The Commodities Histories project at The Open University is developing a new online collaborative research space for sharing research news, ideas and works-in-progress about the world of commodities originating from Africa, Asia, the Caribbean and Latin America.
Dr Sandip Hazareesingh, Department of History, The Open University, is directing the project with the aid of an Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) Research Networking grant under its Digital Transformations programme.
The project held its first workshop at the OU Camden centre in September with the aims of (1) identifying an initial core group of website authors and
(2) teasing out the possibilities as well as the challenges of setting up a website geared to the sharing of research ideas, experiences and materials.
To this end, the workshop achieved a rich and rare dialogue between academic historians, digital humanities pioneers, and museum and library researchers who were able to share ideas, experiences, and problems across disciplinary frontiers.
Eminent digital historian Tim Hitchcock welcomed Commodity Histories’ interest in the world of ‘things’ as a basis for telling stories from places beyond Europe. He saw this as a timely intervention in digital scholarship where a combination of ‘big data’, bias towards textual sources and the digital divide between Europe/North America and much of the rest of the world, threatens to restore partial and positivist understandings of history and privilege politically conservative perspectives.
Bill Turkel, from the acclaimed NiCHE (Network in Canadian History of Environment) project focussed on small-scale, informal and ‘fun’ ways of introducing and sharing research initiatives with a wider community through podcasts and short videos, using for instance Flip cameras. This was further emphasised in Giorgio Riello’s talk which featured, amongst his presentation of the activities of Warwick’s Global History and Culture Centre, engaging videos on particular material artefacts.
The workshop functioned as a crucial stage in the clarification of the project’s ideas about the website, currently scheduled to go public by the summer of 2013. The importance of the community-building process that the site needs to embody and illustrate from the start (e.g. through the use of invitational language), the generation of interest from changing news items, the need to constantly remind ourselves of the site’s broadcasting function, the value of enabling the community of users to generate content in easy and convenient ways, were some of the main priorities identified by this event.
See details of the workshop here.