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World War I special journal issues


Bulldog soldiers' and sailor's club (from Wikipedia)

Bulldog soldiers’ and sailor’s club (from Wikipedia)

Naturally the anniversary of the start of the war to end all wars has created a plethora of special issues on the subject. What I have found engaging about these is the coverage of the not so obvious material. A prime example is Comparative Legal History, and its issue entitled The Great War and Private Law, which examines changes that occurred in law as a result of the legal and contractual demands necessitated by the conflict. Articles includes, ‘English Contract Law and the Great War: The Development of a Doctrine of Frustration’, and ‘The Great War and Dutch Contract Law: Resistance, Responsiveness and Neutrality’. The legal effects on Austria, Germany and Italy are also examined.

Another not so noticeable effect was in accounting, a subject discussed in Accounting History Review’s issue Accounting and the First World War. Changes in company and government accounting practices are discussed, as well as an increase in taxation on profits in Britain as the war economy developed. The impact of the Great War on the Blackpool Tower Company, in particular on profits and taxation, is also covered. Most intriguing are the accounting changes at the St. James’s Gate Brewery of Arthur Guinness, specifically revealing how additional war risk costs were accounted for internally.

Interestingly the British empire is well represented. The Canadian Historical Review and its issue Canada and the Great War: 100 years on, encompasses the historiography, commemoration and the effects on women and children. Another Canadian journal, Histoire Social/Social history (issue Canada’s First World War, 19140-2014 ) has sections on “Coping with Conflict” which includes the consequences on Canadian society at home and in the trenches; “Beyond Colony and Nation” looks at the USA-Canada border, and the influence of the war on race and gender are also examined.

The journal Itinerario continues the imperial theme with Colonial Volunteerism and Recruitment in the British Empire during the Great War. The issue not only follows the volunteers of the usual Dominions but includes the Cypriot Mule Corps, Maori troops, and the descendants of Welsh settlers from Patagonia.

YMCA Canadian Beaver Hut in London (from Wikipedia)

YMCA Canadian Beaver Hut in London (from Wikipedia)

Naturally The Round Table has a special imperial issue entitled, The First World War and the Empire-Commonwealth. It too has an article on Cyprus’s non-military contribution to the war effort, while also examining Dominion soldiers’ cartoon satire in the trenches, the repatriation of Indian prisoners of war, and the emotional responses to the war by West Indian soldiers.

Imperialism and sport are combined in Anzac Centennial – Sport, War and Society in Australia and New Zealand, issued by The International Journal of the History of Sport. The poignant article, ‘Australasia’s 1912 Olympians and the Great War’, charts the stories of the Olympians who volunteered, four of whom did not return. Other areas covered are the rise of women’s football, and the role of sport for Australian prisoners of war in Turkey.
Moving from the imperial angle to the local angle, Midland History in its issue, The Midlands and the Great War covers the outbreak of war in the provincial press. Other articles include, ‘Patriotism in Nottinghamshire: Challenging the Unconvinced, 1914–1917′, ‘Burslem and Its Roll of Honour 1914–1918′, and ‘The Midlands’ First Blitz’.

Shifting to the cultural impact of the Great War, New Perspectives on the Cultural History of Britain and the Great War, from 20th Century British History covers the role of Irish and Indian soldiers and their self sacrifice,  and the letters of the Sepoys and details of their emotions. The distribution of gas masks to civilians and the relationship between the understanding of the gas mask and British culture in general is also discussed.

An unlikely contender in the rundown of special issues includes the journal Shakespeare and its issue Shakespeare and the Great War. The debate surrounding the “cultural mobilization” of Shakespeare is explored, ranging from the reading by soldiers, the reception of the dramatist, the tercentary celebrations, and the “Shakespeare hut” set up in Bloomsbury for the entertainment of New Zealand soldiers.

An equally unlikely contender, and perhaps the most moving issue, given what was to happen twenty years later, is Rabbis and the Great War from European Judaism. The support, comfort and opposition to the war by various Rabbis in various countries is investigated. Sermons about the war by British Rabbi Morris Joseph at his west London Synagogue show his dismay at the war and his attempts not to glorify it.

The after effects of the end of hostilities on service personnel are studied in Journal of Contemporary History’s  – The Limits of Demobilization: Global Perspectives on the Aftermath of the Great War. The demobilization of around 65 million was bound to create problems for all nations engaged in the struggle and how society dealt with these problems, their  effects on national politics, and the “brutalization” factor are discussed with reference to Russia, central Europe, the USA and white settler colonies.

As usual all relevant material will appear in the Bibliography of British and Irish History.

Bibliography of British and Irish History updated


An update to the Bibliography of British and Irish History was published on 29 June. 3,460 new records have been added; over 2,000 of these are for publications of 2014-15. Some 400 new records relate to Irish history while 135 deal with the history of London and 251 with the history of Scotland. We continue to be grateful to the Scottish Historical Review Trust which supports a team based at St Andrews University, led by Dr Christine McGladdery, which assists in the collection of material relating to Scotland. The overall total of records available online is 561,976.

Image from Theatrum Scotiae by John Slezer, 1693. Photo from National Library of Scotland on Flickr

Image from Theatrum Scotiae by John Slezer, 1693. Photo from National Library of Scotland on Flickr

We expect to release the next update in October. You can always find out more about the Bibliography at 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.

Bawling bishops, pugnacious prelates and crying crusaders


My previous post on the range of history material being published opened with the early modern view of masculinity and men crying. Go back a couple of hundred years and it seems men were allowed to cry, and at least if you were a bishop, the act was deemed appropriate, usually in a religious sense, and of course if the crying was not seen as too ostentatious. As observed in Episcopal emotions: tears in the life of the medieval bishop, by Katherine Harvey, the significance of weeping in the life of the late medieval English bishop was key to perceptions of his masculinity, his sexuality as well as his physical body. Furthermore, the act had significant implications for his reputation both as a cleric and as a potential saint.grosseteste

Of course not all prelates were prone to weepy emotions. In The political and military agency of ecclesiastical leaders in Anglo-Norman England: 1066-1154, the role of ecclesiastical lords in the Anarchy is discussed. Such bishops became despoilers of the countryside. Indeed one chronicler argued that bishops were behaving in much the same fashion as secular lords in warfare, carrying swords and wearing armour.

A local history view of the Anarchy can be gleaned from Edmund King’s King Stephen and the Empress Matilda: the view from Northampton where the civil war led to conflict over land and lordship especially for Simon de Senlis, earl of Northampton.

Returning to the weeping theme, Stephen Spencer, in The emotional rhetoric of crusader spirituality in the narratives of the First Crusade, analyses representations of fear and weeping in the Latin narratives and argues that emotional displays functioned as markers of crusader spirituality (rather like the weeping bishops above). He then explores depictions of weeping as an expression of piety, focusing specifically on tears shed over Jerusalem.

If you are interested in further tear duct activity, I’d recommend Crying in the middle ages: tears of history, which looks at the role of tears in Jewish, Christian, and Islamic cultural discourses covering the arts, preaching, literature (including Piers Plowman), and in the emotion of pilgrimage.

I’d also recommend the History of Emotions blog.

On a completely different theme, I was intrigued by two war-related articles. The first discusses Quaker peace activities prior to the World War I – “Edwardian peace testimony: British Quakers against militarism and conscription c. 1902-1914″, in Journal of the Friends Historical Society, 2010, vol. 61:1 p. 49-66. The second, Human Computing Practices and Patronage: Antiaircraft Ballistics and Tidal Calculations in First World War Britain, outlines the importance of mathematics and the work of Arthur Thomas Doodson, an intriguing scientific aspect of the conflict. As one can imagine a great deal has been written on the Great War largely in special issues of journals, indeed so much has been written I plan a blog covering those issues.

There are two articles, both animal related, which vie for best title. A “Bovine Glamour Girl”: Borden Milk, Elsie the Cow, and the Convergence of Technology, Animals, and Gender at the 1939 New York World’s Fair, by Anna Thompson Hajdik, looks at the adoption and development of the company’s popular and eponymous mascot.Daniel-Sennert

Joel Klein’s article, Daniel Sennert, The Philosophical Hen, and The Epistolary Quest for a (Nearly-)Universal Medicine surveys Sennert’s pursuit of nearly universal medicines made from noble metals. One of his experiments involved feeding a hen silver or gold during favourable astrological conjunctions.

As usual all relevant material will appear in the Bibliography of British and Irish History.

Masculinity, mummies and margarine


One of the joys, and tribulations, of working on BBIH is the amount of material that comes across my desk (or indeed desktop). Joy in that there is such a range of material, and tribulation in the amount! As an indication of the range of material, I’ll highlight a snapshot of articles that I have come across recently.

Man cryingThe first article that caught my attention was, ‘Jesus Wept’ But Did the Englishman? Masculinity and Emotion in Early Modern England. The article looks at the emotions of men of the Elizabethan and Stuart period across the social, political and religious spectrum. Male tears represented an embarrassing loss of self-control and “a shameful lapse into plebeian, even animal, behaviour”. Apologies to all those crying sportsmen.

The title, Crying in the colonies: The bellmen of early Australia, did not cover the emotional sensibility of the colonists but was a discussion on the use of the town crier, who made announcements, advertised sales, rallied people to political meetings, encouraged locals to attend events and performances as well as announcing the news of the day.

Oxford University Press has launched a monograph series Emotions in History, one of the books is entitled, Learning how to feel: Children’s Literature and Emotional Socialization, 1870-1970, which covers such feelings as trust, compassion, empathy, fear and piety, all charted through a particular literary character.
Expanding further on emotions, and combining it with piety, there is a special issue of German History entitled  Feeling and Faith—Religious Emotions in German History, covering early German pietism, the expected behaviour of evangelists in Wilhelmine Germany, as well as the feminization of piety in interwar Germany.


According to John Johnston in Lost in time and space: Unrolling Egypt’s ancient dead (Journal of the Royal Institution of Cornwall, 2013, p. 7-22) the first unrolling of a mummy took place in 1698. Gabriel Moshenska charts the unrolling of mummies in nineteenth-century Britain, a popular spectacle which is also covered by Beverley Rogers in her chapter, Unwrapping the Past: Egyptian Mummies on Show from Popular exhibitions, science and showmanship, 1840-1910. Tomb raiders for mummies or other relics was not confined to the modern period, as Sean Lafferty outlines in Ad sanctitatem mortuorum: tomb raiders, body snatchers and relic hunters in late antiquity. This article charts the actions of tomb raiders despite punishment for such crimes. The increasing popularity of the cult of saints  created a demand for such relics as objects of veneration, which in turn led to elaborate strategies of acquisition, including the exhumation, transporting, smuggling and dismembering of the dead. Taking us up to the modern scientific approach to mummies is an article, Augustus Bozzi Granville (1783-1872): Pioneer obstetrician and gynaecological surgeon. Granville performed the first scientific autopsy of an Egyptian mummy discovering, in the process, the oldest known ovarian tumour.

Best title must surely go to, The Sludge Question: The Regulation of Mine Tailings in Nineteenth-Century Victoria, by Susan Lawrence and Peter Davies. The “sludge” in question is the industrial waste from gold mining in Australia. The pollution was a significant environmental problem to an area dependent on gold mining for its economic prosperity. The article discusses the realisation of the environmental problem and the passage of legislation to resolve the issue over a fifty-year period.

442px-Margarine-Boterfabriek_Joh._Jurgens,_Osch,_RotterdamAnd finally margarine! Who’d have thought there would be two articles on the dairy substitute in a matter of months. First up is Greasing the wheels of rural transformation? Margarine and the competition for the British butter market by Markus Lampe and Paul Sharp which covers the late Victorian period. This is neatly, and chronologically, followed by The Meanings of Margarine in England: Class, Consumption and Material Culture from 1918 to 1953 by Alysa Levene and discusses the product’s continuing association with poverty, its importance as a symbol of domestic material culture, and as a visible marker of a family’s social and economic status. The importance of diet was emphasised by the wonderfully named Gayelord Hauser. The article ‘Look Younger, Live Longer’: Ageing Beautifully with Gayelord Hauser in America, 1920–1975, outlines his prescient encouragement in eating healthily (more vegetables and whole grains) as well as the benefits of exercise (nothing is mentioned about margarine, although I suspect butter would have been frowned upon).

All relevant references will be available on BBIH.

BBIH and History Day


My colleagues in the library have already blogged about History Day, however I thought I’d follow it up from the perspective of the Bibliography of British and Irish History  (BBIH) as I’ve had a number of enquiries which I can address here.

After an outline of the history of the Bibliography and its coverage I usually emphasise three points:-

1.  The Bibliography has links (where possible and where institutional subscriptions allow) to a variety of sources including to full text via doi (digital object identifier);  online collections of journals such as JSTOR and Project Muse; links to publishers;  and links to  other digital resources such as the National Register of Archives and union catalogues (e.g. Copac).

History Day 2014

2. The ability to set up email alerts for specific subjects or authors or places (or a combination).  Users can easily set up an email alert by following the instructions. The email alerts can then be managed by clicking on the “My email alerts” on the banner of the homepage. It’s a simple and effective way of keeping informed about developments in your research area (you’ll get an update three times per year). As an example I have an email alert for subject keyword “Intelligence” and period covered “1880-1945”.

FireShot Screen Capture #026 - 'Brepolis_ BBIH' - apps_brepolis_net_bbih_search_cfm

3. The ability to export data to a range of reference tools, such as Microsoft Word, RefWorks, Endnote and Zotero.  Again there are online tutorials demonstrating how to use these tools.

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Additionally from History Day, some useful tips were picked up from Paul Horsler (LSE) who discussed reference tools.  He also made three key points. Use the reference manager as you start your research, you’ll become accustomed to it sooner and it will save a lot of time at the end of research. Choose a tool you feel comfortable with and one that is supported by your research institution (if in doubt, ask your librarian). And finally, as with all software, make sure you do backups – you don’t want to lose all that research.

Bibliography of British and Irish History: update and a sample subject search


An update to the Bibliography of British and Irish History was published on 15 June. Over 5,000 new records have been added.  Nearly 550 of these new records relate to Irish history, while 244 deal with the history of London.

Female munitions workers depicted in a First World War memorial window at Swaffham Prior, Cambs

Female munitions workers depicted in a First World War memorial window at Swaffham Prior, Cambs

To coincide with this year’s Anglo-American Conference of Historians (whose theme is  The Great War at Home), we have put a link on the Bibliography search page to a list of relevant material. To generate this, we used the Subject Tree in order to establish what terms are used in the Bibliography’s vocabulary of indexing terms to describe the topics of interest, and therefore to get the best results. To use the Subject Tree, go to the Advanced Search page, and open the Subject Tree window by clicking on All Subjects (screenshot 1). You can then type, for example, “first world war” into the Search box to launch a search through the Bibliography’s subject terms. This will show that the term used in the Bibliography is “Wars, World War I” (this would also work if you searched for “Great War”, “1st world war”, “World War I” or “world war one”). (screenshot 2). Click the check box next to “Wars, World War I” to add it to your search terms. The Search box will clear so you can type in another term.

To limit the results to records concerned with the home front, type “home front” in the Search box which will show that the term used is “War, impact of”. Again click on the check box and “War, impact of” is added to the list of selected terms. To find records that are concerned with both the Great War and its impact, click the AND radio button (if you had left the OR button selected the search would return all records about the Great War alongside all records about the impact of all wars covered by the Bibliography) (screenshot 3). To insert the selected search terms in the search form click Insert/Close (at the top right of the window).

You are now returned to the Advanced Search page which shows the number of records found (screenshot 4). Click on Search to view the results. It would also be possible to limit the search by entering relevant dates in the Period covered boxes, for example 1914 – 1918 if the later consequences of and reactions to the war are not of interest. It is also possible to search on more specific themes connected with the war. For example you could search for women and the Great War by substituting “women” for “War, impact of” in the example above.

For more information using the Subject Tree see the online tutorial.

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FireShot Screen Capture #030 - 'Brepolis_ BBIH' - apps_brepolis_net_bbih_search_cfm_action=search_advanced_recordcount&ACCESS=restricted OR public&PERIOD_CLOSE_MATCHES=0&SUBJECT=_Wars, World War I_ AND _War, im

Ursula Bloom’s First World War


In a previous post I mentioned an article which analysed the newspaper reporting of the beginning of the First World War. By happenstance I had begun to read the autobiography of the prolific writer Ursula Bloom – Youth at the Gate – which documents the beginning of the war. The author lived in genteel poverty in St Albans (her mother having left her clergyman father) with her mother and younger brother.

HMS Amphion

HMS Amphion

The family were Daily Mail readers and her opening chapters are smattered with references to that newspaper and the developing international crisis.  The first sign of the war, “… was recorded in the Daily Mail of June 29th, 1914, when it gave details of the assassination … we received the news fairly calmly … a passing shock was overcome by the comforting reassuring, ‘Thank God that sort of thing couldn’t happen here.’” Her family continued their plans for a holiday: the Isle of Wight or Great Yarmouth? The latter was chosen as they were Norfolk people, and it was far cheaper. She charts the rising international tensions through her observations and the Daily Mail. Reading her observations there seems to be a generational split: the older people are concerned and shocked, the younger excited, “If something happened, then it happened, and it would be fun to get us all out of our rut”.

Holiday preparations continued with the packing of trunks. The British fleet left Portland and her mother blamed that, “… awful Mr. Winston Churchill … Somebody ought to stop that silly young man …” Bloom notes the invasion of Luxemburg but is more interested in the advertisements in the Daily Mail for 1st and 2nd August (hotels in Brighton, and the Papier Poudré beauty item).

She worked as a cinema pianist in Harpenden for 30/- a week (3d off for the insurance stamp).  Her working hours were 5.30 to 10.30 and 2.30 to 10.30 on matinees. On bank holidays she began work at 11am. And so it was, in the last few days of peace, she found herself working on the August bank holiday playing any patriotic tune to applause and whistling. Her work in the cinema shows another developing medium, the use of the newsfilm and the use of slides to convey war news. To keep the patrons of the cinema informed about the latest developments and retain the audience, “On the lamp blacked slides latest news was scratched with one of my hairpins, and it was increasingly exciting”. She also relates the newsfilm Pathe Gazette being shown – with pictures of the reserves being called up and a destroyer putting out to see from Harwich – all accompanied by “violent applause from the twopennies”. Later another slide was scratched and displayed saying that Germany still had not replied to the British ultimatum to which the twopennies booed. Goodness knows what the censors would have said if Bloom had continued imparting war news in this manner.

Bloom also recounts how she scratched slides for the siege and fall of Liege (just like the breaking and rolling news of today). Although the cinema owner did not allow the playing of hymns, considering it sacrilege, she played “Through the night of doubt and sorrow” when the slide announcing the city’s fall was shown. Her decision to play the hymn was right as she earned herself a big box of chocolates.

“We were thrilled with the news that HMS Amphion had sunk the German minelayer Königen Luise in British waters. In wild elation I scratched it on the slide, and rushed to the piano, grabbing the keyboard from Mother waiting to greet the announcement with ‘Rule Britannia’. This was the way to win a war! The scanty house rose and cheered to a man!”

The other action that Bloom recorded on the slides was the naval engagement between HMS Amphion and the Königen Luise. The initial slide recorded the sinking of the German ship and then the next day she had to record the loss of Amphion on “my beastly little slides”, as the ship had struck a mine.

Within days of war being declared her fiancé and brother had joined up. Her fiancé then broke off the engagement. The cinema projectionist also enlisted and the commissioner was called up as he was a reservist. Prices shot up and food was hoarded. Her work at the cinema became harder as she had to manage the venue as well as play the piano, all this within the first few weeks of the war. For the rest of the war Bloom fared just as badly. She was accused of being a spy, her mother died of cancer, she witnessed airship raids, and the arrival of casualties. She did marry and had a son. Her army husband survived the war but not the influenza and so, as the war ended, she was left a widow.

Recent articles mirror some of Bloom’s observations about the war.  In History Today there is a piece, The Daily Mail and the First World War, by Adrian Bingham. As well as avid readers of the newspapers, the Bloom family bought the Daily Mail war map for 6d. and pinned it on their wall, though her mother, “… was in a continual dither not knowing where to put the next flag.”  Catriona Pennell has also written an article, Believing the Unbelievable: The Myth of the Russians with ‘Snow on Their Boots’ in the United Kingdom, 1914. Bloom narrates, “Lots of talk going around”, including the rumour of the Cossacks passing though Harpenden station on darkened trains that had been recognized by, “their fur caps and some had the snow of Siberia still on them!”

And finally, the IHR’s Anglo-American conference for 2014 is entitled The Great War at Home which also covers some of the issues raised by Bloom.


Recent articles on the First World War


german_dog_postcardIt is with some trepidation that I launch into a post on the First World War. There has been a spat between government ministers and historians about the myths/realities/teaching of the war and already some commentators are arguing against the commemoration of the war. The What ifs have also begun, with arguments for and against Britain’s involvement in the war.

To see what academics are researching and writing about today,  I’ve noted a few First World War articles that interested me and I hope interest readers.

The first article begins at the beginning, or a few weeks before, with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. Adam James Bones in, British National Dailies and the Outbreak of War in 19141, explores the press and their portrayal of how Britain entered the conflict from the reaction to the Archduke’s assassination (sympathetic); the impact of foreign embassies on press reporting (especially from the Germans and Austrians); and the reporting, reactions and forecasts of the outcome of the Austrian Ultimatum. He also examines the link between politicians and the press, especially between Grey and the Fleet Street editors.

For all Britain’s reputation as an animal-loving nation, the next article, The Dog Fancy at War: Breeds, Breeding, and Britishness, 1914-1918 2 by Philip Howell, may cause pause for thought. He discusses  the impact of the war and the popularity (or loss of popularity) for some dog breeds such as the dachshund. Even the dog breeder was seen as unpatriotic – dog breeding was seen as a luxury and as a waste of food.

“Next day the German sausage was re-named breakfast sausage, which it has been called ever since, and the Frankenfurters disappeared. They thought all Germans should be pushed out of this country, good and bad alike. A woman who went out leading a little dachshund, had it stoned to death on the pavement, for there was no stemming this ugly tide of racial hatred to which the sinking of the Lusitania had given rise.” 3

On a lighter note and still away from the trenches, Krista Cowman looks at the entertainments for the off-duty soldier in, Touring behind the lines: British soldiers in French towns and cities during the Great War 4. She makes the point that, for many, the war was also the first occasion a soldier visited a foreign country. Drawing on letters, diaries and memoirs, she considers how men responded to the new experiences they found in French towns, exploring everyday and mundane activities such as shopping, dining, cinema and theatre and of course the inevitable visit to a prostitute.

Continuing the entertainment theme, More than a Luxury: Australian Soldiers as Entertainers and Audiences in the First World War 5 by Amanda Laugesen discusses the crucial importance of live entertainment to soldiers on the Western Front –  ‘something more than a luxury—they are a necessity’ as an Australian trench newspaper asserted. It also examines entertainment and audience experiences in order to reveal something about soldiers’ interaction with popular culture, as well as the trench culture shared by soldiers.

An interesting parallel to the above article, though set in the Second World War, is Sam Lebovic’s,“A Breath from Home”: Soldier Entertainment and the Nationalist Politics of Pop Culture during World War II 6, which looks at the USO Camp Shows and the entertainments provided to American soldiers to boost morale and depict the home for which the troops were fighting.

But what about after the war and the ex-servicemen? Carolyn Malone looks at the training for disabled verterans in, A job fit for heroes? Disabled veterans, the Arts and Crafts Movement and social reconstruction in post-World War I Britain. 7 She explores the government-backed employment and training opportunities for disabled veterans, a scheme that ultimately failed. Interestingly there is a film promoting a similar scheme entitled Broken in the Wars (1918) that helped promote The King’s Fund for Disabled Officers and Men, fronted by MP John Hodge.

Continuing the veterans theme there is  Michael Hammond’s, War Relic and Forgotten Man: Richard Barthelmess as Celluloid Veteran in Hollywood 1922-1933 8 which  explores the role of popular Hollywood film culture in the construction and commemoration of the war  using the films of actor Barthelmess. In The Enchanted Cottage (1924) he plays a disfigured veteran who finds love, and in Heroes for Sale (1933), set during the Depression, he portrays a recovering addict veteran struggling in civilian life.

All relevant material will appear in BBIH.




1 The International History Review. 35: 5, 2013 p. 975-92

2 Society & Animals, Volume 21: 6, 2013 p. 546 – 567

3 Bloom, Ursula. Youth at the gate. 1959 p. 95

4 Urban History, 41, 2013 p. 105-123.

5 Journal of War & Culture Studies 6:3, 2013 p. 226-38

6 Journal of Social History 47:2, 2013 p. 263-296

7 First World War Studies 4:2, 2013 p. 201-17

8 Journal of War and culture studies 6:4, 2013 p. 283-301

Wikipedia: the War of 1812 and Australian sports history


A little while back I attended a course on editing Wikipedia. While not an avid user of the online resource, I do find it useful. It’s excellent for popular culture (mainly of the quiz questions variety); where else can you quickly discover what a Vorlon is? Or what Richard Gere’s middle name is? Or a list of the Eurovision song winners and the points they scored?  It’s increasingly useful for place names, historical events and planning of anniversaries and celebrations. I particularly like using Wikipedia for place names as there is a useful link to the Ordnance Survey maps. Wikipedia also provides links to VIAF (and other authority files) which I use for creating person authority files in BBIH.

Painting by Anton Otto Fischer depicting the first victory at sea by USS Constitution over HMS Guerriere.

Painting by Anton Otto Fischer depicting the first victory at sea by USS Constitution over HMS Guerriere.

The best part of the course was the fascinating introduction by Andrew Gray. He described how Wikipedia had developed, its ethos and aims, all to the accompaniment of real-time editing changes being screened in the background.

The training was less successful, not I hasten to add because of the tutor but because of the technology. The Mac notebooks used by the library are not geared up for teaching purposes (the screens are too small and the short cuts I’m used to did not seem to work, at least on my notebook) which meant endless scrolling up and down. The session wasn’t helped by my need for glasses to see the notebook and then take them off to see the overhead screen.

To my surprise the editing format is a little clunky and a bit old-fashioned. I initially made a few miserable and desultory attempts to edit something (and failed). The original idea I had of adding snippets of information and fleshing out some short articles has not come to fruition. I thought it would be easy to dip in and out of articles and edit accordingly while doing my “day job”. I’m afraid it all became too frustrating and irritating. I did spend one determined weekend augmenting some articles and was a little more successful but it was a chore and although I managed most of what I set out to do I don’t think I’ll ever truly master the editing. Happily Wikipedia are developing a better user interface. Perhaps I’ll give it another go!

Enough moaning about my inadequacies and to the real point of this posting – two articles, unsurprisingly, about Wikipedia.

The first featured in a special edition of the Journal of Military History1. The article, by Richard Jensen, examines how the 14,000-word article on the “War of 1812” was worked on by over 2,000 different people, with no overall coordinator or plan. Debates raged as the 1812 article attracted over 3,300 comments by 627 of the most active editors. Interestingly the main dispute in the Wikipedia entry was who actually won the war. Jensen also looks at the sources used by the Wikipedia editors, which mainly rest upon free online sources and popular books, rather than scholarly monographs and articles.

The second article, Wicked Wikipedia? Communities of Practice, the Production of Knowledge and Australian Sport History by Stephen Townsend2 et al, analysed 115 Wikipedia articles written about notable Australian sportspeople, revealing a disproportionately large group of high-quality cricket biographies. Upon further investigation it was discovered that a small group of Wikipedians were responsible for writing these articles, showing the influence that dedicated special interest groups can have over the production of knowledge on Wikipedia.

Don Tallon Australian cricketer

Don Tallon Australian cricketer

Increasingly Wikipedia is being cited in learned and academic books and journals. From anecdotal evidence I’ve come across a review for The Freedom of Speech: The history of an idea, in which the reviewer notes that the introduction contains three referrals to Wikipedia for recent events3.

In Engineers of victory : the problem solvers who turned the tide in the Second World War by Paul Kennedy, the author cites Wikipedia, arguing that for some of his topics he finds that Wikipedia is the best source or one of the best; he is particularly impressed by the articles on the Pacific War. He has 11 Wikipedia pages listed in the digital resources section of his bibliography, and the endnotes refer to a number of pages in very approving terms,though does admit to some which are embarrassing to peruse.

Furthermore, in Norman Davies’ Vanished Kingdoms: The History of half-forgotten Europe, the author offers a robust defence of Wikipedia comparing the entry for Burgundy to, “…old-fashioned printed reference works”. As Davies states, “Analytical studies have shown that Wikipedia, for all its faults, can sometimes match the most prestigious academic brands. It has the virtue of being constantly corrected and updated” 4. One can see his sources using Wikipedia, and other online resources, in his footnotes for Eire5.

Some data scientists and analysts also use Wikipedia to assess rankings of significant people including historical figures. Wikipedia is one of the data sources used, by analysing the pages of more than 800,000 people to measure quantities that should correspond to historical significance. They expect that more significant people will have longer Wikipedia pages than those less notable. Also the Wiki pages of people of higher significance should attract greater readership than those of lower significance.

I’d be interested to know of any other anecdotal evidence or indeed any other articles that have analysed history on Wikipedia.

Also readers might be interested in Andrew Dalby’s The world and Wikipedia: how we are editing reality.



Journal of Military History, vol.  76:4, 2012

The International Journal of the History of Sport, vol. 30:5, 2013 p. 545-59

McMenemy, Paul. Journal for Eighteenth Century Studies, 36:2 2013 p. 312-13

Davies, p. 143-149

5 Davies, p. 728-4


Latest update to Local History internet sites


The latest update to the local history internet sites guide was published in the November 2012 issue of the Local Historian [1]. This very useful guide, that updates previous issues and a booklet, covers local history and genealogical sites and resources. The booklet was reviewed in a previous blog.

While aimed at the local/amateur historian, the update is of use to the academic historian, listing such resources as the Cabot Roll 1496-1499, which provides links to high-resolution copies of the out-of-copyright publication, consisting of facsimiles, Latin transcriptions and English-language translations of the enrolled customs accounts for the port of Bristol. There is also the Middle English Compendium, offering easy access to three major Middle English resources.

Some sites have longer reviews, notably, Coal Mining Resource Centre which is especially strong on mining accidents and those who died in them; North-East Diary 1939-1945 is a labour of love, listing day-by-day wartime activities. A quick search found for Friday 12th July 1940, “Many IBs [incendiary bombs] dropped in region of Bridgehill near Consett. A cow was killed, a house was slightly damaged by fire”. Also reviewed is the Gaelic /English website containing over, 30,000 oral recordings from the 1930s onwards, Tobar an Dualchais. 

Thanks and congratulations to the compiler of these excellent updates, Jacquelené Fillmore for her dedication and patience.

[1] Local Historian, 2012, 42:4, p. 328-336