[posted by Gavin Robinson, 9:17 am, 11 December 2011]
This week the UK National Archives announced that they will be closing the Your Archives wiki in September 2012. Existing content will be preserved as HTML snapshots and kept available on the government web archive, but it won’t be running on MediaWiki so search, edit and export won’t work. Along with TNA’s other online resources, Your Archives will be replaced by the new Discovery service (now in beta), which will integrate the Catalogue, DocumentsOnline and user-created content, along with a powerful search engine and an API so that third parties can query the data (so no more need for Python scripts to scrape data out of the HTML). It’s not yet clear exactly what kind of content they will and won’t let us add, and I suspect that the scope will be narrower than Your Archives, but better integration should make up for that. One of the biggest problems with Your Archives was that getting incoming links from the Catalogue was very clunky and getting incoming links from DocumentsOnline was impossible (so people browsing DocumentsOnline had no easy way of knowing if a transcript of the document was available). This was a limitation of the Catalogue and DocumentsOnline as much as a limitation of MediaWiki, but in any case it’s good that they’ve solved it.
I’ve been contributing to Your Archives on and off for over four years. According to the log of my contributions, the first page I created was a transcript of a prisoner of war report on 27 October 2007. Up to now I’ve made 3,410 edits, including creating the third most popular page (which has had over 80,000 views – my ‘proper’ academic publications will never be that widely read). Now as a community moderator I’ll be helping to manage the transition by tidying up existing content and ensuring that it will be as accessible as possible in the archived snapshot version. I’ll also be exploring the possibilities of MediaWiki outside Your Archives. It’s still an immensely powerful and useful piece of software. I used it to draft my book and it worked really well for that, which shows that wiki doesn’t have to mean letting just anyone edit, or even any kind of collaboration at all. I really want to find out how to use Semantic MediaWiki and what it can do. It is kind of sad that Your Archives is coming to an end, but that’s just sentimentality. If things don’t change they’ll stay as they are, and who’d want that?
From now until 30 August Cambridge University Press is offering free access to all articles published in its journals in 2009 and 2010, and you don’t even have to sign up for an account. That includes Historical Journal as well as lots of other titles in history and other disciplines. These are a few picks for English Civil War enthusiasts:
As I mentioned last week, EThOS is now open to the public. This is the British Library’s new online service for delivering copies of UK PhD theses, replacing the old British Thesis Service which used to supply copies on paper or microfilm. Although the site is officially in beta most features seem to be fully working. Right now there’s only a basic search (you can’t limit your search to specific fields) but it accepts wildcards and should be enough to find what you want if you know what you’re looking for. Searches can be limited to theses which are available for immediate download.
Theses are being digitized on demand. If someone has already requested and received a copy of a thesis then it will be available immediately for anyone else who wants it. There is no charge for downloading a thesis which has already been digitized, but you have to pay the cost of printing and binding if you prefer a hard copy. The publicity last year suggested that the first person to request a thesis would have to pay the costs of digitization, but now it looks like this will rarely happen because many university libraries have agreed to pay for digitization of their own theses as part of their commitment to open access. Once a new thesis has been requested digitization is promised in 10 working days although a notice on the site says there might be delays because of heavy demand. I ordered an undigitized thesis today (D. E. Lewis on the parliamentarian ordnance office – something I would have read during my PhD if I’d known about it), so we’ll see how long it takes.
Searching for “english civil war” limited to theses already available I got a couple of hits (there are lots more for “first world war”) and downloaded David Evans’s thesis on Edward Massey. I found it slightly annoying that I had to go through a checkout process even though the download was free, but it’s still an awful lot more convenient than paying around £50 and waiting several weeks the last time I ordered a thesis. The digital file is a PDF but it comes inside a zip file. That seemed slightly pointless as it didn’t make the download significantly smaller (12MB zipped, 14MB unzipped) and means that you can’t view the thesis straight away in your browser. It might make sense if multiple orders were combined in the same zip file, but even if you have more than one thesis in your basket you still have to download and unzip each one separately.
It looks like most UK universities are participating in the scheme, but significantly Oxford and Cambridge aren’t. Although their theses show up in the search results they can’t be ordered through the site. This might just result in fewer people bothering to read and cite theses from the big two, so it could be their loss as much as anyone else’s.
Overall I’m really impressed with this site. There are some minor things that could be improved, and it crashes occasionally, but it’s obviously going to be a very useful resource. I’m particularly pleased that in most cases users won’t have to pay for theses. I hope this will encourage people to be more adventurous about which theses they consult.
I’m finally back to blogging after a few months off. This post is a quick roundup of some things that happened while I was away.
First of all, the Military History Carnival always needs more hosts. Although it’s not my responsibility any more I’d like to see it continue, so if you can help please contact TJ at tj$linzy$@$gmail$.$com (remove the dollar signs)..
I’ve deactivated my Facebook account as I was finding the whole thing too annoying. I’ve opened an account at LinkedIn but I’m not sure if I’m going to use it. It seems very much aimed at The Businessman In His Suit And Tie. Does anyone use it, and is it any use? I’d like to see a social networking site specifically designed for academics. Maybe with facilities to self-archive our publications.
The Great War Archive (which I posted about here) opened on time in November, and looks really good. They’re also continuing to collect submissions through a Flickr group. Reviews in History have published a review by Esther MacCallum-Stewart and a response by Stuart Lee. This project gives us proof that there are lots of interesting documents in private hands and that at least some people are willing to share them on the web if given the chance. Although 6,500 documents sounds like a lot I suspect it’s a tiny fraction of what’s still out there.
The 1911 census has been released early (but some counties aren’t available yet). Although access is relatively expensive you get very good quality colour photos of the original documents: much better than the 1901 census.
EThOS, the British Library’s new online thesis sevice, is now in public beta. I’ll probably post about it in more detail later in the week, but for now I’ll just say that I’m very impressed.