Oscar Wilde and the publicity machine


Yes, we have the Oscar Wilde trials. Exciting, huh?

Yes, that’s all we’ve got. No, we didn’t censor anything. The “details of the case are unfit for publication” bit? That was the original publishers. They did that all the time with sex cases. Bloody Victorians, spoiling our fun.

Should I blame our publicity people for including the case in the press release? I’d have left it out altogether, myself. It’s not like we don’t have plenty of sexy alternatives, what with Crippen and suffragettes and Irish terrorists (all of which were also in the press release). Or perhaps blame the journalists for bigging it up? (But it’s a notorious sex scandal! And it’s Oscar Wilde! What else are they going to do?)

What we said, buried in the middle of the press release, was:

Some of the most sensational cases ever to be tried at the Old Bailey are also now available for people to view, including the trials in which Oscar Wilde was convicted of indecency and the infamous Dr Hawley Harvey Crippen, who killed his wife, was bought to justice.

And somehow you end up with Reuters (and hence newspapers round the entire fucking globe) heading up their report with:

The transcript from Oscar Wilde’s trial for gross indecency at London’s Old Bailey Court went online for the first time on Monday alongside a raft of murder, robbery and abduction cases.

(And what that means is that I get a bunch of emails asking where’s the transcript and have we censored the material?)

Bah. I blame everybody.

A screen without a mouse is broken


Another perspective on Wikipedia (and check out the gin analogy…):

I was being interviewed by a TV producer to see whether I should be on their show, and she asked me, “What are you seeing out there that’s interesting?”

I started telling her about the Wikipedia article on Pluto. You may remember that Pluto got kicked out of the planet club a couple of years ago, so all of a sudden there was all of this activity on Wikipedia. The talk pages light up, people are editing the article like mad, and the whole community is in an ruckus… She heard this story and she shook her head and said, “Where do people find the time?” That was her question. And I just kind of snapped. And I said, “No one who works in TV gets to ask that question. You know where the time comes from. It comes from the cognitive surplus you’ve been masking for 50 years.” [H-T]


Here’s something four-year-olds know: A screen that ships without a mouse ships broken. … Media that’s targeted at you but doesn’t include you may not be worth sitting still for.

I’m watching a fraction of the TV I did about five years ago (there is only one programme I regard as a must-watch right at the moment). Instead, I read and write. I visit blogs and leave grumpy comments when they annoy me. I write amused, ranty, serious, light, posts on this blog about whatever catches my attention. I play with wikis and other software when no one’s looking.

I still like TV; I don’t buy the view that it’s all just passive mindless consumption. But the kind of activity you can do is sort of detached from it; conversations with friends (and on blogs now too!). Which is different from the direct participation of blogs and wikis. Don’t like it? Don’t get it? Change it. Add a comment. Jump right in there.

On the other hand…

humorous pictures

An Old Bailey evening update


Of today’s server-grinding-to-a-halt issues, the question has been asked – couldn’t this be anticipated?

To which the answer is: it was.

We knew that the publicity and the appeal of the subject would bring the site temporarily to its knees. But anticipation is one thing; being able to do something to stop it happening is another. Regardless of what you do to tweak the software, the database, and so on for more efficient performance – and the new site is much better than the old one – any site is ultimately limited by the capacities of the hardware on which it’s hosted. (In fact, the site coped pretty well on Sunday, and we had about four times the normal traffic. Update – Monday’s stats are in! We had about twenty times the normal volume of traffic [memorably described by one journalist as ‘crammed with digital tourists’]. Freakin’ ‘ell.)

But hardware is expensive (even though it has been getting cheaper in recent years); don’t forget this is a small-scale academic institution reliant on public funding. We can’t justify buying what would have been needed for today, even if we could have predicted how much that would actually be, and then have it sitting around doing bugger all for the next five years. That would simply be a waste of limited resources.

And speaking of which, there is one new addition to the site that I haven’t talked about so far, because I hate it like poison: advertising. Unfortunately, it’s the only real way for us to ensure long-term income to maintain (and develop) the site properly. (The structuring of academic funding for this kind of digital project doesn’t really take ongoing maintenance costs into account, beyond basic hosting costs.) It’s text ads only – and if you use Firefox and Adblock Plus (like me), you probably haven’t even seen them, so count yourself lucky. To everyone else: I’m really sorry. Please don’t hate us.

Old Bailey Online: now from 1674 to 1913 (check it out before it collapses)


Well, I was a little cryptic the other week, but tomorrow it all goes public (and we kind of expect it to crash at some point – I’ll be almost disappointed if it doesn’t…),* and today there is a pretty nice feature in the Observer.

[Monday update… creak… groan… thud… Sorry, folks. It should get back to normal in a day or two…]

So here it is: the Proceedings of the Old Bailey Online 1674-1834 is now the Proceedings of the Old Bailey and Central Criminal Court 1674-1913.

This doesn’t only mean that you can now search for 200,000 trials held at the Old Bailey over a period of 2 and a half centuries. The other new set of goodies is the full text of (almost) every Ordinary of Newgate’s Account between 1690 and 1772 (in the next few months this should expand to a full archive of every known surviving Account from c.1674 onwards).

I’ve written here before about these grimly fascinating pamphlets. They’ve been used by a number of historians, including Andrea Mackenzie and Peter Linebaugh, but the surviving pamphlets have been scattered across a number of different libraries and archives. From now on they’ll be together in one fully searchable digital archive. Plus, I’m in the process of completing a database that links every convict mentioned in the Accounts to their trial, providing it has a surviving report (perhaps 3/4 of the links have already been made).

This should make for some interesting research possibilities. For example, historians often argue that women who successfully ‘pleaded their bellies’, ie had their death sentence postponed on grounds of being pregnant, usually escaped hanging. In fact, we say that in our own background section. But I’m not so sure. Through the process of cross-referencing trials and Ordinary’s Accounts, I’ve already discovered several women whose sentences were respited for pregnancy but subsequently carried out (eg in September 1695. So what I’ll be asking (once I’ve finished making the damned links) is: how many were executed and how many were permanently reprieved? Have we historians been getting it wrong? Answering those questions wasn’t impossible before now, but it would have been extremely difficult. And there will, no doubt, be many more possibilities like this.


The other news, because I haven’t been plugging it enough and you’ve probably all forgotten, is that we’re holding a conference in July to celebrate the relaunch: The Metropolis on Trial, in the throbbing metropolis of… Milton Keynes. If you’d like to attend, registration is open and you can download a booking form at the website. If you want to book the accommodation we’ve arranged at discount rates, you need to send the form in by the end of May at the latest and preferably as soon as possible. There is a 2 person room sharing option which is really good value (if you’re skint and looking for someone to share with maybe we can put people in touch here – leave a note in comments).



(Note that old links will continue to work for a few months, and we may well set up proper redirection at some point.)

Old stuff on OBP at this blog: Old Bailey category and the Old Bailey Symposium.

Old Bailey Files at The Head Heeb.

*Already this morning some searches have been very slow, which is not a good sign.

When swearing goes bad


There is this unintentionally (I think) hilarious article in the Times Online about swearing. One of my favourite topics!

What makes it funny, first off? All of the swearwords have been asterisked out.

And then, I always have to giggle at people whose line is ‘no, really, I’m not one of those old fogeys who’s offended by swearing. But…’ And the ‘but’ is the old chestnut that swearing is just fine as long as it’s creative and clever and discriminating and suitably restrained and blah blah blah. (Talk about missing the fucking point.)

[I should add at this point that I don’t have problems with people who are genuinely offended by swearing. It’s supposed to be offensive. But if you don’t like swearing, then just be honest about it. This self-righteous ‘yesbuttery’ just gets on my tits.]

And personally I don’t think that someone who came up with the following sentence is all that well placed to lecture anyone else about good language use:

Morrissey, however, is someone who manages to be a lyrical genius without practically ever resorting to swearing.

‘Without practically ever’? Dearie me.

(Did you see how restrained I was there? Do I get points?)

Momentous Changes


And so I’ve been in my job for long enough (it doesn’t feel like it) for Something Very Major to be happening. You may find out for yourself tomorrow, if you happen to be visiting the right corner of the internet (I shan’t be more explicit since the ‘real’ launch, with press releases and all that stuff, doesn’t happen for a couple of weeks yet).

People don’t like change. Or, certainly, they don’t like badly managed change. Or change that seems to be purely change for change’s sake; ‘rebranding’, when everyone liked the old brand perfectly well. And they really don’t like change that takes away their favourite stuff and fills up the screen with stuff they don’t recognise in its place.

Fingers crossed that we haven’t committed too many of these sins.

Oh well. The next few weeks should be interesting, at any rate.