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The Hull Project

The Hull Domesday project was conceived as an electronic translation of Domesday Book, coded to identify different textual elements - names, places, categories of data - and linked to databases of Domesday names and places, a facsimile of the manuscript, and mapping facilities, all these elements enclosed in a software package which could interpret the coding. Time and resources permitting, it was hoped to add a searchable Latin text - a digital Farley - at a later stage.

The origins of the project lie in Professor Palmer's teaching interests, specifically in teaching Domesday Book as a Special Subject to third year History undergraduates from 1979 onwards. The course would not have been viable without a significant computing element, generously provided by George Slater of the Computer CentreUnder his guidance, tutor and students embarked on a crash course in databases and data analysis, aided by mapping and other graphical software written by George.

Despite the necessary initial emphasis on databases and the statistical element in Domesday Book, it was decided at an early stage that if the project was to be developed for publication, a computerised text was the first priority. The text itself has always been the focus of the bulk of Domesday research; and such is its complexity and ambiguity that statistical tables divorced from their textual environment would have limited value. Phillimore & Co generously allowed the use their published translation to explore the possibilities, and by the mid-1980s an electronic version of the Phillimore translation - together with the original Latin text as edited by Abraham Farley - had been transcribed with the aid of a team of trainee typists funded by the Manpower Services Commission.

An electronic translation was a valuable but limited resource. To exploit its potential, key elements of structure and content need to be flagged for meaning: names and places, administrative and tenurial hierarchies, pre- and post-Conquest data, categories of statistics, and other similar characteristics, as indicated by the colour coding of this entry for Luton:

 'Mark-up' of electronic sources is now routine; but for most of the 1980s there were no tools for such work, not even suitable word processors. Nevertheless, with the aid of funding from the Social Science Research Council, Dr Andrew Ayton and Dr Virginia Davis completed this difficult and painful work before the end of the decade. 

Meantime, another essential element in the project was completed with the publication in 1992 of the Phillimore indexes of People and Places in collaboration with Professor John McNeal Dodgson of King's College, London. 

Electronic versions of these indexes would later be linked to the other major elements of the project: the text, mapping, and the facsimile.

At this stage, other priorities forced Domesday off the agenda for several years; but when work resumed later in the 1990s the project benefited from the huge advances in computing resources. This allowed the inclusion of images of the Domesday manuscript, which were linked to the translation, a marked gain in scholarly value. The electronic Domesday became a digital Domesday. At the same time, the university of Hull funded Matthew Palmer to collaborate with George Slater in devising a software framework for Great Domesday. As with much else on this project, though, the bulk of work was done by Matthew and George in their own time and from their own resources. The result, Domesday Explorer, published in 2000, was awarded one of its annual medals for excellence in IT by British Computer Society in 2002.

Domesday Explorer provided secure foundations for further development. A substantial grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Board (later Council) in 2004 funded the next stage of the project, which added an electronic text of Little Domesday, a scholarly commentary on thousands of entries of particular interest or difficulty, and a statistical database for the whole of Domesday Book. This work was completed in 2007 and made available from the Data Archive; an updated edition was added in 2010.

Work has now moved on to produce a digital Latin Domesday, as envisaged by the original plan envisaged of the 1980s, when the Latin text was transcribed and archived.

For further information on the early history of the project, see Palmer, 'The Hull Domesday database project', Humanistiske Data, vol. 2/87, 4-22: clu.uni.no/info/arkiv/hd/hd-1987-2.pdf.

See also AHRC