The Richard Deswarte Prize in Digital History

I was very thankful for the opportunity to sponsor the first iteration of the Richard Deswarte Prize for Digital History, in memory of a much-missed friend and colleague who passed away in 2021. The first award of the prize was made to Pim Huijnen and Joris van Eijnatten for their outstanding article, ‘Something happened to the future: reconstructing Temporalities in Dutch Parliamentary Debate, 1814–2018’ (now available Open Access.)

The prize was awarded at a special session of the Digital History seminar at the Institute of Historical Research, of which Richard was a founding convenor (video here). As chairman of the judging panel, it fell to me to say a few words, which I reproduce here:

“It was a measure of the esteem and affection in which Richard Deswarte was held that the idea of honouring him in some way emerged spontaneously in several minds at once, and very soon after his passing, and soon there was a team of colleagues and friends associated with the IHR and this seminar willing to carry it out. Today sees the fruition of that scheme, with which (I think I can safely say) Richard himself would have been delighted. It was my privilege to chair the panel of judges.

“Back in early 2011, when Richard and I were among the first group of convenors of this seminar, there was a strong feeling that the seminar should do something different. There is always room in digital history, as I see it, for experimental work with a new tool or approach, the main importance of which is as a report of technical success or failure. But at the time we wanted to encourage the kind of digital history work that also aimed to contribute to its particular field – to be more than a hammer in search of a nail. Both of those approaches were encouraged in the call for nominations for the Deswarte Prize. But it is a great encouragement to me to see just how much work there now is that embodies both approaches: a most welcome sign of a kind of maturity in the field.

“As a panel of judges, we were presented with a feast of new work. It came from authors from across the world; it employed methods that were tried and tested, and others that are only emerging; it involved sources of all kinds, from the digitised to the born-digital; it was delivered in formats from the traditional article to datasets and interactive websites; it spoke into the historiographies of many periods and many countries. As a panel we decided to commend in particular the entry placed second, “Beyond Guanxi: Chinese Historical Networks“, a special issue of the Journal of Historical Network Research edited by Henrike Rudolph and Song Chen. But the winning entry – ‘Something happened to the future’ – impressed the panel a great deal, with its compelling interweaving of methodological sophistication with a far-reaching intervention in the historiography of the period. It exemplifies the kind of impact digital history can have on the discipline as a whole, and is a worthy tribute to the memory of a dear friend and colleague.

There is also a site set up in memory of Richard, gathering together memories and tributes to him, Remembering Richard Deswarte.