Friday, 5 November 2010

What my Sighelm obsession has taught me

Regular readers will know that I have recently become mildly obsessed with the question as to whether an AngloSaxon cleric went to India in the late ninth century.

Now while undoubtedly geeky, it's also been extremely valuable as a demonstrator of what can be done purely from the desk.

Almost all the research was done with wikipedia, search engines, online texts, and Google Books, often using it to follow up on wikipedia articles to check references.

I did check my paper copy of the AngloSaxon chronicle for the text of the entries of 883 and search my copy of Debby Banham's Food and Drink in AngloSaxon England to check on information on the use of pepper, although using Google Books to search Katherine Beckett's book turned out to be more useful. I also bought myself a copy of the Penguin Classics edition of Asser's biography of Alfred as I couldn't find a decent text online.

Otherwise everything else was done with online search. One interesting thing is that Google doesn't always turn up the best answers when searching for obscure items - Bing and Yahoo are sometimes more useful.

The other thing of course is the use of a wiki page to structure, edit and re-edit the document. Google Docs or indeed any competent word processor would have been able to do the task, but being able to have a lightweight living draft open when searching was useful.

Professionally it's been valuable - it's given me an insight as to how easy desk based research in the humanities are and how powerful and valuable online resources are.

It used to be joke that the cheapest subject to support in a university was Maths, as all they needed was chalk, a blackboard and a supply of coffee.

Well, I think I have demonstrated to myself that some humanities research requires little more than a computer and an internet connection. Less flippantly, it's also given me an insight as to what a digital humanities workspace, such as that envisaged by Project Bamboo will have to deliver, and how it will have to incorporate easy mechanisms to incorporate new and existing resources.

And Sighelm? Do I think he went to India?

I think he probably did, but whether one Sighelm went or two Sighelms went is a different question.

1 comment:

tenthmedieval said...

The Asser translation is a thing worth having anyway! But you're quite right about the new ease of this kind of fact-checking. Without it I'd never blog at all...