Last Friday (10th September) marked the official launch of the NEMN Seminar Series for 2021-22 and we were very excited to have Mikki Brock (W&L University, Virginia) and Chris Langley (Newman University), the project co-directors of Mapping the Scottish Reformation, join us to discuss their brilliant digital humanities project. They also shared some fascinating  insights into how early modern scholars might approach and engage with digital projects.

Mapping the Scottish Reformation (About Mapping the Scottish Reformation) was officially launched in 2020 and the search tools enable users to track information on the growth, movement, and networks of the Scottish clergy between 1560 and 1689. The scale of the project means that it has provided answers to questions that were previously speculated on by historians, such as the average time a minister served in post-Reformation Scotland.

The project enables scholars to identify broad patterns or to ask more specific questions about individuals and events. These intuitive search tools have been made possible because of a huge dataset drawn from Manuscript sources (over 10,000 pages!) held by the National Records of Scotland (Driving Our Data.) Brock and Langley emphasise that while traditional archival methods were unable to answer the questions of the project, ‘fidelity to the manuscript’ remained at the heart of the project. 

The aims of the MSR project speak more widely to the importance of the digital humanities as a research tool. The seminar highlighted how a digital project can help you to identify and ask fundamental questions about your research and, as such, it should be understood as a method that enhances research questions rather than an ‘add-on’ to an existing project. 

MSR has also taken a clear and influential stance on interoperability (being open, raw data.) While many digital humanities projects keep their systems behind a screen (meaning that they are only useful within the parameters that the designers intended) Mapping the Scottish Reformation has been designed to ‘interact with future projects that we are not involved in.’ As digital history projects continue to develop and grow this will be undoubtedly important!

This brief introduction to MSR  is a summary of the NEMN seminar and if you would like to learn more about the development, approach and direction of the project then click on the links to the MSR blog we have provided throughout. We also highly recommend heading to the website and having some fun with database! Mapping the Scottish Reformation.

Has MSR got you excited at the prospect of developing your own digital project?

If so, the seminar provided some fantastic advice … 

Start small. If you have an idea for a project then begin by creating a sample dataset using existing software and a smaller number of sources. This will help to visualise how the project will work in practice and can provide evidence for grant applications. 

Collaboration is key. Reach out to people! And draw on technical expertise and support. 

Be mindful of your audience. Seek advice from the people who will use the data (within and outside of academia.) The questions that come from outside perspectives will help to shape your overall aims. 

Adaptation is essential. Unexpected findings can lead the project down a new path or they might require practical changes to the way data is displayed.

Many thanks again to Mikki Brock (@MikkiBrock) and Chris Langley (@Chris_R_Langley) for their time and insights. 

We look forward to seeing you all at next month’s seminar (15th October) when we will be joined by Joseph Hone (Newcastle) who will give a paper on ‘Robin Hog and the Printers.’

Nicole (NEMN) 

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