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Dr Oliver Dunn

Dr Oliver Dunn

Post-Doctoral Research Associate, Cambridge Group for the History of Population and Social Structure (CamPop)

Oliver Dunn is available for consultancy.

Faculty of History
West Road
Cambridge UK

Cambridge CB3 9EF
Office Phone: 01223335314


I have roved quite a bit between universities over the last 15 years, studying and working in various positions. I started out at Bristol where I took my BA in history 2003-2006. In 2007, I found work as a research assistant with Leigh Shaw-Taylor (CamPop) on the Occupational Structure of Britain project funded by the ESRC. In 2010 I completed the Early Modern MPhil at Cambridge. After this, I left Cambridge for warmer climes to study at the European University Institute, Florence, where I defended my Ph.D. in January 2015. I received full funding here from the UK government, and I was lucky enough to be one of the last UK citizens to have this due to Brexit-linked budgetary cuts. My doctoral research was supervised here by (!): Regina Graffe (EUI), Luca Mola (EUI), Jorge Flores (EUI), and Michael Braddick (Sheffield). 

Since August 2016, I have been full-time Research Associate at CamPop where I work on economic history research projects. I work with archival sources from medieval times to our own times. I try to take advantage of new digital humanities tools, such as GIS and statistical analysis. And by applying these methods to archival sources, I have published on developments in shipping, ports, and lighthouses, in Britain from 1680-1911, co-authoring with members of CamPop and academics in Spain and the US.

I am 2019-2020 Methods Fellow with Cambridge Digital Humanities (CRASSH) where I teach advanced digital research methods to graduate researchers and staff at the university.

In recent years I have led research into automated methods to extract data from very large runs of manuscript tables and forms (like censuses) to create modern structured datasets from them. I am co-founder of a digital humanities project to do this code-named THOTH (transcription of historical objects with tabulated handwriting). THOTH is a digital pattern recognition tool that combines various machine learning processes to do this complex work.

I am co-founder of ExPLOT, an interdisciplinary network for those in Cambridge who work on geospatial analyses of historical subjects and sources.

Research Interests

British ports, routes, shipping, and trade, 1500-1914.

Development of advanced methods for the digitisation of historical sources.

Medieval and sixteenth century trade and regulation in England and Europe.

Customs and the British 'fiscal military state'.

Practices and concepts of historical corruption. 

Research Supervision

I supervise on UK maritime history topics.

I am happy to supervise on digital humanities and early modern English history subjects.


  • I am Methods Fellow with the Cambridge Digital Humanities Learning Program. For this I designed and run the following workshops:
    1. Introduction to Archival Photography
    2. Sources to Data
    3. Introduction to OCR
    4. Digital Mapping for Historians
    • Outline lectures on British Economic and Social History and special series of four lectures: Agricultural and Agrarian change.

    Other Professional Activities

    Current research I am involved with here at Cambridge:

    • Transport, policy, and the British industrial revolution, 1680-1911. Funding from Keynes Fund Cambridge (£90,000).
    • ‘THOTH’ (Transcribing historical objects of tabulated handwriting): I have trialed new methods of digitising sources of historical data using advanced computing for handwritten text recognition, automated table layout recognition, and high-definition photography. This promises rapid and cost-effective transcription of historical documents for use in large scale data collection for the humanities and social sciences.
    • Consultancy for Aviva plc working on the digitisation of their insurance archive.
    • Early population estimates for England (c. 1650). Digitisation of hearth tax and religious censuses using OCR to estimate town-level population size in Leicestershire and Hampshire. This was a pilot funded by a Cambridge Humanities Research Grant (£50,000). This pilot has now become the basis for an ESRC application.
    • Fuel prices in Cambridgeshire 1560-1800. (£4000 from Isaac Newton trust.)
    • British industrial production and energy consumption by industry in 1954 and 1963. Funded by the grant ‘Who did the dirty work? Energy embodied in European and global trade, 1800-1970’, from the Swedish Research Council.
    • Transport, Urbanization and Economic Development in England’, funded by a Leverhulme grant and the US National Science Foundation. I led research into British coasting trades and transport. I was a beneficiary of an Isaac Newton Trust grant (£50,000).
    • Statistical analysis for The History of Energy and the Environment. Joint Center for History and Economics.

    Research Networks

    • ExPLOT (; I am the co-convenor of the ExPLOT network, which is an interdisciplinary group of scholars who are exploring past landscapes using a range of digital and computational tools to research the geographies and histories of times past. In Cambridge, innovative geospatial work is being carried out in geography, history, archeology, anthropology, architecture and urban studies. ExPLOT is a forum to exchange and present results and methodologies across all these disciplines. If you are interested in these topics you can attend our events by joining our mailing list.


    • I am one of the founders of THOTH, and I work as a consultant for data extraction/transformation on several research projects ( THOTH allows researchers and institutions holding large collections of handwritten records to obtain a trasncription of their data in a directly usable dataset format.


    • Economic, Social History
    • European History
    • Early Modern History
    • Digital Humanities
    • British social history c.1600-1850

    Collaborators outside this directory

    Key Publications

    Publications (including those under review)

    • Alvarez-Palau, Eduard J., O. Dunn, Database of historic ports and coastal sailing routes in England and Wales, 2019 (Data in Brief).
    • Dunn, O., ‘A sea of troubles? Speed and irregularity in the coastal trades of seventeenth-century England and Wales’, (forthcoming: Journal of Transport History).
    • Bogart, D., O. Dunn, E. Alvarez and L.M.S. Shaw-Taylor‘Speedier delivery: coastal shipping times and speeds during the age of sail’, 2019 (forthcoming: Economic History Review).
    • Dunn, O., ‘Corrupting Practices and the New Customs of England (c.1558-70)’, online working papers Datini-Ester advanced seminar, 1/2015.

    Other Publications

    Published data-sets

    • Alvarez-Palau, Eduard J and Dunn, Oliver and Bogart, Dan and Satchell, Max and Shaw-Taylor, Leigh (2019). Historical ports and sailing shipping routes in England and Wales 1540-1914. [Data Collection]. Colchester, Essex: UK Data Service. 10.5255/UKDA-SN-853711

    Unpublished data-sets

    • Newcastle Host Accounts, full years 1590-1600. 20,000 obs. Variable given are ship names, destination ports, cargo, tolls paid, hosts and merchant names. Handwritten text recognition software was used to collect this data. (*I created this very large early historical data set created using machine learning computing tools).
    • Coastal shipping using port books spanning the period 1649-1689. 4500 obs. Variables given are ship names, ports, and voyage dates. (*This data set was also created using machine learning computing tools).
    • UK export data 1860-1914.  Approx. 10,000+ observations. Destination country. Product type. Quantity.
    • UK census of production 1954/1964. Total UK manufactures production with energy input and value of goods.
    • Hearth tax data set for Hampshire and Leicestershire. Complete population counts based on parochial Hearth Tax Assessments circa 1670.

    Working Papers (available at the following address):

    • Romola Davenport, Max Satchell, Oliver Dunn, Gill Newton and Leigh Shaw-Taylor, ‘New methodologies for the estimation of urbanisation for England c.1670 and c.1761’.
    • Alvarez, E., Bogart, D., Shaw-Taylor, L., Dunn, O., and Satchell, A.E.M., ‘Growth before steam: A GIS approach to estimating multi-modal transport costs and productivity growth in England, 1680-1830.’
    • Dunn, O., ‘A sea of troubles? Speed and irregularity in the coastal trades of seventeenth-century England and Wales.’
    • Bogart, D., Dunn, O., Alvarez, E., and Shaw-Taylor, L., ‘Speedier delivery: coastal shipping times and speeds during the age of sail.’
    • Bogart, D., Alvarez, E., Dunn, O., Satchell, A.E.M., Shaw Taylor, L. ‘Market access and urban growth in England and Wales during the pre-steam era.’