Connected Histories: Sources for Building British History, 1500-1900

Connected Histories (launched on 31 March 2011 at is a federated search facility for a wide range of distributed digital resources relating to early modern and nineteenth-century British history. Through the combination of web crawling and the application of a Natural Language Processing methodology it has created a non-intrusive, distanced tagging of the data within those distributed sources to facilitate more sophisticated and structured searching. Using metadata and other available background information, the project has created a search facility that adapts to each resource (depending on whether and how the data is tagged, and on the text structure) to allow searching across the full range of chosen sources for names, places, and dates, as well as keywords and phrases. Background information about the search results is delivered to the end user, and a facility to save and export search results for further analysis has also been provided. An online collaborative workspace allows users to document connections between sources. The search facility will be expandable as new digital resources become available.

Early modern and nineteenth-century Britain is one of the times and places in history for which the largest number of digital sources is available. These have been created by universities, archives and commercial providers, and are accessed by tens of thousands of individuals each day. But many are under-exploited, and researchers are hampered in the way they use these materials by their distributed nature and the variable forms of tagging and structure present in each resource. Connected Histories provides the next stage in meeting historians’ needs by addressing the requirement to access historical resources in a single, consistent way; and in a manner that moves beyond simple keyword searching to a forensic and semantically-driven approach.

The Connected Histories search engine was developed by the Humanities Research Institute (HRI) at the University of Sheffield. The website has been developed and hosted by the Institute of Historical Research, and sits as an ‘umbrella’ over all the sources in the cluster.

At present, 'Connected Histories' incorporates the following distributed historical sources:

In total, Connected Histories provides access to 15 major databases of primary source texts, containing more than five billion words.


  • Professor Robert Shoemaker (University of Sheffield)
  • Professor Tim Hitchcock (University of Sussex)
  • Dr Jane Winters (Institute of Historical Research)
  • HRI Digital, Humanities Research Institute (University of Sheffield)
  • Centre for Computing in the Humanities (King's College London)

The University of SheffieldUniversity of HertfordshireKing's College London

The JISC e-Content programme

Connected Histories is one of 11 projects funded under JISC's e-Content programme which is running from September 2009 to February 2011. Projects are aligned under two strands, some looking at the skills and strategies required in universities to embed digitisation as a core part of its remit, whilst others are creating enhanced digital resources by bringing together disparate collection of related digitised material.

See here for more details of all these projects

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