Friday, September 21, 2012

Expert Q&A :: Today's toolkit for the digital historian

Digital history and online search tools allow "speed relating" in family history research. Tim Sherratt joined us on Thursday, 20th September to answer questions on today’s toolkit for the digital historian.

Don't forget our Expert Q&As happen every Thursday night on the Inside History Magazine facebook page.

When: 8:30-9:30pm EST | WA: 6:30-7:30pm WST | SA - NT: 8:00-9:00pm CST | Weekly on a Thursday night

Tim Sherratt is one of the developers leading the way in digital history & has been building online resources relating to archives, museums and history since 1993. His work includes Mapping Our Anzacs, Trove QueryPic, Archives Viewer - see links below.

Top tips from Tim Sherratt:
  • My basic rule is always don't be afraid to play. There are lots of cool tools around of use to the digital historian and the best way to get a handle on what they do and how they might be of use to you is to mess around with them. 
  • My second rule is look at what other people are doing. The digital humanities community is very generous with its time and ideas and there are lots of people blogging about their research and experiments. Have a look at DigitalHumanitiesNow to get an idea of what's going on:

Summary of links from the Trove Expert Q&A:

Transcript of Expert Q&A - Today’s toolkit for the digital historian:

Our Expert Q&A with Tim Sherratt starts at 8:30pm EST. Tonight, Tim will be answering questions on today’s toolkit for the digital historian. Please ask your questions in a comment & he'll answer in a following comment.
A. Carmel: not sure exactly on the subject, I know it has something to do with digitizing
A. IHM: Hi Carmel, Tim is an expert on digital or online tools for doing history and family history like Mapping our Anzacs, NAA RecordSearch and other tools for searching and doing history online. Does that help?
A. Chris: I'd be lost without NAA, Mapping Our ANZACS and Trove...

Comment: IHM: Welcome everyone, thanks for joining us tonight. The rules are simple. Try to keep your questions concise and that will help Tim to answer as many as possible in the hour.
A. Tim: Howdy folks!
A. Carmel: oh and hi Tim and Cassie and Wendy

Q. Tim - what do u think the most important rule for newbies to follow when starting today in the digital world???
A. Tim: Fiona, my basic rule is always don't be afraid to play. There are lots of cool tools around of use to the digital historian and the best way to get a handle on what they do and how they might be of use to you is to mess around with them. My second rule is look at what other people are doing. The digital humanities community is very generous with its time and ideas and there are lots of people blogging about their research and experiments. Have a look at DigitalHumanitiesNow to get an idea of what's going on:
A. Fiona: I totally agree Tim! Thank you for sharing!

Q. Hi Tim & Cassie - I heard Tim speak at Mosman Library & have found the QueryPic utility extremely useful, especially for eg Local Studies, or finding when someone was in the news. You might want to say something about that utility?
A. Carmel: Thankyou Kerry I do not know about this source at all
A. Tim: Kerry, glad you asked :-) because I have a special QueryPic announcement!
A. Carnamah Historical Society & Museum: Sounds exciting!
A. Tim: QueryPic is a little tool I made that visualises results from newspaper searches in Trove and Papers Past. Instead of a list of results, you get a graph, plotting the number of results over time so you can start to see patterns and plot trends. For example, have you ever wondered whether the guy in the red suit at Christmas was called in the 19th century...

A. Tim: That last link is to the brand new (and still in testing) version of QueryPic. It has a number of new features including the ability to permanently save your QueryPics - great for sharing and citing. You can also do more complex queries. Check it out and let me know what you think!
A. Chez: Kerry Farmer and Tim OMG just tested out that app....a tad excited at what I can see on my test subject! Just saying!
A. IHM: QueryPic is brilliant isn't it Chez Leggatt & now you can save your searches for later!
A. Carnamah Historical Society & Museum: More of a comment than a question but we'd like to express how useful we find QueryPic. It is amazing for historical insights. We're keen to check out the new features.
Q(b). Tim with this site I see there are generic words there, how would you go with a surname and place. I just tried with a surname and the place they lived and came up with a great line.
A. Tim: Carmel, do you mean QueryPic? Basically, with the new version, you can use it to visualise just about any search in Trove. So if you want to limit it to the newspapers of a particular region, you just use the advanced search option in Trove to build the search you want. Then you can just copy the url and paste it into the query url box in QueryPic.
A. Carmel: that may limit your options too, I have found some events were reported all over Australia, not so much mine. It did work Tim. This would be a great tool when looking for a subject. especially for those who are studying
Q (c). I'm just looking at the new QueryPic. How did you overlay the 2 searches (Father Christmas / Santa Claus)? Also are you able to save the constructed graph, so you don't have to spend time recreating it? (as opposed to just saving the search?)
A. Tim: Kerry, you can combine as many graphs as you want -- just do another search (or paste in a query url) and it'll be added to the last one. If you decide you don't want it, there's a 'Clear last' button to get rid of it again. Yep, saving is one of the main features of the new QueryPic. Once you've created your QP a big blue 'Save' button will appear. Press it and you'll get a simple form to fill out -- the only required fields are a title and your email address. Hit save and you'll be redirected to a new version complete with a persistent url for sharing!
A. Kerry: THANK YOU! I've been using QueryPic ever since I heard about it, but saving & overlaying will make it so much more useful
Q(d). how do you save on querypic...i cant see it"?
A. Tim: Chez, are you looking at the new version? The 'Save' button appears once you've created a graph.
A. Chez: Thanks Tim I had used the one on here now redoing query...!
A. Chez: Tim a comment between the 2 versions of your the older version, fewer more accurate documents were found and I liked you could click and get the list of the articles but with the newer version it takes you to trove...not as accurate....with the hits. On the old version you could use '+' between two words, it doesnt accept that now.
A. Tim: Chez, if you click on the graph you still get the first 20 articles just the same as the old version. I've changed the default search to match Trove's default which is 'fuzzy' (ie returns more results). But you now have the option to use Trove's own advanced search interface to make the search as exact as you want. You should also be able to use the 'fulltext' modifier in the QueryPic keywords box -- though I haven't fully tested that yet.
A. Chez: OK I played a bit...putting " " instead of + has the same effect and limits the results to the exact phrase
A. IHM: Looks like we've all got some homework, testing the new QueryPic :)

Q. Hi Tim, Cassie and all, 
Tim, what do you consider the best way to organise your various notes etc. re each family tree? Do you use programs like Evernote, or add all to family tree software?
A. Tim: Chris, I use a variety of things, but mostly I store my links and references in Zotero. It's a free, open-source tool that now works on any platform. It does more than just store bookmarks, it has special translators that capture data from a variety of catalogues and databases, and if translators don't exist for your favourite database you can even write one yourself. I've written translators for the Trove newspaper database and for NAA's RecordSearch, so with a single click you can capture a newspaper article and all its metadata directly into your research database. You can also create public or provate groups to easily share your research:
A. Chris: Thank you, Tim... you've given me a few things to consider and play with...I didn't want to do anything else anyway, and what a perfect excuse. Thank you for your time and knowledge.

Q. Hi Tim and Cassie. Just curious about e-books for writing family histories. Do you think they will be phased out and replaced as technology improves? What advice would you suggest in that regard.,
A. IHM: Hi Margaret Wild-Storey, interesting question. I'd definitely consider ebooks as a technology that is here for a while and worth investing time in - the makers of tablets such as Apple, Kindle and Samsung are definitely investing significant time & money into them, so they're here to stay we think.
A. Carmel: the only problem there is they have different formats. as long as they are produced for all.

Q. When i search NAA for Service Records via Name Search if I then try to narrow it down with 'Refine result' and I get it wrong , It does not take me back to my search results . Am I doing this wrong, 'cause it's a bit annoying having to search again :) Researching 300 locals at present so a lot of time on NAA and Mapping Our Anzacs . On track now :)
A. Kate: On Wendy's RecordSearch question – I've found that RecordSearch has quirks that you come across when searching in different and creative ways. I've had similar problems to yours. I think it's just one of those things you have to put up with.
A. Tim: Wendy, yes I've heard of some problems with the 'Refine result' option, but I don't have a good answer (I've got Kate Bagnall having a look now!), but if you're a user of RecordSearch there are a couple of little tools I created that might be of use. As I just mentioned, Zotero has a translator for RecordSearch which makes it very easy to capture information about files (including persistent links!). If the files are digitised then you can use my Archives Viewer All you do is give it a file barcode and it grabs all the page images and presents them on a nice wall. It has a number of useful functions built in -- you can print a whole file or a range of pages (along with the proper references!). The Archives Viewer also creates persistent links for individual pages, so if you find something interesting you can share it!
A. IHM: We have the National Archives of Australia team joining us again next week Wendy Stewart, so I'll take your question to them but I have to say, Tim and Kate are definitely power users, so a solution probably doesn't exist right now :)

Q. Have just stumbled on this qanda through Tim's entry on Twitter. A tough question for this format but one which I find myself thinking every time I see news of Tim's beaut tools. In trying, as I am, to develop metadata structures for a raft of digitised archival materials and to deliver them online, where can I find guidance on creating/adopting a delivery sustem which is suitable for/amenable to the sorts of tools and digital history processes Tim is creating/promoting?
A. Tim: John, perhaps you could ask a question at the DigitalHumanities Questions and Answers site: As I said before DH folks tend to be generous with their advice. There's also a whole lot of new tools appearing.

Comment: IHM: Here's a site that Tim showed us earlier that you'll like - Tools for digital historians ::

Q. Hi Tim, seems like there's lots of new tools coming online. What are you most excited about in digital history today?
A. Tim: Is it too daggy to say 'the people'? It really seems that we have a very positive and supportive community forming. For example have a look at The Programming Historian. Only today I noticed a new lesson had been posted -- a great introduction to a technology known as Topic Modelling (read the lesson!). It's a great example of the way people are creating tools, playing with them and sharing their results. In terms of the technology what really interests me at the moment are trying to find ways to weave things like QueryPic back into our narratives -- to bring big data and small stories together in new and exciting forms. I think there are some great opportunities to start to tell stories inline that also take advantage of thinks like Linked Open data to embed them within rich contexts.
A. IHM: Too daggy? No, it's the people and their stories that made us start our magazine as well. Thanks Tim for joining us tonight. Looks like we’ll all be checking your blog often to keep up with the terrific tools you're building ::

Comment: IHM: Thanks again to Tim and everyone for joining tonight's session, we’ll publish the questions, answers and links from tonight’s session in a blog post this coming week.
A. Carmel: Thankyou for some great tips and sites to explore! do you know where I can buy time? LOL
A. Tim: Carmel, nope but I'm certainly looking to find some more myself!
A. IHM: Where can we buy time? I think we'll have to have Tim back again!
A. Carmel: It is always good to get updates on material, thank you Tim look forward to exploring more.
A. Tim: On that last point you might like to have a look at a talk I gave last year:
A. Kerry: Tim - after you recommended it I've been checking out
A. Wendy: Wow , I'm go be checking out all these new links ( after the radio talk on Marriage Certificates :)) Thanks for your time Tim and ISH for hosting these great sessions each week .
A. Tim: Wow, that was surprisingly intense! Thanks folks!

Next Week: We’ll be here again next Thursday, September 27 at 8:30pm, with our next expert Q&A. Next week we have Tania Riviere & Cheryl Jackson, conservators from the National Archives of Australia answering questions on how to preserve your family artefacts.


Read the previous Expert Q&A transcripts:
[1]  Thursday, July 26 :: How to get the best from Trove Australia
[2]  Thursday, August 16 :: How to get the best from BDM Certificates
[3]  Thursday, August 23 :: Getting the most from NAA
[4]  Thursday, August 30 :: Interpreting photographs for family history
[5]  Thursday, September 6 :: How to get the best from
[6]  Thursday, September 13 :: Using Trove for research
[7]  Thursday, September 20 :: Today's toolkit for the digital historian
[8]  Thursday, September 27 :: Preserving your artefacts with NAA
[9]  Thursday, October 4 :: Studying and doing research at UNE

[10] Thursday, October 11 :: How to research war graves and Anzac ancestors
[11] Thursday, October 25 :: What's new at
[12] Thursday, November 1 :: How to research cemeteries in Sydney & NSW
[13] Thursday, Nov 8 :: Australian War Memorial - Lost Diggers
[14] Thursday, Nov 15 :: Getting even more from Trove
[15] Thursday, Nov 22 :: Getting the most from findmypast AU & NZ
[16] Thursday, Nov 29 :: Using NAA defence records
[19] Thursday, Dec 20 :: What's new at

From Issue 12: Sep-Oct edition. Click here to purchase

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