Viewing posts for the category Database uses

Black swans, black squirrels and charter databases

What do black people who appear in Elizabethan archives have in common with early medieval charters which mention saltpans and the interrogation of a medieval transvestite prostitute? My answer would be that they’re all rare phenomena that historians might be interested in. This post considers (at a fairly abstract level) how historians can find such rare events in documentary records and the role of digital humanities in assisting this. It’s worth starting by estimating just how rare such records are. A little while ago I read Nassim Nicholas Taleb, who talked a lot about the concept of black swan events: ones that cannot be expected because they come so far outside one’s previous experience. (The name comes from the assumptions of Westerners before Australia was discovered: if all anyone has ever seen for centuries are white swans, how can you imagine that a species of black swan exists until you actually see it?)

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Church-building under Bishop Arbeo of Freising

I’ve just finished inputting the last Freising (FRE) charter from the episcopate of Arbeo (764/5–783). The database now contains about 80 charters from Arbeo’s tenure (a few more exist for the period 764–768, i.e. before Charlemagne became king). The database will ultimately contain about 320 charters from Freising; production ramps up quite a bit under Arbeo’s successor Atto (783–811), doubtless due to the fact that Charlemagne deposed the duke of Bavaria in 788 and formally incorporated the region into the Frankish kingdom. As in other instances of Carolingian conquest (cf. Lombardy), the imposition of new Frankish authorities caused considerable turmoil, as can be seen in a proliferation of dispute charters and confirmations of earlier rights. Warren Brown investigated precisely these processes in eighth- and ninth-century Bavaria, and his study remains an essential guide to Freising’s rich charter evidence [1].

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Researching Charlemagne's Europe: advocates

How exactly can ‘Charlemagne’s Europe’ be used for research? This post aims to demonstrate the different ways individuals can trawl the database for information, using the example of advocates.

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