Information for potential research participants

Call for participants

I’m looking for people – whether amateur family/local historians, academic, or something in-between – who conduct research on people and places in England between 1600-1900AD.

I’m usually based in Oxford, and can travel to London and surrounds for interviews, or conduct them on the phone/Skype. Interviews take about an hour in a time and place that suits you, whether that’s the place where you do your research, a cafe, a library, etc.  The feedback I’ve had suggests that many people find the interviews a rewarding opportunity to reflect on their research findings and practices.

If you’re interested in taking part or finding out more, please email me at mia.ridge@gmail.com or contact me on twitter at @mia_out. Please include your name, preferred contact details, and a good time to reach you.

Who am I?

I’m a PhD student in the department of History at the Open University, working in a relatively new field called ‘Digital Humanities’, which is an exploration of applying computational techniques to humanities (e.g. literature, history, art, etc) research questions.

What I hope to learn

I’m interested in how living in a digital culture affects how researchers work. What does it mean to generate as well as consume digital data in the course of research? How does user-created content affect questions of authorship, authority and trust for amateur historians and scholarly practice? What are the characteristics of a well-designed digital resource, and how can resources and tools for researchers be improved? I hope that some of the answers to these questions could be used to improve digital resources.

My formal research question is: ‘How do academic and family/local historians evaluate, use and contribute to crowdsourced resources, particularly geo-located historical materials?’. A few terms in that list might need defining: ‘crowdsourcing’ is when work previously done by organisations is opened up to ‘the crowd’. For example, specialists used to write the Encyclopaedia Britannica, but now anyone can contribute to Wikipedia. ‘Historical materials’ include personal journals and letters; local government, education or church records; maps or physical objects – anything from the past you might use to learn more about history. ‘Geo-location’ is the process of turning place names (within the text of a document, or the record about where it’s from) into geographical coordinates.

Who I want to talk to

I’m interested in interviewing people – whether amateur, academic or something inbetween – who conduct family,biographical or local history research, particularly those working on British history from 1600-1900AD. I’d like to talk to people who’ve taught themselves or learned by trial and error as well as formally-trained historical researchers; and to those researching histories purely for their own interest or publishing for a wider audience or academic research. It doesn’t matter if you’re not technically savvy, and I’m also interested in interviewing people who prefer not to use computers.

What happens during an interview, and afterwards?

Wherever possible, I’d meet you somewhere convenient for you, ideally in the place where you do most of your research.  If it’s more convenient, we can also chat over Skype, messenger, etc.

Interviews

Interviews are pretty simple, and last about an hour. I start by explaining what will happen and check that it’s ok for me to record the interview on an audio recorder, and if you’re happy with that, I’ll ask you to sign a consent form.

I’ll start by asking some basic background questions – these will help me analyse interview responses later. Any identifying information is removed before it goes into my thesis. Most of the interview is ‘semi-structured’ – I’ll have some starting questions that I’ll ask everyone, but our discussion can follow interesting ideas and explore your answers in more detail.

What I want to ask about

Depending on the kind of research you do, the kinds of questions I’ll ask include:

  • What kind of historical research do you do?
  • What tools do you currently use in your research? (a general description of the tools you use most, then specific books, websites, archives, etc)
  • When you find a new research resource (e.g. book, website, database), how do you work out whether you’d use it?
  • When might you use a resource created through crowdsourcing or user contributions? (e.g. Wikipedia or ancestry.com)
  • How do you work out which online records to trust?
  • How do you use place names or geographic locations in your research?

Afterwards

After the interview, I’ll transcribe the interviews, and look for common patterns or issues. I may use direct quotes from interviews in my thesis or other research publications, but participants will only be identified with a code (e.g. ‘Participant A’) or brief summary (e.g. ‘experienced genealogist’).

All identifiable data will be stored securely on a university server or personal computer and access will be restricted to researchers involved in the study.

The combined results will form part of my PhD thesis and may be published in an academic journal, or presented at a conference or other academic gathering.

In summary

Participation usually takes 1-2 hours, and involves in-depth interviews, ideally in person and in the place in which most research takes place. Interviews may also be conducted over the phone or online if that’s more convenient for you.

Your participation is entirely voluntary and you are free to withdraw from the project up to the point of data aggregation or analysis. If you’re interested, I can send you my final dissertation and any relevant research publications.

Where can I find out more or volunteer to take part?

If you have any questions, or if you’re interested and available on those dates, email me at mia.ridge@gmail.com or contact me on twitter at @mia_out. Please include your name, preferred contact details, and a good time to reach you.  If you have any additional queries, you can contact my supervisors, Dr Elton Barker or Dr Deborah Brunton at The Open University.

This page was last updated in March 2014.

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