Dr Oliver Buxton Dunn

Research Associate with the Cambridge Group for the History of Population and Social Structure (CAMPOP) and the Centre for Research in Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH).
Cambridge Digital Humanities Research Associate.

I am a Research Associate at the Cambridge Group for the History of Population and Social Structure, which is a research group split between the History of Geography Faculties at the University of Cambridge. I am also an Associate of Cambridge Digital Humanities. My research is in the field of Economic and Social History and in Digital Humanities. My research has focussed on the (very) early modern British fiscal state, coastal shipping, and port infrastructure using quantitative methods, and now machine learning technology for the extraction of massive historical datasets from manuscripts at low cost. 

I have a bachelor's degree from the University of Bristol, a master's degree from Cambridge, and my Ph.D. was from the European University Institute, Florence, granted in early 2015.

Since 2016, I have lived in Cambridge with my wife and children.

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

Development of advanced methods for the digitization and transcription of historical sources of data.

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

Customs and the British 'fiscal military state'.

Practices and concepts of historical corruption. 

I can supervise on maritime history topics and the digital humanities.

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

    Current research I am involved with here at Cambridge:

    • Consultancy for the UK National Infrastructure Commission (collection and analysis of historical transport data).
    • 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 digitizing sources of historical data using advanced computing for handwritten text recognition, automated table layout recognition, and high-definition photography. 
    • Consultant for Aviva plc working on the digitization of their insurance archive.
    • Early population estimates for England (c. 1650). Digitization 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.

    ExPLOT (www.explot.org); 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 (www.thothtranscription.org). THOTH allows researchers and institutions holding large collections of handwritten records to transform these into large structured data sets.

    Key Publications

    Publications (including those under review)

    1. Dunn, O, Bogart, D., AlvarezPalau, E.J. and ShawTaylor, L. (2021), 'Organizations and efficiency in lighthouse provision: the English case revisited', submitted to Economic Inquiry.
    2. Litvine A., Dunn, O., Data set for French Historical Light Aids to Navigation (F-LAN) covering the period 1775-1929. Submitted to Data in Brief, 2021.
    3. Bogart, D., Dunn, O., AlvarezPalau, E.J. and ShawTaylor, L. (2020), Speedier delivery: coastal shipping times and speeds during the Age of Sail †. The Economic History Review. doi:10.1111/ehr.13004
    4. Dunn, O. Eduard J. Alvarez-Palau, ‘Dataset for historical lighthouses and light aids to navigation (LAN). England and Wales, 1514–1911’, Data in Brief, Volume 31, 2020, 105991, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.dib.2020.105991.
    5. Dunn, O., ‘A Sea of Troubles? Journey Times and Coastal Shipping Routes in Seventeenth-Century England and Wales’, 2020, The Journal of Transport History. https://doi.org/10.1177/0022526619886061
    6. Alvarez-Palau, Eduard J., O. Dunn, ‘Database of historic ports and coastal sailing routes in England and Wales, 2019 Data in Brief. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.dib.2019.104188
    7. 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

    1. Litvine, A., Dunn, O. (2021). French Historical Light Aids to Navigation (F-LAN), 1775-1929. [data collection]. UK Data Service. SN: 854607, http://doi.org/10.5255/UKDA-SN-854607
    2. Bogart, Dan, Dunn, Oliver, Alvarez-Palau, Eduard, Shaw-Taylor, Leigh, and Easton, Callum. Bogart, Dunn, Alvarez-Palau, Shaw-Taylor, and Easton for Speedier Delivery: coastal shipping times and speeds during the Age of Sail. Ann Arbor, MI: Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research [distributor], 2020-07-06. https://doi.org/10.3886/E120212V1.
    3. Dunn, O. Eduard J. Alvarez-Palau, 'Historical light aids to navigation 1514-1911', [Data Collection]. Colchester, Essex: UK Data Service. 2020, https://doi.org/10.5255/UKDA-SN-854172
    4. 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

    Working Papers (available at the following address): https://www.campop.geog.cam.ac.uk/research/projects/transport/publicationplans/

    • 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.’
    • 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.’