Finding English and Welsh local history online

This started with a question on Twitter about sources for JPs, which got me looking up some old references.

It slowly dawned on me that I had in fact seen a copy of that particular edition somewhere quite recently…

And that, in turn, got me thinking about how much freely available source material (primary and secondary) I’ve randomly stumbled across on local historical societies’ websites in the last few years. And wondering: how much more is out there?

I got several great responses to this*, so I began looking more closely, and the TLDR; answer is: a helluva lot of it. The upshot was a Google spreadsheet, which you can see at the bottom of this post.

I’m genuinely impressed at how much stuff these societies have put online, and several more are clearly keen to follow suit – if they can fund it. Some have adopted a pragmatic policy of embargoing their most recent publications (anything between 3 and 10 years; and if you really can’t wait that long, you can  buy print or digital copies – or a subscription – for sod all). They often have limited resources, and good quality digitisation isn’t cheap. So, y’know, do encourage societies of interest to you to do this; but don’t lecture them if they haven’t (you might consider instead how you could actually help them to do it).

It’s also more generally noteworthy how many societies have websites (some kept more up to date than others…), and even if they haven’t digitised the publications, nearly all have made finding aids of some sort (indexes, TOCs, abstracts, etc, even searchable databases) available.

(And undoubtedly all this applies far beyond England and Wales, but someone else will have to compile those resources. Sorry.)

Why am I telling you all this? Because these local societies (under their many and varied names: “record/historical/antiquarian/archaeological” society, or some entirely quirky local name) are treasure troves for historians, not just those who think of themselves as “local” historians. They’ve been around for a long time (many were established in the 19th century), publishing high-quality source editions, calendars, abstracts, extracts, indexes, etc, for a wide range of archive sources – parish, legal and administrative, personal, estate records, and more – as well as secondary articles. But often they were published in tiny print runs and even finding aids were hard to come by before the advent of the online catalogue. So it’s a wondrous thing that so many can now be accessed freely and located much more easily.

In addition to content found at society websites, I added a couple more tabs to the spreadsheet: some of the many publications digitised for Welsh Journals Online, and an undoubtedly tiny portion of what might be found at the Internet Archive. Enjoy exploring!

link to spreadsheet (if you’d prefer a version you can download for offline use, use this link instead)

* Many thanks to @newton_key, @LinuxGnome, @VCH_London, @rdgresident, @alexjcraven, @anterotesis, @YstadauCymru!

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