History of Bath Research Group & the future of historical research

David Crellin


8 December 2005

In 1986 Trevor Fawcett founded the HBRG, which brings together historians researching in the Bath area. Publications based on studies of Bath Institutions, society, key individuals, etc. as well as specific local areas (such as Larkhall and Twerton), industrial history and archaeology have resulted. The speaker outlined the main activities of the group, which includes academic research, regular meetings and study visits, as well as support for individuals and organisations and the maintenance and development of archives. A list of talks given, speakers and study visits was displayed.

Mr Crellin then turned to his other topic- the future of historical research, discussing it under four main headings associated with the impact of modern technology: applications, tools, broadband and internet. He illustrated his points with a number of examples related to local historical studies:

Applications - In turn the speaker discussed image storage and manipulation (covering quantity, accessibility and presentation of data), image analysis (reductions of size and enhanced accessibility) and data retrieval systems (offering improved presentations).

Tools - Various types of hardware were discussed, including in particular cameras, scanners, printing technology and high speed computing devices.

Broadband -This recent development offers video on demand, non-localised storage and high speed computing. The speaker illustrated the advantages now available through the use of non-localised storage systems such as ‘Flickr’.

Internet - Two features in particular were discussed- online databases and ‘Wikipedia’. The online databases now cover family records, county archives and personal histories- all of some interest and use for historians. ‘Wikipedia’ offers opportunities for anyone to submit items at any time to a developing internet encyclopaedia and the speaker discussed both how it operates and how in his view such a development could help researchers.

Both the illustrations given on a number of aspects and the views expressed by the speaker were then discussed. While it was agreed that the technological developments outlined offer new and helpful opportunities for researchers, there were some reservations expressed over the validity and reliability of material offered in quantity by the various sources of information, in particular from ‘Wikipedia’. The speaker believed that the vetting procedures for all such material likely to be accessed by researchers are sufficiently robust to ensure reliability, but stressed the need for vigilance and common sense when dealing with any material subject to research. He concluded that the new opportunities opening up through the sophistication of the new technologies would be of considerable help to researchers.

Geoffrey Catchpole