THE BRITISH LIBRARY

UK Web Archive blog

3 posts from July 2012

25 July 2012

Archiving the history of the British slave trade, from the web

The following is a guest post by Dr Philip Hatfield, Curator for Canadian and Caribbean Studies at the British Library, who is curating a special collection on ‘Slavery and Abolition in the Caribbean’ for the UK Web Archive.

BoilingHouse
Exterior of an Antigua Boiling House, William Clark 1823 (BL Shelfmark: 1796.c.9). From the Library’s ‘Caribbean Views’ gallery 

When I started working as a curator (only in 2010) one thing I did not expect was how much time I would spend using the Web as part of my work. However, as Curator for Canadian and Caribbean Studies it makes sense, not least because the Internet connects me to the international audience who use the Library’s collections. Also, the Internet contributes to the Library’s collections and, through the UK Web Archive, is becoming part them too. 

This means Library curators are now trialling the development of special collections for the UK Web Archive and when I was invited I jumped at the chance, knowing exactly what required my attention. Back in 2007 the Internet was an important engagement space for museums, archives, libraries and various other institutions to relay the history of slavery and mark the bicentenary of the abolition of the British slave trade. Since then a number of websites featuring online galleries, teaching resources and other materials related to the bicentenary have disappeared from the web. Moreover, this is not the only situation in which such valuable work has been lost to the general public.

So, a special collection focussing on ‘Slavery and Abolition in the Caribbean’ seemed a suitable framework through which to preserve relevant parts of the contemporary UK Web from being lost. I’m currently in the process of selecting websites from a range of UK government, heritage institution, local history and other sites for the collection, which is developing nicely. However, there are a number of stages (permission to archive being but one) before the sites can be collected and the selection goes live. My hope is that, once it does, it will be a useful resource to specialist and general users of the UK Web Archive.

I’m also beginning to realise that there is much more material out there than even I had anticipated and this has a couple of consequences. First, the title needs to change; there are a number of sites which deserve adding to the collection but don’t quite fit with ‘Slavery and Abolition in the Caribbean’. Second, I’m increasingly aware that despite my best efforts the chances are I will miss some excellent material; meaning that if anyone wants to suggest sites from the UK Web please get in touch.

19 July 2012

UK Web Archive in the eyes of scholars

We commissioned IRN Research earlier this year to gather a scholarly perspective on the UK Web Archive. This work has now completed and we have received feedback on the Archive’s perceived research value, and particularly on the content and access mechanisms which should be further developed to support research use.

The feedback came from two groups of users: those who already use the Archive for research (26%) and those who have not used the Archive (74%). The overwhelming majority are from Arts and Humanities or Social Sciences disciplines. The participants were interviewed over the telephone and a small group also undertook a second phase where they searched the Archive based on specific case studies, detailing each step of the search and results.

All participants appreciated the potential scholarly value of the Archive. Those interested in web history, statistics and digital preservation research highly value the Archive in particular. However, the selective nature of the Archive seems to impact the perception of those using it for the first time, in that they could not find content relevant to their research. This is further related to the search tool, which has been seen by some as complex with  the presentation of the search results perceived as unstructured. On the contrary, existing users are generally satisfied with the search tool, suggesting that increased familiarity with the Archive may help overcome the perceived weakness.

Special Collections were thought by all users to be useful. However, users would like to understand our selection criteria and how the themes for Special Collections are established. There is a desire to see more Special Collections and the facility to nominate themes. “UK politics” and “Contemporary British History” are the 2 broad themes which have been suggested. All users expressed the requirement for including more images and rich media, as well as more blogs.

Many first-time users are unsure about the usefulness of the visualisation tools, especially the N-gram search. However a small group of users are extremely enthusiastic about this. Again there is more interest in visualisation tools from existing users, suggesting the need to add better explanations about the functions and features of the Archive.

The study has given us some insight on how the UK Web Archive is perceived by scholars, which will direct us through the next stage of development. Things to consider for improvement or adjustment include not only the user interface, but also the underlying search and the scope of our collection.

Many thanks to IRN and those took part in the project.

Helen Hockx-Yu, Head of Web Archiving

 

04 July 2012

Religious Websites and the Diamond Jubilee

The following is an edited version of two posts on Peter Webster's blog: one in March before the main Jubilee weekend, and a second in June. They are mainly concerned with sites relating to the Jubilee produced by or in connection with the mainline Christian denominations in the UK.

Although we are still a couple of months away from the event itself, I thought it would be worth starting to pull together some of the various sites for the Queen's jubilee that come from within or relate to the Christian churches. This will include press sources that the UKWA don't ordinarily take. I thought I'd make a start with some of the more predictable and national ones.

Official church resources

As you would expect, the several denominations have made various preliminary statements. The Church of England's site refers to several linked ventures: the Big Jubilee Lunch, with a specially composed grace; there will also be a special service at St Paul's on June 5th, and also the Big Jubilee Thankyou, where Anglicans are invited to sign a copy letter displayed in churches, all of which will then be combined and presented to the Queen - a petition, as it were, without demands. The lunch is being coordinated by HOPE, a pan-church organisation which is evangelical in origin, but has partnerships in place with most of the Protestant denominations in the UK.

See also the Bishop of London's sermon on the accession (Feb 6) in his role as Dean of the Chapels' Royal.

The Catholic bishops in England and Wales have urged parishes to pray for the Queen on Sunday June 3 (which is also Trinity Sunday), as reported in the Catholic Herald. (The press release is here.)

Churches Together in England are assembling resources as they appear here, and there is a joint presidential statement from Canterbury, Westminster, the Free Churches Group, and the Lutheran church, although it is rather lost amongst references to the Olympics.

The Jubilee Churches Festival is looking to co-ordinate celebrations at a local level.

Oppositional voices

One has to dig quite deep to find many Christians voicing opinions critical of either the event or the monarchy itself. Ekklesia noted the beginnings of the campaign of protest by Republic, and complaints about the BBC's coverage, but refrained from comment. (Incidentally, Republic's position on the established church is also interesting.) However, one would expect this type of comment to appear more reactively, and nearer the event; and so watch this space for later posts.

My earlier post looked at some of the preparatory statements from official church sources, and some very early oppositional voices. Here are some examples of reportage and comment after the event.

Rowan Williams' sermon at St Paul's

Perhaps predictably, the archbishop did not allow the pieties of the situation to restrict his thinking on the subject, making some robust comments about aspects of current economic life. See the full text, and the reactions of the Daily Mail (negative) and the Guardian and Nelson Jones in the New Statesman (rather more positive).

Local events

The Church Times gave a useful digest of local events, including a street party in the nave of Ripon Cathedral and various sermons, including that of the Dean of Belfast.  Events in local communities includes an inter-faith Family Fun Day in Tooting, south London.

The 'real meaning' of Jubilee

A good few campaigning sites sought to draw a distinction between the biblical concept of jubilee and the pattern of the celebrations, often making a more or less explicit connection with the current climate of austerity. See Christianity Uncut, Ekklesia and Symon Hill. The work of the Jubilee Debt Campaign predates this year's events, although their site did draw attention to the connection.

Dr Peter Webster