|Author:||Michael de Nie|
|Title:||Online Resources for Nineteenth-Century British History|
|Publication info:||Ann Arbor, MI: MPublishing, University of Michigan Library
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Online Resources for Nineteenth-Century British History
Michael de Nie
vol. 2, no. 1, April 1999
|Article Type:||Site Review|
Online Resources for Nineteenth-Century British History
As the editor of the Internet Scout Project Scout Report (http://scout.cs.wisc.edu/scout/report/index.html), I encounter the good, the bad, and the useless of the Web every day. Positioning ourselves in the face of the information tidal wave, the Scout Project strains the flow to retrieve items of interest and use to educators and researchers. While my position entails resource discovery for the wider academic community, as a dissertator in 19th-Century British and Irish history I also take care to file away any quality sites I might use myself. For this article, I have collected and briefly described some of the best online resources for the field. To make this piece helpful to the widest audience possible I will include a few sites that are probably well known to some readers. However, it is hoped everyone will find at least one or two useful items.
Any review of modern British history resources should begin with H-Albion (http://h-net2.msu.edu/~albion/ ), the H-Net discussion list for British and Irish history. As was noted in the last issue of JAHC, H-Net is one of the largest international consortiums of Humanities scholars and teachers and the host of over one hundred moderated discussion lists. The H-Albion site offers subscription information, searchable message logs and discussion threads, an archive of book reviews, and related links. Another site that sponsors a related mailing list is the Victoria Research Web (http://www.indiana.edu/~victoria/index.html), host of the VICTORIA discussion list. While the VICTORIA list tends to focus mostly on literature, the parent site hosts numerous resources for all scholars of 19th-century Britain. These include bibliographies, research guides, and a helpful overview on planning a research trip to Britain. Additional features at the site include a guide to relevant discussion lists and a collection of syllabi and reading lists.
Both of these mailing lists occasionally feature book reviews, but users wishing to track recent publications in the field on a more regular basis will turn to the University of Southern California English Department's New Books in Nineteenth-Century Studies (http://www.usc.edu/dept/LAS/english/19c/newbooks.html) site. This frequently updated site offers publication information on and descriptions of new and forthcoming scholarly works on "the British Romantic and Victorian periods" including new issues of primary works. Users can browse books published from 1995 to 1999 by author or title or use an internal search engine. Although the site features mostly works on literature, historians will find a number of items of interest, particularly in Cultural Studies.
While the Internet has become a wonderful tool for scholarly communication, as evidenced by these sites, it is perhaps even more valuable to prospective researchers. Users can now locate and browse archival finding aids, indexes, and catalogs from most of the major British archives and libraries without leaving their desk. OPAC97, the British Library's free Online Public Access Catalogue (http://portico.bl.uk/), allows multiple-term searching of the Library's major Reference Collections in London and the Document Supply Collections in Boston Spa. In some instances, users can save themselves the trip and order document copies directly from Boston Spa. Details on contacting the library and accessing items in the Reading Rooms are also provided.
Prospective visitors to the Public Record Office (PRO) at Kew (http://www.pro.gov.uk/) will find that its online catalogue currently only offers citations of selected 20th-century Government department records, but a more comprehensive database is scheduled for release at the end of this year. The site also provides a large selection of finding aid information leaflets and contact information. In contrast to the PRO, the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) (http://proni.nics.gov.uk/) offers detailed descriptions of a large number of collections, especially family and estate papers valuable to researchers of 19th-Century Ulster. Users will also find an excellent selection of online support materials and research guides.
Users planning visits to a number of archives or those who are unsure where to find the documents they are seeking will definitely wish to pay a visit to ARCHON (http://www.hmc.gov.uk/archon/ ), the principal gateway for UK archives. At the site, users can search and browse hundreds of record and manuscript repositories in the UK and Ireland. Repository entries include contact and use information, recent accession lists, and links to related records indexes by the National Register of Archives (NRA). Users can also visit the NRA site (http://www.hmc.gov.uk/nra/nra.htm) itself for searchable indexes of the Register's approximately 190,000 lists and catalogues of major and minor manuscript collections. Search returns include brief content descriptions and contact information.
In addition to professional discussion and research assistance, the Internet also has considerable potential as a pedagogical tool. A number of university courses have successfully integrated online elements, especially the various sites offering the full text of public domain works or primary documents. A few of these include Paul Halsall's Internet Modern History Sourcebook (http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/modsbook.html), the Avalon Project (http://www.yale.edu/lawweb/avalon/avalon.htm ), and Project Bartleby (http://www.columbia.edu/acis/bartleby/ ).
Some instructors have also found it useful to direct their students to topical reference sites as a supplement to the course texts or an aid in brainstorming topics for writing assignments. Probably the best known site in this category is Brown University Professor George Landow's Victorian Web (http://www.stg.brown.edu/projects/hypertext/landow/victorian/victov.html). The site is essentially a collection of short articles on a number of topics, contributed by historians and Landow's students. These essays are collected in sections devoted to major themes, such as Politics, Religion, Economics, Literature, Science, and Technology. Additional features include an internal search engine and a collection of related links. Another excellent resource for students is the Spartacus Internet Encyclopedia of British History, 1700-1920 (http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/Britain.html). This free online compendium contains over 1,000 entries organized by subject, such as The Monarchy, Prime Ministers, 19th-century Railways, Journalists and Newspapers, Towns and Cities, The Peterloo Massacre, and many others. The contents of each section can vary significantly, but most offer biographies, short analysis of key legislation, groups, and ideas, selections from primary documents, and related links. As with the Victorian Web, the Encyclopedia might be used most effectively as an adjunct to an online syllabus.
An important online project that does not quite fit into any of these three categories has recently begun under the sponsorship of Cambridge University Press and the Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities at the University of Virginia. Monuments and Dust: the Culture of Victorian London (http://www.iath.virginia.edu/mhc/ ), is a binational effort to create a free online "complex visual, textual, and statistical representation of Victorian London," involving more than fifty researchers and well known historians. When completed, the project will offer primary texts, original research, data, maps, and VRML (Virtual Reality Modeling Language) models in a format that explores the textual and connective possibilities of electronic publishing. Current offerings at the newly launched site are rather sparse, but any user with an interest in the history of the metropolis or the likely future of online scholarship will want to monitor its progress.
These are only a few of the many online resources devoted to 19th-Century British history, but they are among the finest. Researchers and educators interested in employing the Web to save time, share professional information, and enhance their courses can use these sites as starting points and models. As most users discover quickly, one of the keys to finding quality information on the Internet is knowing where to begin the search. Another key is determining quality and authority. It is hoped that this brief review offers an introductory glimpse into British history resources which addresses these concerns and will help users, as we say at the Internet Scout Project, surf smarter, not longer.