This review was kindly written for us by our intern Grace Karrach Wood.
My original intention was to use Connected Histories in order to research lunatic asylums during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, as this is my dissertation topic and therefore I already hold some knowledge about it. In order to go about this I input the keyword ‘asylum’ and the dates 1700-01-01 – 1900-12-31, using the ‘simple search’ function and reviewed the 5 matching resources from which the 7,908 matches came. However, it came to my attention that of these 5 resources, the authorisation failed for British Newspapers, the House of Commons Parliamentary Papers required a login and 19th Century British Pamphlets directed to JSTOR which displayed a preview of the front cover only. These set backs were impractical in terms of completing my research imminently, though still highlighted places which would be useful if I were accessing the sources from my university, which holds a subscription, or if I were in a position to subscribe to these resources as an individual. Nonetheless as a result I decided to change my topic to one which would have more accessible resources.
In order to choose a new research topic which was likely to have hits from large amounts of easily accessible resources I went back onto the Connected Histories homepage and scrolled along the ‘other resources’ bar until I found one specific enough to inspire me and have sufficient, relevant results. It was this method which helped me find the Witches in Early Modern England resource, which is free to use and covers the time period 1540 to 1700. Selecting this resource allowed me to read a description of the records, strengths and weaknesses of the content and the technical method by which the sources had been accessed and uploaded. This was particularly helpful as it allowed me to get a better idea of the records I would find when using this resource. As a result of this promising source suggesting a large amount of relevant content on witches I returned to the home page and searched ‘witch’ within the dates ‘1600-01-01 to 1800-12-31’. This search returned 44,586 matches across 16 resources, with Witches in Early Modern England appearing at the top, due to Connected Histories displaying the sources in order of relevance.
Searching through these 16 sources was particularly easy due to the layout of the site enabling you to preview 3 records from the source in addition to the option to ‘view more’, which shows additional hits without leaving the page. This allowed me to quickly decide whether the sources looked relevant without too much difficulty and saved time.
The sources which I found most useful were from John Foxe’s Acts and Monuments Online, Witches in Early Modern England, British History Online and Transcribe Bentham. Witches in Early Modern England was particularly useful due to the large number of first-hand accounts of witches it held from different perspectives, while Transcribe Bentham was advantageous because it showed the original document alongside the typed up text, allowing you to zoom and check for errors in the transcription yourself.
Overall I found that the Connected Histories page was useful in terms of identifying relevant sources in order to work from and discovering topics and details which you might not have been aware of before, however, the use of so many sources which needed subscriptions meant that it is only useful if you have a subscription. Furthermore, the fact that some of the resources had been published using inaccurate scanning processes meant that they were inaccurate and difficult to read.
This post was kindly written for us by Caitlin Brown, one of our interns via the Leicester University / IHR Digital programme.
I decided to use Connected Histories to research an area that I knew something about, but that I would like to investigate more. I picked the Crimean War as I had studied it from a Russian perspective but not from a British point of view, and I knew Connected Histories provided links to British Newspapers, 1600-1900. I used keywords such as ‘Crimea’ and narrowed down the date to between the 1850s and 1860s, as I wanted perspectives of the situation from both before and after the conflict. A problem I noticed straight away was that while many of the results were from British Newspapers, this was a resource that was restricted. This meant that these results were impossible to access from the IHR. However, if I had been researching from my own University Campus which has a subscription to British Newspapers, I would have been able to look at these resources. Apart from the newspapers and a picture from the British Museum, there were a limited number of resources available to investigate this topic further. I wondered if this was because I had selected a topic towards the end of the time period covered. Therefore, I decided to use the same methods as before, but instead investigate a topic firmly within the time period covered by Connected Histories.
I changed my topic to the Great Fire of London, and, using the date filters and the use of keywords, I searched ‘1666’ and ‘fire of London’. These results were more useful, as they were not all from restricted resources which required a separate login. Lots of results were thrown up, particularly when I narrowed the dates down to a few years around the actual date of the Fire of London (1666). A particularly useful resource I found was John Strype’s ‘A Survey of London and Westminster’, which not only accounts for the state of London, but also talks about the damage that the fire created, as well as Parliamentary acts that were put into place to deal with the damage created by the fire. It also gives specific numbers about what was damaged in the fire; for instance, 12,000 houses were burned down. Not only was this useful for learning more about the fire, it was a source I had not heard of before but was one that would be extremely useful in investigating London as a whole in this period. Similarly, I found a Dutch etching which portrayed the fire itself and its permeation throughout the city. Another resource I discovered through Connected Histories was a link to British History Online, which has several Journals of the House of Commons. This provided purely parliamentary perspectives on the handling of the impact of the Fire of London, for instance compensating people whose houses had to be blown up to prevent a further spread of the fire.
A problem I noted during both searches was that due to the process involved in putting some documents online, they were often unreadable and therefore not very useful. Also, sometimes the search engine can be slow, as it has a lot of information to process. Overall, using Connected Histories as a starting point for researching a particular subject is very useful, as it provides a wide range of sources. Some areas are more difficult to look into when you cannot access the restricted content, however this would not always be an issue, depending on location. There is some limitation in the amount of sources, but even these provide a stepping point by which to continue research.
This 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.
Our 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.
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.
One of our summer interns from Leicester University, Charlotte Ward, writes in a guest post:
For my BA dissertation I am looking at ‘Crime and Punishment in the British Navy and Army during the wars with France from 1793-1815’ so I decided that I would create a connection that was linked to this topic. As this was my first connection I thought it would be a good idea to research a well-known person as this would probably mean that it would produce more results. I decided to choose Horatio Nelson, the famous admiral who led Britain to victory at sea with battles that included the Nile, Copenhagen and Trafalgar. For my initial search I typed ‘Horatio Nelson’ into the person bar and set the years to 1793-1815, the years of my dissertation topic. Even though Nelson died in 1805 at the Battle of Trafalgar I thought that there might be a fair amount about his legacy including documents, images, memorials etc that were made after his death. This search produced 227 matches across three databases. 209 of these matches came from the British Museum Image Collection Database where, as I previously stated, many of these images are from after he died to commemorate his life and achievements.
As Nelson’s exploits during the Napoleonic Wars are famous and well known, I thought it would be interesting to see if anything from earlier on in his naval career or indeed in his life would come up in a search. So I tried a new search and changed the dates to encompass the entirety of his life (1758-1805). This produced 135 matches across four databases. One match I found particularly interesting, seeing as I am researching an area of crime and punishment, was from the Proceedings of the Old Bailey Online. Captain Nelson had been a character witness at the trial of a man called James Carse who had been accused, and was found guilty of, the murder of a woman. Nelson describes the man as being ‘melancholy’ and ‘quiet’ and believes that because he was not a drunkard or used to drinking so he believed that as the man had been drinking that night he was probably not used to the effects of the alcohol and that this might be to blame. Nelson also makes a very salient point about the nature of crime in the navy stating that ‘it seldom happens that any man can serve four years without being guilty of some sort of offence’ which is something I will consider in my dissertation. Also, rather interestingly, one of the lawyers was William Garrow someone else whose life and exploits I am especially interested in.
Connected Histories is a fantastic resource. I have discovered things I may not have thought to look at and probably would not have come across. It is great to be able to save things that you find in an easy to access list as I often find that when I am researching things online I often have too many tabs open or I lose and forget certain pages I have visited. Although many of the databases are not free to use (though thankfully like many universities mine is signed up to all of them) it does allow you to see the sheer volume there could potentially be on a certain topic, person or place. Those that are free to use make for fascinating reading and provide a glimpse into online historical collections.
This is a guest post by Kathryn Hemingway, one of IHR Digital’s summer interns from the University of Leicester.
In attempting to create my first connection on Connected Histories, I chose the topic of the Stamp Act Crisis of 1765. It was my intention to choose a specific subject matter so that the resultant connection would not appear as a very long, insurmountable list of sources. I found that a search for “stamp act crisis” threw up a total of 57,871 matches across 10 resources. Deciding that was quite broad, I thought of narrowing it down further by creating several different connections relating to the Stamp Act – examples being the roles played by individuals during the crisis, with titles such as ‘The Stamp Act and George Grenville’ or ‘The Stamp Act and William Pitt’. Another idea would be to relate the subject to particular places, such as Massachusetts or New York. However, given that I had to undertake the work on my connection on the final day of my internship I opted to create a single connection rather than a series. Thinking along the lines of the reactions of certain provinces to the Stamp Act, a connection listing sources related to the history of the ‘Sons of Liberty’ came to mind. I conducted a search for “sons of liberty” specifying a date range of 1765 to 1776 which produced a more manageable 216 matches from 5 resources (though I also came across related sources outside of the date range through other searches, which appeared useful). Choosing this range is an attempt to generally cover the period in which they were a formal organisation. It is possible that people opposed to the same parliamentary acts but not officially affiliated with them were also referred to as ‘Sons of Liberty’.
Sifting through the results, I sought out the most relevant, useful and accessible sources while also trying to utilise a variety of websites. Most were obtained from the 17th and 18th century Burney Collection newspapers. The only difficulties I encountered with this particular resource were the repetition of some sources and occasional indecipherable transcriptions in the result descriptions. Although many of the sources in the connection require subscription, it does contain some interesting images from the British Museum and material from British History Online, both of which can be accessed for free.
It’s bitterly cold in most of the UK at the moment, with overnight temperatures lower than -10° C in some areas. However, there’s no prospect of the Thames freezing over just yet. A search of Connected Histories reveals that this was a not uncommon occurrence in earlier periods (“Thames” AND “frozen” produces 142,593 results). When it happened, it inevitably captured the attention of artists and engravers. There are 1,700 relevant images in the British Museum image database, for example. A wonderfully detailed woodcut from 1683-4, entitled ‘Wonders on the Deep; Or, The Most Exact Description of the Frozen Thames’ shows the frozen surface teeming with life, with market stalls, and boats converted into sleds. These are the events of the ‘last great Frost, which began about the middle of December, 1683, and ended on the 8th of February following’. A woodcut depicting the frost fair of 1814 reveals a similarly busy scene, with fires and cooking pots on the ice visible in the foreground. However, the situation is rather more precarious than in the earlier example – the ice is clearly beginning to break up, and one figure is shown falling through up to his waist in freezing water. A drawing of the great frost of 1789 shows an almost Antarctic prospect, with large ships trapped and anchors lying on top of jagged and broken ice.
Other sources, too, are rich in detail. A coroner’s inquest from 1795, for example, indicates what might happen when the weather wasn’t quite cold enough:
James Edwards on the eighteenth day of February in the year aforesaid at the Parish and in the Liberty aforesaid [St. George Hanover Square, Liberty of the Dean and Chapter of the Collegiate Church of St. Peter, Westminster] To Wit on the certain piece of Water called the Serpentine in Hyde park (then being frozen) being then and there scating It so happened that accidentally casually and by Misfortune the Ice gave Way & that he the said James Edwards fell into the Water and in the said Water was then and there suffocated and drowned: Of which said suffocation and Drowning he the said James Edwards then and there instantly died
And it was not just in England that such severe weather conditions prevailed. A ‘Report on Tables of Deaths’ in the 1851 census of Ireland has multiple entries relating to extreme cold:
AD 1739-40 A great snow and frost in England. Great snow in Spain and Portugal. The Zooder Zee was frozen over. The frost was common to all Europe …
1766 “A frosty spring.” The greatest fall of snow ever remembered: in some places it was more than fifteen feet deep; numbers of sheep and several travellers were lost [in that order!]. It was common to England.
1783-4 The Liffey, Thames and also all the rivers in the interior of Holland were “covered with solid ice.”
Unsurprisingly, the term ‘Christmas’ appears frequently in the resources indexed by Connected Histories – 58,644 times to be precise. The search results include a significant numbers of people with the surname Christmas, from the Leicestershire vicar Henricus Christmas to the wonderfully named Priscilla Swift Christmas, who was unable to say precisely much money had been stolen from her in 1847. The vast majority of entries, however, are of course references to the festival itself. There are, for example, some lovely images in both the British Museum Image Database and the John Johnson Collection of Printed Ephemera. Among those in the BM collection is a boisterous 19th-century Father Christmas presiding over a plum pudding which doesn’t seem unduly worried about its imminent demise. Quite what the sinister ‘bogie’ figure is doing towards the back of the image is another story. The illustrator Hablot Knight Browne is better known as ‘Phiz’, whose drawings accompanied so many of Dickens’s works. In contrast, this Madonna and Child with Gallows, a woodcut by Eric Gill (1916), is starkly beautiful, undercutting the joy of the birth with a hint of what’s to come. There are many other Gill illustrations in the collection, most designed for the book ‘Adeste Fideles, a Christmas Hymn’. Much more ‘traditional’ is this 1874 design for a Christmas card by Walter Crane, with its bright colours, children and holly.
The Proceedings of the Old Bailey include a number of Christmas-related thefts, for example Charles Henry Thwaites was sentenced to eighteen months’ hard labour after pleading guilty to ‘stealing, whilst employed under the Post Office, a post letter containing a hat-pin, the property of the Postmaster-General. Also, a post letter containing a silk handkerchief and a Christmas card. Also to stealing a letter containing a pocket Bible, the property of the Postmaster-General’. Similarly, one John Shepherd was stopped by a watchman at 1.45 am on Christmas morning, with ‘7 lbs. weight of lead pipe, value 1s.; 1 brass cock, value 10d., and 1 screw-plate, with taps, value 6s.’ under his coat. Pleading poverty, he was recommended to mercy and imprisoned for only six weeks. Some things didn’t stop even for Christmas!
You can now cross-search the Proceedings of the Old Bailey Online and the Convict Transportation Registers Database via Connected Histories, tracing the fate of individuals from arrest to arrival in Australia. One such was the 17-year-old John Kail, indicted on 12 May 1833 for the theft of a 2s handkerchief belonging to the auctioneer George Mence Boyes. In his defence, Kail claimed ‘I was coming along Fenchurch-street, two more boys were behind the prosecutor; I was passing him and the handkerchief fell, I went to pick it up, Mr. Boyes turned round and said it was in my hand, but it was on the ground; he said he had transported one before, and would transport me for life’. Kail wasn’t believed and was sentenced to transportation for life. The convict transportation registers reveal that he was one of 260 individuals transported on the John on 3 August 1833, destined for Van Diemen’s Land (modern day Tasmania) (Connected Histories search at http://www.connectedhistories.org/Search_results.aspx?rsf=kail&sr=cr%2cob). Alongside him were Francis and Charles Wiltshire, similarly indicted for the theft of a handkerchief, worth 3s from one John Schmidt. It was noted that Charles Wiltshire had been convicted of felony before. Aged 12 and 13 respectively, they were both sentenced to transportation for a period of seven years.
Although not part of Connected Histories, you can find further information at the conviz website, which aims to bring the convict transportation registers to life through visualisation. A record for John Kail, for example, exists at http://conviz.info/convicts/252127/kail-john. From here, you can see the start and end point of his journey, and find out information about others convicted in 1833 or sent to Van Diemen’s Land. You can also see a list of all those transported on the ship John (1,295 in total over several years). The Wiltshires are also there, but the poignancy of their case is only fully revealed by linking the Old Bailey material and the registers through Connected Histories.
A search of Connected Histories for the word ‘Halloween’ produces only 13 results for the whole period 1500-1900. Similarly there are only 15 mentions of ‘All Hallows Eve” – with all of these simply referring to it as a date (for example in an almanac). The first entry, from the British Museum image database, is a rather lovely printed broadside from 1830 which reproduces Robert Burns’s poem ‘Halloween’. The subtitle notes: ‘[Halloween] thought to be a night when witches, devils, and other mischief-making beings, are all abroad on their baneful midnight errands; particularly those aerial people, the Faires [sic], are said on that night, to hold a grand anniversary’. The accompanying woodcut shows revellers gathered round a roaring fire. The Scottish theme continues with the Old Bailey Online, when a witness in a murder trial attested to his certainty about the date on which he saw one of the defendants: ‘I know it because it was Halloween in Scotland’.
The entry from the John Johnson Collection of Printed Ephemera is a prospectus for a newly published book, The Cabinet of Modern Art and Literary Souvenir, ed. A. A. Watts (1835). Among the illustrations listed, but sadly not shown, is one simply entitled ‘Halloween’. The remaining 10 search results are all derived from the House of Commons Parliamentary Papers. Several simply refer to Halloween as a date on which rents or other payments were due, while one is in fact talking about ‘the Halloween Arabs – a sub-tribe of the Rufaa [Egypt]’. Several, however, are of more relevance. Two annual reports of the General Board of Commissioners in Lunacy for Scotland (from 1867 and 1871 respectively) note the festival being marked in asylums: ‘in winter there are seldom fewer than two public in-door amusements weekly, and at these strangers are always present while at the more important festivities; such as Halloween, harvest-home, Christmas, etc., provision is invariably made for 50 guests’. The same is found to be true for ‘lunatic asylums’ in Ireland. The most unexpected result is from the resignation letter of Sir Peregrine Maitland as Commander-in-Chief at Madras. In a discussion of celebrations at festivals in India, he remarks ‘Something of paganism may be traced in our English feasts of May-day and harvest home; something Druidical in the rites of Halloween; more that is catholic in the village mummeries of Christmas’. And that, rather surprisingly, is that!
Image: Snap-Apple Night, painted by Irish artist Daniel Maclise in 1833. It was inspired by a Halloween party he attended in Blarney, Ireland, in 1832 (Wikimedia Commons)