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Author Archives: cerithompson

Wohl Library Seminar 2018: Workshop on Digital Archives




On March 21st the IHR Wohl library held a Digital Archives event giving a chance for researchers, archivists, historians and anyone with an interest in history to come and listen to three experts showcase how to use their digital archival tools. Each speaker offered a taster session on the different resources available through these fascinating digital tools.


First of all, we heard an interesting talk from Jane Ronson who presented ‘Discovering UK Archives Online’ and showcased what Archives Hub  is able to offer researchers. Archives Hub brings together descriptions of thousands of UK’s archive collections – held in a variety of UK repositories, examples included both Cymru1914 and the War Child project as well as a plethora of other collections. The Hub is a free resource, and gives researchers the ability to discover unique sources that are often little-known. Although it does not hold any archive material itself, it does provide the means to cross-search archival descriptions from different institutions. To use it you can search using keywords, such as ‘refugee’ and fine-tune results using a variety of filters. As a continually expanding resource, it is a good idea to visit the site regularly. Jane’s talk and introduction to the Archives Hub displayed just how interesting and a useful resource the Archives Hub can be.




Louise Seaward presented on the different work the Transkribus team have been doing, and the ways in which the Transkribus tool can be used. Transkribus is a comprehensive platform for the automated recognition, transcription and searching of historical documents. This project is part of Recognition and Enrichment of Archival Documents project (READ). Transkribus is another free tool with over 10, 000 users and is a resource that will continue to grow and adapt. Automated text recognition (ATR) enables computers to automatically transcribe and recognise text. The tool processes by line rather than by character so needs to be trained by showing document images and transcripts. The more training data it is able to gain and analyse the more accurate the recognition. For example, you can train a model to transcribe and search documents, such as ‘the Bentham model’ and also to recognise other languages such as Cyrillic, French and Swedish. Although the transcription can have errors measured by the Character Error Rate (CER) – these transcripts can be understood, searched and corrected quickly. There are also a variety of tools that you can use to search documents such as Keyword spotting – detecting similarities in images of words rather than transcripts. These searches can be made with precision or broad searches to find all possible matches. The more users of Transkribus, the stronger the technology becomes. Documents do remain private as do any transcriptions. Louise’s talk and introduction to Transkribus displayed a useful and fascinating resource that will certainly be of use to anyone who is looking to transcribe documents and provide a searchable resource.

Marta Musso, the Communication Manager of Archives Portal Europe, gave an introduction to the fantastic archival resource, Archive Portal Europe. This resource is the largest online portal in European archives and collates archives across Europe to allow researchers to search them at the same time. Previously researchers had to visit various archival websites for their research but this resource allows them to find information from millions of archival materials stored in hundreds of archival institutions in one place – a ‘one-stop web service’. The Portal allows you to search multilingually, to refine your search and to save your searches (you can save them as long as you are signed into the website). The advantages of using this resource are enormous – it gives you the chance to research transnational aspects of European History, to compare isolated European communities and parallel lives and to view historical events and characters as they are narrated by different archives. This wonderful resource allows you to conduct multilingual and qualitative research and allows for different narrations of historical events. Similar to Archives Hub, it is easy to use, to search and you can refine your results to help you find the documents that you need. Marta’s talk and introduction to Archives Portal Europe showcased a beneficial and fantastic resource that all researchers should look at.


We would like to thank everyone who came to this well attended event, their additions to the discussions and for their tweets. We would also like to thank Marta Musso, Jane Ronson and Louise Seaward for their fascinating tour around some extremely useful digital resources. We had an interesting afternoon and we hope all the people who attended the event enjoyed it too!


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Library Closure for Foundation Day 21st November 2017


The Institute of Historical Research Library will be closed on 21st November 2017. 

The University of London is having its Foundation Day which is the annual celebration of the grant by William IV of the University’s first charter in 1836.

The University presented its first honorary degrees in June 1903. Among the recipients were the Prince of Wales (LLD) and the Princess of Wales (DMus), later King George V and Queen Mary.

Since then, this accolade has been bestowed on a wide range of distinguished individuals from both the academic and non-academic worlds. Their names are recorded in the Register of Honorary Degrees and recipients have included Judi Dench, T S Eliot, Margot Fonteyn and Henry Moore. A video newsreel film (1948) of Sir Winston Churchill being awarded a Doctor of Literature honoris causa at the University of London, Senate House can be watched here .

More information can be found here: Foundation Day

Foundation Day 2015


We will reopen on Wednesday 22nd November as usual at 9am – 8.45pm!

We apologise for any inconvenience this may cause. Thank you from The Library Team 

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New e-resource trial: Secret Files from World Wars to Cold War



Now trialling: Secret Files from World Wars to Cold War
Ends: Friday 8th December 2017.

This e-resource is available through library PCs only.

Secret Files from World Wars to Cold War: Intelligence, Strategy and Diplomacy provides access to government secret intelligence and foreign policy files from 1873 – 1953.

Provides 144,000 pages of British government secret intelligence and foreign policy files sourced from The National Archives U.K. Content which is only available elsewhere by visiting the National Archives in London.

Contains nine file series which span four major Twentieth-Century conflicts – the Spanish Civil War, the Second World War, the early years of the Cold War and the Korean War. Includes multiple search and filter options and a series of essays written by the resource Editorial Board of academic experts that contextualize the material and highlights key themes.

At the heart of this resource are the files from the Permanent Undersecretary’s Department (PUSD), which was the liaison between the Foreign Office and the British intelligence establishment. These files provide new insights into key moments of the twentieth century.

Another highlight are the original intelligence reports that were intercepted and decoded by the British Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park. These files include reports coming from high-grade cyphers such as ENIGMA. These reports were delivered to Churchill and in a lot of instances include Churchill’s own handwritten annotations in red ink.

Taken together, the nine series included in Secret Files from World Wars to Cold War provide a chance to study the in-depth history of the Second World War – its causes, course and consequences and the early Cold War, from a high level government and secret intelligence perspective.

Secret intelligence has long been regarded as the ‘missing dimension’ of international relations. However, thanks to the Secret Files from World Wars to Cold War project, Britain’s spies, security agents, codebreakers and deceptioneers are no longer missing in action. Denis Smyth, University of Toronto, Canada

Please note: The My Archive and the Document and Citation Download functions are not available on this trial edition of Secret Files from World Wars to Cold War. Documents can be viewed using the image viewer function.

If you have any feedback, please let us know through twitter @IHR_Library, email:, or come and see us in the Library Enquiries Office on Floor 1.

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Libraries Week: Tuesday


Happy Libraries Week! 

“Without libraries what have we? We have no past and no future” – Ray Bradbury

Hello I’m Ceri, I have recently joined the Institute of Historical Research Library as a Graduate Trainee Library Assistant. Before joining the IHR, I was a residential library intern at Gladstone’s Library. As a history graduate, the chance to be surrounded by history and to work in a historical building is a dream come true. The building is a grade II listed building in a beautiful Art Deco design, something that still takes my breath away every time I come to work and look up.

It is a constant amazement to me that I am surrounded by books every day. The IHR is similar to Gladstone’s in that they are both reference only libraries. The IHR has a vast collection of published primary resource material which can be anything from, to name just a few examples, poll books, diaries to seventeenth century military training exercise books, as well as historiography, bibliographies and guides and catalogues of other libraries and archives. This collection has been obtained through either donations or acquisitions and is one of national importance, which supports the study of history and historical writing. The collection is not only in English, we also strive to add primary sources that are in their original language.

A library to me is something to be celebrated – one of the reasons I wanted to become a librarian is not just because of my love of books but also my love of helping people. In Gladstone’s there was an enquiry desk where we interacted in whispers with people every day (as it is a silent library) – in the IHR there is an office, where we welcome people who need any help. If for example, they have a problem with the photocopier, they need help finding a book or perhaps they just want to see a friendly face – we welcome everyone to our office. So don’t forget to pop to our office on Floor 1 if you ever need any help!

Electronic resources are also available here at the library – we have two microform machines, computers for your use and also a book scanner. The book scanner to me is a fantastic resource and a source of wonder. You can hold the book with your thumbs and the scanner will automatically colour them out. The scanner allows you to scan without causing the same strain to the book as a photocopier. It even has a pedal similar to a sewing machine – I may be the only person who gets excited about that. You can save paper and the environment by saving your scans to a USB stick. It is certainly a useful resource available to members of our library.

The library itself stretches over seven floors – four of these floors consist of our books on open access and reading rooms, while three floors are our onsite store in the tower – accessible only by staff in a lift. In the tower, our collection is found on the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth floors – as well as housing absolutely stunning books, there is also a wonderful view from the tower across London. Each floor of the library usually houses a different collection – so the basement houses the military and the international relations collection, the first floor is the British collection and the religious studies collection, the second floor is the European collection, and American collection and the third floor is our exhibition space with reading rooms. Coming from a library consisting of three rooms, the IHR library has been slightly intimidating but I like to think I am getting to know my way around. One of my favourite features of the library is the rolling stacks. We have modern rolling stacks where you can prevent yourself from being squashed by a lift of the handle – you can move the stacks by just twisting a wheel. Whereas in Gladstone’s, I would have to pull a stack individually now I can move them all at once – without fear of squashing anyone – I feel I should I add that no one has ever been squashed in Gladstone’s library stacks! In the IHR, we have our stacks dotted throughout the library.

In both the IHR library and Gladstone’s library, you could find antiquarian books housed with modern books. At Gladstone’s library, I would love to wander around the shelves and look at the different books housed there. I have a similar love here – one of my responsibilities is ensuring books left on the desks get to go back to their own shelf. I like seeing what people have been reading, but also getting to explore the collections by looking at the shelves. When I was in university I loved using the library to research and also browsing the shelves so I could find similar books that might be of use to my research. So getting to browse and tidy the shelves for my job is my idea of heaven.

Another aspect of my job is library promotion. This could involve anything from this blog for example or adding social media posts. This can be another chance to explore the collections – finding for example an inscription from H. G. Wells or discovering other treasures in the collections. It can be rewarding to provide a fresh perspective on the library. To encourage people to join and for readers to be able discover the treasure trove of resources we hold here at the library.

To join the library is very simple: you just have to come to reception! Postgraduates and academics just need to bring their university ID and proof of address. Undergraduates are welcome too and just need a letter from their tutor.  You can also be a private researcher and pay to join – either at a yearly or daily rate.

My favourite aspect of the job apart from being surrounded by books – is that no one day is the same – I can be rebinding, reclassifying, cataloguing, helping someone with their photocopying, finding information they need or having a book adventure in the tower. I also get to buy books for the library – at the moment this is supervised and is testing my German language strength but eventually they will trust me to choose books for the collection – I will get to leave my own mark on the library! Remember that for you a library is an excellent source of information, this is the same for a librarian (or a wannabe librarian) but we also have to find the information which can be an excellent adventure all on its own. Never be afraid to ask for help from your librarian – we love to help everybody. So come and discover the library and our fantastic resources for yourself!

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