Virtual Research

Mark Knights and a team of colleagues introduce a new method of working for researchers and students.

Digital communication has revolutionized the way we teach and study history. Students and teachers have access to huge amounts of electronic resources. Those of us working in the early modern period can download a quarter of a million printed works published between the invention of printing and the end of the eighteenth century. The British Library, the National Archives and others have very helpful, searchable online catalogues. Historical journals are increasingly available in electronic as well as print formats. All this facilitates learning and research, and reduces the archival advantages once enjoyed by Cambridge, Oxford and London over provincial universities. 

The communications revolution may be changing all this. I want to explore one way in which history – and indeed other subjects – might develop. I am involved in a project, funded by the Joint Information Systems Committee and the British Academy, to create an electronic forum for early modern research. This forms part of an ‘e-science’ agenda: a term that is perhaps alien to many historians but with which they might want to become much familiar for the opportunities it offers.

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