Repost: Wallography

Originally posted here, January 2005.

In 1682, a satirical little book about the Welsh was published: Wallography, or the Britton described, by “WR”, an English clergyman named William Richards.* It purported to describe, first, a journey from London to the Welsh borders and then the “State and Condition, the Nature, Humours, Manners, customs, and mighty Actions” of Wales and its inhabitants. It’s not an altogether popular book in Wales; laughing at Wallography is a slightly guilty pleasure… though some might say that that’s the best kind. (Although it doesn’t just take aim at the Welsh and ‘Taphydome’. Much of the book, in fact, is an equally gleeful send-up of English country-dwelling caricatures.)

As for the Inhabitants [of Wales], they are a pretty Sort of Creatures, which, when we saw, we were so far from stroaking them with the Palms of Love, that we were almost ready to buffet them with the Fist of Indignation. They are a rude People, and want much Instruction…

We were much surprized at the Thoughts of their Rank, and did not suspect so much Gentility among such a Peopl; when we saw so many Coats without Arms, we could not imaging they had any with them, but fancy’d they had more Need of a Taylor than of Clarentius, and of a Prick-louse to stitch up and compose their Breeches, rather than an Herald to blazen their Families.

Ahem. (That mockery of the combined poverty and ‘pretensions’ to gentility of the early modern Welsh is a common theme amongst the English, who did not quite comprehend that for the Welsh status had long been rather more about lineage than wealth and display.)

Richards also had great fun with another stereotype of the Welsh, that of their hot temper and inclination towards both quarrelling and litigation. (Combined with comments on the behaviour of ‘pettifogging’ lawyers that was by no means exclusive to the Welsh. Or, of course, the early modern period.)

They do not always observe the Rules of Justice in their Punishments; oftentimes chastising one Body for another, and so misplace their rigour on the undeserving; as will be very evident from this following Instance: A certain Taylor ferrying over a River in their Country with a diminutive Nag; the Steed never using to travel by Water, and wondering that he stood still and mov’d, was possess’d with Fear, and made some Disturbance on the Boat, to the great endangering of the Passengers; The Welshman, being in Jeopardy, was fir’d with Anger, and without any Wings he flew on the Taylor, and revenged the Injury of the Palfry on poor Prick-Louse. The Stitcher swaddled the Scrupling Horse, and Taphy beat the Stitcher, to the great Diversion and Grief of the Spectators. …

Most of their Indictments are generally the tragical Effects of some dismal Counterscuffle, where a bloody Nose and a broken Shin is ample Matter for the Commencement of a Suit; for, they being of a fiery Temper, sometimes Choler is kindled by an Antiperistasis with a Pot of Ale; and then they fall to biting and scratching as hard as they can drive, and the Wounds of this Caterwauling and Bickering afford Stuff for an Action the next Day; which, being once got into the Pounces of a Welsh Attorney, is dandled into a Business of no small Aggravation. Oh! how these Pettifoggers will hug a Buffeting, and improve a Squobble! They are the very Bellows of Contention, and will soon blow a Spark into a great Combustion. They are a Kind of Tinkers in the Law, who usually make Holes on Purpose that they may mend them; nay, sometimes they will play at Loggerhead themselves to set others together by the Ears, and so (as if Fighting was contagious) will infect the Taphies into Quarrels and Blows. …

Yet it is tremendously funny, sometimes perceptive and frequently “deliciously ambiguous”.** You can easily find nastier and cruder examples of this sort of Welsh-baiting from the late 17th and early 18th centuries; indeed the book draws on a well-established tradition of abuse of the Welsh by the English (this is long before Wales became a Romantic holiday destination). And it’s regularly quoted by early modern Welsh historians. Who could deny the truth of this?

The Country is mountainous, and yields pretty handsome Clambering for Goats, and hath Variety of Precipice to break one’s Neck; which a Man may sooner do than fill his Belly, the Soil being barren, and an excellent Place to breed a Famine in.

The most regularly quoted passage from the book is about the fate of the Welsh language (that it was “being English’d out of Wales”). But the quote is usually wrenched out of its fuller context, which is much more subtle and ironic in tone. (English learners of Welsh everywhere will appreciate the problems you experience when you get some of those Welsh polysyllables stuck in your throat.) And what are we supposed to make of the author’s attitude to the language? On the one hand, to be much admired as a language of ‘sincerity’ and ‘purity’, with English a ‘barbarous’ intruder; on the other, ‘native gibberish'; yet again, those in the towns who ‘despise it’ are ‘puffed up’ snobs. Does the author approve of the ‘glimmering hopes’ that it may become extinct, or is that to be taken as the view of those puffed up townsfolk and gentry who are turning their backs on it? (This is probably exaggerating for effect the extent to which Welsh was being ejected from gentry households at that time, but it is true that English was the language of high status, politics, law, learning, necessary in order to ‘get on’.)

That, which we admir’d most of all amongst them, was the Virginity of their Language, not deflower’d by the Mixture of any other Dialect: The Purity of Latin was debauch’d by the Vandals, and was Hun’d into Corruption by that barbarous People; but the Sincerity of the British remains inviolable. ‘Tis a Tongue (it seems) not made for every Mouth; as appears by an Instance of one in our Company, who, having got a Welsh Polysyllable into his Throat, was almost choak’d with Consonants, had we not, by clapping him on the Back, made him dis-gorge a Guttural or two, and so sav’d him. They usually liquefy the most rugged Mutes, and soften ‘em by Pronunciation… Whether the Welsh tongue be a Splinter of that universal one that was shatter’d at Babel, we have some reason to doubt, in regard ‘tis unlike the Dialects that were crumbled there; however, whether it be kin or no to other country Speeches, it matters not; but this we are assured of, it is near and dear to the Folk that utter it, who are so passionately fond of it, that they will scarce admit another into the Embraces of their Lips, which sputter forth a Kind of loathing of our English Language; wherein, if a Question be ask’d them, they will, with somewhat of Disdain and Choler, make Answer, Dim Aiffonick, i.e. no English. Their native Gibberish is usually prattled throughout the whole Taphydome, except in their Market-Towns, whose Inhabitants being a little rais’d and (as it were) puffed up into Bubbles above the ordinary Scum, do begin to despise it. Some of these being elevated above the common Level, and perhaps refin’d into the Quality of having two Suits, are apt to fancy themselves above their Tongue, and when in their t’other Cloaths, are quite asham’d on’t. ‘Tis usually cashier’d out of Gentlemen’s Houses, there being scarcely to be heard even one single Welsh Tone in many Families; their Children are instructed in the Anglican Idiom, and their Schools are paedagogu’d with Professors of the same; so that (if the Stars prove lucky) there may be some glimmering Hopes that the British Lingua may be quite extinct, and may be English’d out of Wales, as Latin was barbarously Goth’d out of Italy.

…………….

* If you’re looking it up in a library’s rare books collection (there’s no modern edition), it was republished in subsequent decades under a variety of titles, often in compiled collections, eg John Torbuck, A collection of Welsh travels, and memoirs of Wales (1738 and later editions); Dean Swift’s ghost (1753). For those with access, it’s available at EEBO.

** I’m borrowing that phrase, and some the arguments, from Michael Roberts, ‘ “A Witty Book, but mostly Feigned”: William Richards’ Wallography and perceptions of Wales in later seventeenth-century England’, in Archipelagic identities (eds. Philip Schwyzer and Simon Mealor). Declaration of interest: Michael was my PhD supervisor.

Ten Years of Blogging

… and I never did manage to come up with a more imaginative name for the blog.

So, what did blogging do for me? It brought me a lot of new friends and acquaintances who taught me many new things; gave me a new outlet for less formal writing than academic publishing, with a wider audience; got me started on the road to being a digital historian. I may not post so often these days, but it’s still here for me whenever I want it.

It’s been a helluva lot of fun.

To mark the occasion, I’ll repost some old favourites over the next few days.

Data And The Digital Panopticon

Originally posted on Criminal Historian:

The view from my seat at the DP data visualisation workshop
The view from my seat at the DP data visualisation workshop

Yesterday, I went to All Souls College, Oxford, for a data visualisation workshop organised by the Digital Panopticon project.

The project – a collaboration between the Universities of Liverpool, Sheffield, Oxford, Sussex and Tasmania – is studying the lives of over 60,000 people sentenced at the Old Bailey between 1780 and 1875, to look at the impact of different penal punishments on their lives.

It aims to draw together genealogical, biometric and criminal justice datasets held by a variety of different organisations in Britain and Australia to create a searchable website that is aimed at anyone interested in criminal history – from genealogists to students and teachers, to academics.

This is a huge undertaking, and it is no wonder that the project aims to harness digital technologies in making the material accessible to a wide audience. But how could…

View original 530 more words

Carnivalesque 100: the World We Have Lost/Gained edition

Snowball fight (detail), c. 1500, from the Walters Art Museum
Snowball fight (detail), c. 1500, from the Walters Art Museum

I started blogging in about May 2004, near the end of the early phase of the history of blogging, although the history blogosphere and academic blogging was very much in its infancy. The very first blog carnival (begun 2002, I think) was the Carnival of the Vanities, a weekly US-oriented political blogs roundup. It spawned various imitators; I found none of them very interesting. But by summer 2004 carnivals for scholarly subjects were beginning to emerge, and these did grab my attention.

My primary inspiration was the Philosophers’ Carnival (which is still going strong too, I’m pleased to say). Carnivalesque began as an early modernists’ carnival, and widened out to take in the medieval and ancient worlds a bit later. Some of the blogs of the first edition in September 2004 are long gone now, although nearly all of the posts mentioned there can still be located. Even where the blogs no longer exist or are inactive, many of those bloggers are still to be found blogging away, somewhere.

Digital and Physical Media, Medieval+Modern

Dorothy Kim wrote at the group blog In the Middle about being a medievalist on Twitter and live-tweeting conferences

As a manuscript specialist, I spend a lot of time looking, reading, transcribing, and thinking about the physical manuscript medium. I am obsessed with the marginal and interlinear glosses and commentary as I am with the main text in a manuscript. If the medieval manuscript is a recording medium that allows scholar now to see the conversations and connected marginal glosses of individual readers, then twitter is the digital medium that replicates this practice the most but with comments all the time and in real time for individual thinkers.

At the Folger’s group blog The Collation, Goran Proot traced the mysteries of a 17th-century pamphlet.

The text is a response to another pamphlet and it indicates neither a place of publication nor a printer. But the flyleaves used by the binder of this little book tell a nice little story about the bookseller’s scene in Mechelen in the beginning of the 19th century.

Erik Kwakkel asks: What is the Oldest Book in the World? But first, what is a “book”?

Zachary Fisher of Shaping Sense chronicles his developing experiments in making woodcuts.

Laura Sangha has a mini-series of posts at The Many-headed Monster on an Exeter exhibition of ‘the spirit of adventure and enterprise of south west people’ during the Elizabethan period.

New and Old Worlds

I think my favourite new discovery for this edition was Medieval POC (Tumblr) and its slightly more sedate companion Medieval POC.

The focus of this blog is to showcase works of art from European history that feature People of Color… to address common misconceptions that People of Color did not exist in Europe before the Enlightenment

It’s almost impossible to choose one post from the tumbling cornucopeia, but I loved this late-16th-century Italian Portrait of a Young Black Man.

The consistently brilliant British Library’s Digitised Manuscripts blog brought us an Old World View of the New World. This 16th-century Spanish manuscript includes among its vividly detailed miniature an illustration of a Spanish expedition to America in 1530, with the unsettling text, referring to Indian cannibalism (trans.): ‘The Indians, who until now had gorged themselves on human flesh like wild and untamed beings, by the virtue and sovereign power of Charles have been domesticated’. A follow-up post took an even older view of the new world in images of the edges of the known world and unknown world in earlier medieval manuscripts.

Samir S. Patel explores the archaeology of the Stone Towns of the Swahili Coast .

S.J. Pearce strikingly juxtaposes Convivencia, the Medieval Mediterranean and the San Francisco Unified School District at Notes from the Life of a Medievalist.

And an old early modern blogging friend, the Historianess, brought us up to date with her shiny new Atlantic World syllabus.

Science and Technology

A much loved old online friend, the Renaissance Mathematicus, also reached a milestone this month with 500 posts, including this Christmas post about Kepler’s thoughts on snowflakes.

The Corning Museum of Glass’s blog Behind The Glass had a post on Antonio Neri, the 17th-century Alchemist, glassmaker and priest by Paul Engle, who also blogs about Neri’s life and times at Conciatore.

Neri is famously known as the author of the first book devoted to the subject of making glass—L’Arte Vetraria, 1612.2 He has often been considered a mysterious figure, steeped in the intrigues of alchemy and transmutation.

Rohit Gupta of Kali & The Kaleidoscope posts about The Age Of Re:discovery and an upcoming online workshop in the history of science, exploring ancient and pre-modern navigational techniques.

Sex, Sexuality and Marriage

Notches is a new group blog on the history of sexuality. A cracking inaugural post is from Katherine Harvey on Bedsharing and Sexuality in Medieval Europe:

One of the biggest challenges facing medieval historians, and perhaps especially historians of medieval sexuality, is interpreting the actions of individuals at a remove of several centuries… For many modern readers, the fact that the two men shared a bed can mean only one thing: they were having a sexual relationship.

At Irish History Podcast blog there is a guest post by Finbar Dwyer, using a 1306 court case as a starting point for a discussion of prostitution in medieval Ireland.

Judith Weingarten of Zenobia: Empress of the East explores a remarkable series of sensuous golden pendants in Sex Play in Ancient Canaan (part 2, part 3).

Perfume and gold … and the image of a woman (left) reduced to her simplest female essences: face, breasts, navel, and a decidedly hairy pubic triangle.

The Scribe Unbound has a look at Marriage in the Margins of manuscripts from the wonderful collections of the Walters Art Museum.

Classical Wisdom Weekly delves into The Dirty World of Ancient Graffiti.

what sort of thing lined the walls of the shops, houses, brothels and public buildings of these ancient towns before they were paradoxically destroyed – and preserved – from the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD?

Pain, Life and Death

At Early Modern Medicine Sara Read discusses Lady Elizabeth Hervey’s experiences of Rheumatism and Joint Pain, while Jennifer Evans has a post at the Perceptions of Pregnancy blog on the pain relief options for a woman in labour in the early modern period.

Sam Thomas guest posts at Susanna Calkins’ blog on death and the seventeenth-century midwife.

While we (rightly) associate midwives with bringing life in to the world, for several centuries midwives also sent people out. Most obviously, thanks to comparatively high infant and maternal mortality rates, midwives saw their share of death in the delivery room. But this is just the start, for midwives were key players in England’s legal and judicial system, and when a woman came into contact with the law, whether as a victim or a suspect, a midwife often was on the scene.

Samantha Sandassie at the newish blog Panacea explores the importance of networking and patronage to early modern medical practitioners.

At the beginning of the 17th century, the College was faced with a troublesome surgeon who proved that even frequent and flagrant flouting of College strictures could be attenuated by patron power.

David Meadows, the Rogue Classicist, looks at a recent story on Head-Hunting Romans.

Food (and Festive Gluttony)

At Research Fragments, Jonathan Green discusses prophecies discovered inside herring caught by fishermen in the Baltic or North Sea in 1587, which also inspired an anonymous parody a year later.

Ask The Past has advice from 1687 on How to Make Fake Bacon, while 18thC. Cuisine has a recipe for Royal Saucissons.

For those waking up after the Christmas and New Year festivities, Dr Alun had a post on the early modern history of “detoxing”.

Postscript: Then and Now

Another Damned Medievalist (Cesque #1 post) has been blogcrastinating. (Hang on, wasn’t she doing that in 2004 as well?)

Brandon Watson (Cesque #1) is still posting regularly at Siris and recently started a series on Prayers written by early modern philosophers, starting with the French Cartesian philosopher Nicolas Malebranche (1638-1715).

Konrad Lawson (Cesque #1) and George Williams (Cesque #1) can both be found at the group blog ProfHacker (for ‘Teaching, tech, and productivity’) these days. Konrad recently posted on Open Access publishing; George has some tips for 2014.

Henry Farrell (Cesque #1) is still an active member of Crooked Timber.

Miriam Jones (Cesque #1) occasionally surfaces at scribblingwoman2 and blogs more often in her role as President of the Association of University of New Brunswick Teachers (AUNBT) .

Natalie Bennett (Cesque #1) still blogs at Philobiblon from time to time, including posts about early modern women, when she isn’t too busy being the leader of the Green Party.

* * *

Many thanks to the people who sent nominations, and to all the bloggers who make it possible!

The next Carnivalesque will be at Anchora on or about 8 March.

If you enjoyed this, you might also enjoy…


This could have been a much, much longer carnival. Blogging isn’t dead yet, whatever you might have read somewhere recently (though commenting on blogs might, sadly, be on its last legs…). Just like the people who do it, it continues to grow and evolve. So here’s to the next 100 Carnivalesques, whatever they may look like…

New project, new people: the Digital Panopticon

Starting a new project is exciting and intensely busy (which is also my excuse for taking a month to blog about it). And the Digital Panopticon is the biggest one we’ve done yet.

‘The Digital Panopticon: The Global Impact of London Punishments, 1780-1925’ is a four-year international project that will use digital technologies to bring together existing and new genealogical, biometric and criminal justice datasets held by different organisations in the UK and Australia in order to explore the impact of the different types of penal punishments on the lives of 66,000 people sentenced at The Old Bailey between 1780 and 1925 and create a searchable website.

The Panopticon, for anyone who doesn’t know, was a model prison proposed by the philosopher Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832): “a round-the-clock surveillance machine” in which prisoners could never know when they were being watched. In Bentham’s own words: “a new mode of obtaining power of mind over mind, in a quantity hitherto without example”. Although Bentham’s plan was rejected by the British government at the time, there were later prisons built along those lines (Wikipedia), and the panopticon has become a modern symbol of oppressive state surveillance and social control.

Bentham criticised the penal policy of transportation and argued that confinement under surveillance would prove a more effective system of preventing future offending. One of DP’s basic themes is to test his argument empirically by comparing re-offending patterns of those transported and imprisoned at the Old Bailey. But it will go further, to compare the wider social, health, generational impacts of the two penal regimes into the 20th century.

Technically, DP brings together a number of different methods/techniques we’ve worked on in various projects over the years: digitisation, record linkage, data mining and visualisation, impact, connecting and enhancing resources, with the goal of developing “new and transferable methodologies for understanding and exploiting complex bodies of genealogical, biometric, and criminal justice data”.

However, it’s a much more research-intensive project than the ones we’ve done recently, and that’s reflected in the depth and breadth of the seven research themes. These are based on three central research questions/areas:

  • How can new digital methodologies enhance understandings of existing electronic datasets and the construction of knowledge?
  • What were the long and short term impacts of incarceration or convict transportation on the lives of offenders, and their families, and offspring?
  • What are the implications of online digital research on ethics, public history, and ‘impact’?

What’s also exciting (and new for us) is that we’ll have PhD students as well as postdoc researchers (adverts coming soon). Lots of PhD students! Two are part of the AHRC funding package – one at Liverpool and one at Sheffield – and the partner universities have put up funding for several more (two each at Liverpool and Sheffield and one at Tasmania, I think).

The first at Sheffield has just been advertised and the deadline is 2 December (to start work in February 2014):

The Social and Spatial Worlds of Old Bailey Convicts 1785-1875

The studentship will investigate the social and geographical origins and destinations of men and women convicted at the Old Bailey between 1785 and 1875, in order to shed light on patterns of mobility and understandings of identity in early industrial Britain. Using evidence of origins from convict registers and social/occupational and place labels in the Proceedings, the project will trace convicts from their places of origin through residence and work in London before their arrests, to places of imprisonment and subsequent life histories. Analysis of the language they used in trial testimonies will provide an indication of how identities were shaped by complex backgrounds.

Spread the word – and watch this space (and the project website) for more announcements soon!

PS: the project is on Twitter: follow at @digipanoptic

A Zotero resource, and bibliographies online – revisited

Earlier this week, I led a one day course on using Zotero at the British Library (part of their Digital Scholarship training programme for staff) – many thanks to James Baker for the invitation.

It was a very hands-on course, starting with the assumption that most people there would never have used Zotero before, and gradually building up in difficulty. We packed a lot in in one day and the approach seemed to go down well.

James also generously agreed to me opening up the web resource I put together for the course (in PmWiki) for public consumption. It contains most of the exercises we worked through during the day – they are quite strongly BL-oriented, with plenty of my favourite topics (naturally…) but I think more generally applicable – as well as selected examples of the different kinds of things people and projects have done and are doing with Zotero – from teaching, group collaboration, research management, plugin development, publication, integration with other resources, and so on.

And so, here it is, under a Creative Commons license – use, re-use, mix, borrow and adapt if you’d find it useful!

ZoteroWiki

Additionally, I found lots of interesting things while I was preparing the course, so I put them into a Zotero bibliography – well, what else?! – and made it into a public group, which Zotero users are very welcome to join and add to:

Managing Digital Research

I found myself answering the question “Why Zotero?” with some personal history, quite a bit of which was chronicled here on this blog over the years.  It occurred to me that I’ve been trying to manage references since my undergraduate dissertation more than 15 years ago, and I’ve been publishing bibliographies online for more than a decade (in the firm belief that it’s one of the most useful small things scholars can do for each other and for students). I’ve been through:

  • index cards (u/g and MA dissertations)
  • a homebrewed MS Access database (for my PhD secondary sources)
  • Endnote (for a while, but only because I got it cheap from my uni)
  • BibDesk (which I still use to some extent)
  • CiteULike
  • LibraryThing
  • Connotea, Mendeley, and probably other things of that ilk
  • Semantic Mediawiki (interesting but too much hard work)
  • wikindx (still in use, but probably phasing out soon)
  • Aigaion
  • and quite a few other things used so briefly I’ve forgotten them…

When I did my PhD research in the early 2000s, I put sources I wanted to quantify in an Access database; secondary references in another one; transcriptions in word documents (slightly later, they ended up in a different text database); all separate objects, hard to relate to each other. Even though most of my PhD sources haven’t been digitised (and probably never will be), today with Zotero I would approach much of that task quite differently. OTOH, my interest in references in recent years has more often been to do with how to publish large bibliographies online and keep them up to date. Well, Zotero covers that too.

So, for me Zotero has won the contest, hands down. A few of the tools listed can perhaps do specific things better than Zotero, and most of them are just as free (several are open source), but none of them is as versatile and powerful while being so easy to use and to customise. (Wikindx, for example, is excellent, but you need to be able to install a MySQL database and really to understand a bit about PHP and web apps.)

Zotero provides much more than just “reference management”. It isn’t just that you can quickly save and archive lots of different kinds of things you find online, but also that you can use it to manage research as a process, with changing needs over time – right through from collecting sources to analysis and writing and publishing.

In 2009, when Zotero was in its infancy – before much of its cloud and collaboration features existed, or they’d only just begun to develop – and I’d barely used it (just 42 items in my 3000+ library were added before 2010), I blogged about the impossibility of online collaborative bibliographies. Hahaha!

On Wednesday, I created a Zotero group live during the course (that took about a minute), and in the space of half an hour about six people, most of whom had never used Zotero at all before that day, put about 30 items in it, and added notes and attachments, ranging from news articles and reviews to youtube videos. (At the other end of the scale, of course, there are Zotero groups creating major resources for their communities.)

Sometimes it’s great to be proved so completely and utterly wrong.

Even in that 2009 post, I see that I added a comment wondering if Zotero could be the solution to the problem. Maybe, too, the discussion we had about the decision to turn the RHS British and Irish History bibliography into a subscription service could look very different now.

Save Us From Carousels

I ranted on Twitter a while ago about the fad for auto-rotating carousels, sliders, changing images, and whatever, on homepages for academic and cultural sites. Quite a few people seemed to agree with me. Well, the nasty things have not gone away since then. Quite the opposite, it seems: every other digital project, research centre, or library collection appears to have decided that its homepage simply must have some bloody great flickering, twitching gizmo taking up a large chunk of the screen. (I haven’t looked, but I have dark suspicions that some of this infestation is down to WordPress plugins just making it too damn easy.)

Why am I on a homepage? Because I’m getting my bearings, especially if it’s my first visit. I want to know what the site contains of interest to me. And I want to do this quickly so I can get to the good stuff. I’m not going to wait for a carousel to go round, like it’s a TV screen, in the hope it might eventually display something useful to me. In fact, my first reaction on realising it’s one of those is generally “Arghh!! Scroll away NOW!!” So any utility it has is pure chance: if the very first panel it displays happens to be of interest to me, and stays there long enough to let me read it and click on it, I might click on it.

Naturally, I find it hard to believe most people don’t agree with me. But perhaps I’m wrong. Perhaps there’s loads of usability research backing up this design concept that says I’m the weirdo: most people love watching website carousels go round, find them useful entry points to a website and noooo, not distracting at all.

So I went looking around. First thing: you know what? Most developers hate them too. Second: there doesn’t actually seem to be very much empirical data, certainly not any scholarly research, though there’s plenty of anecdote. There are quite a few examples of developers and commercial UX-y people saying “yeah, we ran tests and people found them annoying”, but no numbers. I’ve found a few designers who love them because they look “cool” and “slick” and suchlike twattishness. I’ve yet to find one real website user with a good thing to say about them.

Still, what data there is says: most people don’t use them, lots of people don’t like them,  and they can actually make it harder, not easier, for people to find useful information. Users tend to blank them out as irrelevant (“banner blindness”), but worse, they make it physically harder to focus on the information around them. Flickery moving things are distracting: whodathunkit?

Accordions and carousels should show a new panel only when users ask for it. Otherwise, it should stand still and let users read the information in peace, without having the rug yanked from under them. As our user said about Siemens’ big rotating box: “I didn’t have time to read it. It keeps flashing too quickly.”

While it’s obviously less annoying, I think a standard static carousel is pretty much useless, like a new version of Mystery Meat Navigation. I want to get information, not play a “Guess what’s next?!” game. I’m not going to use it. Still, at least I’m not going to swear at you while trying to make my escape as rapidly as possible. (Though I quite like ‘accordion’ style designs with text labels that open up. Having something to tell me what’s hiding under there makes all the difference.)

“Approximately 1% of visitors click on a feature [on a static carousel on one of the ND sites]… Of these clicks, 84% were on stories in position 1″. An auto-rotating carousel on another ND site did rather better: just under 9% of visitors clicked through, with the first feature shown averaging 40% and the rest ranging from 18% down to 11%. But those are still pretty small numbers for something that’s going to piss off a significant proportion of your site visitors, aren’t they?

Reason #1: Human eye reacts to movement (and will miss the important stuff)

Reason #2: Too many messages equals no message

Frost argues the real reason we get carousels is primarily political:

From universities to giant retailers, large organizations endure their fair share of politics. And boy does that homepage look like a juicy piece of prime real estate to a roomful of stakeholders. It’s hard to navigate these mini turf wars, so tools like carousels are used as appeasers to keep everyone from beating the shit out of each other.

Also…

A final thing, for people on academic projects planning websites. E-commerce sites and the like have plenty of money for regular website re-designs and refreshes. You won’t. If you don’t want your site to look tired and dated within months it’s in your interests to avoid fads and gimmicks on your homepage. And when it’s a fad that will irritate a substantial proportion of your site visitors, and be useless to nearly all of them, please JUST SAY NO.

Digital history blogs

I compiled a quick list very recently for someone who was looking for introductions to digital history and people doing digital history work. And having done it, I thought I might as well share it.

Firstly: in one respect, this is a broad tent – some of these people are strictly speaking in literature or historical linguistics. But the boundaries are fuzzy, and what they’re doing is relevant to historians’ research too.

Secondly: but in another, it’s a fairly narrow subset of digital historians who blog – people who are posting about digital tools and techniques that they’re using, things they’re building, practical hacks and code, reflections on the process and the results they’re getting from doing those things.

Thirdly: it was put together very quickly from my RSS feeds and Twitter favourites. Who am I missing? (Feel free to plug your own blog.) What group blogs should be included?

  • Bill Turkel – “computational history, big history, STS, physical computing, desktop fabrication and electronics”
  • Tim Sherratt – “digital historian, web developer and cultural data hacker”; Invisible Australians
  • Adam Crymble – large-scale textual analysis; 18-19th century London
  • John Levin – mapping and visualisation; 18th-century London
  • Jean Bauer – database design and development; late 18th/early 19th-century USA
  • Jason Heppler – hacking/scripting (Ruby evangelist); 20th century USA
  • Caleb McDaniel – hacking/scripting; American abolitionism
  • Chad Black – hacking/scripting; early Latin America
  • Lincoln Mullen – databases, R; religion in 18-19th-century America
  • Fred Gibbs – mapping, metadata, textmining; medieval/early modern medicine and science
  • Jeri Wieringa – textmining; American religious history
  • Ben Brumfield – crowdsourced transcription software (software developer, family historian)
  • Heather Froehlich – corpus linguistics; early modern drama and gender (lit/lang)
  • Ted Underwood – “applying machine learning algorithms to large digital collections” (lit)

Not recently active so I nearly forgot about them…

Because I really do have a terrible memory (sorry…)

More via Twitter (thanks @paige_roberts, @wynkenhimself)

From comments (thanks!)

Labels are a bit random, I know: just for a flavour of what people do. Tidying up might happen later.

early modern crime, women, digital history…