This post has kindly been written for us by IHR Digital intern Jaipreet Deo.
In an effort to pull in works relevant to my dissertation topic, the Connected Histories site provides an easy to navigate search function which looks through many databases and archives. Helpfully, this is infinitely quicker than searching through each one in turn.
My dissertation is a comparative essay on the treatment of mixed race children in colonial India and Australia, so I typed in ‘half caste mixed race’ into the keywords box. Using the advanced search function, I set the dates from 1700-1900, and the place as ‘Australia India’. However I then realised it was searching for ‘half’, ‘caste’, ‘mixed’, and ‘race’ individually, so I went back and changed the keyword search to the phrases “half caste” “half cast” “half-caste” “mixed race” “mixed-race”, and the place search to ‘Australia OR India’.
Admittedly this is something I had to do by hand as there is no function on the advanced search to input Boolean logic, so specifying things like this may be tricky for people who do not know how to do search in this way. However, there is a video guide to aid smart searching, and nine research guides on the site.
I had a look through these guides, and as they are categorised by subject, looked at the Imperial and Colonial History page. It outlined on which sites I might find relevant papers if I was looking at the governmental aspect of the empire (such as the 46 volume Calendars of State Papers Colonial through British History Online, or the Parliamentary Papers) and what these papers contained. The page also guided me to non-governmental sources, in British Newspapers and Pamphlets, and several collections examining the stories, lives, and communities of immigrants to Britain from the colonies. There were also outlines of how to look into slavery and the slave trade, sources examining the impacts, strengths, and weaknesses of the empire itself, and helpful sections for further reading and related websites.
The results for my search were grouped into the databases they were in, which was helpful as it prevented the whole page becoming bogged down in search results. These databases included British History Online, History of Parliament, British Newspaper Archive, House of Commons Parliamentary Papers, and 19th Century British Pamphlets. I went through each at a time, and although the results were numerous they were also relevant, each one explicitly mentioned mixed race peoples in a colonial setting. I found the results very useful. I explored sources on a variety of issues, such as fears of mixed race revolution in Sri Lanka, and the appointment of British-Indian judges. Admittedly, Connected Histories does not search through every historical database available, but resources are frequently added and it is still extremely useful.
Another slight improvement would be to extend the date series. Anyone studying a topic which falls outside of the years 1500-1900 would not find this site as useful as I have. Unfortunately I cannot use it for my module on British popular culture 1945-85, and will have to revert to slightly less effective search methods for sources on this topic.
Minor issues aside, I found this search engine very user friendly. I did not need to, but it was simple to refine the search through filtering by types of source (for example journals, parliamentary papers, or local records). Additionally, being able to specify the place, source type, dates, keywords, and full, given, and surnames is extremely helpful when searching through archives. I was linked to reliable, easy to use sites, so the whole process was quick and simple. Even if I had had no subscription to the service, I could have selected only those results which were free to use. Also, the layout of the search page is easier to use and more fitting for its purpose than most that I’ve seen.
This is an intelligent search engine, engineered for its users, which really pays off when you’re looking for quick and simple results instead of searching through every database you can think of in turn. Instead, this site takes you straight to the relevant sources.
Ships in Bombay Harbour, c 1731