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)
Intriguingly, a search of Connected Histories reveals only 34 references to the term ‘Indian summer’ (and that from an estimated 5.6 billion words and 140,000 images relating to British history from 1500 to 1900). The reference in the Old Bailey Online is simply to a summer in India, and this may also be the case for the single reference in the John Johnson Collection of Printed Ephemera (the title of a short story in a Table of Contents). The other 32 references are contained in the House of Commons Parliamentary Papers.
It is often mistakenly believed, in the UK at least, that the term refers to the Indian subcontinent, but the ‘Indian’ in question is in fact Native American. The first reference in the Parliamentary Papers (drawn from ‘Reports of progress, together with a preliminary and general report, on the Assinniboine and Saskatchewan exploring expedition’ (1860)) yields the following rather lyrical explanation:
Indian summer is a phenomenon of constant yearly occurrence and marked characteristics in the north-west … the hazy, warm, mellow weather we term Indian summer is a periodical phenomenon in Canada, but the cause does not appear to be quite understood. The characteristics of Indian summer are more decided in the north-west than in the neighbourhood of Lake Ontario. Sounds are distinctly audible at great distances; objects are difficult to discern unless close at hand; the weather is warm and oppressive, the atmosphere hazy and calm, and every object appears to wear a tranquil and drowsy aspect.
This is followed by a table providing data for the incidence of Indian summer in Toronto from 1840 to 1859 inclusive – it apparently lasted for between four and 11 days each year.
Closer investigation reveals that only 13 of the references in the Parliamentary Papers (five from this one report) are directly relevant, and I’ve saved them as a ‘Connection’ here. The short descriptions are evocative of British officials and explorers enjoying welcome relief from extremes of temperature (in both summer and winter) to which they would have been unused:
… mornings are pleasant but cool, and a fire becomes agreeable. This period is termed all over America, the “Indian summer,” and is always looked for, and depended on, as the time to make preparations for the winter season.
The summer heats for a brief season are excessive, vegetation is singularly rapid, and the autumn, which includes the Indian summer, is delightful.
Cold, bleak, misty days followed till the 18th, when the balmy enjoyable weather known as the Indian Summer commenced, and continued till the close of the month …
The first reference to ‘Indian summer’ provided by the OED online dates from 1794 (Ebenezer Denny, Military Journal of Major Ebenezer Denny, an officer in the Revolutionary and Indian Wars. With an introductory memoir. By William H. Denny (1860)), so it is surprising not to see it occur more frequently in Connected Histories. The fact that it deals solely with British rather than American source material is clearly a factor.The Google Books ngram viewer suggests a slightly different picture. There is relatively high incidence of the term in the period 1800-20 (although at least some of these may well refer to summer in India, as noted above) and smaller peaks at intervals throughout the 19th century. However, even here it’s not until the 1970s and 80s that things really take off. Today, ‘Indian summer’ is a staple of newspaper headlines and television weather reports, and will be used many more times before the end of this balmy week in the UK.
(Image: Jasper Cropsey, Indian Summer (1886). Smithsonian American Art Museum, via Wikimedia Commons)
On a very blustery September day, a search of Connected Histories for the word ‘storm’ produces 36,190 results, including this from Strype’s Survey of London: ‘in the year 1574. on the fourth of September in the Afternoon, there fell a Storm of Rain, where through the Chanels suddenly arose, and ran with such a swift Course towards the common Shores, that a Lad of 18 years old, minding to have leapt over the Chanel, near unto the said Conduit, was taken with the Stream, and carried from thence towards the Thames with such a Violence, that no Man, with Staves, or otherwise, could stay him, till he came against a Cart Wheel that stood in the said Water-gate, before which time he was drowned, and stark dead’ (http://www.hrionline.ac.uk/strype/TransformServlet?page=book2_201). Of course, not all of the results are related to the weather, or indeed as tragic. The first for the Old Bailey Proceedings Online, for example, concerns an assault committed by the dramatically named Charles Edward Storm. You can explore further at http://www.connectedhistories.org/Search_results.aspx?kw=storm.
IHR Digital has a growing collection of papers in SAS-Space, the e-repository for the School of Advanced Study. It includes papers relating to projects such as the recently launched Connected Histories, as well as British History Online and the Bibliography of British and Irish History. Topics include sustainability, assessing impact, the future of peer review, and building tools for collaborative editing. View them all in SAS-Space, or click on the handy feed of most recent items in the left-hand column of this blog.
At the launch of Connected Histories yesterday (more to follow on that next week), David Thomas, Director of Technology at The National Archives (TNA) unveiled in public for the first time the beta version of the new TNA catalogue. At the moment you can access the ‘Discovery service‘ via the excellent TNA Labs rather than finding it on the main TNA pages. As the description indicates, this is a first release, and it will be some time before it replaces the existing catalogue. Now is the time for researchers to experiment with the new service and feed in their comments (there is a feedback form for exactly this purpose).
There is a handy browse facility, by government department, but the search is where things really begin to get interesting. A quick search for the term ‘beggars’ (suggested when David bravely asked for audience requests!) produced 104 results, with the term clearly highlighted in a snippet view. On clicking through to a particular record, the full description is given along with an option immediately to order a digital or printed copy of the record. Far more information is immediately apparent than with the current search, where it may take several clicks before arriving at a page which actually makes visible your search term.
Another enhancement is the option to refine the search by subject, date and/or collection. For example, two instances of the term ‘beggars’ appeared in records relating to ‘Privacy and privateering’. The first of these turned out to be a report on one William Caines, a ‘man of colour’, former (presumably not very successful) privateer and now beggar. The ‘Discovery service’ does precisely that, exposing the depth and richness of the collections to an unprecedented extent.
Finally, when searching for a place-name – ‘Stamford’ was the example used – it becomes possible to display the results on a map. Geo-referencing all of the information in the catalogue is, if course, a huge task, and there is a long way to go, but it opens up a range of exciting options for the future.
A panel session organised by Tim Hitchcock and Jason Kelly at the North American Conference on British Studies on 13 November demonstrated that the digital humanities, and digital history in particular, are thriving in the field of British studies. The panel brought together 10 speakers, from a range of sectors, in a Pecha Kucha session (a maximum of three minutes per presentation, with strict timing in operation). Questions and answers were in turn timed at 30 seconds each, with three questions allowed per speaker. The idea of presenting a major digital project in less than three minutes is initially a daunting one, but it proved to be an interesting exercise in distilling a project or idea to its key elements. And crucially, the format meant that there was a full hour left for general discussion – a real luxury.
Tim Hitchcock spoke about data mining in relation to the Old Bailey Proceedings, demonstrating what may be possible if researchers are prepared to use digital tools to ask genuinely new questions. Jason Kelly discussed the options for rethinking peer review in the digital age, proposing several models for opening it up to a wider group of peers (more of this later). Two projects employing similar methodologies to connect distributed digital resources were also presented: Laura Mandell talked about 18th Connect, which currently searches 669,719 peer-reviewed digital objects from 10 federated sites; and I offered a preview of the Connected Histories site, which will be launched at the end of March 2011. The latter will create a federated search facility for a wide range of digital resources relating to early modern and nineteenth-century British history, from British History Online to the British Library Newspaper collections. Ian Archer spoke about the Holinshed project, which has produced a digital edition of Holinshed’s Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland and finally Dan Cohen discussed new developments for Zotero, which has become of such significance for the management and sharing of research resources.
In addition to this view from within higher education, the panel also included speakers from the library, archive and publishing sectors. Jim Kuhn talked about the Shakespeare Quartos Archive, hosted by the Folger Shakespeare Library, which makes available a digital collection of pre-1642 editions of Shakespeare’s plays, while David Thomas presented the innovative work that is being undertaken by The National Archives of the UK through its Labs initiative. It’s to be hoped that other large archives and libraries will follow TNA’s example in involving their users in the development of digital resources. Jenny Bullock demonstrated Adam Matthew Digital’s new service for teaching and research iAMDigital, and then a cautionary note was struck by Celestina Savonius-Wroth, whose presentation on ‘Paying for the digital humanities’ revealed quite how little space there is for the humanities in a typical library budget.
On this evidence digital history would seem to be in very good health, although there was an acknowledgement in the following discussion that there is still a long way to go. Members of the audience, for example, questioned both whether undergraduates were being trained to make best use of the new digital resources and technologies available to them and how much progress was being made even earlier in schools. However, the question of peer review dominated the conversation. It is clear that the technology is now available easily to support, for example, crowdsourced, open peer review, but it is equally clear that there will need to be major cultural change if established processes of peer review are to be fundamentally altered – if fundamental change rather than gradual evolution is indeed desirable. This can only be achieved through discussion, and this session was an excellent start.
The IHR is collaborating with the universities of Sheffield and Hertfordshire, and King’s College London on an exciting new project, funded under the JISC eContent programme. ‘Connected Histories’ will create an innovative search engine for a wide range of digital resources relating to early modern and 19th-century British history.