An international draw

The college hosted an international conference of historians harnessing the power of computing to analyze historical account books and financial ledgers for new insights on daily life in the past and on long-term economic trends that shaped historical events.

The two-day gathering of historians—MEDEA: Modeling Semantically Enriched Digital Editions of Accounts—reflects the growing interest in the digital humanities, an emerging field in which Professor of History Kathryn Tomasek has taken a leadership role.

The conference at Wheaton was funded by grants from the U.S. National Endowment for the Humanities and the German Research Foundation (DFG) awarded to Professor Tomasek and her colleagues Georg Vogeler of the University of Graz in Austria and Katrin Pindl of the University of Regensburg in Germany.

The Wheaton gathering, which followed a similar session held in Regensburg in October, drew researchers from across the U.S. and abroad who are working on a range of financial documents–from medieval German municipal records to the household accounts of President George Washington and the family of presidents John Adams and John Quincy Adams.

“Our goal for the workshops is to build a community of scholars who are working to create semantically enriched accounts,” Vogeler said.

The collaboration is already bearing fruit, Tomasek said. “On the second day of the conference, the graduate student of my Japanese colleague presented on how the “transactionography” idea that my co-author Syd Bauman and I published in the Journal of the Text Encoding Initiative can be extended beyond the account books of a private business to examine the exchanges between nations.” 

The success of the conference in advancing related research projects and stimulating new explorations has led the team to plan for more sessions beyond those anticipated by the original grant, Tomasek said.