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 2: Gerald goes to Ireland

Gerald is under pressure …

This is Gerald. Gerald is under pressure. He is due to visit the land of Hibernia (Ireland) with the king’s son, Prince John, who isn’t very nice, so he wants to do some background reading to make sure he is fully prepared. He wants to find out whether the fish of Carlingford really do have golden teeth and whether the wandering bell of Mactalewus really is found far away from its church in the morning if it is not exorcised the night before.

Also, he doesn’t want John to make fun of him if he doesn’t know the answer to absolutely everything. So much research and so little time! But as an experienced scholar, Gerald knows all about the Bibliography of British and Irish History (BBIH), which can help him in his research.

He uses the BBIH Advanced Search, choosing Ireland from the place name tree and types in ‘0 – 1184’ in the date range. This brings up 6,129 results, which is far too many for Gerald to look at in the time available.

Gerald is particularly interested in the differences between Ireland and England and Wales, so he filters his search using the subject heading ‘Social and Cultural Identity’, which brings his search down to a far more manageable number (103 relevant publications):


Using the tick-box option next to each reference, Gerald can select the texts he thinks will be of most interest to him, and then exports his own ready-made bibliography into Zotero:

With his preparation research done, Gerald can now enjoy his trip to Hibernia. It goes so well he does not even get a goblet thrown at his head by temperamental Prince John.

However, on his travels, he finds that the literature available on Hibernia is not adequate enough to convey the mystery of the island, so upon his return he decides to write his own account. Unfortunately, Gerald is rather narrow-minded, and sprinkles his account liberally with condescension and bias. What a shame the peer-review process was not in place in the twelfth century.

Golden-toothed fish of Carlingford

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

Previous episodes: Episode 1: Bede and the Bibliography

About Gerald of Wales …

Gerald (Giraldus Cambrensis, c. 1146 – c. 1223) was a royal clerk, archdeacon and historian. He was widely travelled, and is known for his historical works including Topographia Hibernica, Itinerarium Cambriae and Descriptio Cambriae.

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 180 of these relate to Gerald of Wales.

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.

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