31 March 2011
Institute of Historical Research, London

A workshop introducing two major new digital resources, Connected Histories and Mapping Crime


Programme(may be subject to slight changes)1.00-1.15 – Welcome and introduction

1.15-1.55 – Tim Hitchcock (University of Hertfordshire)
Towards a history lab for the digital past

1.55-2.05 – Break

2.05-3.30 – Connected Histories for research – parallel workshops
1500-1700 – facilitated by Peter Webster (Institute of Historical Research)
1700-1900 – facilitated by Bob Shoemaker (University of Sheffield)

3.30-3.45 – Tea and coffee

3.45-4.30 – David Tomkins (Bodleian Library, University of Oxford)
Mapping Crime: making connections and exploring narratives in 18th- and 19th-century crime material

Keynote address
4.45-5.15 – David Thomas (The National Archives)
Let a hundred flowers bloom – is digital a cultural revolution?

5.15 – Reception

Registration is free. Places for the workshop are limited, but the keynote address will be open to a larger audience.

Contact details
Jane Winters (jane.winters@sas.ac.uk)

London Lives 1690-1800: Crime, Poverty and Social Policy in the Metropolis, which will be a major resource in Connected Histories, has now been publicly launched.

The ‘London Lives’ website is a fully searchable edition of 240,000 pages (40 million words) of handwritten documents from criminal justice and local government. It will bring to life the working people who inhabited this first ‘world city’, to facilitate a new kind of history.

Evidence from a murder or a petty theft, petitions to relieve distress, accounts of money distributed to the poor and the records of hospitals, parishes and guilds, are all made newly available on this website. In addition, these manuscripts have been made cross-searchable with the records of trials held at the Old Bailey, and a set of fifteen further databases to make it possible to reconstruct individual lives from the fragments left in the archives. The site also provides comprehensive guides to these records, and to the history of everyday life in eighteenth-century London.

‘London Lives’, which was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), was created by academics from the Universities of Sheffield and Hertfordshire and published by HRI Online, the electronic publishing arm of the University of Sheffield´s Humanities Research Institute (HRI).

The website features an interactive facility that allows people from all over the world to search for and link together documents relating to a single individual, and to group these individuals into communities of shared experience. In the process hidden life stories and new patterns of behavior will emerge from the mass of documentation.

The site is designed to make it possible to reconstruct how ‘ordinary’ Londoners interacted with government and charitable institutions in the course of their daily lives. By examining how individual Londoners participated in and manipulated these agencies for their own ends, this project will demonstrate how the end users – criminals, victims and paupers – contributed to the making of modern social policy.

Official press release from University of Sheffield.

On Monday 14 June I was privileged to be involved in a seminar organised by the Museum Librarians and Archivists Group (MLAG), which discussed the general factors which make for successful collaboration, and collaborative projects and initiatives that the group might pursue in the future. The seminar was held in the conference rooms in the Sainsbury Wing of the National Gallery, under the auspices of Elspeth Hector (Head of Libraries and Archive at the National Gallery) and Richard Golland (Keeper, Department of Printed Books, Imperial War Museum), and attended by representatives of a range of museum libraries and archives. It might seem to be tempting fate to talk about successful collaboration in the context of an ongoing project (we’re only half way through Connected Histories, with a launch date of March 2011), but I was at least able to talk about some of the things that have worked well for us, and some of the things that we might have done differently! A common theme during the afternoon, which was also highlighted by the other two speakers (Ben Chaplin, Collections Manager, JISC Collections and Lucy Reid, Head of Information Services, Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists & Chair, Consortium of Independent Health Information Libraries in London), was the significance of personal connections and pre-existing relationships, as well as the commitment and drive of individuals. In addition, a clear purpose and need for collaboration, good structures for communication and robust project management have a role to play. For Connected Histories, it has also been important to recognise that it is not just a partnership between the individuals and institutions named in the proposal, but also with the wider range of content providers whose support and enthusiasm is crucial for the project’s success, with JISC and the other projects which form part of the e-Content programme, and ultimately with our users.

In the wide-ranging discussion which followed the presentations it became clear that working in a research institution, with the opportunity to develop projects as part of core activity, is a relatively privileged position in which to be. The School of Advanced Study, for example, of which the Institute of Historical Research is part, even runs a small grants scheme which buys out the time of its academic staff to allow them to build partnerships and develop projects. This makes it possible to plan a portfolio of projects, and approach a range of different funding bodies, in a relatively co-ordinated fashion. It is much harder when collaborative activity is not part of your day-to-day work. There was, however, a very clear commitment to collaboration, through MLAG, and obvious gains to be made from working together to reduce costs and develop services. A number of avenues to pursue emerged in the course of the afternoon, and you can find out more about them as MLAG reports on the outcomes of the seminar.

Connected Histories is featured today on the BBC website.

A search engine is being created to help historians find useful sources.

The Connected History project will link up currently separate databases of source materials.

Once complete, it will give academics or members of the public a single site that lets them search all the collections.

Once completed the search engine will index digitised books, newspapers, manuscripts, genealogical records, maps and images that date from 1500-1900.

Connected Histories will create a federated search facility for a wide range of distributed electronic resources relating to early modern and nineteenth-century British History.

Through a combination of web crawling and the application of Natural Language Processing methodology the project will create a non-intrusive, distanced tagging of the data within those distributed sources to facilitate more sophisticated and structured searching.

Using metadata and other available background information, the project will create a search facility that can adapt to each resource to allow searching across a range of chosen sources for names, places and dates as well as keywords and dates. Background information about search results and a facility to save and export search results for further analysis will also be provided. An online collaborative workspace will allow users to document connections between resources.