and abolished, and their functions transfer frequently between them. Many of these changes take place at seemingly random points.
Users of our records often need to have an understanding of what changes take place, when, in order to find what they want. We aim to produce accurate representations of this specialist knowledge online.
This information exists in Discovery and colleagues here at The National Archives have unique insights into this specialist area. We hope that visualising this in both a striking and accurate way will open up access to this knowledge still further.
Last year, we gathered data about changes to departments since 1997 to support our Semantic Knowledge Base project. Displaying this graphically is a whole different challenge.
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Image from Stephen P. Anderson's Poster from IA Summit 2009
As many of you may know, The National Archives has launched a beta product called Discovery. Discovery is not only a replacement for our current catalogue, but it will eventually provide a platform to enable searching across the many different databases and datasets held at the archives.
The aim of Discovery is to create an effective and enjoyable user interface through an understanding of who our customers are: their tasks, expectations, capabilities, limitations, preferences and context of use. The best interfaces are known to not only support goals and tasks but also recommend interactions that extends users’ activity in ways that makes their journey more effective and satisfying.
To achieve this, our design and development process has involved users from outset and where feasible, as active participants. We have used multiple methods over the last few years, such as interviews, diary studies, surveys, workshops, focus groups, web log analysis and user testing to acquire understanding and empathy towards the needs of our customers.
Graph showing research strategies: Christian Rohrer 2008
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The best way to explain the title of this blog is to begin by quoting directly from the Hedgehog Street website:
“Through Hedgehog Street, we are asking people to become Hedgehog Champions to rally support from their neighbours and work together to create ideal hedgehog habitat throughout their street, estate or communal grounds.”
I saw this initiative on BBC Springwatch a while back, specifically, one simple thing we can all do to become Hedgehog Champions – link your garden. Again to quote the Hedgehog Street website:
“Hedgehogs travel around one mile every night through our parks and gardens in their quest to find enough food and a mate. If you have an enclosed garden you might be getting in the way of their plans. Hedgehogs have enough barriers to contend with such as roads and rivers that we can’t do much about. However we can make their life a little easier by removing the barriers within our control – for example making holes in or under our garden fences and walls for them to pass through. The gap need only be around 15cm in diameter and so should not affect your pets’ safety.”
The idea of doing something so simple to protect our cute friends is a nice one. We’re converting one garden into hundreds, and combined with more naturally occurring wildlife corridors, potentially thousands. This is what we’re doing when we link data, the gardens represent our data and datasets and the link we’ve created gives users and machines unrestricted access to navigate from one dataset to another. It’s an almost perfect analogy – an analogy which I hope will help to open up the concept to all our readers, technical and non-technical alike.
Linky - The Linked Data Hedgehog
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Many of you reading will have seen our Olympic Record, previously blogged by Melinda and Sarah. I’m one of the in-house Web designers who helped to develop this resource and since its launch we’ve all been delighted by its popularity, including recent coverage on BBC’s Click (the slanted camera angles and zooms really amplified the site’s dynamic transitions and effects, bringing it to life).
How did we get here? A look at the design process behind The Olympic Record
To assist in the process of helping people get quicker, closer access to the records here has been very satisfying and I’ve wanted to shed some light on the design and development process behind The Olympic Record since its unveiling.
Around a year ago the Web team began discussing the project with the Collections Knowledge team, led by Cathy Williams and Fleur Soper. Together we recognised the potential for a new online resource to provide access to documents within the Archives concerning people, places and incidents that could be connected to any of the 30 previous modern Games. It would provide a historical resource, whilst engaging creators of new records and archivists – to actively collect 2012 records for the future. Continue reading »
My name is David Clipsham and I have been employed as the File Format Signature Developer for a month, having previously worked as Customer Service Manager for the cross-government social collaboration tool, Civil Pages. My role is to improve the coverage of The National Archives’ PRONOM file format registry. The internal and external signature information contained in the PRONOM registry is utilised by our file format identification tool DROID, which is used to identify file formats so we can make informed decisions about the long term preservation of digital records.
My day is typically spent researching obscure and not-so-obscure file formats, picking through the internal code of each format and identifying the key characteristics that make the file format what it is, as described in Ross Spencer’s recent blog post. I then recreate the key byte sequences, test them against sample files and upload them to PRONOM, ready for our bi-monthly signature release.
How do I focus my research?
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Last week, some of us from The National Archives were privileged to spend a day in Cambridge with over 50 people from the heritage spheres gathered for the Digital Preservation Coalition event, Links that Last.
(For those new to the concept of linked data, I have no hesitation in recommending this Wikipedia article: ‘linked data describes a method of publishing structured data so that it can be interlinked and become more useful. It builds upon standard Web technologies such as HTTP and URIs but rather than using them to serve web pages for human readers, it extends them to share information in a way that can be read automatically by computers.’)
As the Links that Last programme puts it:
‘The emerging ‘Linked Data’ approach … challenges us to think about preservation in new ways. Simultaneously, the digital preservation community has put considerable effort into the development of persistent identifiers, services that seek to ensure that essential links are not lost and … that the highly distributed contexts in which information is presented are protected against the vagaries of time and obsolescence’.
My colleague looked at the article with a mixture of surprise and mild horror.
We were part of the way through an afternoon of Wikipedia training and she had decided to have a gander at the article on Historical geography. Take a look if you like. It won’t take long, it’s only about four paragraphs and that’s a paragraph longer than when she found it – which is the point I’d like to make. When confronted with a hopeless Wikipedia article (and goodness knows there are plenty of those) there are really two reactions. One is to tut, mutter darkly about the deficiencies of crowdsourced knowledge and consider another source of information. The second is to fix it.
At The National Archives, after some consideration, we’ve decided to take the second option. We’re going to train more staff and run more projects across Wikimedia Foundation websites. We’ve already started. Today you can stand next to Domesday Book, scan a QRpedia code with your phone and access information on the book from Wikipedia in 40 languages – a forest of labels we could never produce on our own.
The Sunday River (CO 1069/214), from The National Archives and now also South African Wikipedia
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CERN announcement 4 July 2012
Searching for the Higgs Boson is not just a case of shooting particles around that collide somewhere under Switzerland (a lay person’s grasp of particle physics), CERN has to collect, analyse and manage all of the data this generates.
Big Data is a big thing just now. In the wake of the Government’s Open Data White Paper, Government departments have just published their Data Strategies, including their plans for Big Data - defined as: ‘data which is routinely collected and held by a department as part of its everyday activities’.