British History Online
This site is a digital library containing more than 800 printed primary and secondary sources—including maps, personal journals and diaries, official and political documents, and quantitative evidence—for the history of The British Isles from the 16th to the early 19th Century. It is user-friendly and contains material pertinent to a number of different historical fields: Administrative and Legal; Colonial; Religious; Historical Geography; Economic; Intellectual and Cultural; Local; Parliamentary; and Urban.
The Administrative and Legal collection includes sources relating to British law and local and national government. Parliamentary documents, however, are in a separate section. The Religious collection contains material relating to churches and religious houses and their activities. The Economic collection comprises records relating to commerce, trade, taxation, population and property. The Local section contains historical and topographical documents, whereas the Urban collection covers London and other large towns. The Intellectual and Cultural collection includes architectural studies, information on debating societies and, in the case of London, biographical data of physicians practicing in London.
The site is particularly good for the 16th and 17th Centuries, although material is being added all the time. Some regions, such as London and the South East, are much better served than others like Scotland and Wales. Similarly, some topics (Religious or Local history) are richer in material than others (Intellectual and Cultural history). Maps apart, there are no images on the site. In spite of these reservations the wealth of material available is a boon to any scholar or instructor interested in this period of British history.
The subject collections are a good way to browse through the material. Basic searches can be carried out by topic or by region. More pointed searches are possible by specifying references for a full text, a particular source, or a specific ordnance map. Full text and word searches are especially useful for exploring topics that are not included in the subject headings. For example, a cursory look at the site suggests a total absence of women. A word search produces hundreds of entries from the full gamut of headings.
A search by topic, for example the “Houses of Parliament,” produces entries of primary source material for the House of Commons, the House of Lords, and journal entries relating to newly added material, such as “Elizabethan Parliaments.” Parliamentary sources consist of the parliamentary journals for the House of Commons (1547-1830) and the House of Lords (1509-1832). The collection contains the full text of Anchitell Grey’s ten-volume compilation of the parliamentary debates held between 1667 and 1694. They are verbatim records of a vital period in the establishment of the constitutional monarchy and provide a wealth of information on legal and fiscal policies. For example, a student interested in taxation or customs and excise in Great Britain in the 17th century could look at Volume I, numbers 11 and 12, of the debates to see what items were taxed to raise money for the exchequer.
It is also possible to search the journals for specific items. The word Ireland, for example, brings up hundreds of entries. Clicking on one of the entries will produce a list of the contents of the relevant pages so that users can ensure that the search has yielded the right information before reading the full documents. Another possibility is to browse by date.
A search by region, for example South West England, produces a variety of sources ranging from county histories to ordnance survey maps. The county histories are subdivided into a number of sections covering ecclesiastical, hospital, and educational sources. Looking at hospitals in the County of Dorset, for example the Hospital of St. John the Baptist in Dorchester, produces a brief but footnoted history of the hospital and a list of its wardens from 1334 to c. 1535. In addition, a more general regional search will produce diaries of leading personalities, gazetteers, directories and dictionaries, guides and calendars, tax lists, and listings of office holders.