[posted by Gavin Robinson, 3:23 pm, 14 January 2013]
I promised that I’d get back to blogging in January. I’ve finished the last freelance contract, but I’m just about to start a bigger one so I won’t be blogging as much as I’d planned. Instead of what I said I was going to do, I’ll be posting a transcript of an early-modern document every month, with links to images and some explanation of what it’s about. This means that my blogging will be exclusively early-modern for at least six months. The series starts tomorrow with accounts of horse losses in the English Civil War, which will make a nice transition from last year’s cavalry series and partly answer a question that people are always asking me.
The other big news is that I’ve changed my Creative Commons licence to attribution only. This means that you (yes, YOU) are free to modify and re-use my blog posts for any purpose, including commercial use, as long as you attribute it to me. The new licence DOES NOT apply to any posts deleted before today. Also, I’m not waiving any of my moral rights, so no defamatory false attribution, please. I was already planning to make this change before Aaron Swartz died, partly to save me from the trouble of having to give permission for commercial use when people ask for it, and partly to prove that CC-BY doesn’t automatically help neo-nazis. The downside is that I have to pay myself £1,500 per post in Blog Processing Charges, but I’m hoping I might get some free taxpayers’ money to cover that, because I’m a businessman too and so my profits should be just as important as publishing companies’ profits.
There has been some bad news for historians recently: the RHS Bibliography of British and Irish History has lost its direct government funding and is being privatised in a move disturbingly reminiscent of PFI (and to add insult to injury the IHR claims to be “delighted” about this!); the UK National Archives (or PRO to most of us who use it) can no longer afford to open on Mondays or offer free parking.
But it’s not all bad. There’s also some good news from the National Archives which has got much less attention than the bad news – in fact I’m not even sure exactly when it happened. They are now allowing and encouraging users to upload photos of public records held at Kew to Flickr and similar photo sharing sites. Crown Copyright had already been waived to allow republication of the text of public records but previously publishing images of documents didn’t appear to be allowed. Now it’s confirmed that uploading images to Flickr is allowed (provided that you’ve taken them yourself – this doesn’t cover documents bought from DocumentsOnline or Ancestry). This is a win situation for everyone, because these documents will be made freely available without it costing the archives anything – a major advantage when budgets and funding are being cut drastically.
The NA has its own Flickr account, and a group for visitors. Combined with the Your Archives wiki this could lead to some really exciting stuff. Some people are already using Flickr and Your Archives to publish Metropolitan Police leavers’ registers. The possibilities are endless. I’m certainly going to upload all the photos I take in the course of my research. To start with I’ve put up the service record of my ancestor Tom Wenham from the First World War (photographed from the screen of a microfilm reader).
Still to come are some indemnity cases from SP24, and sooner or later I’ll have loads of SP28 to share. It would be fantastic if other archives would do this too, although some will probably be too conservative to try it. The British Library still doesn’t allow digital cameras, which just makes me not want to bother with BL manuscripts.
[posted by Gavin Robinson, 9:35 am, 23 April 2008]
Mercurius Politicus linked to Gilbert Mabbott, a new blog about print culture in the English Civil Wars and Interregnum. From this blog I discovered that Calendar of State Papers Domestic is starting to appear on Google Books. There’s a James I volume available with full access. I’m hoping that the rest of the series, particularly the Charles I volumes, will follow soon. There’s no reason why they shouldn’t as they’re all in the public domain. Since the original documents were under Crown Copyright and the calendars were published by HMSO in the 19th century the copyright must have expired by now.
[posted by Gavin Robinson, 8:00 pm, 8 February 2008]
Having decided to leave my 5th Lincolnshire First World War project for a while, I got an offer I couldn’t refuse: someone from the Great War Forum sent me a transcript of the battalion’s medal citations from the regimental archive so that I could publish them on my site and link them in to the index of people that I’d created for the book. The document contains information that can’t be found elsewhere, as although awards of the Military Medal were listed in the London Gazette, full citations were not normally published. There are also three awards not mentioned in Sandall’s list, and citations for 10 people who were recommended for awards but turned down.
I received the list as a Word file with no semantic markup on Wednesday morning, started working on it on Thursday morning, and published it on the web this afternoon. It looks very basic but it’s not bad for two days, and it’s all linked in to the index of people for Sandall’s book. First of all I copied the text into jEdit and used Find and Replace to insert some basic TEI XML markup. Then I pasted it into a new TEI document in oXygen. With the automatic validation it was easy to track down and correct errors in the markup, so by lunch time I had a completely valid TEI file. In the afternoon I spent about 3 or 4 hours on linking records by inserting key attributes into <persName> tags. In most cases I already had the keys that I used for linking names in Sandall, but sometimes I had to change them in the light of new evidence from the citations, such as full names of people who I previously only knew by their initials. This also allowed me to clear up some ambiguities . This morning I finished the linkage by creating new keys for the 13 people not mentioned by Sandall, then got started on writing some XSLT. That was easy as I could copy or adapt a lot of the code from the style sheet for Sandall. As well as generating the HTML version of the citations, this XSLT generates an extra JSON file which is imported into the Sandall index of people to allow linking the citations. Again this only required some minor adjustments to the Exhibit page. After some testing and corrections I had a live site up this afternoon.
This demonstrates the potential value of the techniques I’ve been using for marking up texts, but it also raises some problems for digital history. I decided to trust a transcript from a random person off the internet. I have no way of knowing how accurate the transcript is, or even if the source document really exists! It could be Hugh Trevor Roper and the “Hitler Diaries” all over again. Therefore I’m going to think more carefully before putting myself in this situation again. There’s also a possibility that I’ve miscalculated the copyright situation. Based on internal evidence and comparison with other documents my best guess is that the list was created by the army and is therefore under Crown Copyright (and being unpublished and available for inspection in a public record repository should come under waiver of Crown Copyright), but without seeing the original it’s hard to be sure. I might be wrong, and even if I’m right the holders of the manuscript might not agree. So technology makes some things easier, but there are other problems that it can’t solve.
[posted by Gavin Robinson, 11:29 am, 2 January 2008]
Nearly a year ago I started a project to digitize T. E. Sandall’s history of the 1/5th Lincolnshire regiment in the First World War, and in summer I published an interim version. I would’ve finished it a long time ago if I didn’t have anything else to do, but original work in peer reviewed printed journals has to come first because it’ll look better on my CV. Now I’ve got time to do some more work on it, and having had a break from it I can reassess what I’m trying to do. Below is an update on what’s new.