Project history

A fuller account of the Royal Historical Society's and Institute of Historical Research's contribution to the development of bibliographies of British history up to 2009 can be found in the article by Ian Archer on the Institute's Making History website.

Early years and Writings on British History, 1901-74

The Royal Historical Society (RHS) has been involved with the production of bibliographies of British and Irish history for a century, taking its first formal step in 1909, when a committee was set up to liaise with the American Historical Association on the production of a series of printed bibliographies. The first volume did not appear until 1928 and the volume in the series covering twentieth-century history was not published until 1996, but meanwhile the RHS, helped by a legacy from Sir George Prothero, had begun to pursue a new direction with the publication, in 1937, of Writings on British History 1934, listing publications appearing in that year. Volumes on publications of the later 1930s followed in due course. The Institute of Historical Research took responsibility for the volumes covering publications of 1946 onward and funding was obtained for retrospective coverage of 1901-33 publications so that, by 1986, volumes covering publications of 1901-74 had been produced.

Annual Bibliographies, 1975-2002

In the preface to the first volume of Writings on British History F.M. Powicke wrote of the 'intention to include all books and articles of any value for British history', even 'at the risk of some triviality'. The price of such thoroughness was that theWritings appeared increasingly in arrear. The result was a drive, led by Sir Geoffrey Elton, to produce lists more quickly, enlisting the aid of a team of academics, each dealing with his or her period of interest. The resulting Annual Bibliographies of British and Irish History were produced by the RHS, in conjunction with the Institute of Historical Research, from 1975 to 2002. The new title reflected the inclusion of Irish domestic history for the first time, and coverage was also expanded to include the Roman period and more information about articles in miscellany volumes such as conference proceedings and Festschriften. Nonetheless, each volume appeared within ten months of the close of the calendar year whose publications it covered.

As it became clear that the Annuals would replace the Writings, so the volumes became more comprehensive. As a result of this, and of the expansion of historical publishing, the Annuals grew considerably. While the 1975 Annual contained just over 2,000 records, the 2002 volume contained 11,238 titles, including 7,150 articles. However, computerisation and the employment of a dedicated editor for each volume (the task being undertaken by Austin Gee for the volumes for 1995 onwards) meant that the publishing schedule envisaged by Geoffrey Elton was maintained.

Nonetheless, the RHS decided in 2003 to cease publication of the printed Annuals in order to concentrate resources on the online edition. This allowed material to be published even more speedily.

Cumulative CD-ROM

In 1998 Oxford University Press published the first version of the Royal Historical Society's electronic database, The Royal Historical Society Bibliography on CD-ROM: The History of Britain, Ireland, and the British Overseas. The culmination of a six-year project, involving a large team of scholars directed by John Morrill, and largely funded by the Leverhulme Trust, it consolidated over 50 existing printed bibliographies (including all the Writings on British History volumes and the Annual Bibliographies for 1975-92), added much new material on Irish and Imperial and Commonwealth history, and considerably enhanced the existing indexing. The result was a database of approximately 250,000 records detailing most of the books and articles published between 1901 and 1992, and many from before then.

RHS Bibliography of British and Irish History online, 2002-9

Following the project's move to the Institute of Historical Research, a new online edition of the database was published in July 2002, and was subsequently updated regularly, so that it contained over 460,000 titles by late 2009. It incorporated not only the contents of the CD-ROM, but also those of the Annual Bibliographies for 1993-2002, as well as subsequent updates. In addition to the printed material covered by the Annual Bibliographies the project began to include some electronic journals, and OpenURL was used to provide links to online full text of print publications and to online reviews where available.

Online publication facilitated co-operation with other projects. Records from London's Past Online, a bibliography of the history of the London area, were added at the start of 2003: see our section on partner projects for more information.

From October 2003, the RHS Bibliography also began to co-operate closely with Irish History Online, which became the Irish component of the RHS Bibliography of British and Irish History, offering more comprehensive coverage of publications on Irish history. More information is again available by viewing our section on partner projects.

From late 2006 the Bibliography worked with teams operating under the auspices of the Scottish Historical Review Trust which took over the editing of the primarily Scottish titles contained in the Bibliography, and which generated some of the new titles on Scottish history. Once again, more information is available by viewing our section on partner projects.

A major aim of the online edition was to improve the effectiveness and consistency with which data could be searched, and for this purpose a comprehensive hierarchical scheme of subject-indexing terms was prepared. This scheme was based on the thematic structure that was used in the Annual Bibliographies; it was used for indexing all publications of 1993 and later, and was adopted by Irish History Online; it was also gradually applied to earlier publications where possible, mostly by mapping on to the new scheme the earlier non-controlled indexing terms used for the CD-ROM.

Bibliography of British and Irish History, 2010-

To provide a secure long-term future for the Bibliography, the RHS and IHR entered into a partnership with Brepols Publishers at the end of 2009 to continue the Bibliography as a subscription service under a new title: Bibliography of British and Irish History (BBIH). The Bibliography also acquired a new interface incorporating several new features, including auto-complete lists and enhanced export facilities, as well as offering considerably faster searching. In other respects, BBIH continues the practices and features developed in the compilation of the Annual Bibliographies and of the online RHS Bibliography. Entries are published as rapidly as possible, but are also reviewed by a team of expert academic section editors to ensure that the Bibliography remains attuned to scholars' needs. Linkage to online text and to library catalogues is provided wherever possible, and can be customised according to the user's location. BBIH also continues to use the classification scheme devised for the RHS Bibliography. The editorial team is advised by a Project Board whose members include academic historians, a history librarian and a representative of the Digitale Bibliografie Nederlandse Geschiedenis.