Week 4: Simple databases

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Required reading

Geekgirls.com databases: Databasics. Step by step guides to designing and building databases including tutorials and exercises. http://www.geekgirls.com/menu_databases.htm


Previously in this module we have examined why it's important to design digital resources for real people, rather than for some imaginary average person. You have used simple, low cost, rapid paper-based sketching techniques for finding out what users think about designs and for capturing their ideas. Then we looked at issues surrounding digital assets: how to capture, store, and protect them and how to make them available. Now we are going to turn our attention to how information can be organised to make it easier to search and analyse when we have got a lot of it. Database systems are essentially nothing more than computerised record-keeping systems that can be used to keep track of sets of data. The database itself can be thought of as a kind of electronic filing cabinet and the rest of the system is there to allow users to create and delete files and to get information in and out of the files, In this session you are going to learn how to create a simple "flat file" database and use it to organise a set of data so that it can be queried to answer certain questions.

Learning outcomes

By the end of this session you will be able to:

Define basic database terms such as record, table, field, primary key, index, data type.

Create a single table database to store data that we provide.

Design and build data entry tables and use them to populate your database with the data we provide.

Specify and create queries to enable users to interrogate your database usefully.

To help you learn how to do this you have access to the tutorials dealing with "Databasics" [1] You are not required to work through them all exhaustively, but you will find that they are short, easy to follow and cover a lot of relevant issues. So take a look at them, if you haven't already, to decide how many of them you actually need to do and just read the rest for information. You can use any database application you like but we will provide you with free access to Microsoft Access, so unless you have a strong reason for using anything else, it's probably a good idea to focus on the Access examples in the Geekgirls tutorials.

Activity: Why do we need databases (online)?

Examine the bound copy of "Photographic Exhibitions in Britain 1839-1865" and answer the following questions:

  • How many exhibitors were showing Calotypes between 1845 and 1860?
  • How many photographs did Dr John Adamson exhibit between 1854 and 1864 and how many were from his own negatives?
  • Who showed the most expensive exhibit in this entire set of exhibitions?

Now consult the PEIB Website [2] to answer the same questions. OK, hopefully the point is sufficiently well made with these few examples. Databases can be queried to provide answers to questions that would otherwise take hours/weeks/years/a lifetime to answer if the only way to do it was to sort through the data manually and take notes. What might have been speculation ("I wonder if....") can be turned into focused research if the data are electronically searchable. Better still, if the database is linked to the Web then its contents can be queried by virtually unlimited numbers of users from a huge variety of locations and at times that suit those users.

Activity: Roger Fenton database

Your task in this activity is to build an information resource based on the data held at http://rogerfenton.dmu.ac.uk. Working in pairs, use the data to construct a single table database system in Microsoft Acccess that contains all of the information on the Website. You will need to think about the different types of data it contains, the fields required, and a primary key, You will also need to think about how to get the data into the database and the kinds of questions users might want to put to the database. All of the necessary information about how to do this is covered by the Geekgirls.com databases: Databasics exercises.

Activity: Roger Fenton database extras

If you would like an extra challenge: Try to build a Boolean (yes/no) data type into your table.

Seminar preparation

Prepare a brief presentation (maximum 5 wiki pages or Powerpoint slides, not counting references) on what you have done and what you have learned from this session.

Follow this link to the Photography Resources in a Digital Age Contents page to return to the module contents.

Back to the MA: Photographic History Main Page to return to the Course contents.