The School of Advanced Study (SAS), University of London has promoted Dr Jane Winters, currently head of digital publications at the Institute of Historical Research (IHR), to a personal chair in digital history. In the post below she explains a little bit about the development of digital history at the IHR.
In the summer of 1996 I was interviewed for my first job at the Institute of Historical Research (IHR). I can remember being asked whether I had ever used the web, to which the answer was an unqualified ‘no’. It’s a sign of how little penetration this new technology had that I got the job anyway. I might not have been familiar with it, but the IHR’s website (then called a ‘hypertext internet server’) had been up and running for almost three years. IHR-Info, which would become the current history.ac.uk website, was funded by Jisc as part of the Electronic Libraries programme (eLib), and this early investment laid the groundwork for twenty years of innovation in digital history within the Institute. In 1999, the IHR’s print and digital publishing activities were unified, although the IHR Digital brand was only applied in October 2010. During the past fifteen years, the department has been involved with a range of major digital research projects, including British History Online, the Bibliography of British and Irish History, Connected Histories, Early English Laws, Reviews in History and the History of Parliament Online. In keeping with the remit of the wider School of Advanced Study, its role has to been to promote and facilitate historical research nationally and internationally – by digitising primary sources, developing new tools, and identifying and mediating new developments in digital research.
All of this activity has been defined not just by innovation but by collaboration and partnership, whether with other institutes in SAS or with other universities, libraries and archives. It is also interdisciplinary, as evidenced by a project such as Digging into Linked Parliamentary Data, which brings together historians, political scientists, computational linguists, and computer and information scientists. As new Professor of Digital History, it is this collaborative and interdisciplinary activity which I am most keen to develop. The most interesting digital research tends to happen in the spaces between disciplines, involving people with a range of complementary subject and technical knowledge. The School of Advanced Study is well placed to foster such collaboration, and to act as a neutral space for the discussion of the significant issues facing us as humans in a digital age.
One of the exciting things about working in a field such as digital history is that you don’t know what will turn out to be important two or three years down the line. At the moment, I am particularly occupied with big data, through involvement with two projects funded by the AHRC (Big UK Domain Data for the Arts and Humanities and Traces through Time: Prosopography in Practice across Big Data) and the parliamentary history project that I’ve already mentioned, funded under the Digging into Data Challenge 3. Other areas on which I would like to focus include linked data, open access (of course!), the potential of the archived web for historical research, the communication of research using digital tools, making and materiality, and how humanities researchers engage with sound and moving image. I suspect that this list will look very different in a few years’ time, but it is probably enough to be going on with for now. I’m very much looking forward to the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.
We start this week with Elizabeth Schmidt’s Foreign Intervention in Africa: From the Cold War to the War on Terror, as Jason Robinson and the author discuss a book which should prove useful and readable to many of those new to post-Cold War African history (no. 1702, with response here).
Next up is Medicine and Religion: A Historical Introduction by Gary B. Ferngren. Sophie Mann believes this work merits readership from any non-expert seeking a historical perspective on religious attitudes to sickness and healing (no. 1701).
Then we turn to Audrey Horning’s Ireland in a Virginia Sea. Emma Hart reviews a book which is a reminder that as historians move towards ever larger scales of inquiry, they should make sure that they integrate their approach with the insights provided by micro-history (no. 1700).
Finally we have a review article on Jazz Age New York by Christian O’Connell, in which he tackles Imperial Blues: Geographies of Race and Sex in Jazz Age New York by Fiona I. B. Ngô and Donald Miller’s Supreme City: How Jazz Age Manhattan Gave Birth to Modern America, which demonstrate that its history is a fertile ground for new scholarship, but also reveal the city’s ability to dazzle even the keenest minds (no. 1699).
British History Online (BHO) is pleased to announce version 5.0 of its website, launched December 2014. Work on the website redevelopment began in January 2014 and involved a total rebuild of the BHO database and a complete redesign of its website.
For over a decade, BHO has been a reliable and accessible resource for primary and secondary sources for the history of Britain and Ireland. Throughout the years, the project has evolved and adapted to changing technologies, new user demands and a variety of content, but as an eleven-year old web project, it was starting to look its age. We faced a problem very similar to the one described by the Internet Archive: our project had evolved far beyond the capabilities of our website and it was time for a comprehensive redesign of British History Online.
In order to rebuild, we had to start over from scratch. We switched to a new content management system and set about reconstructing our site. All the content has remained the same, but we have created completely new interfaces through which to access it.
The new search interface has been designed in response to user requests to be able to narrow down their search results. By applying one or multiple filters, users can control the level of specificity in their searches. The title search queries series and publication titles, and can be combined with the keyword search to further refine results. The new browse interface allows users to see everything that BHO has at a glance. They can also browse by source type, place, subject or period.
All the changes that we have made to BHO have been to increase the usability and searchability of the site as a whole. We have stripped the site down to its core, but we are eager to add new features over the coming year.
We are also very excited to introduce new subscription levels. With version 5.0, we have added premium page scans to BHO for the very first time. These page scans will be available to institutional subscribers, and we have introduced several new subscription levels to make them available to individual subscribers as well.
We start this week with Heaven and Earth in Anglo-Saxon England: Theology and Society in an Age of Faith by Helen Foxhall Forbes. Máirín Mac Carron and the author discuss a book which breaks new ground in considering the widespread Anglo-Saxon population’s engagement with Christian beliefs (no. 1698, with response here).
Then we turn to Bob Harris and Charles McKean’s The Scottish Town in the Age of the Enlightenment 1740-1820, which Ian Donnachie finds to be a formidable and scholarly volume, and a major contribution to urban, social and cultural history (no. 1697).
Next up is The Soteriology of James Ussher The Act and Object of Saving Faith by Richard Snoddy, which Susan Royal welcomes as a major contribution to the field of historical theology (no. 1696).
Finally we have the acerbic Margot Asquith’s Great War Diary 1914-1916: The View from Downing Street, edited by Michael and Eleanor Brock. Iain Sharpe reviews a labour of love carried out with great care and professionalism (no. 1695).
Anyway, we begin with Gender and Enlightenment Culture in Eighteenth-Century Scotland by Rosalind Carr, as Stana Nenadic and the author discuss a useful and brave attempt to embrace a complex, ephemeral and hard to define phenomenon (no. 1694, with response here).
Next up is Matthew Cobb’s Eleven Days in August: The Liberation of Paris in 1944. Karine Varley praises a book which is meticulously researched, engaging with a range of French, British and American archival sources, as well as numerous first-hand accounts and secondary works (no. 1693).
Then we turn to Magic in the Cloister: Pious Motives, Illicit Interests, and Occult Approaches to the Medieval Universe by Sophie Page. Helen Nicholson believes this study provides a context for the widespread accusations of sorcery and diabolism against political opponents in the 14th century (no. 1692).
Finally we have Brian Porter-Szűcs’ Poland in the Modern World: Beyond Martyrdom. Anita Prazmowska is not convinced that this book fills a gap in the market (no. 1691).
We begin with a discussion between Ben White and Isa Blumi of the latter’s new study of late Ottoman population displacements, Ottoman refugees, 1878-1939: migration in a post-imperial world (no. 1690, with response here).
We then turn to The Testimonies of Indian Soldiers and the Two World Wars:Between Self and Sepoy by Gajendra Singh. Gagan Preet Singh finds this book to be a breakthrough in the historiography of Indian armed forces (no. 1689).
Next up is Simone Laqua-O’Donell’s Women and the Counter-Reformation in Early Modern Munster. Jennifer Hillman welcomes a refreshing approach and a welcome contribution to the existing literature on the Counter Reformation (no. 1688).
Finally we have Civil War as Global Conflict: Transnational Meaning of the American Civil War edited by David T. Gleeson and Simon Lewis. William Coleman believes that this book stands as testament to the fact that the American Civil War had global dimensions (no. 1687).
Hanna Sheehy Skeffington with Mrs Pearse c.1921. Skeffington was a co-founder of the Irish Women’s Franchise League in 1908. (NLI, INDH 100)
So, onto the reviews, and we start with Irish Nationalist Women 1900-1918 by Senia Paseta. Mo Moulton and the author discuss a book which has opened a rich field of inquiry, and one worth pursuing into the less celebrated terrain of post-independence Ireland (no. 1686, with response here).
Then we turn to Anthony Ossa-Richardson’s The Devil’s Tabernacle: The Pagan Oracles in Early Modern Thought. Justin Champion believes this book should become a foundational work for exploring the changing shape of the relationship between erudition and cultural change (no. 1685).
Next up is Popular Muslim Reactions to the Franks in the Levant, 1097–1291 by Alex Mallett. Megan Cassidy-Welch reviews a book which shifts our view of the actions of the Counter-Crusade quite profoundly (no. 1684).
Finally we have James G. Morgan’s Into New Territory: American Historians and the Concept of US Imperialism. Alex Goodall recommends a book which does a great job of showing both how and why the legacy of the Wisconsinite scholars has been so substantial (no. 1683).
We start with Emotional Lexicons: Continuity and Change in the Vocabulary of Feeling 1700-2000 by Ute Frevert. Anna Jordanous believes this book’s strengths lie in its contextual diversity and in the thoroughness of the compilation and usage of reference sources (no. 1682, with response here).
Next up is Elizabeth Vandiver’s Stand in the Trench, Achilles: Classical Receptions in British Poetry of the Great War, which Marguerite Johnson recommends as a truly successful interdisciplinary achievement (no. 1681).
Then we turn to Murder Most Russian: True Crime and Punishment in Late Imperial Russia by Louise McReynolds. James Ryan and the author discuss a very significant contribution to the study of modern Russian history (no. 1680).
Finally we have Joanna Cannon’s Religious Poverty, Visual Riches: Art in the Dominican Churches of Central Italy in the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Centuries, which Michael Morris finds to be delightfully inquisitive while maintaining a respectful attitude toward religious Orders (no. 1679).
Anyway, it will take more than my lack of nutrition to get in the way of our reviews! First up this week is The Rise of Western Power: a Comparative History of Western Civilization by Jonathan Daly. John R. McNeill and the author discuss the latest attempt to address the question of the rise of the modern West (no. 1678, with response here).
Then we have Britta Schilling’s Postcolonial Germany: Memories of Empire in a Decolonized Nation, which Monika Albrecht believes to be a most valuable contribution to the field of the memory of German colonialism (no. 1677).
Next is Queenship in the Mediterranean: Negotiating the Role of the Queen in the Medieval and Early Modern Eras by Elena Woodacre. Estelle Paranque believes this collection of essays manages to highlight the importance of female rulers in the Mediterranean (no. 1676).
Finally we turn to Melissa Score’s review of Martin Hewitt’s The Dawn of the Cheap Press in Victorian Britain: the End of the ‘Taxes on Knowledge’, 1849-1869, which recommends the book as a meticulously researched account of the mid-Victorian phase of the campaigns against press taxes (no. 1675).
This post was kindly written for us by Alex Porter – Head of History, Parmiter’s School
The paradox of teaching A Level history is that you know very well your students’ education would be better served by studying topics in greater depth but unfortunately this has the potential to hamper their achievements in examination. Nowhere is this more apparent than in textbooks.
An A Level textbook can be a comfort but the range of sources provided in textbooks is very limited. This limitation is for two reasons, the first being the examiners need to hold onto some sources to base examination questions on, but also because the textbook is supposed to be just enough for the average student to get by on. In theory you could use it all on its own and get the top grade. Yet this doesn’t necessarily help make the best historians, and the best students know this. The high achievers need to be stretched and this means more sources.
As a result, many history teachers will punch phrases into Google on a regular basis in the forlorn hope that there will be some magical archive of sensibly arranged contemporary information that could be mined for use in lessons. Those that teach courses on Henry VIII will likely have found solace in the comforting embrace of British History Online. I am one of them.
I was initially searching for contemporary accounts of Henry VII in order to put together a lesson investigating the circumstances of Henry VIII’s accession. What I ended up finding was Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 1: 1509-1514, an extremely rich seam of court papers and accounts from the reign of Henry VIII. It included a missive apparently from the Venetian ambassador dated 8th May 1509, in which Henry VII was described as ‘a most miserly (miserissimo) man but of great genius, who has accumulated more gold than that possessed by all the other Christian kings’.
This was perfect material. The provenance was such that it afforded the students an opportunity to consider how Henry VII might have been considered outside his realm, but also gave real meat to the idea of his wealth in comparison with others around Europe. It wasn’t long before I was reading details of the condolence note to Henry VIII from Ferdinand of Aragon.
Such information is invaluable to me in the delivery of this course. It provides me with a deeper understanding of the affairs at court in the period and allows me to drop anecdotes into lessons that pique the interest of my students. It also gives me the material needed in the delivery of lessons that go beyond the narrow confines of the set text.
Since this happy find, I have been back on British History Online more than once and not alone. My school has developed a “Bring Your Own Device” policy allowing students to safely use their phones and tablets in lessons, so I was able to encourage my students to undertake their own research in a subsequent lesson. It wasn’t long before a number of them were trawling through these records, attempting to establish the use of the term Alter Rex for themselves to see if it only ever applied to Wolsey.
With the use of websites such as British History Online and the assistance of a progressive ICT policy it has become possible not only to find extremely useful resources for myself but to encourage students to develop their learning independently. In ordinary circumstances I would be harvesting their finds as Wolsey gathered tithes but we have to change our A Level for next year and no doubt there’ll be a new set of narrowly focused textbooks to use. At least this time I’ll know where to look for some sources.