Digital Humanities research on the Gascon Rolls project

Background and overview

The Digital Humanities research on this project was part of a wider period of research into digital editing, digital publication, geospatial analysis & visualisation, semantic representation and computer-based approaches to historical research (and the humanities more generally) which started at the Department of Digital Humanities at King’s College London (then called CCH) at the end of the last millennium. This research was carried out through dozens of collaborative research projects, involving the Department of Digital Humanities at King’s College London as digital humanities research lead, and scholars at numerous other institutions directing the humanities/historical research.

The research we are describing here drew on earlier research into digital approaches to prosopography led by John Bradley and Harold Short, but the approach taken on the Gascon Rolls project was part of a decade of research which focused on text-driven approaches to historical research, modelled closely on a technology called XML which is useful for creating platform neutral and re-usable research content, and which is now widely used in publishing. In particular, this research drew on an earlier AHRC-funded project called Fine Rolls of Henry III (, and, to some extent, it influenced the technical design on another AHRC-funded project called Mapping the Medieval Countryside (, although it also drew inspiration from many other excellent projects too numerous to mention here.

The first (AHRC-funded) phase of the Gascon Rolls project led to the construction of a sophisticated technical framework for the project - which, for example, has been used to edit the rolls, to manage the information structures which model complex relationships between people, places and other ‘entities’, and to then publish them as an integrated website - while the second (with funding from Bordeaux) and third (Leverhulme-funded) phases have aimed to provide responses to the following questions:

  • How is the digital age transforming historical scholarship, with particular reference to the late medieval period?
  • How can digital tools facilitate engagement with wider audiences for historical materials?
  • To what extent does the creation of digital resources encourage cross-fertilisation with other resources in the academic or public domain?
  • How does this affect the wider research process, and the relationship between knowledge creation, information curation and data preservation?

More specifically, the research has drawn together a number of threads which characterised Digital Humanities (DH) research in this period, namely:

  • Digital editing - the changing nature of historical editing and the impact of technology in facilitating wider user engagement; the changing perceptions of the edition; the changing nature of the editor role; the impact of collaborative editing frameworks.
  • Geospatial and geotemporal modelling/visualisation - the ability to use statistical, spatial and time-based models for analysing and visualising historical source materials.
  • The future of publication - the changing face of digital publication of historical source materials, taking into account new web-based visualisation techniques and the proliferation of new devices and formats, and in particular the move to mobile and touch screen experiences of technology; the relationship between print and digital publication.
  • Managing complex information structures - semantic relationships between entities (including people, roles and places) contained within a historical corpus; alternative readings; referenceable identification; visualisation of complex relationships.
  • Making connections - connections in historical research, which typically has different historical assumptions, different influences (institutional/national/discipline-based), different origins (digital & analogue) and different technical formats (where it exists digitally).
  • The future of historical (and humanities) research - digital research environments for historical materials; interaction between digital and historical research; digital scholarship & digital ecosystems.

For further information, see Summary of DH research and Reflections