Researching Early Modern History

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Research blog entry 12 – T.D. Jacobs

I have had yet another hiatus in posting to this blog, this time as a result of class planning. I am teaching a new course this year, ‘HPII, Early Modern: Aspects of English Diplomacy’. I settled on this topic because it is aligned with my current research, and it is not only something that I know a little about, but teaching it will encourage me to learn more. This class resides within our department’s ‘Historische Praktijk’ framework, which over the span of three years, takes students through the basic steps to becoming a historian. The second year focusses on developing the basic research and analytical skills learned in HPI, and adding in palaeography (both oud print and handwriting), as well as methodology and scientific writing.

I have spent the last month developing writing and research guides specifically for this course, and putting together a basic course site. Given that this class focusses on English diplomacy, both at home and abroad, this has meant further exploring the realm of digital humanities. I needed to find ways for my students to be able to access source materials online where possible. More than that, however, I want my students to become interested in the digital humanities in general, and to realize that it involves far more than improving access to archives and libraries.

I rather like the public science programs run by various institutions, such as ‘Planet Hunters’.  And I have myself taken part in looking for exoplanets, as well as in the SETI@Home project to find possible evidence of life elsewhere. These platforms allow ordinary people to get involved in science, which not only furthers scientific discoveries materially, but increases support for them as well. That is why I was so excited earlier this year when the Newberry Library put out a public call for translators and transcribers to help with its collection via the ‘Transcribing Faith’ project. This is precisely the kind of digital humanities public science programs I would like to see more of, and I would like for my students to become enthusiastic about as well.

In addition to which, I intend to introduce them to digital research tools that they may find useful, such as those found at DiRT. Happily, UGent has a very active Centre for Digital Humanities. They are involved in numerous projects, including – alongside the University of Antwerp – the development of Manuscript Desk, which is a transcription tool with some analytical features. It is currently in testing, and once it is rolled out, I think it will prove very useful for my students, particularly since the handwritten sources they are likely to use are unfortunately too small to feed into Transkribus in its current state.

All in all, looking my class planning, and what I have myself learned so far from working on it, I feel that this was a good use of my time.


HPII, Early Modern: Aspects of English Diplomacy 

Planet Hunters


Transcribing Faith


Ghent Centre for Digital Humanities

Manuscript Desk


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