Sources for British history on the Internet (free course)
Please note that this course has been withdrawn whilst it is revised and updated. We hope that a new version will be available later in 2015.
The impact of the internet on historians has been complex, multi-faceted and profound, touching all areas of their working lives. This series of research handbooks takes a different and far more focused approach, concentrating on particular sets of skills and practices: the process of finding primary source materials for British history.
The impact of the internet on historians has been complex, multi-faceted and profound, touching all areas of their working lives. For historians the net is, at once, a general-purpose reference tool of staggering breadth and compendiousness, a constantly-expanding archival store and specialist library, a source of news, a forum for discussion and home to an ever-growing stock of gateways, portals and specialised resources dedicated to every aspect of human history. To attempt to describe all of this would be a hopelessly immense task; instead this series of research handbook takes a different and far more focused approach, concentrating on one particular set of skills and practices: the process of finding primary source materials for British history.
Primary sources remain at the heart of historians' working lives, as much now as has been the case since the professionalisation of history 150 years ago. For most of that time historians have set about finding and obtaining their sources in pretty much the same way, by visiting archives and there using speicalised finding aids - traditionally card catalogues or bound indexes, but more latterly computerised catalogues - to find materials for detailed and intensive perusal in the reading room. In the final decade of the twentieth century, though, and increasingly in the first decade of the twenty first things have started to change. Many archival catalogues are now available online, and a search via the net has become a standard preliminary to any visit to a repository: documents can be located swiftly and easily using the online National Register of Archives and local archival catalogues: in some cases it is even possible to order documents in advance. But besides speeding up the traditional approach to locating sources, the rise of the internet has also brought about an entirely new development: a small but growing number of sources have been digitised and are now available online, thus eliminating, for many users, the need to visit the archive at all.