Fine Rolls in Print and on the Web: A Reader Study

poster / demo / art installation
  1. 1. Arianna Ciula

    King's College London

  2. 2. Tamara Lopez

    King's College London

Work text
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A collaboration between the National Archives in the UK,
the History and Centre for Computing in the Humanities
departments at King’s College London, the Henry III Fine Rolls
project ( has produced both a digital
and a print edition (the latter in collaboration with publisher
Boydell & Brewer) of the primary sources known as the Fine
Rolls. This dual undertaking has raised questions about the
different presentational formats of the two resources and
presented challenges for the historians and digital humanities
researchers involved in the project, and, to a certain extent,
for the publisher too. These challenges, and the adopted
solutions for the two types of published resource present a
novel starting point from which to examine how the artefacts
of digital humanities are used.
This poster will report on the progress to-date of an ongoing
exploratory study that examines the information-seeking
behavior of historians, with the aim of developing a clearer
picture of how research is conducted using sources like the
Calendar of Fine Rolls. As with other digital humanities efforts
(Buchanan, Cunningham, Blandford, Rimmer, & Warwick; 2005),
this study focuses on the ways in which interactions occur
using physical and virtual environments, and in particular on
the ways in which the components of hybrid scholarly editions
are used in combination to answer research questions. A
secondary pragmatic component of the study seeks to adapt
methodologies from the fi elds of information seeking research
and human-computer interaction to the evaluation of digital
humanities and in particular, to the Fine Rolls of Henry III
project resources.
Reading the Fine Rolls of Henry III
The two publication formats of the Fine Rolls of Henry III
are drawn from the same data substrate. Given the nature
of the materials, reading is expected to be the primary
activity performed using both. A stated design goal for the
project is that the two publications will form a rich body of
materials with which to conduct historical research. Our fi rst
research goal is to establish the context for work done using
historical sources like the Fine Rolls: to establish the kinds of
research questions asked, to articulate the methods followed
in answering these questions, and to develop profi les of the
researchers who perform the work.
Given the heterogeneity of the materials and the different focus
of each medium, the question arises whether the materials do
in fact form a single body of work, and how the experience
of using them comprises a continuous experience. It suggests
that working with the texts will of necessity also involve
periods of information seeking: moments encountered while
reading that give rise to questions which the material at hand
cannot answer and the subsequent process embarked upon
in order to answer them. We hypothesize that to fi ll these
information gaps, readers of the Fine Rolls will seek particular
text in the alternative medium to fi nd answers. To answer a
question about a translation found in a printed volume, for
example, we suggest that the researcher will seek the image
of the membrane in the web edition in order to consult the
original language of the text.
Having established the impetus for using the two formats
together, one questions the effectiveness of particular features
of each medium in creating bridges between the formats. One
implicit design goal of the project has been to optimize the
movement between states of reading (within a medium) and
moments of seeking (between media). Our fi nal research goal,
therefore is to discover the ways in which design choices taken
in each facilitate or hinder movement between the website
and the books, thereby enriching or diminishing the utility of
the body of work as a whole.
As suggested above, our analytical framework for evaluating
the experience of reading the Fine Rolls of Henry III is drawn
from the fi eld of information seeking behavior research, and in
particular by the conceptual framework developed in Brenda
Dervin’s Sense-Making Theory (Dervin, 1983 as summarized by
Wilson; Wilson, 1999).
Our methodological approach will similarly be guided by data
collection methods established in this fi eld. Structured in three
phases, our study will fi rst identify a representative sample of
scholars from leading institutions who perform research using
sources like the Fine Rolls. In the fi rst phase of data collection,
we intend to use established fi eld and (where necessary) online
questionnaires to establish the kinds of research questions
asked of materials like the Fine Rolls, and to articulate the
methods followed in answering these questions. Given the
hybrid nature of the Fine Rolls edition, we will seek to elicit
comments on the use of secondary, primary and surrogate
(web, microfi lm and microfi che) formats.
A phase of analysis will follow in which we develop profi les of
the researchers who perform this kind of work to identify the
information seeking features that exist within materials related
to a range of different tools, such as indexes, search engines,
front matter materials, printed catalogues and fi nding aids, and
the perceived strengths and weaknesses of doing work with
existing support materials. As the fi nal part of this stage, we
will identify a series of open-ended research questions that can answered using the Fine Rolls materials. These questions
will be formulated to encourage use of a range of formats and
informational features of the components that comprise the
Fine Rolls resource.
Given our focus on a single scholarly edition and our
corresponding pragmatic need to develop an understanding of
the effectiveness and utility of same, the third phase of our work
will utilize established usability testing techniques to evaluate
project resources. Drawing upon the profi les developed in the
fi rst phase of data collection, a sample of representative users
of the Fine Rolls materials will be selected. In a series of guided,
task-based sessions, participants will be asked to answer the
research questions formulated during analysis. Data collection,
expected to include a combination of direct observation and
interview will be used to quantitatively identify the information
features of both editions that are used to answer research
questions. To generate a more qualitative assessment of the
effectiveness of the features, users will be encouraged to
“think-aloud” (Preece, Rogers, & Sharp.; 2002, p. 365) about
the process and their observations will be recorded.
Sample size permitting, sessions are to be held to evaluate use
of the book only, the web materials only, and both web and
With this research, we hope to elicit specifi c information
about design improvements that can be made to support
information seeking activities that span the Fine Rolls digital
and print materials, and to articulate general heuristics that
can be used in the design of other hybrid digital humanities
publications. With our focus on a single scholarly edition, we
also contribute to work begun elsewhere (Buchanan, et. al.;
2005) to explore how established methods for evaluating
the use of digital materials can be adapted and applied to
the work of humanities researchers. Finally, we contribute to
understanding of the evolution of the scholarly edition as a
resource that extends beyond the self-contained print edition,
and of the deepening interdependence between humanities
research activities in digital and traditional environments.
[1] The fi rst volume was published in September 2007 (Dryburgh et
al. 2007).
[2] Our understanding here will both draw upon and contribute to
the dialog regarding use of electronic sources by humanities scholars
begun elsewhere, see e.g. Bates, Wiberley, Buchanan, et. al.
Bates, M.; Wilde, D. & Siegfried, S. (1995), ‘Research practices
of humanities scholars in an online environment: The Getty
online searching project report no. 3’, Library and Information
Science Research 17(1), 5--40.
Buchanan, G.; Cunningham, S.; Blandford, A.; Rimmer, J. &
Warwick, C. (2005), ‘Information seeking by humanities
scholars’, Research and Advanced Technology for Digital Libraries,
9th European Conference, ECDL, 18--23.
Dervin, B. (1983), ‘An overview of sense-making research:
Concepts, methods, and results to date’, International
Communication Association Annual Meeting, Dallas, TX.
Dryburgh, P. & Hartland, B. eds. Ciula A. and José Miguel Vieira
tech. Eds. (2007) Calendar of the Fine Rolls of the Reign of Henry
III [1216-1248], vol. I: 1216-1224, Woodbridge: Boydell &
Jones, A. ed. (2006) Summit on Digital Tools for the Humanities:
Report on Summit Accomplishments. Charlottesville, VA:
University of Virginia.
Preece, J.; Rogers, Y. & Sharp, H. (2002), Interaction design:
beyond human-computer interaction, Wiley.
Siemens, R.; Toms, E.; Sinclair, S.; Rockwell, G. & Siemens, L.
‘The Humanities Scholar in the Twenty-fi rst Century: How
Research is Done and What Support is Needed.’ ALLC/ACH
2004 Conference Abstracts. Göteborg: Göteborg University,
2004. <
Wiberley, S. & Jones, W. (2000), ‘Time and technology: A
decade-long look at humanists’ use of electronic information
technology’, College & Research Libraries 61(5), 421--431.
Wiberley, S. & Jones, W. (1989), ‘Patterns of information
seeking in the humanities’, College and Research Libraries 50(6),
Wilson, T. (1999), ‘Models in information behaviour research’,
Journal of Documentation 55(3), 249--270.

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Conference Info


ADHO - 2008

Hosted at University of Oulu

Oulu, Finland

June 25, 2008 - June 29, 2008

135 works by 231 authors indexed

Conference website:

Series: ADHO (3)

Organizers: ADHO

  • Keywords: None
  • Language: English
  • Topics: None