How do you bring 40,000 people back to life?
‘Re-Archiving the Individual’ explores how we can reconstruct historical lives from archival records on a mass scale through the development of digital technologies that bring together sources in archives about individuals.
Our research team is creating a ‘life archive’ as a tool to understand people in the past.
The project will create a publicly accessible life archive of officers in the British Army from the late 18th and early 19th century; an estimated 40,000 people who served in conflicts across the globe. We’ll explore patterns to understand what was typical about officers’ careers.
We’ll explore questions like: how long were they in the Army? How quickly – or slowly – were they promoted? Who served where and when? Who was absent from their units (either with permission or without it) and why?
This record-linking process allows the exploration of individuals at a scale that is impossible through traditional historical techniques.
As well as developing the technology we’ll explore the importance of this technology to archives looking at how we can ‘re-archive’ records in a way that offers innovative opportunities for researchers, new ways for archives to engage with the collections they hold and is more accessible to the public.
Partners and collaboration
Delivering this project involves working closely with some key partners to bridge between archives, digital humanities, and academics. The project works closely with:
- The National Archives, Kew: not only do they hold the records that we are using, but they are also the UK’s leaders for the archive sector.
- The Digital Humanities Institute, the University of Sheffield: the UK’s leader centre for digital humanities, famous for the Old Bailey Online project.
We also welcome contact from archives and museums who would like to know more about the project or may hold material that relates to our work.
Outputs and publications
Events showcasing our research:
- 25 March 2023: ‘Family and social connections of British Army officers’ commissions, 1790-1820’ at the Alliances in the history of armed conflict, 1642-present conference at The National Army Museum. Book via The National Army Museum website. Read more about the research and conference on the news page.
- 21 April 2023: ‘Personal and Personnel: Military Records 1790-1820’. Hands-on workshop at The National Archives. Read more about the workshop on the news page.
- 17th July 2023: ‘Data Workshop: British Army Officers, 1790-1820’, held at the University of Leeds. To find out more and reserve a place, please view the event description here.
The project includes future opportunities to engage with the project and the database, including:
- Launching the life archive database at The National Archives (September 2023)
- A one-day engagement event, including talks, workshops, and wikithon (January 2024).
Planned resources and publications
Our planned project outputs include:
- A public database on British Army officers, 1790-1820
- Workshop reports
- Two journal articles about Army officers and their records
- A toolkit for archives about life archive technology
The research in this project will also underpin a book-length study of British Army officers in the era.
In the News
- The Guardian: Mystery of Waterloo’s dead soldiers to be re-examined by academics
- Funding success to develop new ways of reconstructing historical lives