Digitisation of the National Archives' Calendars of State Papers through British History Online

Lead Research Organisation: University of London
Department Name: Inst of Historical Research

Abstract

This project seeks to complete the digitisation of The National Archives Calendars of State Papers, a key resource for historians of England in the early modern period. The IHR has been funded by The Andrew W Mellon Foundation to digitise and publish the Calendars of State Papers, Domestic (1547-1704, 1760-75) and those for Scotland and Ireland. The addition of the remaining 293 volumes (Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic of Henry VIII; the State Papers, Foreign; the State Papers, Colonial; Treasury books and papers; and papers held in foreign archives) will make the entire series accessible to researchers in higher education and beyond. The calendars will be made available through the British History Online digital library (www.british-history.ac.uk) alongside other core primary and secondary sources for the early modern period, including the Journals of the Houses of Commons and Lords and the substantial part of the Victoria County History. The calendar texts will be fully cross-searchable with this range of complementary material, using a controlled vocabulary of subject terms, and personal and place names. This represents an enormous gain in terms of accessibility and usability.

The delivery of the calendars online will also present scholars with the opportunity to comment on and correct any errors or omissions in the texts, leading ultimately to what might be perceived as new 'editions'. This element of the project represents one way in which scholars in the humanities can adopt the e-science agenda via collaborative research/editing, in a mediated environment. With concerns about academic sustainability of large-scale digital resources increasingly to the fore, it will test the ability and willingness of the research community to take collective responsibility for enhancing and updating key historical material, and the ways in which Web 2.0 technologies can be applied in an academic research context.

The project also aims to enhance the functionality of the calendars in a more structured way: first, by incorporating modern TNA document references, allowing users more easily to trace references in the original manuscripts; and, second, by exposing the calendars to TNA's Global Search, where they will be indexed alongside a variety of national and local archive catalogues and resources.

Publications

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Blaney, J. (2010) The British History Online digital library: a model for sustainability? in Bulletin of the Belgian Royal Historical Commission

 
Description The National Archives' Calendars make available in printed form details of the main records of government in England from the 12th to the 18th centuries. Often described as 'the motorways of history', they provide the basic infrastructure of historical research in these periods. The almost 300 volumes relating to the state papers are arguably the most significant subset of the calendars. They are an essential tool for the study of central government and administration, but also a rich resource for the social, cultural and economic history of Britain.

Despite their centrality to academic research, the Calendars of State Papers (CSP) have long been problematic for scholars. Their compilation was informed by the standards of a different era, reflecting 19th-century constraints and emphases, and those for the early modern period in particular are strewn with errors and omissions. In addition, usage of the calendars has been hampered by the lack of consistent and deep-level indexing, often leaving researchers with no choice but to work through particular volumes page by page. This project has fundamentally altered the way in which researchers can utilise the CSP in three main ways.

First, the simple fact of digitisation to a high level of accuracy (minimum 99.995%) and publication online means that the CSP are freely available to academic researchers in the UK and beyond. Other versions of the CSP exist, but they are either published on a subscription basis or have been digitised using OCR rather than the double rekeying employed by BHO. It is becoming increasingly apparent that OCR does not produce sufficiently accurate search results to meet rigorous academic standards (for example, there are a number of projects under way to 'redo' OCRed texts), but users of the CSP can be confident that their searching is producing demonstrably comprehensive and accurate results.

Second, the CSP can be used in new ways, with researchers conducting complex keyword and thematic searches, either across the entire series or within particular sets of volumes; over the entire period covered by the CSP or between particular dates. In addition, CSP volumes can be cross-searched with the full range of sources published in the wider BHO digital library, which have been selected for their centrality and interconnectivity. While there has been a great deal of investment in digitisation in the UK, researchers have been unable to make best use of the new resources because so many of them exist in isolation. Interoperability is central to the BHO model, and this will be developed further in a follow-on project, 'Connected Histories' (see below). Research questions which would simply have been too time-consuming to ask, perhaps even in a digital environment, are now possible.

Finally, the option for scholars to annotate and correct the CSP (and other BHO texts) offers the potential to generate new, crowd-sourced editions of the texts. Online collaborative editing is at a very early stage in its development, and there are many concerns about, for example, attribution and authority. The annotation tool devised for this project attempts to develop social media protocols and methodology in such a way that they will be acceptable to academic researchers. The citation of sources for corrections/additions has been made mandatory, and the identity of the individual submitting the information can always be traced (allowing users both to group annotations for their own use as well as share them with other scholars). The potential of the facility is already apparent: 590 annotations have been added to date (105 corrections of factual error; 344 transcription errors; 2 connections to other resources; 135 annotations; 4 additions of background information). The tool has already gone through two iterations in the course of the project, in response to user feedback, and it will continue to be developed and enhanced as the concept of the 'edition' evolves.
Exploitation Route As described above, the Calendars of State Papers are a central source for the history of the British Isles, notably in the early modern period. However, while they are at the heart of the academic research process, they are relatively unfamiliar to, and consequently have been underused by, the wider community interested in history. Family and local historians and genealogists are a natural audience for the holdings and publications of The National Archives, but there is little awareness among this group of the state papers as a source, and of the calendars as a route into the state papers for those unable to read the original manuscripts. The format of the calendars obscures the fact that they contain a wealth of personal and place name information (the patchy quality of indexing in the printed volumes is clearly of significance here), and the way in which they are structured deters the casual or inexperienced browser. In addition, the calendars are not always readily accessible to those outside the higher education sector, either because of the fragility of the volumes or simply because the majority of public libraries do not hold copies.

The publication of the Calendars of State Papers through British History Online, where they can be searched alongside resources with which this group is familiar, for example the Victoria County History, has opened them up to a completely new audience. While it remains an undeniably academic site (the sources are presented with little or no contextual material for the non-specialist), usage and awareness outside academia is very high. During the course of the project, for example, British History Online was presented at two annual 'Who Do You Think You Are?' events, and the vast majority of those visiting the IHR's stand were aware of the site and the material it contained. In November 2009, the project team were contacted by the AHRC press office in response to an enquiry from 'Who Do You Think You Are?' magazine regarding a feature on 'websites to watch' for family historians in 2010.

More than 80% of usage across British History Online, including the calendars, is from users who define themselves as personal interest researchers (feedback received on the site confirms this percentage). Core academic users of the material continue to view far more pages per visit than those who might be described as non-academic, but this latter group is likely only to be concerned with information about particular people or places so this is perhaps to be expected.

The digitisation of the calendars as part of this project has changed them from being an inaccessible source which could not be browsed easily, let alone searched systematically, to a resource which can be interrogated by a much wider audience for information about people, places and subjects. It is hoped that the development of new features, such as the recently launched timeline, will continue this process and encourage further post-16 use of the calendars and related material.
Sectors Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Education,Other

URL http://www.british-history.ac.uk/
 
Description Anglo-Chinese Conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity Scientific meeting (conference/symposium etc.)
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact This and other IHR Digital projects were introduced to a predominantly Chinese and UK audience, leading to discussion and debate.

The presentation forms part of an on-going dialogue with colleagues in China.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
 
Description Archival Research Skills Workshop, The National Archives 
Form Of Engagement Activity Scientific meeting (conference/symposium etc.)
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Type Of Presentation paper presentation
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact A talk to early modern history researchers (postgraduate level) on British History Online, focusing on the calendars and other archival finding aids.

The talk resulted in significantly increased awareness of the digital materials held in British History Online, and of their relationship to the holdings of The National Archives.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
 
Description Archival Research Skills Workshop, The National Archives 
Form Of Engagement Activity Scientific meeting (conference/symposium etc.)
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact A talk to medieval history researchers (postgraduate level) on British History Online, focusing on the calendars and other archival finding aids.

The talk resulted in significantly increased awareness of the digital materials held in British History Online, and of their relationship to the holdings of The National Archives.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
 
Description British Library National Doctoral Open Day 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Talks were given to history postgraduates attending two British Library open days in early 2013.

The presentation raised awareness of the project, and of digital resources generally, among a large group of new PhD students.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
 
Description British Library National Doctoral Open Day 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact The presentation led to general discussion of digital resources made available by the Institute of Historical Research.

Attendees left the open day with an enhanced awareness of the tools and methods that they can apply in their own research.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description County Societies Day 
Form Of Engagement Activity Scientific meeting (conference/symposium etc.)
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Type Of Presentation paper presentation
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact A presentation was given at a day conference attended by members of local history societies. The methods and approaches adopted as part of the project generated considerable discussion subsequently.

There is an on-going programme of activity with local record societies, including discussion and support around questions of open access and digitisation.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2010
 
Description Demonstration to Munich Postgraduates 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Talk to German postgraduates, in which British History Online was demonstrated

The presentation raised awareness of digital skills and methods among the delegates, which they may now apply in their own research.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
 
Description Developing a Collaborative Online Environment for History - the Experience of British History Online 
Form Of Engagement Activity Scientific meeting (conference/symposium etc.)
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Type Of Presentation paper presentation
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact A conference paper on the annotations that formed part of the AHRC-funded project led to a lively audience discussion.

There was considerable interest from delegates in the British History Online model of scholarly annotation.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2010
URL http://dh2010.cch.kcl.ac.uk/academic-programme/abstracts/papers/html/ab-624.html
 
Description History Day 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Talk sparked questions and was followed by a one-on-one clinic.

No known notable impacts.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description IHR Postgrads talk 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Talk involved questions and discussion.

After the talk I was contacted by a freelance technology journalist who was interested in pitching a story about the project.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description New student open day 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Presentation to new PhD students, drawn from across the country, at the Institute of Historical Research.

There was a great deal of interest in the project, which has translated into subsequent usage.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
 
Description New student open day 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact A presentation about the IHR's digital projects was given to students attending a national open day at the Institute.

Students left the open day with a great understanding of the tools and resources available to them as part of their own research.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description Society of Genealogists Meeting 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The project was presented to attendees at an event organised by the Society of Genealogists, and stimulated subsequent debate.

The presentation raised awareness of the potential of the project and other digital resources for genealogical research.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
 
Description The Problem of Citation in the Digital Humanities 
Form Of Engagement Activity Scientific meeting (conference/symposium etc.)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact The presentation sparked lively debate both in the room and online.

The presentation has led to the preparation of a jointly-authored journal article and has informed future events and policy at the Institute of Historical Research.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012