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.

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, Technology correspondent 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 ;-)


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