A Digital History session on searching and browsing highlighted the power and downfalls of the internet. If a historian is looking for something and knows exactly where and what to look for, their life is plain sailing. However, if one is unsure, it can be hard to find the rights words to key in and find what you are looking for – as the humorous ‘if Google was a guy’ demonstrates clearly: here – But through the use of key words and advanced fields, historians can narrow down the details of their intended search queries using the search boxes embedded all around the Web, making it easier to get to the right place. Some of these search engines are on historical websites already, as a way to divide up source material. It is then just up to said historian to find which source material suits them. We looked at two such sites in particular.
The first website we looked at was the British History Online (BHO), who brand themselves as a digital library particularly concerned with texts relating to the British history, which includes the countries that are currently part of the United Kingdom, as well as Ireland from the Norman invasion in 1169 up to the creation of the Free State in 1922. The website states that they also include materials from Britain’s colonial history and materials relating to British diplomacy abroad. Our collection focuses primarily on the period between 1300 and 1800, but we have texts relating to everything from Roman and Anglo-Saxon Britain to the twentieth century. The second website is called Connected Histories, which holds newspapers between the years 1500 and 1900. Both websites while very similar, do have slight differences, some more advantageous than others.
- Both websites have a wealth of sources, which cover different countries and newspapers. This allows historians to be able to gain wide perspective on their chosen area. For example: some newspapers are more conservative than others, so their take on a story will differ to that of a more liberal paper.
- After running a series of searches, it can be said that both websites take into account the changes in writing styles and lettering. ‘J’s’ and ‘I’s’ are often confused, as with ‘S’s’ and ‘F’s’.
- Both websites also offer, advances searching fields, which can dictate specific years, newspapers, key words or phrases and geographic area.
- As mentioned before the websites do recognise the difference in letter over the time, but not all sources that have been scanned in have been through the OCR programming. This suggests that some source may go unrecognised. So our example of searching for ‘Irish’ and ‘Jrish’; although intended to be rhea same word came up with a different number of results. This shows how searching online for sources can be affected by the data that is imputed
- If a historian does not know the correct inputs in a search box to narrow searches, for example: adding ‘or,’ ‘and,’ quotation marks etc. They will be unable to properly conduct their search. Limiting them to a basic search which could miss out really precise and useful sources for them.
BHO and Connected Histories do offer a great service for academics to gain primary sources, but it does depend on their ability and almost luck to create the best search queries generated.