The IHR Blog |

Author Archives: jonathanblaney


The Historical Aspects of Dilipad: Challenges and Opportunities

by

This post originally appeared on the Digging into Linked Parliamentary Data project blog, and is a guest post by one of the historians working the project, Luke Blaxill.

The Dilipad project is on one hand exciting because it will allow us to investigate ambitious research questions that our team of historians, social and political scientists, and computational linguists couldn’t address otherwise. But it’s also exciting precisely because it is such an interdisciplinary undertaking, which has the capacity to inspire methodological innovation. For me as a historian, it offers a unique opportunity not just to investigate new scholarly questions, but also to analyse historical texts in a new way.

We must remember that, in History, the familiarity with corpus-driven content analysis and semantic approaches is minimal. Almost all historians of language use purely qualitative approaches (i.e. manual reading) and are unfamiliar even with basic word-counting and concordance techniques. Indeed, the very idea of ‘distant reading’ with computers, and categorising ephemeral and context-sensitive political vocabulary and phrases into analytical groups is massively controversial even for a single specific historical moment, let alone diachronically or transnationally over decades or even generations. The reasons for this situation in History are complex, but can reasonably be summarised as stemming from two major scholarly trends which have emerged in the last four decades. The first is the wide-scale abandonment of quantitative History after its perceived failures in the 1970s, and the migration of economic history away from the humanities. The second is the influence of post-structuralism from the mid-1980s, which encouraged historians of language to focus on close readings, and shift from the macro to the micro, and from the top-down to the bottom-up. Political historians’ ambitions became centred around reconstructions of localised culture rather than ontologies, cliometrics, model making, and broad theories. Unsurprisingly, computerised quantitative text analysis found few, if any, champions in this environment.

In the last five years, the release of a plethora of machine-readable historical texts (among them Hansard) online, as well as the popularity of Google Ngram, have reopened the debate on how and how far text analysis techniques developed in linguistics and the social and political sciences can benefit historical research. The Dilipad project is thus a potentially timely intervention, and presents a genuine opportunity to push the methodological envelope in History.

We aim to publish outputs which will appeal to a mainstream audience of historians who will have little familiarity with our methodologies, rather than to prioritise a narrower digital humanities audience. We will aim to make telling interventions in existing historical debates which could not be made using traditional research methods. With this in mind, we are pursuing a number of exciting topics using our roughly two centuries-worth of Parliamentary data, including the language of gender, imperialism, and democracy. While future blog posts will expand upon all three areas in more detail, I offer a few thoughts below on the first.

The Parliamentary language of gender is a self-evidently interesting line of enquiry during a historic period where the role of women in the political process in Great Britain, Canada, and the Netherlands was entirely transformed. There has been considerable recent historical interest on the impact of women on the language of politics, and female rhetorical culture. The Dilipad project will examine differences in vocabulary between male and female speakers, such as on genre of topics raised, and also discursive elements, hedging, modality, the use of personal pronouns and other discourse markers- especially those which convey assertiveness and emotion. Next to purely textual features we will analyse how the position of women in parliament changed over time and between countries (time they spoke, how frequently they were interrupted, the impact of their discourse on the rest of the debate etc.).

A second area of great interest will be how women were presented and described in debate – both by men and by other women. This line of enquiry might present an opportunity to utilise sentiment analysis (which in itself would be methodologically significant) which might shed light on positive or negative attitudes towards women in the respective political cultures of our three countries. We will analyze tone, and investigate what vocabulary and lexical formations tended to be most associated with women. In addition, we can also investigate whether the portrayal of women varied across political parties.

More broadly, this historical analysis could help shed light on the broader impact of women in Parliamentary rhetorical culture. Was there a discernible ‘feminized language of politics’, and if so, where did it appear, and when? Similarly, was there any difference in Parliamentary behaviour between the sexes, with women contributing disproportionately more to debates on certain topics, and less to others? Finally, can we associate the introduction of new Parliamentary topics or forms of argument to the appearance of women speakers?

Insights in these areas – made possible only by linked ‘big data’ textual analysis – will undoubtedly be of great interest to historians, and will (we hope) demonstrate the practical utility of text mining and semantic methodologies in this field.

Wliat’s in a n^me? Post-correction of randomly misrecognized names in OCR data

by

This post originally appeared on the Digging into Linked Parliamentary Data project blog, and is a guest post by team member Kaspar Beelen.

Problem.

Notwithstanding the recent optimization of Optical Character Recognition (OCR) techniques, the conversion from image to machine-readable text remains, more often than not, a problematic endeavor. The results are rarely perfect. The reasons for the defects are multiple and range from errors in the original prints, to more systemic issues such as the quality of the scan, the selected font or typographic variation within the same document. When we converted the scans of the historical Canadian parliamentary proceedings, especially the latter cause turned out to be problematic. Typographically speaking, the parliamentary proceedings are richly adorned with transitions between different font types and styles. These switches are not simply due to the esthetic preferences of the editors, but are intended facilitate reading by indicating the structure of the text. Structural elements of the proceedings such as topic titles, the names of the MPs taking the floor, audience reactions and other crucial items, are distinguished from common speech by the use of bold or cursive type, small capital or even a combination.

Moreover, if the scans are not optimized for OCR conversion, the quality of the data decreases dramatically as a result of typographic variation. In the case of the Belgian parliamentary proceedings, a huge effort was undertaken to make historical proceedings publicly available in PDF format. The scans were optimized for readability, but seemingly not for OCR processing, and unsurprisingly the conversion yielded to a flawed and unreliable output. Although one might complain about this, it is at the same time highly unlikely that, considering the costs of scanning more than 100.000 pages, the process will be redone in the near future, so we have no option but to work with the data that is available.

Because of the aforementioned reason, names, printed in bold (Belgium) or small capital (Canada), ended up misrecognized in an almost random manner, i.e. there was no logic in the way the software converted the name. Although it showcases the inventiveness of the OCR system, it makes linking names to an external database almost impossible. Below you see a small selection of the various ways ABBYY, the software package we are currently working with, screwed up the name of the Belgian progressive liberal “Houzeau the Lehaie”:

Table 1: Different outputs for “Houzeau the Lehaie”

Houzeau de Lehnie. Ilonzenu dc Lehnlc. lionceau de Lehale.
Ilonseau de Lehaie. Ilonzenu 4e Lehaie. HouKemi de Lehnlc.
lionceau de Lehaie. Honaeaa 4e Lehaie. Hoaieau de Lehnle.
Ilonzenn de Lehaie. Heaieaa ée Lehaie. Homean de Lehaie.
Heazeaa «le Lehaie. Houzcait de Lekale. Houteau de Lehaie.
Hoiizcan de Lchnle. Henxean dc Lehaie. Houxcau de Lehaie.
Hensean die Lehaie. IleuzeAit «Je Lehnie. Houzeau de Jlehuie.
Ileaieaa «Je Lehaie. Honzean dc Lehaie Houzeau de Lehaic.
Hoiizcnu de Lehaie. Honzeau de Lehaie. Ilouzeati de Lehaie.
Houxean de Lehaie. Hanseau de Lehaie. Etc.

Although the quality of the scanned Canadian Hansards is significantly better, the same phenomenon occurs.

 Table 2: Sample of errors spotted in the conversion Canadian Hansards (1919)

BALLANTYNE ARCHAMBAULT
BAILLANiTYNE ARCBAMBAULT
BALLAINTYNE ARCHAMBATJLT
BALLANT1NE AECBAMBAULT
BALLAiNTYNE ABCHAMBAULT
iBALiLANTYNE AROHASMBAULT
BAIiLANTYNE ARlQHAMBAULT
BALLANTYINE AECBAMBAULT

In many other cases even an expert would have hard time figuring out to whom the name should refer to.

Table 3: Misrecognition of names

,%nsaaeh-l»al*saai.
aandcrklndcrc.
fiillleaiix.
IYanoerklnaere.
I* nréeldcn*.
Ilellcpuitc.
Thlcapaat.

These observation are rather troubling, especially with respect to the construction linked corpora: even if, let’s say, 99% of the text is correctly converted, the other 1% will contain many of the most crucial entities, needed for marking up the structure and linking the proceedings to other sources of information. To correct the tiny but highly important 1%, I will focus in this blog post on how to automatically normalize speaker entities, those parts of proceedings that indicate who is taking the floor. In order to retrieve context information about the MPs, such as party and constituency, we have to link the proceedings our biographic databases. Linking will only be possible of the speaker entities in the proceedings match those in our external corpus.

In most occasions speaker entities include a title and a name followed by optional elements indicating the function and/or the constituency of the orator. The semicolon forms the border between the speaker entity and the actual speech. In a more formal notation, a speaker entity consists of the following pattern:

Mr. {Initials} Name{, Function} {(Constituency)}: Speech.

Using regular expression we can easily extract these entities. The result of this extraction is summarized by the figures below, which show the frequency with which the different speaker entities occur.

 Figure 1: Distribution of extracted speaker entities (Canada, 1919)

fig1afig1b

 

 

 

Figure 2: Distribution of extracted speaker entities (Belgium, 1893)

fig1afig1b

 

 

 

The figures lay bare the scope of the problem caused by these random OCR errors in more detail. Ideally there shouldn’t be more speaker entities than there are MPs in the House, which is clearly not the case. As you can see for the Belgian proceedings from the year 1893, the set of items occurring once or twice alone contains around 3000 unique elements. The output for the Canadian Hansards from 1919, looks slightly better, but there are still around 1000 almost unique items. Also, as is clear from the plots, the distribution of the speakers is more right skewed, due to the large amount of unique and wrongly recognized names in the original scans. We will try to reduce the right-skewedness by replacing the almost unique elements with more common items.

Solution.

In a first step we set out to replace these names with similar items that occur more frequent. Replacement happens in two consecutive rounds: First by searching in the local context of the sitting, and secondly by looking for a likely candidate in the set of items extracted from all the sittings of a particular year. To measure whether two names resemble each other, we calculated cosine similarity, based on n-grams of characters, with n running from one to four.

More formally, the correction starts with the following procedure:

More formallyAs shown in table 4, running this loop yields many replacement rules. Not all of them are correct so we need manually filter out and discard any illegitimate rules that this procedure has generated.

 Table 4: Selection of rules generated by above procedure

Legitimate rules Illegitimate rules
EOWELL->ROWELL W.HIDDEN -> DENIS
McOOIG->McCOIG SCOTT -> CAEVELL
ROWELiL->ROWELL THOMAS VIEN -> THOMAS WHITE
RUCHARBSON->RICHARDSON BRAKE -> SPEAKER
(MdMASTER->McMASTER CLARKE -> CLARK
ABCHAMBAULT->ARCHAMBAULT
AROHASMBAULT->ARCHAMBAULT
CQCKSHUTT->COCKSHUTT

Just applying these corrected replacement rules, would increase the quality of the text material a lot. But, as stated before, similarity won’t suffice when quality is awful, such as is the case for the examples shown in table 2. We need to go beyond similarity, but how?

The solution I propose is to use the replacement rules to train a classifier and consequently apply the classifier to instances that couldn’t be assigned to a correction during the previous steps. OCR correction thus becomes a multiclass classification task, in which each generated rule is used as a training instance. The right-hand side of the rule represents the class or the target variable. The left-hand side is converted to input variables or features. After training, the classifier will predict a correction, given a misrecognized name as input. For our experiment we used Multinomial Naïve Bayes, trained with n-grams of characters as features, with n againg ranging from 1 to 4. This worked surprisingly well: 90% of the rules it created were correct. Only around 10% of the rules generated by the classifier were either wrong or didn’t allow us to make a decision. Table 4 shows a small fragment of the rules produced by the classifier.

Table 5: Sample of classifier output given input name

Input name Classifier output
,%nsaaeh-l»al*saai. Anspach-Puissant.
aandcrklndcrc. Vanderkindere.
fiillleaiix. Gillieaux.
IYanoerklnaere. Vanderkindere.
I* nréeldcn*. le président.
Ilellcpuitc. Helleputte.
Thlcapaat. Thienpont.

Conclusion.

As you can see in table 5, the predicted corrections aren’t necessarily very similar to the input name. If just a few elements are stable, the classifier can pick up the signal even when there is a lot of noise. Because OCR software mostly recognizes at a handful characters consistently, this method seems to perform well.

To summarize: What are the strong points of this system? First of all, it is fairly simple, reasonably time-efficient and works even when the quality of the original data is very bad. Manual filtering can be done quickly: for each year of data, it takes an hour or two to correct the rules generated by each of the two processes and replace the names.  Secondly: Once a classifier is trained, it can also predict corrections for the other years of the same parliamentary session. Lastly, as mentioned before, the classifier can correctly predict replacements just on the basis of a few shared characters.

Some weak points need to be addressed as well. The system still needs supervision. But, nonetheless, this is worth the effort, because it can enhance the quality of the data significantly, especially with respect to linking the speeches in a later stage. In some cases, however, it can be impossible to assess whether a replacement rule should be kept or not. Another crucial problem is that the manual supervision needs to be done by experts who are familiar both with the historical period of the text and with the OCR errors. That is, the expert has to know which names are legal and also has to be proficient in reading OCR errors.

At the moment, we are trying to improve and expand the method. So far, the model uses only the frequency of n-grams, and not their location in a token. By taking location into account, we expect that we could improve the results, but that would also increase dimensionality. Besides adding new features, we should also experiment with other algorithms, such as support-vector machines, which perform better in a high-dimensional space. We will also test whether we can expand the method to correct other structural elements of the parliamentary proceedings, such as topical titles.

Using Connected Histories to explore the British interpretation of Abraham Lincoln

by

486px-Abraham_Lincoln_November_1863This post was kindly written for us by IHR Digital intern Beth Page.

As a History and American studies student, I thought it would be interesting to use Connected Histories to explore the British interpretation of Abraham Lincoln. I decided to look for sources that cover three areas that most people associated him with: the Union’s role in the American Civil War, the emancipation of the slaves and his assassination in 1865.

Because Connected Histories comprises a collection of British sources, I didn’t expect there to be a huge number of matches. To make sure the results were as relevant as they could be, I added a date filter – 1859 (the advent of the Civil War) to 1877 (the end of Reconstruction). There were 1,911 matches across 4 resources, 1,816 of these being under British Newspapers. This is not surprising given both Lincoln’s global status and the relatively low level of political interaction between the US and Britain during his years as President, suggesting there would not be too many parliamentary papers referring to him (there were only 29).

One of the most useful sources that I came across are those from Punch magazine, well known for its satire. This meant I was guaranteed a more scathing view of Lincoln, one that perhaps represented an educated, more radical opinion. Unfortunately, the website Science in the Nineteenth-Century Periodical in which the Punch index can be found doesn’t display the articles or illustrations, only a sentence summary. This means wider research is needed, although it is helpful to have a base from which to start searching. Interestingly, one of the results is a picture entitled ‘Britannia Sympathises with Columbia’, a sympathetic title in comparison to their other publications. This was published in May, 1865 alongside a poem that seems to apologize for the way Punch represented Lincoln in the time he was alive. It is an important source as it helps to differentiate the political view of Lincoln from the personal view, clearly two very distinct things.

Although my search returned a large selection of newspaper results, some of them are inaccessible due to the scanning process that leaves the article more or less illegible. Nonetheless the British Newspaper’s website does have a large selection of national and local newspaper archives allowing me to see if opinions differ based on locale.  The general opinion seems to be a national mixture of support and criticism of Lincoln’s wartime policy and unsurprisingly, sympathy regarding his assassination.

Connected Histories provides a wonderful base for me to start my research although I don’t feel it has enough resources to reach a firm conclusion, but this may partly be due to do my choice of topic rather than the website. Yet the concept of using connections to save sources found as well as being able to browse other people’s connections helps to make this website a unique and valuable resource for anyone researching British history.

Royal Commission on Historical Monuments: Huntingdonshire

by

Last year British History Online published the complete series of the Royal Commission on Historical Monuments, England. To introduce these volumes for readers who may not be familiar with the RCHME, we asked a number of experts to write introductions to particular counties. Here Charles O’Brien, one of the general editors of the revised Pevsner series from Yale University Press introduces the Huntingdonshire volume. Charles revised the volume Bedfordshire, Huntingdonshire and Peterborough (forthcoming), so is the ideal person to put RCHME, Hunts in context. Charles writes:

 

Huntingdonshire was one of the smallest counties of England. In 1965 it was merged with the Soke of Peterborough as a new county but both were abolished in 1974 and absorbed into the newly reconstituted county of Cambridgeshire. Huntingdonshire’s identity is preserved as a district within Cambridgeshire but appreciation of local architectural identity is easily lost and so historians should still value the coverage given to it in one of the earliest RCHME inventories, published in 1926.

 

Nikolaus Pevsner, in his survey of Huntingdonshire for the Buildings of England series (1st ed. 1968) relied heavily on the Commission’s inventory while admitting ‘I am only too well aware of the inadequacies of my gazetteer. Anyone who studies the volume [of the RCHM] can see for himself how many timber-framed houses, how many staircases, how many domestic fitments are left, and guess from that how much more is missing for the C18 which the Royal Commission at the time …did not include’. Pevsner’s copy of the volume remains in the Pevsner Architectural Guides office at Yale University Press, and throughout the volume are his minute annotations and strikings out, indicating that the RCHME volume was in his hands as he carried out his visits during the spring of 1967.

plate 164

Staircase at Stibbington Hall, 1625

 

A notable contribution to the Hutingdonshire volume was provided by Sidney Inskip Ladds (1867-1950), architect and local historian who became one of the authors for the three volumes of the Victoria History of the Counties of England (1926-1936). Ladds came from a local family, his grandfather was rector of Ellington, one of the many stone churches with a tall Perp spire for which Huntingdonshire is, or should be, well-known, and his father John Ladds was also an architect, with a modest living from church restorations in the later years of his life, an area of practise which would dominate Sidney’s working life. Partly as a consequence of his church work Ladds accumulated a very considerable body of knowledge of Huntingdonshire’s buildings and his voluminous files of scraps of paper recording his observations, names of architects, genealogy, recollections of incumbents and others are lodged at the Norris Museum, St Ives. Much of his close interest in buildings of every period is reflected in the coverage of the VCH volumes and clearly expressed in the RCHME inventory.

 

At least part of the pleasure to be taken from the RCHME volumes of the earlier period is in making comparisons between the photographs with the present day, especially the village scenes with their car-less and thus immensely spacious streets but also in the general character of the vernacular buildings of the locality many of which have been significantly altered since the early C20, if not demolished. Others are pleasantly unchanged (the interior of the Lion Hotel, Buckden of c.1500 is an example) and for churches and major houses there is little to record in the way of loss. Only a small proportion of the county’s buildings recorded by photos in the volume have disappeared, notably Conington Castle, but among the timber-framed buildings there had even by the 1960s been a higher rate of attrition and one will search in vain for some of the houses recorded in the plates section of the volume or at least deplore the often insensitive restoration to which they were later subjected, e.g. a seventeenth-century house at Offord Cluny (plate 102) which is now hardly recognisable.

 

Digging into Linked Parliamentary Data

by

banner-just3-buildingsThe IHR is one of the partners on an international project, Digging into Linked Parliamentary Data, to research parliamentary language on an unprecedented scale. We are leading the UK arm of a collaboration with the Netherlands and Canada which will enrich and analyse the parliamentary records of all three countries. The two-year project is funded by the Digging into Data Challenge, which encourages transatlantic teams to use large-scale data analysis to develop new insights into the arts and humanities. We will be working with King’s College, London, the universities of Amsterdam and Toronto, and the History of Parliament Trust.

The nature of the data itself will provide many dimensions for comparison. We will be using Hansard for the UK and Canada, with the data available from 1803 and 1867 respectively; the Dutch data goes back to 1814. This provides three different languages, different types of legislatures, and the very different historical circumstances of the three nations; thematic approches, such as changing attitudes to immigration and left-right political affiliation, should bring out differences and also common threads in three sets of data.

One of the challenges of the project will be to enrich the existing UK and Canadian data to bring it up to the excellent standards already achieved with the Dutch parliamentary record. Once this is done it will allow the project, and future researchers, to interrogate the material in ways previously not possible. For example, because we are adding gender labels to each speaker, it should be possible to ask a simple question like: are women members more likely to be interrupted than their male coutnerparts?

Broadly speaking, types of work on the work on the project are divided between the countries. The linguistics work will be done at Toronto and the technical tools will be developed at Amsterdam. However the project will be using Parliamentary Markup Language, developed at King’s College London for an earlier project in which the IHR was also a partner, and work will be done at King’s and the IHR to enrich the Hansard material that is currently available. Historical case studies will be produced by colleagues at King’s and the History of Parliament but also at Toronto. The project truly is an international collaboration. Read more about Dilipad, and follow our progress, on our project website.

British History Online: final photo competition

by

Over the past year we have been running a monthly British History Online photo competition. All those photos added to our Flickr group in the previous month have been entered into a pool and scrutinised by my judicious and sharp-eyed colleagues in IHR Digital. I then aggregated all the votes to produce a shortlist, which was then further voted upon by British History Online’s academic advisory group.

This month we had two runners-up, in no particular order. One was Fountains Abbey by a veteran of the photo competition, Bill Tennent, the frantic-photographer:

Fountains Abbey

This kind of geometrical, receding composition is a tricky one for any photographer and Bill has done a great job of giving us a sense of depth and space while keeping everything in balance. I also like the somewhat eerie bright green walls and column bases.

By contrast, our other runner-up is a monochrome photograph: Lacock Abbey by Tevor Hare:

 

Lacock Abbey

Almost everything we can see in this photograph is, or appears to be, stone – except that out-of-place window, with the light streaming through. Particularly evocative are the empty coffins, perhaps brought from elsewhere, their contents presumably scattered or reburied.

who knows the fate of his bones, or how often he is to be buried? Who hath the oracle of his ashes, or whither they are to be scattered?

Thomas Browne, Hydrotaphia, Urn Burial

 

 

 

The prize is that the winning photo has the glory of appearing on our British History Online homepage for a month. Our last winner, now in that prestigious position, is The Paris House at Woburn, by Jason Ballard:

Paris House

 

The Paris House, although clearly in the English style, was built in Paris for an international exhibition on architecture held in 1878. It was designed by Gilbert Redgrave and was actually prefabricated and constructed on the site – although it is a bit more elegant than the prefabricated classrooms of my school days. It now stands in Woburn Park, and Jason has caught the character of the house and its surroundings beautifully, including the quintessentially English greens of a country that receives a healthy amount of rainfall.

It is appropriate (although entirely coincidental) that the house stands on the Duke of Bedford’s estate, because he liked it so much he had it shipped to England. The Institute of Historical Research (and the entire central University of London) also stands on estates owned by the dukes of Bedford. Most of the roads around our offices are named after members of the family: Russell Square, Woburn Place, Malet Street, Bedford Square…

We’ve very much enjoyed judging the photo competition over the past year, and we’d like to thank everyone who contributed photos to the group. Anyone is welcome to continue adding to the Flickr group, if they’d like to.

British History Online photo competition: November and December

by

Over December the IHR Webmaster, Marty, was back in his native Australia, so we decided not to have a November winner for our Flickr competition. As I mentioned in an earlier post, the BHO Manager, Bruce, left us in November and without these two technically competent people it was decided that we should leave BHO well alone.

Now that Marty is back we have pooled all the entries from November and December and chosen a winner and a runner-up.

Our runner-up is Finchale Priory, Durham, by the Frantic Photographer:

 

Finchale Priory

Finchale Priory, Durham

 

I work in the kind of office that has a copy of English Medieval Monasteries, 1066-1540 on the shelf. From which I find that, from the fourteenth century to its dissolution, the monastery was a rest centre for monks on a 3-week rota from the main monastery in Durham, and it is “altogether a fine and memorable ruin”. From a colleague I learn, in no uncertain terms, that the correct pronunciation is finkle.

The judges particularly liked the colour palette for this photograph: the autumnal colours of the stones adding to the elegiac atmosphere that often comes with ruins.

Our winner for November and December is this picture of Warkworth Castle Keep by Joyce Macadam:

 

Warkworth Castle Keep

Warkworth Castle Keep

 

Framing shots are always a useful photographic technique, but here the judges very much liked the contrast between the darkness of the surround and the honeyed light on the stone in the middleground. I’ve said this before in these blog posts, but I think the framing effect works particularly well in historic photographs where the frame is part of the procession towards the grand building. A lot of planning went into making visitors feel impressed, even overwhelmed, as they went through this gate, and Joyce’s photograph reminds us of that experience.

Finally, our colleagues at the History of Parliament are looking for images of MPs (including their gravestones!) or illustrations of elections. If you have any such pictures, to which you own the copyright, you could even win copies of the impressive History of Parliament volumes. You will be credited for any images used; more details here.

Witchcraft and Connected Histories

by

witchOur intern Paris Jones has kindly written the following post for us:

Since my sophomore year as an undergraduate, the subject of witchcraft had always fascinated me. My final undergraduate research paper was on witchcraft in the Elizabethan Era. I decided to continue my research on witchcraft into my graduate studies. To this day, I still don’t understand why the history of witchcraft amazes me. It might be because of the stories of accusations, examinations, the psychological approach or the fantasy that a community created. For my MA dissertation, I plan to research about witchcraft during slavery. First, I want to make a connection between witchcraft in Europe and among slaves in the Americas. My research consists of a study of how witchcraft beliefs during the 16th and 17th century transferred to slaves of African descent.

A Connected Histories search revealed 10,639 matches across 15 resources on the subject of witchcraft. [http://www.connectedhistories.org/Search_results.aspx?dtf=1500-01-01&dtt=1899-12-31&kw=witchcraft]

The document type which occurred most frequently was ‘Newspapers’, with the second most common being ‘Books, pamphlets and printed ephemera’. The newspapers were mostly from the British Newspapers 1600–1900 database. Most of the books and pamphlets could be found on other databases such as Witches in Early Modern England; a great resource that I’ve used for research papers. This resource provides different accounts of witch examination and accusations. [http://www.connectedhistories.org/Search_results.aspx?dtf=1500-01-01&dtt=1899-12-31&kw=witchcraft&sr=wi] This doesn’t surprise me because most witch prosecutions and trials were printed in pamphlets. The dates range from the 16th century to the 19th century. However, it was interesting to find that there are more resources in the 18th and the 19th centuries. In the late 17th century, there was a decline in witchcraft prosecutions and trials since there were new judiciary rules in place after the English Civil War.  Maybe I should research farther to find out why there was a large portion of witchcraft pamphlets still being publishing in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. Connected Histories is a very useful site for resources, and someone had already created connections for witchcraft: [http://www.connectedhistories.org/connection.aspx?c=144]. It’s helpful and provides images from the British Museum website.

British History Online: End of an Era

by

800px-Stamford_Bridge_01

Nicholas Gemini, Creative Commons Attribution-Sharealike 3.0

In November, behind the scenes, there was an important change at the Institute. Bruce Tate, the Manager of British History Online, left the project after 11 years. You may know that this summer BHO celebrated 10 years of operation, from which you will see that Bruce was here before the site itself, developing the technical architecture of BHO from scratch.

Other people did play important roles in BHO as it grew larger and more complex, particularly our former colleague Peter Webster, who was Editorial Controller from 2005 until 2012 and contributed a great deal. But Bruce’s work ensured that BHO developed as a robust site, able to sustain the millions of monthly pageviews it went on to attract. Since BHO also has subscribers (only £30 a year, if you’d like to sign up) it is also essential that the site is always available whenever people need to use it. Bruce’s meticulous approach to project planning and technical implementation have made that possible. It’s a tribute to Bruce’s capabilities that the rest of us never worried about whether BHO had gone offline or crashed, because it never did.

Bruce’s main character flaw is that he is a season ticket holder at Chelsea. Chelsea have had 10 managers in the time that BHO has had one, proving once again that short-termism achieves little. We plan to build on the excellent work Bruce has done by updating and improving the site over the next 10 years; we thank him for his sterling contribution and wish him well for the future.

Andrew Minting on RCHME, Salisbury

by

In the latest in our series of posts on the RCHME series, we have a guest post by Andrew Minting, conservation officer in Salisbury, about the importance of the Salibury volume. Andrew writes:

If there’s one source of information I commend to those researching the buildings of the city of Salisbury, it’s the Royal Commission’s volume on the historic monuments outside of the cathedral close.

Its recent online publication is excellent news and makes the information much more readily accessible to the general public. The copy on my desk is well worn from use on a near-daily basis for many years, providing an understanding of individual buildings and the development of the city from its foundation.  As an historical record of the city in the mid twentieth century, it is invaluable, including buildings that had been demolished from the 1950s onwards.  In comparison with modern mapping, one can trace some of the dramatic redevelopments and losses of the last half-century – the extensive demolition to facilitate the ring road, the Old George and Cross Keys shopping malls, for example.  Many buildings are brought to life through excellent detailed drawings of their timber frames, such as the Plume of Feathers, while plans showing chronological development are particularly useful for those considering the sensitivity of sites to proposed alterations.

The introduction and footnotes provide very useful pointers to all of other primary and secondary sources available, many of which are now to be found at the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre.

One important note for those unfamiliar with the hardback version of the volume, the planned grid layout of much of the city centre led to the adoption of names for the blocks of the grid, known as chequers, in addition to street names. Where appropriate, the Royal Commission organised the monuments of the volume by chequer, rather than following the lengths of individual streets.  Perhaps the most useful image for users of the online version is to be found in Plan 1, which shows both chequer and streetnames, although the Naish plan of 1716 is a beautiful alternative.

Andrew Minting