CANCELLED Digitising the Humanities: Understanding Formal Negotiations - Dr Nicholas Cole - 31 March

This event has been cancelled due to the measures taken to prevent the further spread of the coronavirus covid-19. Updates on future events will follow once we receive new guidelines. 

This event is a part of the GhentCDH Digital Humanities Research Lab's Digitising the Humanities lecture & workshop series. Participation is free, registration is mandatory via this link. Library Lab (31/03/2020 14:00-17:00)


Since the sixteenth century, laws, treaties and latterly constitutions have been increasingly negotiated by groups of people in formal settings, rather than being written by one or two individuals and then accepted or rejected by larger groups, as had been the practice since the ancient world.  These formal processes evolved from practices in the English Parliament, and have been codified and adapted to suit local needs by legislative assemblies globally.  A feature of these negotiations is that they are intricate and detailed, and are able to function because of detailed record-keeping.  They often take place across extended periods of time.  The 4,543 words of the United States Constitution took 55 people three months to draft in the summer of 1787.  A model of their discussions requires at least 2,600 separate events representing amendments considered and decisions taken, and reflecting the work of 13 different committees.

This talk discusses the Quill Project ( and, a platform for the study of these negotiations.  It will discuss the nature of the sources typically available to historians, the difficulties they present with regard to interpretation, and the ways in which digital modelling can generate more secure insights into the nature of specific negotiations or the process of formal negotiation across time and place.  It will discuss the technologies that the project has used, as well as its success in engaging undergraduate students in its research projects, and will discuss both the publicly available material relating to Federal and State Constitutional law in the US, and also the pilot projects we have undertaken on U.N. documents, French Revolutionary Assemblies, or the contemporary work of the British Parliament with respect to Brexit.

Dr Nicholas Cole


Dr Nicholas Cole studies the political thought of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and the history of democratic institutions. 
His particular interests are the influence of classical political thought on America's first politicians, and the search for a new 'science of politics' in post-Independence America. 

He runs the Quill Project on Negotiated Texts, based at Pembroke College, which studies the creation of constitutions, treaties, and legislation.   The Quill software platform (developed with colleagues at the Oxford e-Research Centre) presents a recreation of the original context within which decisions about these texts were made.  The flagship work of the project is a presentation of the records of the Constitutional Convention of 1787 that wrote the Constitution of the United States and a variety of other projects are planned or in progress.  See for further details.

Dr Cole teaches American History and the history of political thought and supervises graduates working on the history of institutions, political thought and classical reception.  He runs the TORCH (Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities) network on Negotiated Texts (



This talk is generously support by the UGent I@H intiative