The British Association for Local History has produced a useful booklet – Internet Sites for Local Historians: A directory. In some ways it takes a leap of faith to even begin to quantify (never mind qualify) websites for historians. Such an undertaking can be time-consuming – needing to check sites, appraise them, check if there have been additions, and making sure the site is still available. There have been a limited number of attempts to document websites for historians. The IHR produced a smaller booklet Internet Resources for History (pdf) in 2006; History Online also produces a list of history projects on the web with the help of arts-humanties.net. Intute used to maintain an online listing of history web resources but it ceased operations in July 2011, though the site is archived and available for research.

So BALH is to be highly commended in producing their directory. However, “To compile a bibliography is a service to learning; to publish it is to give hostages to public ingratitude…” [1] and so it is with a directory (and I speak from experience as compiler of BBIH). Of course there are gaps in the directory, inconsistencies and some curious inclusions but as an attempt I can only commend BALH.

The list is compiled by Jacquelené Fillmore who began to research a list as a basis for a lecture – “The local historian and the internet”. She has regularly updated it and has reviewed some sites (some reviews are included in the directory). The lists have been previously published in issues of Local Historian [2]. In the succinct introduction the problems of discovering and assessing websites are outlined and a useful guide to assessing any website is given – covering accuracy, authority, objectivity, currency, and coverage. The directory is described as a taster for sites of “what is potentially available to the local historian”. However, rather than a taster, this useful tool is a veritable feast and can only encourage the plea in the introduction to use and explore the sites offered.

Access to the straight-forward A-Z listing is provided by “People and places” and “Subject index”. These access points are useful to the 500 or more websites but are applied inconsistently. Under Bristol there is a smuggling site listed but with no mention of the town, while the Transactions of the Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society is indexed under Gloucestershire but not Bristol. Similarly the National Screen and Sound Archive of Wales is not indexed under Wales. The inclusion of the Welsh film archive would suggest the inclusion of the Scottish Screen Archive – this is missing from the listing. However the gateway to the regional film archives Moving History is listed. Also the site Films from the Home Front is not indexed under the heading Film archives however a user may expect to find such a site under that term or perhaps the broader and simpler term Film. Other useful terms that might have been applied are Charity and the two world wars. Another useful index may have been a period index. There are index terms for Victorian period and Anglo-Saxon history but not for Roman, Medieval or Tudor (for which there are many sites eg Elizabethan Era and Tudor England).

There are two entries for the Dictionary of National Biography (one under Dictionary and one under Oxford an easy mistake to make and one in which I confess I have been guilty – ODNB or DNB?). The subject indexing term Bibliographies seems to be a conflation of Bibliographies and Biographies. The inclusion of John Major and the Codex Sinaiticus project does seem curious. There seem to be no sites for any other prime minister (eg Margaret Thatcher) and the inclusion of a Greek biblical site, no matter how important, does seems to stretch the idea of local history.

On the other hand it is heartening to see the inclusion of so much IHR material including British History Online and the Markets and Fairs Gazetteer. Other useful sites (and you can dip into any page and find equally compelling examples) are Evanion Catalogue, Cecil Slack and the Great War, Lancashire Police database, Enclosure Maps; and useful methodological and practical sites such as Online map creator, Roman numeral and date conversion, and Relative Values of Sums of Money. Indeed it may be useful in the future to separate the National websites (Copac, British Library, etc) from the local sites and the methodological and practical sites. Indeed the BALH site already does this.

The editors may also consider the idea of publishing updates on the BALH website or indeed expanding on their website listings. Access to the listed sites would also be so much easier than using a printed directory.

The above are quibbles which will be smoothed out in any future editions. I do hope that there will be revised and extended editions. Fillmore and the editor Alan G. Crosby have set themselves no small task in creating and hopefully maintaining the directory. We should congratulate and encourage them in their endeavours, and follow their advice to send details of any useful sites for inclusion in future editions.

Citations:

[1] J. P. Cooper, reviewing Keeler’s Bibliography of Stuart History, ‘Review: Bibliography of British History, Stuart period, 1603–1714’, English Historical Review, 349 (1973), 118.

[2] Local history internet sites : an update for 2010, Local Historian 40:4 (2010) 309-319; Local history internet sites : an update for 2009, Local Historian 39:3 (2009); Local history internet sites : an update for 2008, Local Historian 38:3 (2008) 216-23 ; An annotated list of internet sites for local historians, Local Historian 37:3 (2007) 193-203

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