This past weekend I attended the Southern History Association conference in Baltimore, my first time attending this conference. I was on a panel about work the Death by Numbers team has been doing on digitizing, transcribing, and building the computational infrastructure for the London Bills of Mortality.
The plague bills were compilations of burials, christenings, foodstuffs, and causes of deaths across (primarily) London’s parishes as early as 1592 until the middle of the nineteenth century (although our project ends in 1740). For each of the parishes, the bills counted causes of death that were generally printed as weekly broadsides, general notices posted in public spaces, or sold as handbills.
1679 Weekly Bill of Mortality. Call Number 265428. Used by permission of the Folger Shakespeare Library.
As you can see, the bills provide an immensely rich set of quantitative and geographic data. Part of how we’re handling this is to build out the computational infrastructure to store the transcriptions in a database, and retrieve that data through an API that powers our web application (which isn’t public yet, but will be soon).
Part of my presentation at the SHA was to discuss this Observable notebook showing work with the API and some preliminary data visualizations. Eventually much of that will be on the project site itself.
We have a lot of really great stuff planned for the project, and I can’t wait to start releasing more of what we’ve been working on. In the next week or two, watch for a new blog post by me at the DBN website on our data API.
There’s a lot of great things underway at RRCHNM in addition to Death by Numbers, including work on Connecting Threads, Hearing the Americas, and American Religious Ecologies. The next few weeks should mostly be about maps for Hearing the Americas and Religious Ecologies, so stay tuned.
The book manuscript is making steady progress, with plans to have it back to the press in December. Onwards!
- “There are no rules to blogging except this one: always self-host your website because your URL, your own private domain, is the most valuable thing you can own.”
- “There are people left who still love Ruby, who will tell you that Jekyll is a simple, classic, effective way to build web sites. They are lost souls.” (Longtime readers will know how much I love Ruby, and how I wish this weren’t true.)
- “You feel it, don’t you? They’re all crumbling, the platforms of the last decade. It’s unsettling, but/and also undeniably exciting. Tall trees fall in the forest, and light streams in, nourishing places it hasn’t reached in ages.”
- Over on the blog, I wrote about creativity, AI, and my concerns for the historical profession and beating Elden Ring. I also brought back a link post page (mostly out of a desire to separate essays from links in my blog’s archives), but I’m not sure how often I’ll use it yet. I wrote this little script to help me re-arrange the content.