This was the question I had in my mind as I went into UCL yesterday afternoon, succumbing to the duty of being a research student and dragging myself to the inevitable tedium that is the Research Training Seminar. The title of this inspiring talk? “Historical Databases” . . . fascinating!
Well it turned out to be a lot more interesting than I had imagined. It was so interesting, I even stayed to the end of the first talk (which unfortunately ran longer than expected, due to questions from me, so I was unable to stay for the final speaker). The project in question was “Mechanisms of Communication in an Ancient Empire”, which again sounds useful but uninspiring which is a shame because what it actually is is the housing of the largest collection of personal correspondence in antiquity (1,200 letters) between an Assyrian King (Sargon II) and his governors and magnates; all for free, on the internet, fully translated.
What I like about the project is that they have set up two parallel sites, one being the database, the other is more user friendly website serving as an introduction to ancient Assyrian history – which you can use to access the database; have a look here.
Although they appear very dull, I am a big fan of databases if for nothing else, it saves me having to accumulate the same information from a hundred different sources! They are a great time saver and allow a vast collation of data to be at one’s fingertips. As money becomes tighter and academics are being reviewed on their impact with the outside world, it will be no surprise to find certain areas and primary source in history fall to the wayside and become harder and harder to get a hold of. What these forms of databases allow is for a free, open access to primary sources – which can only be a good thing.