Guest post by a high school student on work placement
As part of my work experience in February 2022, I was able to enjoy two days behind the scenes of the Lawforms project. I knew very little about Islamic history during the period the research was concerned with, and even less about the legal culture of this early Indo-Persian world, so in reading over the documents and essays and products of five years of the researchers’ hard work, I was able both to acquire new understanding of legal institutions at the time, and flesh out the framework of knowledge I had of Mughal India. Even more valuable, however, was the glimpse of what a research project truly entails, and how a researcher starts and fulfils the tasks needed on such a large project. I was lucky enough to speak to both Prof. Nandini Chatterjee, the director of the project, and Dr. Elizabeth Thelen, a post-doctoral research associate, and learn about the effort that goes into historical researching – into digging up and accessing primary sources, many of which exist only in private collections; into reading and collating notes on select secondary sources; into archival research, and honing language and transcription skills in order to translate the primary sources into idiomatic English. I’m aiming to pursue an academic career in History when I’m older, and the experience taught me in particular that the path towards completion of a historical project involves far more collaboration and interdisciplinary skill then I would have previously considered.
I was also able to go to Exeter University’s Digital Humanities department, and received the opportunity to digitise some primary sources that had previously only existed on private, piecemeal film from the eighties. As a History A-Level student, it was fascinating to learn about the processes, such as text encoding, website creation, and digitisation, that lie behind and enable historical research. I had never given much thought before to the process that lies behind accessing sources online, but the Digital Humanities team showed me how it is their critical thinking and problem solving that makes it possible to, say, scan, upload and then access a 5m medieval tapestry, or create a 3D scan of a skull for archaeological purposes. The experience also highlighted the necessity of disciplines such as Digital Humanities in a world in which, increasingly, if it’s not digital, it’s forgotten. Digitisation is a way to democratize information, an answer to the physical archives which often contain carefully selected documents and data designed to preserve a certain impression of the past. Learning about the role Digital Humanities and the Lawforms project plays in this was truly intriguing.