Thursday, April 2, 2015

Paul's Cross and the American Historical Association

The Virtual Paul's Cross Project was one of the projects discussed at a workshop on "Getting Started in Digital History" at the 2015 meeting of the American Historical Association, held this year in New York City.

I'm told that over 150 people showed up at 9:00 on a Friday morning for this session, an admirable gathering for the first day of a multi-day international conference.

One major result of this meeting is an essay entitled "Remember, Remember the Fifth of November: Modeling John Donne's Gunpowder Day Sermon," by Seth Denbo, the director of scholarly communication and digital initiatives for the American Historical Association.

Denbo's essay appears in the February 2015 issue of Perspectives on History, the newsmagazine of the AHA, here.

In this piece, Seth reports on the AHA session, noting that Paul's Cross was the last of several projects discussed at this session, chosen because it "is a groundbreaking attempt to combine historical scholarship with work from archaeology, architecture, and acoustical engineering to recreate some of the elements of that London morning in 1622."

I commend to you the entire piece, but here is a taste of what Seth has to say:

"Like all historical work, the project creates representations of the lived experience of historical actors. The website’s 3-D models of the churchyard, the static and moving images that show the view from various vantage points, and the acoustic representations that allow us to listen to the sermon all build a rich descriptive and interpretative framework for understanding.

"The finished product allows a broad audience to understand what it was like to attend a public sermon in 17th-century London and to experience dimensions the text does not provide.

Denbo says he likes "this project because it shows the possibilities that can be realized by combining ­traditional historical methodologies with those in fields that are much more driven by technology, such as the acoustical ­engineering techniques used in the project. 

"In combining primary sources with secondary literature on the period, this solidly historical undertaking also takes a novel approach to the presentation of scholarship. It makes the most of digital technologies and uses the web to provide descriptive and interpretive elements.

"This project is an excellent example of a historiographical intervention into a rich scholarly conversation.

"It furthers our ­understanding of the sermon itself, provides an idea of the experience of attending a sermon of the time, and enriches our knowledge of the wider historical context.

Denbo concludes,"Far from merely imagining new business models for journal publishing, or lamenting the demise of the scholarly monograph, projects like Virtual Paul’s Cross evince creativity and place a value on ingenuity as they produce meticulous ­scholarship."

All of us involved with the Virtual Paul's Cross Project are deeply grateful to Denbo for his thoughtful review. We believe he really gets what we've tried to do.

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