The IHR Blog |

IHR Digital

New reviews: notebooks, Franco, Armenians and medieval geographies


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


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:


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


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


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.

Reviews in History fashion special IV


fashion2We end our monthly fashion special with Bethan Bide’s assessment of the Fashion on the Ration exhibition at the Imperial War Museum, and she reports on a thoughtful exhibition which could be bolder in using material culture evidence to signpost the counter narratives contained within the objects on display (no. 1803).

Next up is Textiles, Fashion and Design Reform in Austria-Hungary Before the First World War by Rebecca Houze. Shona Kallestrup believes this book provokes a welcome reconsideration of how we understand the complex cultural tapestry of Vienna (no. 1802).

Finally for fashion, we  turn to Fashionable Queens: Body – Power – Gender, edited by Eva Flicker and Monika Seidl, with Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell warning against a muddled mixed bag of an essay collection (no. 1801).

We also have a great review of the newly enhanced Welsh Newspapers Online website, as Paul O’Leary reviews a formidable resource with enormous potential for the study of the 19th and early 20th centuries (no. 1800).

Reviews in History fashion special III


paulicelli2Our fashion special continues this week, beginning with Writing Fashion in Early Modern Italy: From Sprezzatura to Satire by Eugenia Paulicelli. Cordelia Warr tackles a book which is part of an ongoing endeavour to bring together different disciplines to investigate dress and fashion (no. 1799).

Next up is Denise Rall’s edited collection Fashion and War in Popular Culture, which Rebecca Arnold finds to be an ambitious book, but one whose scope could have been defined with more clarity (no. 1798).

Then we have Dress Casual: How College Students Redefined American Style by Deidre Clemente. John Potvin recommends a serious and genuine contribution to the history of American fashion and cultural life (no. 1797).

Finally we turn to Kate Haulman’s The Politics of Fashion in Eighteenth-Century America, which  Gaye Wilson believes offers a fresh and thought-provoking encounter with early American history (no. 1796).

Reviews in History fashion special II


norberg2We continue this week with our fashion special, and first up this week is Fashion Prints in the Age of Louis XIV: Interpreting the Art of Elegance, edited by Kathryn Norberg. David Pullins hopes the essays here will prompt more sustained engagement with this important genre of print (no. 1795).

Then we turn to Joy Spanabel Emery’s A History of the Paper Pattern Industry: The Home Dressmaking Fashion Revolution, as Valerie Cumming recommends a carefully organised book on American and English language patterns from the 1840s up to the present day (no. 1794).

Next up is Kristi Upson-Saia, Carly Daniel-Hughes and Alicia J. Batten’s Dressing Judeans and Christians in Antiquity. Mary Harlow reviews a volume which shows that dress can be a medium for talking about so much more than dress (no. 1793).

We also  have Spanish Fashion at the Courts of Early Modern Europe, edited by José Luis Colomer and Amalia Descalzo. Tara Zanardi believes this anthology should propel future study in the history of Spanish dress of the early modern period and invigorate the field of fashion history (no. 1792).

Finally, there’s a non-fashion review that reviewer Stan Nadel has been waiting patiently for me to publish – his take on Jews and the Left: The Rise and Fall of a Political Alliance by Philip Mendes is no. 1791.


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.

Reviews in History fashion special


Houndsditch1862x30Today is the first day of Fashion, the 84th Anglo-American Conference of Historians, and as usual, this means we’ll be publishing a series of fashion-related reviews over the next few weeks. We start this week with a book by one of the session chairs from the conference, Vivienne Richmond, Clothing the Poor in Nineteenth-Century England. Sally Tuckett recommends a volume which ensures that the dress of the historical majority is seen as being just as worthy of attention and analysis as that of the fashionable elite (no. 1790).

Next up is From Main Street to Mall: The Rise and Fall of the American Department Store by Vicki Howard, as Jan Whitaker looks at a new history of an American retail institution (no. 1789).

Then we turn to Tansy Hoskins’ Stitched Up: The Anti-Capitalist Book of Fashion. Esther Leslie reviews a book which suggests that the fashion industry is deadly, and that its seductions are lethal (no. 1788).

Finally we have Kimono: A Modern History by Terry Satsuki Milhaupt. Elizabeth Kramer believes this book persuasively challenges the myth of the kimono as a traditional, static garment (no. 1787).

New reviews: Eleanor of Aquitaine, American Jews, Cold War intelligence and the French Revolution


1024px-Church_of_Fontevraud_Abbey_Eleanor_of_Aquitaine_effigyWe start with Michael R. Evans’ Inventing Eleanor: the Medieval and Post-Medieval Image of Eleanor of Aquitaine, which Elena Woodacre thinks has much to offer both the historian and the interested public (no. 1786).

Then we turn to Transnational Traditions: New Perspectives on American Jewish History, edited by Ava F. Kahn, Adam D. Mendelsohn. Toni Pitock believes this book will reorient our thinking about American Jewish history in particular, and Jewish history in general (no. 1785).

Next up is Huw Dylan’s Defence Intelligence and the Cold War: Britain’s Joint Intelligence Bureau 1945-1964. Rory Cormac recommends an impeccably researched and well-written work (no. 1784).

Finally we have a review article by Dave Andress covering Stuff and Money in the Time of the French Revolution by Rebecca Spang and The Coming of the Terror in the French Revolution by Timothy Tackett, which includes responses from both authors (no. 1783, with response here).

< Older Posts

Newer Posts >