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John Morrill and the Bibliography of British and Irish History

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The opening lecture of this year’s IHR Winter Conference will be delivered by John Morrill, retired Professor of British and Irish History in the University of Cambridge – the theme of the conference is “Civil Wars” and John’s lecture will consider “The English Revolution as a Civil War”. To mark this event, I was asked to write something about John, and in particular his connection with the Bibliography of British and Irish History (BBIH), with which I have myself been involved since 1992.

The current online BBIH has its roots in the desire of the Royal Historical Society in the late 1980s to consolidate and update the various printed bibliographies of British and Irish history, amounting at that time to over 40 volumes, which had been produced by the Society and the Institute of Historical Research since the 1930s. The plan that emerged was for a project that would run from 1990 to 1995, and would result in the publication of the complete database (which would be as comprehensive as possible) on CD-ROM, with a series of select bibliographies appearing in print. As John himself observed in the introduction to the published CD-ROM, “No nation or state has hitherto attempted any such guide to historical writing about itself, and no other discipline has attempted such a synthesis of its accumulated scholarship.”[1]

The majority of the printed volumes which were consolidated into the 1998 CD-ROM edition of the bibliography (bottom right). The volumes with white labels are the copies that were scanned to produce the electronic data. View larger version.

In the establishment of all this, John was a driving force, recommending that the project should not seek simply to produce new printed volumes but should embrace electronic technology, finding funding (principally from the Leverhulme Trust), and even obtaining, from a colleague in Cambridge, the advice that resulted in the purchase of the MicroVAX 3100 on which the data was compiled (the machine still exists in the Cambridge Computer Museum.)[2] John became the project’s General Editor, assembling an advisory board whose first meeting, over an exceptionally hot couple of days in Cambridge, was said to have put the project’s entire expenses budget in jeopardy thanks to its copious mineral water consumption. Steps were taken to improve coverage in areas which it was felt had been under-represented in some of the printed bibliographies – Irish history, the history of the empire and Commonwealth, and the history of women.

The editorial process built upon the model established by Geoffrey Elton for the Royal Historical Society’s Annual Bibliography of British and Irish History in the 1970s – draft entries would be sent to a team of academic editors who would check details, add indexing, and suggest any additional items that ought to be included (John had, indeed, been one of the Annual Bibliography‘s academic editors for several years). Modifying this process to handle a large cumulative bibliography over a relatively short period involved, over the life of the project, recruiting and managing some 200 scholars (including several in the USA and Australia), a process that John likened to an academic “corvée”. Recruitment and management of this workforce was largely delegated to “volume editors”, each responsible for the team working on a particular period, but John was perhaps one of the few people who could have co-ordinated this exercise; thanks to his personal and academic generosity and sociability, he possessed much goodwill on which to draw. Despite this, it turned out that the ability of university teachers to contribute to the project had been over-estimated – they found the pressures on their time increasing during the 1990s and, in the UK, the Research Assessment Exercises did not make any allowance for work on long-term collaborative projects, obliging many to concentrate on their own publications.

The CD-ROM edition of the bibliography, published in 1998, with the manual open at a typical page. View larger version.

Other problems emerged. The electronic scanning of the printed texts, carried out by Papworth Industries at an early stage in the development of this technology, proved less accurate than expected – or, at least, levels of error that sounded acceptable when expressed as a percentage of the characters involved were soon seen to be significant (I recall ‘The Martello towers of Romney Marsh’ being mutated into ‘The Martello tourers of Romsey Marsh’). The amount of work which would have to be done by the project’s central editorial team was likely to overwhelm the one and two-thirds staff who had been appointed, even though a considerable amount of “hands-on” editorial work was done by John himself and by the project’s Executive Secretary, Julian Hoppit. As a result, while the “academic corvée” contributed an enormous amount, the life of the central office had to be extended by a year, and much work had to be put into the hands of paid research assistants. This in turn meant raising more money, in which John again played a leading part – ultimately, the project involved eighteen grant applications, of which sixteen were successful. The printed selections, which depended most on the judgement of the academic editors, never appeared, except for the volume on imperial, colonial and Commonwealth history edited by Andrew Porter.[3] On the other hand, it was recognized that, logically, the project had no end, and money was raised to set up a successor project to continue the work of revising the database and updating it with new publications. So, the publication of The Royal Historical Society Bibliography on CD-ROM: the history of Britain, Ireland, and the British overseas by Oxford University Press in 1998, containing around a quarter of a million entries, proved to be, not the end of the process, but the start of a new era; by the time of its publication the successor project was already underway – reflecting the changing landscape of reference publishing, it soon decided to publish future editions online and eventually evolved into BBIH. It had been decided that the successor project would be most appropriately based in the IHR and John’s direct involvement ceased at this point – but not before he had played a large part in designing the successor project and raising seed funding for it; in an interview conducted in 2008 he said that he thought that the bibliography was his “proudest achievement”[4] and I can testify that he continues to take an avuncular interest in it.

I recall the late Kevin Sharpe observing that, after a conference or similar meeting, John would sit in the bar talking all evening “like the rest of us” but, when the bar closed, John did not go straight to bed like his colleagues but would do a few more hours’ work first. Indeed, while serving as General Editor of the bibliography, John still found the time and energy to serve as Vice-Master of his Cambridge college, to lecture in the University, to supervise research students, and to continue to publish on his own research interests – of the 117 items by John currently listed by BBIH, 37 were published in 1990-6, while John was General Editor of the bibliography. Seven of these 37 were collections of essays edited (or co-edited) by John, a further reflection of his skill in bringing historians together in co-operative projects. Indeed, since John’s active involvement with the bibliography ceased at the end of 1996, this skill has been deployed, alongside his scholarly insight into the 17th century, as a Consultant Editor for the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (dealing with over 6,000 17th-century lives), as one of three senior scholars who managed the preparation of an online edition of the depositions of witnesses to the massacres in Ireland in 1641, and now as General Editor of a project to produce a new edition of all the recorded words of Oliver Cromwell (covering both his written works and his recorded speeches) which is currently nearing completion.

[1] The Royal Historical Society Bibliography on CD-ROM : the history of Britain, Ireland, and the British overseas (Oxford : Oxford University Press, 1998), p.2 of accompanying booklet. Back to text

[2] The Museum’s website says that the machine was donated by me, which is true in the sense that I was the person who delivered it. Whether it was really mine to give is questionable, but it had lingered in my custody for well over a decade after the end of the project, by which time it seemed to deserve preservation. Back to text

[3] Andrew N. Porter, Bibliography of imperial, colonial and Commonwealth history since 1600 (Oxford : Oxford University Press, 2002). Back to text

[4] http://www.history.ac.uk/makinghistory/resources/interviews/Morrill_John.html, accessed 13 Jan. 2017. Back to text

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Bibliography of British and Irish History updated

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Dublin in May 1916

Abbey Street and Sackville Street (O’Connell Street), Dublin, in May 1916. Photo from the National Library of Ireland on the Commons on Flickr

The first 2015 update to the Bibliography of British and Irish History was released on 11 February. It contains just over 5,000 new records, bringing the overall total to 558,575.

Over 500 of the new records cover books and articles relating to Irish history and the database now contains nearly 84,000 Irish history records overall. We are pleased to welcome a new section editor to our editorial team, Dr Colin Reid, Senior Lecturer in History at Northumbria University, who will be dealing with Irish history since 1801. He succeeds Dr Marie Coleman, for whose expert help over the last few years we are very grateful.

We plan to release our next update in June.

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Bibliography of British and Irish History updated

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The City of London seen from Greenwich Observatory. Click here for a larger version.

The City of London seen from Greenwich Observatory. Click here for a larger version.

An update to the Bibliography of British and Irish History was released on 13 October, containing 4,968 new records, bringing the overall total to 553,503. 224 of these new records relate to the history of London, including information on recently completed theses about London’s history provided by the Centre for Metropolitan History.

We would like to remind you that discounted individual subscriptions to the Bibliography are currently available to Friends of the IHR.  More information can be found in our earlier post.

We expect that the next update to the Bibliography will appear in February 2015.

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Discounted subscriptions to the Bibliography of British and Irish History for IHR Friends

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Looking down from the top of the IHR stairs.

Looking down from the top of the IHR stairs.

Discounted subscriptions to the online Bibliography of British and Irish History are available to Friends of the IHR who may not have access to the Bibliography through a university or other institution. The Bibliography is a joint project of the IHR, the Royal Historical Society and Brepols Publishers, and is the most extensive guide available to what has been published on British and Irish history. It covers the history of British and Irish relations with the rest of the world, including the British empire and the Commonwealth, as well as British and Irish domestic history. It includes not only books, but also articles in journals and articles within collective volumes. It is updated three times a year and currently includes nearly 550,000 records, with a further update expected during October; subscribers can sign up for email alerts notifying them when new records are added on subjects in which they are interested.

Friends of the IHR (including American Friends) can subscribe to the Bibliography for one third of the normal cost of an individual subscription. The sign-up period for the Friends’ discounts starts on 1 October and runs until 15 December 2014 for the 2015 subscription year. New subscribers will have access to the Bibliography as soon as their subscription has been processed but all subscriptions will run until 31 December 2015, so you can enjoy nearly fifteen months’ access for the price of twelve. To apply please contact the Development Office by email or by telephoning (0)20 7862 8791. For more information about the Friends, and the other benefits of joining, please visit the Friends’ web pages. Similar discounts are available to Fellows and Members of the Royal Historical Society who will receive information in their autumn mailing, as usual.

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Bibliography of British and Irish History updated

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The library, Trinity College Dublin.  Eighteenth-century watercolour by James Malton

The library, Trinity College Dublin. Eighteenth-century watercolour by James Malton

An update to the Bibliography of British and Irish History was published on 26 February. Over 4,000 new records have been added; over half of these are for publications of 2013-14.  Some 700 new records relate to Irish history while 186 deal with the history of London.

We are pleased to welcome a new section editor to our team, Dr Elaine Murphy of Plymouth University, who will handle material on Irish history, 1640-1800. We now have three editors helping us to deal with Irish history; Dr Beth Hartland (Ireland before 1640) and Dr Marie Coleman (Ireland since 1800) complete our Irish history team.

There have also been some improvements to the metrics; we continue to welcome your feedback on these.

We expect to release the next update in June.  You can always find out more about the Bibliography at http://www.history.ac.uk/projects/bbih or, if you already have access to the Bibliography, you can sign up for email alerts so as to be notified each time the Bibliography is updated with records on a subject or subjects of your choice.

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International Bibliography of Humanism and the Renaissance seeks contributors

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Bookwheel from Le diverse et artificiose machine del Capitano Agostino Ramelli (1588)

The International Bibliography of Humanism and the Renaissance (IBHR), formerly published by Librairie Droz as Bibliographie Internationale de l’Humanisme et de la Renaissance, has been working since 1965 to identify all publications relating to humanism and the Renaissance, interpreted in a broad sense, in terms of both content and chronology.  The bibliography will henceforth be published by Brepols, who already publish the International Medieval Bibliography and the Bibliography of British and Irish History (the latter a joint project with the Royal Historical Society and IHR Digital).

In the course of this year the IBHR will undergo major changes and will be relaunched on Brepols’ online platform, Brepolis. Its new search interface will be similar to the one used across all Brepols bibliographic databases and will therefore benefit from the advanced search technologies embedded in them. New features will include linking with online full text where available, and the export of bibliographic references using a variety of software packages (EndNote, RefWorks, Zotero).

In conjunction with these developments, IBHR is seeking support from scholars in relevant fields with a view to extending the coverage provided by the bibliography.  The editors are looking for contributors who will identify and index monographs and articles in both journals and books, following a standard citation format, and assigning appropriate keywords, using the IBHR online input platform. Contributors will be remunerated according to the number of complete items submitted.

Contributors should possess:

  • Access to a research library with strong holdings in European history of the 16th-17th centuries.
  • A Master’s or doctoral degree in early modern European history or a related subject.
  • Fluency in English, French, German, Spanish, or Italian. Passive knowledge of other European
    languages will be considered an asset.
  • Ability and commitment to deliver one hundred citations each year, or more.

If you are interested in becoming a contributor, the publishers would like to hear from you. Enquiries should be made to Chris VandenBorre, Publishing Manager.

 

 

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Bibliography of British and Irish History updated

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BBIH was updated on 14 October with 4,735 new records, bringing the overall total to nearly 540,000. Over 500 of the new records relate to Irish history, with 236 covering the history of London, including information on recently completed theses on London history provided by the Centre for Metropolitan History.

Included in this update is a new “Metrics” feature, which offers a new way of viewing the data contained in the Bibliography. Users can quickly see how the publications of a particular author are distributed by subject or over time, for example; similar analyses are available for particular journals or particular subjects. The version available at the moment is a beta version, devised by Brepols on the basis of the metrics component of the International Medieval Bibliography. You can learn more on our FAQ page. We welcome feedback and comment using our feedback form, or by email.

We plan to release the next update in February 2014. May we remind you that, if you sign up for email alerts on subjects that interest you, you will receive an email as soon as BBIH is updated with records that match your registered searches? A video tutorial on email alerts is available.

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Peter Salt on RCHME, Cambridgeshire

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British History Online has now completed its digitisation of the Royal Commission on Historical Monuments of England series; all volumes are now freely available to read online. The following post originally appeared on our British History Online blog.

Of the last volumes published, three related to Cambridgeshire. Our own Cambridgeshire man, Peter Salt, Editor of the Bibliography of British and Irish History, kindly agreed to write a blog post about the City of Cambridge volume. Peter writes:


When the Royal Commission on Historical Monuments’ inventory of the city of Cambridge was published in 1959 in two substantial volumes with a separate container of plans,1 they were priced at the princely sum of five guineas (£5.25).  They were out of print by the time that I paid £52.00 for my copy about 25 years later.  I was conscious at the time that this was virtually ten times the original selling price but I reasoned to myself that they would never be cheaper.  So I greet the appearance of the Cambridge inventory in British History Online with mixed feelings – freely accessible online publication, to the high standards associated with British History Online, is a great boon to scholarship but may reduce demand for the printed volumes and therefore may have devalued my copy!
 
Naturally, College and University buildings fill most of the Cambridge inventory.  However, it also covers the growth of the town.  Furthermore, from 1946 the Commissioners were empowered not only to make an inventory of ‘Ancient and Historical Monuments and Constructions’ predating the eighteenth century, as had been done before World War II, but also to describe ‘such further Monuments and Constructions subsequent to’ 1714 ‘as may seem in your discretion to be worthy of mention’.2  In the Cambridge inventory, as in the preceding one covering Dorset, this resulted in the adoption of an 1850 cut-off date3and, for buildings that could be identified as being earlier than 1850, little or no selection seems to have been applied in practice.  Furthermore, as the preface observed, ‘the first half of the 19th century’ was ‘a period of notable urban development in Cambridge’.4  The result was that the volumes cover not only internationally known monuments such as King’s College Chapel, but also include some quite modest terraced houses – so modest, indeed, as to include the house in which I lived from 1991 to 2005, which had been built (it was suggested) for the “outside staff” of the larger houses in the same development.5



Such houses were sometimes recorded with almost as much care as the major monuments – the development of which my house formed a part is illustrated by a layout diagram and by internal plans of representative houses, the latter presented alongside plans of similar houses to facilitate comparison.  Even so, there were times when the surveyors were virtually unable to find anything to say: after they had diplomatically described early nineteenth-century houses in Brunswick Walk as ‘pleasant in their simplicity and lack of ostentation’, they were reduced to reporting that ‘Willow Place and Causeway Passage … are even less distinguished than the foregoing’.6 Nonetheless, the recording and comparison of small terraced houses that were then little more than one hundred years old would have been ground-breaking at the time.

 
In some cases the survey recorded buildings that were soon to be demolished.  Indeed, Willow Place and Causeway Passage have largely vanished.  That small late-Georgian terraced houses should fall victim to 1960s and 1970s improvements is not surprising (they had been assessed in 1950 as “fourth class” and although, if they had lasted a few years longer, they might well have been refurbished and extended as desirable pieds à terre, it has to be said that our favourable view of Georgian domestic architecture rests in part on the destruction of its meanest specimens).  Perhaps more surprising in a town that trades on its “heritage” is the loss of the ‘good brick front of 1727’ belonging to the Central Hotel on Peas Hill, where Pepys was supposed to have ‘drank pretty hard’ in 1660, and one of the secular buildings deemed by the Commissioners to be ‘especially worthy of preservation’,7 but replaced in 1960-2 by a hostel for King’s College.
 
As Professor Chris Dyer observed in his post in this blog on the Northamptonshire volumes, the Royal Commission’s post-war inventory volumes ‘marked a high point’ in its work that was not sustained.  Since 1984 the Commission and English Heritage (into which the Commission was incorporated in 1999) have continued to record and to analyze, but have published the results in thematic volumes, rather than in parish by parish (or town by town) inventories.  Theforeword to the last inventory volume, published in 1984, admitted that ‘the creation of an adequately researched and assessed inventory of England’s archaeological and architectural heritage is now accepted … as a complex and infinite task’ (my emphasis).  Indeed, what seems ‘adequately researched and assessed’ to one generation may disappoint the next one.  Now that Causeway Passage has vanished from the map we might well wish that the inventory had gone into a bit more detail.  And, just as 1714 came to seem, after World War II, too remote an end date for the survey, resulting in an expansion of the Commissioners’ remit, the 1850 cut off chosen for the Cambridge volumes will seem too remote to those who want to study Cambridge’s later nineteenth-century growth.  In practice, though, we must be grateful for what was achieved, and (notwithstanding the potential decline in the value of my printed copy) the online publication of the inventories is very much to be welcomed.


All footnote references are to the city of Cambridge inventory. The volumes were continuously paginated and are treated as a single entity by British History Online.
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Bibliography of British and Irish History updated

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BBIH has been updated with 5,831 new records, bringing the overall total to over 534,000. Nearly 3,600 of the new records describe books and articles published in 2012-13; over 700 of them relate to Irish history and 266 of them concern the history of London.

We are delighted to welcome two new academic section editors to our team: Dr Julie Barrau, of the University of East Anglia, editor for England, 1066-1500, and Dr Marie Coleman, of Queen’s University Belfast, editor for Ireland since 1800. Dr Barrau succeeds the long-serving Professor Elisabeth Van Houts, for whose contribution to BBIH we are very grateful. Dr Coleman’s appointment reflects our decision to divide responsibility for Ireland since 1640 into two sections, in the light of the increasing number of publications on Irish history that we are handling. A full list of section editors is available here.

We are sorry that links from the detailed record display to the British Library Direct ordering service no longer lead to a completed order form for the appropriate article. Instead, you are now taken to the home page of the new British Library Document Supply Service, where you need to search again for the article that you wish to order. Also, we regret that the presence of the link is no longer a reliable guide to the availability of the article through British Library Document Supply. We are discussing with the British Library how our links can be improved and we hope to be able to offer better links to British Library document ordering in our next update.

We plan to publish the next update in October. If you register for email alerts on searches of interest to you, you will receive an email as soon as the bibliography is updated with records that match your registered searches. A video tutorial on email alerts is available.

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Bibliography of British and Irish History updated

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BBIH has been updated with 4,782 new records, bringing the overall total to nearly 530,000. Nearly half of the new records cover publications of 2012-13; over 500 of them concern the history of Ireland and the Irish, and just over 200 deal with the history of London.

The next update should appear in June. You can keep informed of new records relating to your areas of interest by using the ealerts feature.

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