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IHR Digital


New reviews: African-American history, Civil War Scotland and Ireland, healthcare and medieval databases

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mlk1We start this week with Interpreting African American History and Culture at Museum and Historic Sites by Max A. van Balgooy, as Hannah Rose-Murray and the author discuss an engaging account of how African-American history is interpreted today (no. 1823, with response here).

Next up is Barry Robertson’s Royalists at War in Scotland and Ireland, 1638-1650,  as Chris Langley finds this book to be an important milestone in our appreciation of the differences of British and Irish experience (no. 1822).

Then we turn to Healthcare in Ireland and Britain from 1850: Voluntary, Regional and Comparative Perspectives, edited by Donnacha Seán Lucey and Virginia Crossman. Laura Kelly believes this impressive volume will appeal to all those interested in the history of healthcare and welfare (no. 1821).

Finally Justin Colson reviews two websites offering exceptional new insights into the social and economic history of the late medieval period, in Web Databases for Late Medieval Social and Economic History: England’s Immigrants and the Overland Trade Project (no. 1820, with response here).

Connected Histories: Victoria and Denmark

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brandon

This post has kindly been written for us by our IHR Digital intern Brandon Fathy

One of the less well known (and more underrated) online resources for historians is Connected Histories. Connected Histories is a comprehensive search engine comprising a variety of digitised documents and images dating from 1500 to 1900, drawing from 25 different resources ranging from British History Online to the Victoria County History. The site also allows you to create ‘connections’, which are essentially topics that you or anyone else can then add and save items to.

To demonstrate how useful Connected Histories is as a resource, I made a general search for ‘Denmark’ which found 189,007 matches across 22 resources. From here I grazed the results and discovered a variety of interesting items, including correspondence from 16th-century Scotland visiting the king of Denmark on BHO, a plan of attack by the British Navy of Copenhagen from the British Museum, and even a timetable of regular steamboats travelling from London to Copenhagen in 1889 from 19th Century British Pamphlets.

My particular personal historic interest in Denmark lies before the date range of the search engine, but I am also generally interested in the relationships between Northern European countries, so I decided to look at the relationship between Denmark and Queen Victoria. I made an advanced search for ‘Queen Victoria’ in the people index, ‘Denmark’ in the place index, and narrowed the search to 1830 – 1900. By doing so I arrived at a mere 4,154 matches across 6 sources. Many of the newspaper and pamphlet results displayed dated from 1864 concerning a “Schleswig-Holstein Crisis”. I had previously heard of a German invasion of Schleswig sometime in the 19th century, but before coming to Connected Histories I knew very little about it, and had not even considered that Britain may have been indirectly involved.

First I found a newspaper from 1864 that referred to King Christian of Denmark as “Pretender to the crown of Schleswig-Holstein”. I then found a 19th Century British Pamphlet that was concerned with “certain anonymous articles designed to render Queen Victoria unpopular” that referenced an article that had accused Victoria of being unwilling to intervene on Denmark’s behalf because she was a German sympathiser who was feeling especially sentimental because her German husband had recently died. These sources gave me a better understanding not only of a corner Anglo-European relations, but also of popular British attitudes towards both Denmark and Victoria. Furthermore, I was able to read ‘Official documents’ from 1864 stating that there were diplomatic reasons that the queen preferred to marry the “lamented late Prince-Consort” than the Danish king, which was a surprise to me. Shortly afterwards, I read an 1862 newspaper article announcing that Victoria had just sent a formal letter to Princess Alexandra of Denmark soliciting marriage to the Queen’s son Prince Edward, which complicated my perception of the relationship between Britain and Denmark.

This was just preliminary research, but it is clear to me that Connected Histories gave me access to historical materials that a Google search simply could not have, while also providing a richer and overall more complex picture of the Schleswig-Holstein Crisis than I would have been able to see using any one resource like 19th Century British Pamphlets or British Newspapers, on their own.

New reviews: English Americans, Hiroshima, French Freemasons and Stalin’s citizens

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gaskill2We start off with Between Two Worlds: How the English Became Americans by Malcolm Gaskill. Joan Redmond and the author discuss a work of impressive scope and great depth (no. 1819, with response here).

Next we turn to Ran Zwigenberg’s Hiroshima: The Origins of Global Memory Culture, and Danae Karydaki believes that the greatest strength of this book is an exceptional combination of meticulous and multi-level archival research with a strong critical voice (no. 1818).

Then we turn to Brotherly Love: Freemasonry and Male Friendship in Enlightenment France by Kenneth Loiselle. Pierre-Yves Beaurepaire finds this book to be elegantly written, and steeped in archival research and interdisciplinary reflection (no. 1817).

Finally we have Serhy Yekelchyk’s  Stalin’s Citizens: Everyday Politics in the Wake of Total War, with Kees Boterbloem enjoying a book which provides a sound argument embedded in a solid investigation of the evidence (no. 1816).

Interning for IHR Digital

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abiThis post has kindly been written for us by Abigail Lane, who interned for IHR Digital in July 2015.

During July 2015 I interned for the month at the Institute of Historical Research. Walking up to the grand building that is Senate House I felt full of nerves, but those nerves soon faded when I met the friendly people I was to work with. Once I found my feet I really enjoyed my first day and found that the day had flown by- before I knew it I was back on a packed tube train on my way home.

Every task I have been given has been carefully explained to me (sometimes more than once!) and I had the freedom to plan my own day and decide which order I would complete my tasks in. This truly taught me the importance of time management and allowed me to practise this skill. Gradually I was introduced to tasks that were more complex and soon I was working independently on a variety of different things. During my month the IHR, I have worked on British History Online to add component pages for volumes that will soon be digitised, checked the footnotes of a Historical Research article (which has been invaluable as footnotes have been something I haven’t always got right), as well as working on the Bibliography of British and Irish history checking reviews, and searching for reviews on Reviews in History.

During my month here I have gained important experience in the world of publishing, which, I have learned, is a dynamic and ever-changing place to be. It has been both interesting and useful to see how items are indexed, and searching for things myself in the future will be easier because I now understand the process publishers use when indexing items. I have also gained priceless knowledge in applying for jobs and the interview process by employers themselves, which I really hope will help me in the future. I have also learned that there is a lot of truth behind the stereotype of the English as lovers of tea!

As someone who has a passion for history the IHR library was particularly special. The collections contain hundreds of books, varying from second-edition copies of House of Lords Journals (which were very interesting to read) to essays on the Elizabethan era. Their numerous collections contained documents on practically any period of history from every continent in the world. I was given tasks which involved going down to the collections and finding certain books to be digitised or used in special collections, which was always an enjoyable experience as it meant I could read these books personally and contribute to the important process of digitising them for the use of everyone.

New reviews: Victorian literary cities, US Civil War propaganda in Britain, Christian monitors and WW1 sexuality

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gatrell25We begin with By Accident or Design: Writing the Victorian Metropolis by Paul Fyfe. Anna Feintuck and the author discuss a stimulating work of urban and intellectual history, literary criticism, archival theory, and more (no. 1815, with response here).

Then we turn to Tom Sebrell’s Persuading John Bull: Union and Confederate Propaganda in Britain, 1860-1865. Skye Montgomery believes historians of Anglo-American relations will find this book a welcome addition to the burgeoning literature on British public opinion (no. 1814).

Next up is The Christian Monitors: The Church of England and the Age of Benevolence, 1680-1730 by  Brent Sirota, which David Manning finds stimulating and readable, but not necessarily deserving of the initial hype (no. 1813).

Finally, there is An Intimate History of the Front – Masculinity, Sexuality and German Soldiers in the First World War by Jason Crouthamel. Helen Roche hopes this work will open up further studies of this fascinating and under-researched body of evidence (no. 1812).

Queen Elizabeth I and Connected Histories

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Elizabeth_I_in_coronation_robesThis post has kindly been written for us by Abigail Lane, who interned for IHR Digital in July 2015.

Connected Histories series is an online search directory consisting of a wide variety documents from 1500-1900 and containing nine research guides. The variety of topics that this resource covers, and the depth that these documents go into, is incredibly useful for anyone looking for information about a particular topic.

For example the words “Queen Elizabeth I” will bring up 2,007,131 different results. Connected Histories also allows the user to find relevant documents by narrowing the search criteria. This can be done by selecting a specific date, document type and specifying the availability of a document. I had a look through some of the various results that it gave me for Queen Elizabeth I, and soon I had found Calendar of State Papers detailing references to her suitors. In the Volume 7 of the Calendar of State Papers Foreign, Elizabeth, Eric XIV of Sweden assures the Queen of his intent to marry her. This provided an interesting insight into the interaction between Elizabeth I and her suitors, from the comfort of my own desk. The information gathered from this online resource was complemented by the extensive libraries of the Institute of Historical Research. The Bibliographical Dictionary of British Feminists, Elizabeth I collected Essays and Essays in Elizabethan History were books I found in the library which, combined with the information-rich Connected Histories series, helped create my own interpretation of the monarch. One source in particular helped with this, as it contained speeches made by the Queen during her reign. One such speech was the one she made on the morning of the Spanish Armada. On the morning of the attack Elizabeth offered strength and encouragement to her troops. As the men assembled at Tilbury on 9th August 9, 1588 she delivered perhaps her most famous speech, telling troops: “I know I have the body but of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a King.”

The resources of the IHR library and Connected Histories in particular are incredibly useful for anyone researching an individual or topic. It was especially interesting for me to use, as I have just finished my first year of University and so I do not have the defined, specific research interests of a third year student completing their dissertation, for example. Whilst this meant that I didn’t really know where to start my research, it also had the added benefit of having an extensive variety of documents at my fingertips, and that I was free to read anything I fancied. The journals of Queen Victoria were particularly interesting and I found myself reading accounts of her birth and how she felt towards her babies when they were born, to details of her coronation in her own words. The diverse nature of Connected Histories meant that after reading Queen Victoria’s journals I soon found myself reading about the origins of my hometown in Victoria County History before using the Proceedings of the Old Bailey Online to read about court cases from the 1600s. Connected Histories is a really useful resource for anyone looking for detailed information about an event or person and offers a rich array of different types of documents, from newspaper extracts to national government records.

New reviews: notebooks, Franco, Armenians and medieval geographies

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yeo2We start this week with Notebooks, English Virtuosi, and Early Modern Science by Richard Yeo, as Philippa Hellawell and the author discuss an intelligent, well-researched, and informative account of the practice of note-taking in early modern science (no. 1811, with response here).

Next up is Stanley G. Payne and Jesús Palacios Tapias’s controversial Franco: A Personal and Political Biography. Antonio Cazorla-Sanchez reviews a book which presents the dictator in a better light than his critics have typically done (no. 1810).

Then we turn to Denial of Violence: Ottoman Past, Turkish Present and Collective Violence against the Armenians, 1789-2009 by Fatma Müge Göçek, which Jo Laycock welcomes as a highly detailed account of the history and the aftermaths of the Armenian genocide (no. 1809).

Finally we have Keith Lilley’s Mapping Medieval Geographies: Geographical Encounters in the Latin West and Beyond, 300–1600. Justin Colson praises a valuable collection of cutting edge interpretations of geographies in the Middle Ages (no. 1808).

Behind the scenes at British History Online

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Image1A few months ago, I posted an image of seventeen volumes to the BHO Twitter account. These volumes were from several different series: London Record Society, Victoria County History Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire and Calendar of Scottish papers.

That day, we were sending this entire batch of volumes off to the scanners to begin the process of digitising them in order to add them to BHO.

Since that day, we have published several volumes on BHO, including three from that initial photograph (VCH Gloucestershire volume 7 and VCH Oxfordshire volumes 16 and 17. I thought I would explain what the process of getting one of those texts from that printed volume stage to this one:

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The process is a collaborative one, and can be long and expensive. Depending on the size of the volume, the density of the text and the number of images, a single volume can cost between £900 and £1500 to digitise. However, we think that the final outcome of a reliable digitised text, accessible and searchable from anywhere in the world, is completely worth it.

The first step is sending a book to the scanners. The scanning process usually takes a few weeks and the books are returned to us along with files of high-resolution TIFF scans. We have occasionally considered doing the scanning ourselves, but the scanning company’s machines, with their automatic page turners and unrivalled speed, surpass any machines that we would ever be able to afford. The scanning company is able to produce high-quality scans without damaging the books, which is another important factor to consider. We pull most of our source volumes off of the IHR Library’s shelves so we want to make sure that we return them in the same state that we took them.

Once we have received the scans, we must create the publications and components (that is, the sections that books are split into on BHO) in our database. Each publication and component has a unique ID, which allows us to keep our 100, 000+ text files organised. At this stage, we prepare all the metadata associated with the text, including the tags that are used in our faceted search interface.

Once we have publication and component IDs, we prepare rekeying instructions. Our texts are transcribed through a process called double rekeying. This transcription method involves two typists inputting text independently from page scans. The two transcriptions are then compared and any differences are manually resolved. This process ensures a very high level of accuracy as both typists are highly unlikely to make the same mistakes. All of our texts are transcribed in extensible mark-up language (XML). Our instructions have to explain how to mark up a table or an index, for instance, in XML. We send the instructions, the list of IDs and the page scans to a rekeying company. Again, relying on experts for this kind of work is much more efficient and cost-effective than doing it ourselves. The particular company that we have partnered with for many years has reliably produced hundreds of accurately transcribed volumes. BHO and its users place enormous value on the quality of the transcriptions on the site (which are 99.995% accurate) and it is crucial for us to work with companies that we can count on. The rekeyers also extract any images from the text.

They return the XML and image files to us and it is time for the next step. Although very few people enjoy sorting out copyright permissions, we love being able to show as many images from the text as possible so we bite the bullet. Some of our volumes were published fairly recently and so sorting out what images we can reuse on the web is pretty straightforward. Other times, we find ourselves contacting mostly retired editors asking if they remember the wording of their image licences from thirty years ago! Once we have collected image permissions, we edit the XML texts to make sure that we only show images for which we have received permission. Next, the images are processed further so that they don’t take up too much space on our servers. Conserving server space without sacrificing image quality can be a delicate balancing act, sometimes requiring several iterations before we find the perfect size and resolution for each image.

Next, we upload the XML files to the database and the images to our servers so that we can begin our quality assurances. We visually check each file to make sure that all the formatting has been done correctly and every page looks the way that it should. We verify the URLs and the page numbers. We double-check that the image quality meets our standards and that only licensed images are visible on the site. Finally, we check the quality of the transcriptions themselves in order to ensure that they meet our 99.995% accuracy rate.

After some double and triple-checking, it’s time for the most exciting part: publishing the volume on BHO! Once it has gone live, we do a final check to make sure everything was published correctly, celebrate with a nice cuppa, and then move on to the next volume.

New reviews: Chinese aristocracy, royal marriages, US and WW1 and Irish Times

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Departure_Herald-Ming_DynastyWe start this week with The Destruction of the Medieval Chinese Aristocracy by Nicolas Tackett, as Michael Hoeckelmann and the author discuss a work that will revolutionise our understanding of medieval China (no. 1807, with response here).

Next up is David D’Avray’s Dissolving Royal Marriages: A Documentary History, 860-1600. Danna Messer recommends an invaluable and truly impressive collection of documentary source material (no. 1806).

Then we turn to The Deluge: The Great War, America, and the Remaking of the Global Order, 1916-1931 by Adam Tooze. Kevin Matthews finds this a compelling story, but one shot through with misstatements, contradictions, inconsistencies and other errors (no. 1805).

Finally we have Terence Brown’s The Irish Times: 150 Years of Influence, and Carole O’Reilly believes this book represents a valuable contribution to our understanding of the role of a newspaper in national public life (no. 1804).

IHR research guides give hands-on support to students and researchers

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Griffith-EscapeEditedThis post was originally published on the Talking Humanities blog of the School of Advanced Study

The Institute of Historical Research (IHR) has just published Using Film as a Source, the first in a new series of research guides designed to equip students and new researchers with the information they need to tackle a particular field.

Written by Sian Barber a lecturer in film studies at Queen’s University, Belfast, the guide’s 192 pages explore how film and moving image can be used as historical sources. It will be a model for future publications in this planned series that is expected to cover a diverse range of topics including space, transport history, material culture and objects and Tudor government.

Naturally each author will approach writing the guides in different ways, according to the demands of their subjects. In Dr Barber’s case, she treats using film as historical evidence as if it has its own conventions and practice. Detailed case studies are employed as an aid to beginning researchers in the field. The guide includes sections on working with different kinds of moving images, how to explore visual sources, how to undertake film-related research and how to use film theory, as well as providing a full bibliography, glossary and resource list. And Dr Barber also addresses a subject that is perhaps little considered by non-specialists: how exactly do you cite a film in academic work?

Our plan is that the main content of each guide will follow roughly the same structure: Understanding the historiographical context; Formulating your research questions; Choosing your methodology; Locating your sources; Getting the best from your library (negotiating archives, digital resources); Using your sources (handling and reading sources, reproducing images); Writing up your findings; What next?

Therefore, although the IHR Research Guides will place the subject in historiographical context, they will be largely practical in focus. And as increasingly necessary, there will also be good coverage of digital resources for a particular topic.

As such, they will be particularly useful for final-year undergraduates and beginning postgraduates, as well as independent researchers. Printed only in paperbacks, they should be affordable by individuals and not just by libraries.

Jonathan Blaney is a project editor for IHR Digital and one of the series editors for the IHR Research Guides series.

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