Digital Research Tips for Dissertations in Imperial & Global History

Image from Journal of a Residence in the Burmhan Empire, and more particularly at the Court of Amarapoorah [Edited by H. C. M. Cox.], p. 328. Courtesy of the British Library.
Image from Journal of a Residence in the Burmhan Empire, and more particularly at the Court of Amarapoorah [Edited by H. C. M. Cox.], p. 328. Courtesy of the British Library on flickr.

Marc-William Palen
History Department, University of Exeter
Follow on Twitter @MWPalen

It is that time of year again. The semester begins; students scramble to find digital archives for research papers; supervisors seek to steer them in the right direction. In contrast to a decade ago, online archival options are now overwhelming. To help wade through the sea of digital archives, over the past couple of years we have offered some suggestions for digital research in imperial and global history, included below. Any other new digital archives that those researching topics in imperial and global history might find useful?

12 Digital Research Suggestions for Dissertations on the History of Modern Britain & the British Empire

David Thackeray, Marc Palen and Richard Toye
University of Exeter

As 3rd-year students scramble to finish their dissertations and as 2nd-year students begin formulating topics for their own, it’s worth noting the dramatic expansion in the availability of sources for the study of modern British and British imperial history in recent years.

Many of these sources are free to use. However, it is often hard to keep track of what materials are now available. What follows is a short guide (which is by no means comprehensive) but gives an introduction to some of the most important sources and may be of particular use to students planning dissertations, as well as other researchers. Please feel free to add your own suggestions in the ‘comments’ section. [continue reading]

Over 1 Million Historical Images Made Available by British Library

Marc-William Palen

[London, 1857] Image taken from page 464 of 'The eventful voyage of H.M. Discovery Ship “Resolute” to the Arctic Regions in search of Sir J. Franklin. ... To which is added an account of her being fallen in with by an American Whaler after her abandonment ... and of her [from the British Library Images Collection]

Need some new visual resources for next term’s imperial or global history class? The British Library has now made available over 1 million images dating from the 17th to the 19th century.

We have released over a million images onto Flickr Commons for anyone to use, remix and repurpose. These images were taken from the pages of 17th, 18th and 19th century books digitised by Microsoft who then generously gifted the scanned images to us, allowing us to release them back into the Public Domain. The images themselves cover a startling mix of subjects: There are maps, geological diagrams, beautiful illustrations, comical satire, illuminated and decorative letters, colourful illustrations, landscapes, wall-paintings and so much more that even we are not aware of. [continue reading]

The Global Challenges of Digital Newspapers

newspaper

David Thackeray
History Department, University of Exeter
Follow on Twitter @d_thackeray

Among the most frustrating experiences of my PhD were days spent scouring local newspapers at the ramshackle (and now closed) British Library Newspaper Reading Room at Colindale, and the inexplicably dark microfilm room at Cambridge University Library. Spending a few weeks working at the latter in the winter would provide good training for life at an Antarctic research base. With these experiences in mind I have been surprised at how large a part newspapers have played in my current research on the history of British trade identities in the UK and wider Empire/Commonwealth.

Recent years have seen a worldwide explosion in access to digitised newspapers, which obviously opens up a range of exciting new opportunities to researchers in imperial and global history. Having never previously conducted research in Australian archives, I was able to access thousands of articles from the National Library of Australia from the comfort of my home, significantly shaping both my post-doctoral funding application and the issues I was to explore in the archive itself. Yet the ever-growing range of newspaper material available also offers significant challenges to how we do research and train our students. [continue reading]

Film Archives and the Future of Imperial History

David Thackeray
History Department, University of Exeter
Follow on Twitter @d_thackeray

Last month I had the pleasure of participating in a joint workshop staged by the AHRC Care for the Future and Labex: Passes Dans le Present research clusters at the Royaumont Foundation near Paris. The two days showcased a range of projects assessing how study of the past can inform contemporary and future policy-making and cultural debates- from the use of colonial heroes in modern Africa, to how digitisation is reshaping understanding of museums, and the links between modern and historical anti-slavery movements.

My own focus was on the challenges facing film archives and how this affects the future of imperial history. For the historian of imperial trade networks – film provides a fascinating, and in many ways under-used resource. As the most popular form of entertainment for much of the twentieth century (there were over 30 million cinema attendances weekly in Britain in 1945), it was also widely seen as a harbinger of the ‘Americanization’ of global culture. Yet at the same time, Britain was at the forefront of the development of the non-fiction film, and sought to promote documentary film networks across the empire and globally. Many of the film-makers who made films for bodies such as the Empire Marketing Board such as Basil Wright, Norman McLean and Paul Rotha went on to play an important role in the early publicity activities of UN agencies such as UNESCO and the FAO. [continue reading]

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