By Philip Carter
The Bibliography of British and Irish History (known as BBIH) is a research and publishing project of the IHR, the Royal Historical Society and the academic publisher, Brepols. The Bibliography is the most comprehensive and up-to-date record of what’s been published in British and Irish history. This makes it a key resource for both lecturers and students — for teaching and research.
In the current situation, with teaching (and teaching preparation) now online, resources like BBIH are more useful and important than ever. This blog, jointly published with the Royal Historical Society outlines the Bibliography’s scope and three of its key applications for online university teaching.
What does the Bibliography include?
BBIH is all about publications. It currently includes records of 620,000 books, journal articles, edited collections, book chapters and PhD theses with content relevant for students, teachers and researchers of the British and Irish past.
This history is broadly defined. It looks inwards to regional and local histories of England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland; and it looks outwards to global histories of the former empire, Commonwealth, and the ‘British and Irish world’—from the 1st century AD to the 2010s.
The Bibliography is published online and regularly updated with records of 10,000 new publications each year.
To do this, BBIH editorial staff harvest and review publication data from the British Library and undertake monthly surveys of 800 academic journals with historical content. This means BBIH remains in-step with new works published, even within the last few months.
Who’s behind the Bibliography, and how’s it created?
BBIH is distinctive because it’s a quality, curated resource created by historians, for historians. Teams of academic advisers and BBIH editors identify which publications to include. Individual records are then created, each with extensive information (metadata) relating to the publication and its subject matter. It’s this additional information that enables users to perform powerful searches to locate a particular title by a range of attributes. These include finding works by author, subject and topic, historical date range, region and place, date of publication, and publication type (for example, a monograph or an article, a chapter in an edited collection or a PhD thesis).
This makes BBIH both rich and powerful; a resource routinely used by historians—whether they’re starting out in a new subject area, or specialists looking for recent developments in their field.
Present circumstances mean that much more teaching and research is now being undertaken online.
The Bibliography supports these new ways of working by identifying relevant content; by locating titles (print and digital) in an institutional collection; and by connecting users directly to online content (articles and ebooks) provided by libraries, publishers or aggregators like JSTOR and Project Muse.
In this way BBIH combines discoverability with the now all-important pathways to available digital content.
BBIH for teaching: 1. Creating and updating reading lists
The Bibliography has a number of applications for teachers and students. With 620,000 records, BBIH provides a landscape view of British history and Irish history—its shifting concerns, interests and features over many decades. BBIH’s search functions allow you to traverse and zoom in on relevant parts of this huge and varied historiographical map.
For those teaching a new subject, and needing to create a reading list, BBIH is an ideal way to quickly identify key publications and historians in your field. In doing so, the Bibliography intersects the rich metadata for each publication with an 8000-term taxonomy that locates publications relating to specific topics.
Let’s suppose you’re teaching a new course on ‘Crime and Policing in Twentieth-Century Britain’. A search of BBIH identifies an astonishing 5000 books, articles and chapters on the broad course topic. Next comes the work of searching by more precise subjects that might form the subject of weekly classes. Further BBIH searches locate 377 publications on post-war prisons and confinement; 286 titles on modern policing in London; or 87 studies on public unrest during the 1960s.
What’s clear is the sheer volume of publications from which to choose—something that won’t come as a surprise to teachers. Faced with these waves of publications, BBIH can help impose some order. Search results are listed by date of publication (starting with the most recent), with all new records clearly marked—offering a quick route to the latest opinion on a topic and its historiography. BBIH also allows searching by publication type and year of publication. Another search for histories of imprisonment—but now only in journals, and published 2015-20—results in a more manageable 22 titles.
Searching for what’s new is also useful if you’re seeking to update an existing reading list for a course you teach regularly. Moreover, once you’ve created the terms of a search query, you can have the Bibliography email you details of all new publications in this field throughout the year. In this way, new material comes to you, as with journal alerts.
However, unlike traditional alerts from one favoured title, with BBIH information is generated by topic and drawn from hundreds of journals—as well as including relevant monographs and edited collections.
BBIH for teaching: 2. Choosing what to recommend
Finding what’s been published in your field is one thing. Deciding what to recommend to students is another. Here again the Bibliography can help.
As well as rich metadata, each BBIH record provides a series of pathways to get you to the published content as quickly as possible. These include: DOI links to specific articles in online journals; links into your institution’s library catalogue (identifying content that’s immediately accessible); and to Jisc’s new Library Discover hub (formerly COPAC) to locate a publication in other UK collections. Where links are available to free Open Access content, BBIH takes you straight to the full text.
For books, the Bibliography also provides links to recent academic reviews, allowing you to see how useful others have found a particular text for their teaching or research. And unlike many library catalogue searches, which mix up listings of a requested book with its reviews in online journals, BBIH provides the content in order of relevance. Searches by topic, theme or chronology only produce matching publications, with all related content (such as academic reviews) listed in a sub-field of the main title record.
Having decided which publications to include, BBIH will then create references in your preferred citation format, and lets you generate and export bespoke bibliographies/reading lists to reference software such as Zotero, RefWorks and EndNote.
BBIH for teaching: 3. Theses, extended essays and literature reviews
So far it’s lecturers who’ve been doing the work. But BBIH also has many uses for undergraduate and graduate students. The enterprising can, of course, amplify their own weekly reading lists. Thanks to the rich metadata associated with each record, it’s easy to take a subject in new directions. Individual records for London policing, for example, link on to related publications relating to social policy, legal reform and metropolitan social history, among many other topics.
The Bibliography also has much to offer undergraduates as well as graduates starting work on a dissertation or extended essay. As with reading lists, BBIH’s up-to-date snapshot of a chosen field helps a student assess its relative fruitfulness for further research. Given the Bibliography’s global remit, this takes in not just histories relating to the British Isles but also the British world, ranging from pre-revolutionary America to the legacies of post-colonialism in Africa and Asia.
As an unparalleled guide to what’s been published, BBIH is also essential for any dissertation’s literature review—providing students with both a survey of existing works and signposts for new secondary (and primary) reading. Such access is obviously of benefit to the student. But it’s also a help for many undergraduate supervisors who’re no longer required to provide historiographical starting points for numerous disparate dissertation topics.
As the record of a century and more of historical publishing, the Bibliography is also a primary source in its own right: an excellent resource for teaching British historiography or the changing profile of modern history publishing.
Getting your students to use BBIH (when they think Google’s all they need)
In the Google age, it’s worth noting that BBIH’s value often needs explaining to students, many of whom are wary of anything so intimidating, or seemingly tedious, as a ‘bibliography’. But far from dull, BBIH should be, and is for many, the starting point for all relevant projects: a shared window into the British past for teachers and students.
The Bibliography of British and Irish History is designed to get you and your students to relevant content as efficiently as possible.
In doing so it seeks to save you from the frustrations and partiality of searching library catalogues, Google Scholar or the open web. Comprehensive, systematic and curated, BBIH is a key tool for historians in the classroom.
Further information, including free institutional trials
Find out more about BBIH via the website of the Institute of Historical Research. The latest update to the Bibliography appeared in June 2020 and added records of over 4200 new publications, the majority being titles from 2019-20.
The Bibliography is a subscription service, widely available via university and research libraries, in the UK, Ireland and worldwide. Your university or institution library may very well be a current subscriber and, , if not, we can arrange a free trial. For further details about access, trial accounts, promotional material, or questions relating to BBIH, please contact the Bibliography’s Editor: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Philip Carter is Head of Digital and Publishing at the IHR and Senior Lecturer in British History.