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In the news: lags and legacies

The launch of a couple of digitisation projects have made the news this week. There’s excitement in the papers over the prospect of digging over some of the most sensational trials in British criminal history as the Old Bailey opens its previously unseen files to the public.

The Old Bailey Online website, published by the Humanities Research Institute, is a collaboration by the Universities of Sheffield and Hertfordshire and the Open University. Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, the trials run to more than 110,000 pages of text and some 120 million words. In addition to the text of the trials, the website provides 195,000 digital images, as well as contemporary maps, images of the courtroom and information on the historical and legal background to the Old Bailey court.

The site is the largest single source of searchable information about everyday British lives and behaviour ever published, said co-director Professor Tim Hitchcock. ‘Besides the desperate drama of crimes punished, the proceedings give us a new and remarkable access to the everyday. History is full of information about kings and queens and wars, but there isn’t much that tells us about the everyday life of ordinary people,’ reports the Guardian.

According to the Times, the website ‘creaked under the strain’ as thousands of Britons, Americans and Australians rushed to search for news of the nefarious dealings of their distant ancestors in Victorian London.

And, who knows, perhaps it might even fill in some more of the jigsaw puzzle that is the Murder of Jean Alexander...

Meanwhile, Origins Network has launched an online searchable database of the contents of 28,000 wills from 1470 to 1856, cataloguing family feuds, dissolute daughters, thieving servants and all possessions great and small ever held dear. It provides, says the Guardian, “a vivid snapshot of social history”.

Finally, the Guardian’s Arts Blog has a lively discussion about online photography archives, following a long and interesting post by Liz Jobey in which she suggests that Britain is lagging far behind the US in terms of extent of and access to digitised image resources.

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