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Interviews with historians
The Silver Ships research project
Three large ships (The Salvador, the Sampson and the Saint George), of supposed Lubeck and Hamburg build and ownership, were captured by the English in 1652 with highly valuable cargos of silver bullion.
The ships were on their way from Cadiz with bullion from the Spanish West Indies going northwards. It was disputed in the English Admiralty Court as to whether the ships were bound legally for the Spanish Netherlands, or illegally for Amsterdam.
The case was endowed with political as well as commercial weight - the Commonwealth, and then the Protectorate, was keen to have the bullion declared lawfull prize, but the Spanish government contested this.
The many and varied court depositions and other English Admiralty (and English and Spanish State Paper) records give very granular and highly colourful accounts of Seville and Cadiz, Hamburg and Lubeck, the Spanish Netherlands, the by-ways between the Spanish Netherlands and Amsterdam by which bullion could be smuggled overland and by canal, and the River Thames, where the ships and sailors were held following seizure.
Thomas Violet, a rather dodgy goldsmith, was involved as an agitator on behalf of the State, and published a pamphlet pleading for reimbursement of his efforts, which supplements the Admiralty Court material on the MarineLives wiki.
The Silver Ships project was launched by participants in the MarineLives 2015 summer transcription training programme and continues to be driven by volunteers.
Click to read more about the Silver ships and the historical and legal context of the resulting disputes.
Our team based transcription programmes
We run regular team-based transcription programmes on-line, facilitated by trained team leaders, with teams of three or four volunteer associates. These programmes last ten weeks, and will take a transcriber from a novice to a confident transcriber in that space of time.
Please contact us to discuss volunteering, or to explore how we might work with your University, School or Local History Society.
Thomas Davies was a third year history undergraduate student studying at Bath Spa University. In the summer of 2014, Thomas was a member of a four person virtual team of volunteers transcribing Admiralty Court witness statements from 1658 to 1660, facilitated by Dr. Philip Hnatkovich in Pennsylvania:
"There were some challenging aspects of the programme — the main being distance. This was because we worked as a team and half of the team were based in the United Kingdom and half were based in the United States, so we had to be aware of time differences and that we would be unable to meet in person.
To combat this we used email, Google Hangouts, and Skype and made good use of all the resources available to stay in touch when working on the documents together. We had weekly calls to discuss team business. The weekly calls helped because we would talk about the problems or issues we faced weekly and how the transcriptions were to be presented covering topics such as layout or abbreviations.
The biggest challenge I faced in the transcription itself was becoming accustomed to the peculiar writing and distinguishing letters. Some letters look very similar, such as f’s and s’s, r’s and c’s not to mention t’s and l’s. I began transcribing effectively by taking it slow and working out the letters individually instead of looking at the word as a whole as we do with modern writing. I found this approach to be very effective.
MarineLives created a Bath Spa student section that helped me significantly, showing templates of letters and the different forms they have. This allowed me to tackle the many different writing styles the clerks used. Once I was able to distinguish between letters more clearly with considerable practise, I found I could transcribe enough of the page to get a good idea of what was being said in the documents. Then, I could alter words that did not fit within the context of the deposition, or using the context as a guideline as to what certain words should be."
Katherine Parker is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Pittsburgh. She is currently writing her dissertation entitled “Toward a more ‘perfect knowledge': British geographic knowledge and South Seas exploration in the eighteenth century. She participated in the MarineLives Ph.D. forum in 2013, and the MarineLives summer programme in 2014:
"On summer research trips to London in 2011 and 2012, I had looked at a few HCA documents and knew that the cases recorded in them offered rich material for social, economic, and naval history. Over the course of several skype meetings, I and other PhD students got to give our opinions about the proposed platform and methodology for transcription. Working with a team created a strong community aspect to the project from the beginning; I have always been impressed by the inclusiveness and openness that drives MarineLives. Also, it was refreshing to have my opinion valued as a PhD student, as sometimes that stage in one’s education is isolating and transitional—you are not yet qualified as an expert, but also not unknowledgeable about certain fields.
The value MarineLives placed on the voices of the PhD forum made me want to participate further, even though the works being transcribed were not strictly within the chronological bounds of my dissertation project. Thus, when the summer transcription project was created, I jumped at the opportunity to use paleographic and transcription skills I had gained after a year in London archives on a Social Sciences Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship (2013-14).
Writing styles change over time, just like clothing and furniture styles. Thus, the letters inscribed within HCA volumes from the mid-seventeenth century posed a challenge for me, as I am used to the fluid, upright cursive (often written by a trained scribe or clerk) of the mid-eighteenth-century Admiralty. I came to enjoy the challenge of squinting at the digital pages in front of me, willing the words to make sense, filling in paragraphs slowly until suddenly they all made sense."
MarineLives Digital Pop Up Lab
The MarineLives Digital Pop Up Lab started this week.
Team 1 will work on prototyping semi-automated handwriting recognition
We will explore line and text block recognition of legal documents using software tools developed by the Transkribus project. If we can get a Java coder on the team, we will embed the Transkribus tools in the MarineLives wiki. The team will work with C17th records from the English High Court of Admiralty and from the King's Bench. We will explore whether Transkribus tools can be used by volunteers to create metadata for virgin manuscripts for which there are neither existing metadata, keywords, nor full text transcriptions. We are interested in both the software and workflows required to systematise the creation of metadata and keywords to make previously "invisible" manuscript images discoverable.
Team 2 will work on tailored algorithmic search, and will prototype semantic search methods on our semantic media wiki
We will explore how historians approach historical search when they are looking for people, places and dates. We will look at search engines employed by archives and libraries such as the National Archives and the British Library, at search tools provided by digital resources such as British History online and at federated search tools such as Connected Histories. We will look at search tools, glossaries, and lookup tables on the MarineLives wiki. Our focus will be on how historians really work, and on how technology can be used to speed up and make more effective the day-to-day task of historical search.
An explicit goal of team two will be to understand the semantic properties of the MarineLives semantic media wiki. This wiki was implemented in May 2015 by one of our volunteers, Rowan Beentje. With four million words of full text, over 10,000 manuscript images and over 20,000 pages, improved search will have a dramatic impact for all users of the wiki. A number of potential semantic search plug-ins exist, and we would like our volunteers to specify the functionality our users need and to explore the appropriate semantic search solution.
Click here for background on semantic search techniques applied to the MarineLives wiki
Click here for access to the Special:Ask Semantic Query Form to query our the MarineLives wiki
Team 3 will work on visualisation techniques
We will explore how visualisation techniques can be used by historians for multiple purposes - to improve the discoverability of data, to highlight and analyse linkages in data, and to aid the comprehension of data. We will undertake an analysis of our own needs as historians and will explore how software designers have approached meeting those needs.
An explicit goal of team three is to understand the visualisation potential of the MarineLives full text corpus and to explore approaches to mining the data for visualisation applications.
We would like to explore the use an off-the-shelf Named Entity Recogniser to detect places, ships and dates, and to visualise the results in multiple ways and for multiple analytical purposes. We would like to compare this automated approach to the generation of tagged data to the hand extraction of geographical and other tagged data. We will build off earlier work done in collaboration with the Department of Informatics at the University of Mannheim. Team members will have an opportunity to work with, and improve upon, a MarineLives dataset for C17th ship sailing times between ports and dwell time in ports
For further background please use our contact form.
For information on the technical background to the MarineLives semantic media wiki and to the three teams, please look at 'Tech Talk' by our semantic media wiki designer, Rowan Beentje