Historiography Hack

When you're an undergraduate, the majority of your essays require you to read around a particular issue, and essentially review/condense the opinions of other historians into an essay, comparing, contrasting, reviewing, and then adding in a little of your own flavour as well. We already have the established pattern of footnotes to provide references (links?) back to the original sources (primary/secondary). What I'm interested in is - what does a 'web-native' essay of this style look like? I don't think it's just a block of text with clickable footnotes (a la Wikipedia), but something a bit more - each argument/idea by a historian should have a URI, and the essay is essentially a Web of links between historians, ideas, events etc etc. So, history essay + linked data/semantic web = what? Something to explore.. (hack idea by Paul Rissen -


Reverse of this idea, brought to my attention by Tom Scott - auto generate 'typical' undergraduate essays by finding out which historians/works are most often cited for a topic..


BigDate Hack

The Javascript Date class (and in fact just about all temporal data on the web) is derived from the ISO8601 specification. This spec models the Gregorian calendar. This makes working with historical dates prior to 1582 (when the Papal Bull reformed the Julian calendar) complicated and error prone. I'd like to see an expanded Date class / library to simplify working with historical dates beyond the Gregorian calendar. Here's a couple of posts that explain the problem in a little more detail: and . UPDATE: thanks to @pigsonthewing for pointing me to EDTF Looks like there's some progress being made at last on historical dating. {Hack idea by John Dalziel @crashposition }



Augment your Facebook Places checkins with handy tips about Blue Plaques nearby where you are and where you've been.


Connect with Facebook, download all the historic checkins of a user and their friends. Compare the lat/longs of their places with the Blue Plaque database, and show the user relevant Blue Plaques near where they've been recently. Perhaps display these on a map, or create a relevance score based on frequency of visits, proximity of FB Place to Blue Plaque location and recentness of visit. 


Secondly, use the FB realtime API to get updates whenever a user checks in somewhere. Compare each new checkin location with the Blue Plaques DB, and notify the user by SMS, FB message or email that they've just checked in near a Blue Plaque, and send them the synopsis of the Plaque - makes you look really cultured when you're out with your friends. (idea by @sicross)



A game about visiting every Blue Plaque in the UK, compete against your friends and team up with others to compete to visit as many Plaques as you can. A combination of game mechanics, checkin services and education.


Build an HTML5 mobile app which shows you Blue Plaques near you, and lets you check into them. Shows you a leaderboard of all users, and how many Blue Plaques your friends have checked into. There are three main components: and HTML5 mobile app, a web site, and the backend which manages the data, handles geospatial queries and handling fresh Facebook data. (idea by @sicross)



A old (ish) idea, take out-of-copyright books, in particular Victorian novels set in London, extract the real world places and people from them and link them to each other and to wikipedia/freebase. Thus being able to discover that Sherlock Holmes may have met Dorian Grey, or that speaker's corner features in dozens of novels. Creating the links that would have been there if the internet had existed when they were published. Additionally generating external links from historical sources to the books, eg from the newspaper reviews of the time to the books too. (hack idea by Gavin Bell  @zzgavin )


History Viewer (on mobile)

A location based app that allows you to move through history and see/read how a place has developed.  Not a single image (as witht he London Museum one) but with more information, both text and images. More information


Crowdsourced transcription of historical documents

The Old Weather project is crowdsourcing transcriptions of worldwide weather observations, and other events, recorded in ships logs made from the Royal Navy around the time of World War I. These transcriptions will contribute to climate model projections and improve a database of weather extremes. Historians will use the transcriptions to track past ship movements and the stories of the people on board.


Old weather is a fantastic model for how crowdsourced transcription of data might work. How about an open-source toolkit that will allow me to make scans of documents available for transcription (in chunks) and which provides the slippy-map-style UI for reading text and an old-weather style interface for transcribing. It should also allow multiple transcriptions of the same chunk to ensure accuracy. [Hack idea by Matt Patterson @fidothe]


(Transcribe Bentham - - has a mediawiki plugin for this, that they have promised will be released under a FLOSS license. We should certainly nag them to get a move on and do so. There's also From The Page - - and CHNM are working on something as per this announcement: John Levin, @anterotesis )


Pepys' theatre trips

Samuel Pepys went to the theatre quite a bit - e.g. he's seen the Tempest three times in two months - (the premiere of the Dryden version: ), and - and many others e.g. - and it'd be nice/interesting to in some way link that up with Theatricalia and get more historical theatre data. -- Matthew Somerville, @dracos


On This Day

There are quite a few sites offering an 'On this day' feature, listing historical events that occurred on a particular calendar day. For example, the BBC - - and wikipedia has a similar category, e.g. This could be developed by:

1: Knocking up some code making it simple to deploy a personalized version

2: Listing and aggregating available APIs

(hack idea by John Levin @anterotesis)


Dates In Context

A rough idea from Jez (@jnicho02): Often, a date e.g. 1713 doesn't mean much to me. However, if you put it into a context like British monarchs ("the last year of Queen Anne") or historical events, it might have more meaning. I'm not asking for a full list of everything that may have happened in that year, just a single pertinent historical fact that I might know about already.


Of course, context is in the eye of the beholder and it would need to be localised, e.g. if you are French then you'd probably favour French kings of British monarchs.


Ye Top Trumps

Dead simple: Top Trumps for historical characters. Finding the right metrics to battle on might be difficult... Standard ones like length of life, year born and such are a little dull. Other, possibly more fun statistics might be:

How current they are (mentions in Google News results in the past year).

How interesting they are (via references in Google Books).

How significant they are (number of streets named after them).


Thinking about it, if the metrics are dynamically calculated (and change over time) then choosing your team of historical figures could become a game within a game... more like Pokemon. Players would have to ask themselves questions like "Who, from the kings of England, do I think would have the highest popularity?" or "Which Egyptian pharaoh is the most interesting?". Perhaps players could be asked to pick their pack by pasting in Wikipedia links. Then they play their pack against someone else's. Part Mastermind specialist subject, part Top Trumps, part Pokemon.


Mike Stenhouse (@mikesten)


History In 3D

I am planning to spend the time learning how to create 3D models of historical buildings, battle scenes or whatever else historical comes to mind, in Google Sketchup.


The images can be viewed in Google Earth or (more excitingly) in augmented reality using


No major plan....just messing about with 3D modelling and AR. If you want to join in then:



- Jez Nicholson (@jnicho02) 


Dynamic Visualizations of World History

Many wikipedia articles have geographic coordinates. Many deal with historic events. If we can find the subset of articles that have both we can create a dynamic visualization of Wikipedia's view of world history. With any luck we'll be able to see migrations, wars, the discovery of continents as the result of plotting many tiny data points.

This idea is obviously inspired by the Facebook World Map ( However, ours would be animated, building up the picture gradually. For example, there probably won't be many articles in the
Americas until 1492, but after that, you should see the shape of America emerging as a collection of dots, each representing some historical event that someone thought was worthy of a Wikipedia article.


Gathering the data will be quite challenging. My brief investigations suggest that you can't use the wikipedia API to get this data, but instead it will involve a lot of scraping and analyzing individual pages. I'd like to work with at least one other person who has some good ideas on how to get this done. I'm going to be working in either Python or Java. I see two basic approaches, which could be combined:

I would really welcome help from at least one HTML 5 guru in putting together the visualization in a form which would display in a modern browser. Anyone who'd like to have a crack at the data with another visualization tool would be welcome.

It's late in the day, but do get in touch if you want to:

Possible extensions: