Eric Webster
Dr. Price

World Wide Web Research:
Six Topics in British History

The World Wide Web (or simply “Web”) provides seemingly endless opportunities for all kinds of research; this is especially true of British history. Great Britain is blessed with both abundant raw material to draw from and an a dedicated community of professional and amateur historians drawing upon it. Yahoo! alone lists dozens of British History sites, and many of those listed contain pages full of links to hundreds more.

In order to provide a cross-section of the thousands of websites extant, I have attempted to:

  1. Offer a diversity of subject matter
  2. Offer a range in the detail available to researchers and the general public, from “survey” material—comparable to the textbooks for the class1—to original source documents and databases of more use to the professional historian.
  3. Offer a diversity of points of view: political, military, etc.
Sample pages from each of the sites referred to are attached as Appendix A.

Of interest to the generalist—or perhaps the student in need of additional background on historical figures and time lines—are general British history sites. The best of them employ a multiple-contributor format, which allows for a variety of perspectives to be offered on any given subject. The disadvantage of the multiple-contributor model is that some topics are covered in less detail than others; there may be half a dozen articles on your topic there, or there may be only get a recap of what the survey textbooks cover.

The Victorian Web’s page on Chartism is brief but concise, and it offers hypertext links to additional articles on the movement, ie Marjie Bloy’s Introduction to Chartism, The Causes of Chartism, and the Basic Reasons for the Failure of Chartism.

Schoolnet attempts to cover the colossal task of covering the entire span of British history. It is built on the same model as the Victorian Web, with a couple of notable differences. The articles on Schoolnet provide more detail than the Victorian Web; for example, their page on James Keir Hardie runs for several pages and is typical of what one will find on the site. The article is peppered with hypertext links to the most relevant figures, events, and institutions of his era, and the conclusion of the article contains quotations both by and about the man. is a resource for all things British. In addition to history they offer travel information and news bulletins, but their collection of articles is comprehensive enough to merit inclusion in this report. Though the site is less academic than either Schoolnet or the Victorian Web, the programming and organization of the site is state of the art. Historical figures are cross-referenced (so you may find Winston Churchill under either the government or history headings), and the site is fast and professional-looking. The articles are more consistent in length and detail than the Victorian Web and Schoolnet sites, but the articles offer only a taste of British history and lack the variety of the multiple-contributor websites. On the plus side, one can learn more about present day Britain from than from the strictly historical sites.

Cyndi’s List is ostensibly a genealogical resource site, yet their U.K. Military History page is a good “jumping off point” for a variety of British history pages. One example of the dozens of pages listed there is the Crimean War site. The opening page provides only a paragraph or two and a couple of quotes, but three other pages give a fairly complete overview of the causes and issues of the war, details on the battles of Balaklava and the Alma, an article on the “Kerry Recruits” (poor Irish recruited to take the “king’s shilling” and serve in the military) and the experiences of soldiers returning home from the war.

The Crimean War page in turn links to the “Scottish Trilogy” page by the same author. The trilogy covers the famous most famous battles of Scottish history, only one of which (Culloden) was a topic covered in our class. Discovering the Scottish site this way shows how researching on the internet differs from traditional methods: the web allows the researcher to define his query along the lines of the various interests of the author, and in the context the author wishes to present. For instance, links to the Scottish Trilogy pages could appear on other webpages on Scottish-interest, military history, or location-specific topics.

The British Empire is a field of study intimately linked to the material covered in our course. Not surprisingly, someone has provided the British Empire pages. Though the site is still in its early stages, it is soliciting articles from various authors and may eventually become as thorough a resource for Empire historians as the Victorian Web is for Victorian researchers [reviewer’s note: I have had some trouble getting through to this site recently; it may be a technical glitch or something more permanent]. The site includes a decent collection of articles on India and the various African colonies, as well as an article on the vestiges of Empire: the thirteen remaining British possessions held over from the colonial era.

The War Times Journal (WTJ) hosts the letters and dispatches of Horatio Nelson. Though much of the WTJ site is necessarily war-centric, his letters to Lady Hamilton from The Teneriffe, Nile, and Trafalgar (spanning 1797 to 1805) campaigns contrast with military dispatches and communiques with Viscount Castlereagh (then Secretary for the War Department), often written the same day. The dispatches reveal how different military communication was then compared to the present electronic era, while his letters to Castlereagh gives one a taste of the diplomatic language of the era. Original-source documents are becoming increasingly available on the Web. Most archives consist of enormous databases of statistical material such as numbers of live births, taxes paid, etc. While too dull to merit review in this report, I have included Uniform Resource Locators (url’s) for lists of these abstracts as Appendix B for the benefit of diligent historians.

Oxford University’s Internet Library of Early Journals departs from screenfulls-of-data approach and offers scans of three 18th century journals (Gentleman’s Magazine, The Annual Register, and Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society) and three 19th century journals (Notes and Queries, The Builder, and Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine). The issues are searchable, so the researcher can find references to particular political or social figures within the journals. Unfortunately, the image files are larger than they need to be and the site is best surveyed on campus where connection speeds are higher. The ability to view the articles as printed with the surrounding content coupled with the indexing more than makes up for this quibble.

And what would contemporary history be without a small dose of revisionism? For the sake of variety, I have included Against the Red Flag, Socialism and Irish Nationalism 1830-1913. Like the writings of Karl Marx himself there is a grain of truth in the content, but history as the story of class struggle ignores other valid motivations for human behavior.2 The copious bibliography of the doesn’t help their case much—the theory that Irish nationalism was simply a ruse to keep the workers down seems far-fetched, given the success that Keir Hardie and later Labour governments had in Great Britain.

To be sure, there is a wealth of information ‘out there’ on the internet. Sifting through it can soak up whatever available time the researcher has. A good rule of thumb is to query search engines (i.e. Altavista) as specifically as possible; if the resulting search doesn’t return a sufficient number of hits, broadening the search will hopefully increase their number.

The amount of work historians put into their sites is remarkable. If the volume of content within the sites proliferates at the same rate as new sites do, there will be a far greater wealth of material in the future than there is presently. Professional historians have been slower than physical scientists to publish their material on the internet. This may be due to the competitive nature of their research—sharing of research materials may make a rival’s work appear earlier—or more likely, the skills needed to produce an effective website are not yet adequately taught to the historian. This will likely change. Government institutions in Europe in general and Great Britain in particular are racing to make their collections available online, and universities provide server space for much of the general interest history sites. Academics are gaining ground through cooperative ventures like the Victorian Web and Schoolnet, but until the web becomes more fully integrated into historical curricula, amateur historians will remain on the vanguard of the “internet revolution.”

Appendix A

Pages Referred to in
Six Topics in British History

Appendix B

Lists of Original Source urls