Digital Medievalist 6 (2010). ISSN: 1715-0736.
© Markus Naser, 2010. Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial licence

Greengrass, Mark and Lorna Hughes, eds., 2008. The Virtual Representation of the Past. Farnham: Ashgate. 226 pages.

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Commissioned Review

Commissioning Editor: Rebecca Welzenbach, MPublishing, University of Michigan Library.
Accepting Editor: Rebecca Welzenbach, MPublishing, University of Michigan Library.
Received: 2010-11-01
Revised: 2011-01-24
Published: 2011-03-03

Keywords: Greengrass, Mark; Hughes, Lorna; review.


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§ 1     This volume focuses on the possibilities offered by modern computer systems with respect to historical research. The papers included not only deal with contemporary projects, but also offer a wider, more theoretical view on the potentialities of computer-aided historical research.

§ 2    In total the volume is comprised of four parts with three to four papers each. The first part is dedicated to the working up and the representation of texts. It includes papers about The Imaging of Historical Documents (Prescott) and Exceptions to Hierarchy in Historical Documents (Spaeth), along with a very interesting paper about the Virtual Restoration of Medieval Documents (Twycross). Meg Twycross´s paper is especially enriched with many useful hints and it presents a number of helpful screenshots which are particularly interesting for mediaevalists.

§ 3    The second part of the book addresses the problem of searching, finding and processing historical information in digital environments. Out of the four papers forming this part, the paper dealing with the question of semantic structuring and research possibilities is the most remarkable. The six authors (Ciravegna, Greengrass, Hitchcock, Chapman, McLaughlin, Bhagdev) discuss nothing less than possible ways towards a web 3.0 for historical science. The fact that the authors are not yet able to come to comprehensive results is not a big surprise when we consider that internet giants like Google have been working on ways of implementing a semantic web search for years, without any measurable success. All the more should the first steps of our guild in this direction be valued!

§ 4    The third section is dedicated to the representation of space and time and deals primarily with the capabilities and limitations of historical geographical information systems (HGIS). Two of four papers deal with the eminent difficulty of representing time in geographical information systems. While Manfred Thaller addresses the problem in a more theoretical way, Ian Gregory presents many recent examples and offers some short-term, but still not completely satisfying solutions.

§ 5    The closing fourth part is about historical objects and events. It comprises papers about digital artifacts (Arnold, Bentkowska-Kafel) and an attempt toward a Poetics of Paradata (Beacham). The very last paper contains a summarizing retrospect together with a look forward into the future (Hughes). Lorna Hughes also raises the question of how to continue connecting researchers in the field of computer-aided historical science after the end of the Arts and Humanities Data Service (AHDS), which lost its central funding in 2008.

§ 6    All in all the discussed volume offers a valuable insight into the current possibilities and problems of digital historical science. It is a must-read for anyone doing research in this field of study and a useful book for anyone else just interested in this way of doing research.