Let’s take 10 famous historical historians — one each week — and see what they can achieve with the Bibliography of British and Irish History (BBIH).

The Bibliography is a record of more than 600,000 publications relating to Britain, Ireland and the British world. It’s an essential resource — in many different ways — for every historian, however eminent …

Episode one: Bede and the Bibliography

Bede gets to work …

Poor Bede. He wants to start researching history books so that he can write a history of the English people, but he doesn’t know where to start.

He doesn’t know about the Bibliography of British and Irish History, which has over 600,000 indexed records that would allow him to search by place or by historical period, as well as by the more usual bibliographical criteria, such as author, title and date of publication.

All he can do is pore through the two hundred manuscripts in his monastic library to find relevant material, and wait for extra reading material sent from the Continent, which may or may not be useful.

If Bede used the Bibliography, he would have indexed resources at his fingertips, with links to abstracts, articles and reviews. 

Fortunately, his abbot has just told him about the Bibliography, so Bede gets to work. He wants to start with Roman Britain, so he goes into the BBIH advanced search and uses the subject heading ‘History: study, understanding and use of’ and specifies the date from 0 to 450, which brings up 39 matches:

The results are displayed in publication date order, with new entries highlighted, and links to resources:

Bede is also very keen on local history, so he uses the BBIH place name tree (again in the advanced search) to select resources on Northumbria:

While exploring the subject tree, Bede also came across a subject heading for the Organisation of Time, which has given him another idea for a research project …

All these searches have given Bede a great start, and he now feels confident that he’s aware of all the most relevant and useful resources before he starts his project. In fact, he’s so taken by the idea of a bibliography that he makes sure he creates his own autobiographical list of works in the Historia ecclesiastica. After all, he wants to make sure his research is fully accessible for years to come!

Find out what happens with our next historian in episode two – available next week on the IHR blog!

About Bede …

St Bede, known as the Venerable Bede, was a Benedictine monk who was born and lived in Northumbria. He was a historian and theologian, and in his great work, Historia ecclesiastica (731), he outlines his own life.

About the Bibliography …

The Bibliography of British and Irish History (BBIH) is the largest and most comprehensive guide available to what’s been written about British and Irish history, from the early 1900s to 2019.

It’s an essential resource for research and teaching, providing up-to-date information (and links) to more than 610,000 History books, articles, chapters, edited collections and theses. Currently 650 of these relate to Bede.

New records are added in three annual updates. These records are searchable by a wide range of facets including: title, author, chronology, date and form of publication, historical topic and geographical region.

The Bibliography is a research project of the UK’s Institute of Historical Research and the Royal Historical Society, and is published by Brepols. BBIH is a subscription service and is available remotely via university and research libraries worldwide.