Domesday Reloaded project: The 1086 version


Domesday Project producer Alex Mansfield shows Rory Cellan-Jones life in the UK as recorded by the 1980s project

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.

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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.

Rory Cellan-Jones Article written by Rory Cellan-Jones Rory Cellan-Jones Technology correspondent

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  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    Data is data, digital or analogue makes no difference to whether the medium will retain the information or not. A smashed up or microwaved CD is no more playable than a melted wax cylinder and in fact without the codex, the digital format may well be undecodeable in 100/1000years time. We may be storing everything on the "cloud" and 240v AC may be as obsolete as gas lighting or we might be extinct

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    We have to remember that the laser-disc was around at a time when data storage was severely limited, limited access to the resource, and before the Internet. Today there are many ways of having data readily available for other formats, and over time if those technologies change, so will that data to the new format. Open projects are always useful in these instances.

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    @ robbon (continued)

    Of the items you quote, you are comparing an analogue storage *medium* with a digital storage *format*. There is absolutely no reason why you cannot encode and store a jpeg or an mp3 on a wax cylinder.

    A more accurate comparison would be to compare a wax cylinder with a CD. Of the two a CD is far more robust, yet wax (which melts easily) cylinders are still playable.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    Hi robbon,

    Actually, digital data is far more robust than analogue. Each element is either true or false. Analogue data is far more complex. Its easier to determine if a degraded storage location is true or false than it is to determine if, for example a degraded letter is an E, L or F.

    And, if you are storing for posterity, error correction makes the data even more robust.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    Cheers Cowherd

    I think there's a fundamental difference between analogue and digital longevity though. Compare say a microfilm versus a jpeg, or the wax cylinder v an mp3 and consider the environment necessary to make sense of each. The digital relies on far more.

    Anyway, let's settle this properly. Meet back here in 100 years time and let's see ... whoever is right wins an 8" floppy disk ;-)

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    @ robbon.

    If I came across a CD in 100 years time I would, most likely, just poke it in a CD player. There are still players for just about every kind of media since wax cylinders for the Edison phonograph.

    If I came across a CD in, say 1000 years, it wouldn't take a lot to determine how the data is encoded and build a player from scratch.

    Stupid 400 char limit means I can't explain more :-(

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    "No reason why modern media cannot last ... if preserved in the right environment."

    It's far more complex than that though. It's not solely about preserving the digital media. If you came across the CD in 100 years time how would you play it? What operating system will it work under? What format have the files been written in? All of these issues that affected the last digital Domesday project.

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    No reason why modern media cannot last as long as paper or stone if preserved in the right environment. The last time I checked xylophagous insects didn't find CDs terribly toothsome.

    Add to that that the fact that many digital formats have built in error correction, and it takes seconds to transcribe them before they degrade, makes the Neo-Luddites, here, look rather silly.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    All technology has a shelf life. No technology will last forever. Even vellum rots and stone erodes - it is just that digital technologies have minuscule shelf lives. Get used to it.

    The language we use develops and changes quite quickly. The error with the (BBC) Domesday project was hubris and ignorance of these basic facts.

    The best way is to carve your data in stone - in several languages

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    Been using the Domesday Map site for a while to reference wikipedia articles - an excellent source for that purpose if nothing else. Lots of good stuff on both projects. The insight into individual lives from the 80s project is fascinating too.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    What a pointless fuss about nothing. If you wanted to preserve a record for future generations then use a ... BOOK. Like the original.
    - made from sustainable materials
    - uses no power to operate
    - readable by anyone with no special equipment
    - colour pictures, graphics and text
    - true random access (try the index...)
    - proven 700-900 year lifetime

    Modern 'Technology' = ephemeral and trivial

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    Looked up where I live, it was a large village with 27 households paying a very large 12.9 geld tax. not much bigger now but the tax is still very large. Thanks to the person who made this accessible.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    This is brilliant news. Other data online for free are the 1641 Depositions from Dublin relating to Ireland at the time of the Great Rebellion and the English Civil War. In contrast, National Archives have farmed out the State Papers online to a private company who charge institutions crippling fees for access and refuse to allow any access for individual researchers!!! A national disgrace!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    I'm not too familiar with the Domesday Project. But that was before my time and in a completely different country. I would like to see how certain areas have changed as thinga build up.

    Side note. OMG Square Enix was hacked. Ah the world is coming to an end. Stupid hackers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    I looked up a set of data my dad did in 1986. Comparing the os maps I couldn't. See any changes - but then it was rural south west Scotland. Where I now live in east midlands there are new houses, industrial estates, motorway junction, and dual carriageways. Wonder if os could produce a map based on new-old to see only changes and reveal most and least changed.



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