Domesday Reloaded project: The 1086 version

  • 13 May 2011
  • From the section Technology
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I've spent much of this week looking at the Domesday Reloaded project, a fascinating exercise in recovering a slice of our history from a technology black hole.

The team behind it have scraped the data from those giant laser-discs used for the 1986 Domesday project, and put it online.

The hope is that the web - which came along after the project - will prove a more reliable home for the information than those discs.

Now, though, I've been contacted about another exciting Domesday project. Anna Powell-Smith e-mailed me to tell me that she had taken the original Domesday Book, the survey carried out for William the Conqueror, and put it online.

This was made possible because in the 1980s a CD-ROM of the book was produced, with images of the original text. The academic behind that project, Professor John Palmer, allowed Anna to use his non-copyright photos.

The National Archives, where the Domesday Book is kept, has something similar on its website, but with a less intuitive interface - and you have to pay to download any images.

On Anna's site, I zoomed in on my neighbourhood and found these facts about nearby Greenford in 1086:

  • Households: Nine villagers. Seven smallholders. Six slaves. Three cottagers. One Frenchmen.
  • Ploughland: Seven ploughlands (land for). One lord's plough teams. One lord's plough teams possible. Five men's plough teams.

With all of this data now available, the site looks as though it will prove an invaluable resource for historians - or for anyone interested in life in the 11th Century.

So there's an interesting contrast between the technology of the two Domesdays. The BBC version used laser-discs to store the data - and that proved an expensive and rather fragile format, almost impossible for most people to access a few years down the line.

Whereas the medium used to store the original book, paper, has proved much more enduring, as has the CD-ROM, which came on the scene just too late for the BBC project.

But the two great technology innovations which enable projects like this are the web and the more recent trend to allow more access to all kinds of data without worrying too much about copyright.

I can almost hear Tim Berners-Lee chanting "raw data now" to his TED audience last year.