My Needs (by James Hester)

Ready access to a wide range of historical data covering various topics.

The key resource for most effectively doing what I’m trying to do is historical data. Although a long-term aspiration of mine, I do not yet possess an encyclopedic knowledge of the whole of human history.  :slight_smile: I know, I know. I’m working on it.

My formal training is as a Medievalist, so the period between, say, 500 and 1600 is the period about which I can comfortably ‘talk shop’. Before and after that, I need to hit the books. Access to distilled essences of historical events, trends, etc., with which I  can search for relevant bits and then go off and dig further in that particular area, would be wonderful. Apart from Wikipedia, however, I am not aware of such a thing. Any thoughts?

Access to current events news in a digestable form.

The CIA (and I’m sure likewise all the other big intelligence orgs) produces a Cliffs Notes of everything significant that has happened in a given day, every day. I would love to have access to a similar digest. Again, this would allow me to seize upon particulars and investigate further as needs be.

Access and introductions to organisations to which my insights would be useful.

Using historical insights to examine current events or decide on future courses of action is nothing new. Experts have done this casually since times immoral. However,  I am so far  aware of only a small number of individuals trying to make use of what I call ‘Applied History’ in any really concentrated way.

Those that do, I have noted two traps they seem to fall into all too often: 1) They admit into their ranks only those who are ‘academics’ (PhD minimum); 2) They tend not to stray any earlier into our past than a couple of centuries at most. Both of these traps have the potential to leave useful insights out.

I heartily welcome others who are trying to do this as well, and would dearly love the opportunity to collaborate with them.

Funding to continue my work unimpeded.

This is fairly self-explanatory. Until I started getting sfunding/contracts to do this work, it will remain something I can only do on my spare time, the majority of which will be taken up trying to stay fed and housed.

Care to help?

If you want to see more of what James does

is a talk that James did at the #TRUTHandBEAUTY event series in London. I’ll talk about T&B in a future EdgeRyders post.

Absolutely agree on the “current situation cliff notes” - I think there’d be a ton of room for some kind of news wiki that worked that way. Is there one?

Here’s one but it’s a bit crap, can’t quite explain what it’s missing, but it seems too narrow in some ways, and too general in others. Not enough input? Not enough editorial skill highlighting stories? Perhaps there’s more going on in the newsroom than we think.

News is a more complicated product than it looks like.

What can’t you know Andrew O.

HI James,

Every now and then I have the good fortune of listening to a presentation by Andrew Odlyzko. He’s a mathematician, but has an intense fascination with specific historial big events and the stories  and individual fates of which they were composed. Like the building of the railway or postal infrastructures. He knows them very very well, and then in attempting to address or undertand something contemporary he draws parallels to what happened then…the actors involved, the intrigues etc. It’s very effective, an somehow a perspective that is missing for me a lot of the time:\

Is this kind of what you were thinking about? except maybe outside academia?

Hi Nadia,

Ooh, yes.

Hi Nadia,

Ooh, yes. Fascinating stuff. I must look further into this chap. It’s always good to find people who are thinking about this stuff in this way. The more the merrier.


This is truly fascinating an account. Let me rephrase:

Stuff that you need to make Applied History happen

  • access to knowledge (old)
  • access to knowledge (data, new)
  • access to meta-knowledge (knowledge about Applied History and what it is good for) by other people that could make use of it
Funding is immaterial, because if people and organizations know about you and understand it, some of them will pay you to do your thing. 

So it’s really all based on free or very cheap access to knowledge. I wonder how many of these the Internet made in principle viable.

Truth. And very succintly put.

Data is the big need, yes. And you’re absolutely correct that the Internet has made getting ahold of such things much much easier. The trick, as both Vinay and I have lamented in the past, is finding a source that distills everything that’s out there (mainly current events news, since I know where to look for historical data) into easily-digestible, all-in-one-place content, and is good at doing that as well. Such a source would be the holy grail, and alas Wikipedia doesn’t quite suffice in this case.