Introductions and Plenary 1

Thursday 11:30 - 13:00

High Tor 2

Chair: Michael Pidd

Lessons from the Digital Panopticon

  • Bob Shoemaker

University of Sheffield

The recently launched Digital Panopticon website represents the culmination of fifteen years of collaborative work creating digital resources based on the digitised Old Bailey Proceedings.  Following the launch of the Old Bailey Online in 2003, a series of ever more complex digital resources have incorporated the Proceedings within an expanded range of resources accessed by ever more sophisticated search methods, culminating in the Digital Panopticon, a compendium of fifty datasets which allows a hundred thousand convict lives to be traced, in principle, from the cradle to the grave. Reflecting the hubris of the term ‘Panopticon’, this latest project provides good evidence not only of what can be achieved using innovative digital methodologies, but also of the limits of this type of digital humanities resource.

The Digital Panopticon is an excellent exemplar of the ability of digital humanists to work collaboratively, reuse and repurpose existing digital resources, develop new record linkage and visualisation methodologies, and create an important and freely available public resource. In less than a year it has already been consulted by fifty thousand users and used in university teaching and schools, and it is enabling groundbreaking historical research. But arguably the project did not achieve its extraordinary ambitions, constrained as it is by its web-based delivery platform, public impact agenda, and type of funding. The way forward, this paper will argue, is the creation of more flexible research-focused digital platforms that can accommodate multiple data sources, collaborators, and methodologies.