Monthly Archives: January 2014

Comparison of historical internet sites

Through this blog post I hope to show the elements below in relation to the following websites:

  • The Old Bailey Online
  • Connected Histories

The elements which will be searched for and discussed are:

  1. What is the catalogue system like? How is it structured?
  2. How detailed is the search page? Does it enable an advanced search?
  3. Is the XML schema visible?
  4. Is there an API? Is it possible to manipulate the data?
  5. Is OCR or manual transcription used?
  6. Is the website easy to use? Is it visually appealing?
  7. In terms of data size is the site manageable for historians?

The Old Bailey Online: 

This website enables access to transcribed trials from the Old Bailey in London, from the period 1674-1913. As well as being transcribed in detail, each trial once opened, offers the opportunity to access the actual document via a link on the top right hand side of the page. The website is fairly easy to navigate although there is a lot of information to get through and it is well laid out, colourful and interesting as a whole.  The overall data size is 197, 745 which is a quite substantial when it is being put to use as a historical resource. The XML schema is available at the bottom of the page on each trial and it is possible to search for statistics via the advanced search engine.

The search engine itself has a lot to offer its users. The Old Bailey can be searched through a combination of  verdict, punishment, time period, first name and surname and by using boolean terms or advanced search. This would offer the website’s users increasingly defined and improved access to the trials available. This would also save time if users know what they are looking for and perhaps even if they do not. The Old Bailey Online also has an API link which goes into a lot of detail. Although this detailed information is somewhat difficult to understand unless you are knowledgeable of the language/terminology used.

The trials used in the Old Bailey Online have been transcribed through two methods. Some of it has been transcribed by hand, by five data developers from the University of Sheffield. The second method used to transcribe the trials was a combination of a system developed at the University of Sheffield called GATE and by HRI digital at the Humanities Research Institute, also at the University of Sheffield. The combination of these methods means that they could be used to back each other up, thus  they may offer a greater final product.

Connected Histories:

This is  an online historical resource which is advertised on the Old Bailey Online. It provides information on British History from 1500-1900. Those who put together the latter have collaborated with The Institute of Historical research to bring together twenty two online resources into one search engine. Not all of this material is free to access, unlike the Old Bailey Online, hence a subscription is required for some of the sites.

Access to information on the Connected Histories project is found on a small link at the bottom of the home page, whereas the Old Bailey Online makes the detail of its project development much easier to find.  As the site brings together various other works, no new material was transcribed for Connected Histories. However, the use of OCR and manual checking is described and the failures of OCR are highlighted. API and XML are used but again this section of information is hard to get to grips with unless the language used is familiar to the reader.

Connected Histories offers statistics similarly to that of the Old Bailey Online, but the search engine is simpler. This may be because of the wealth of different resources the site uses. There are sections which allow the user to search whether they require secondary sources, ephemera, images, maps and so on. So this search engine still has a lot to offer. It is well laid out, with each of the individual twenty two resources available to access on a scrolling bar. It seems that it is also possible to save and share information from Connected Histories.

Overall both sources are interesting, of a good quality and of use to historians and anyone who would wish to access them. The subscription required in the latter resource may be off putting for all those except serious researchers who are looking for something in particular. It has been difficult getting to grips with the technical language used in digital resources such as these and I look forward to gaining a better understanding of it all.