Friday, February 17, 2006

Researching Historic Buildings in the British Isles

I recently enjoyed reading the ERIC Digest by Marilyn Harper from 1997 titled Including Historic Places in the Social Studies Curriculum. However, that wetted my appetite for more information on historic buildings. I found it! There is a great site on Researching Historic Buildings in the British Isles. Although I do not live in the British Isles, I still found this resource interesting and fun to explore.

The site author is Jean Manco. It covers archives, maps, images, building types, ecclesiastical sources, bibliographies and styles. Also gives an introduction to the development of villages and towns.

The site will not do all of the work in researching buildings. It will just get you started despite the wealth of information here. This is even noted, "Some information could be just a few clicks away, but to get the full story you will need to visit libraries and archives." Indeed. Despite the libraryphobia of the newer generation, a lot of historical research is going to continue happening where it has been for thousands of years which is in libraries and archives.

From the site:

This site began life not on the web, but in the classroom. I had created a handout for my students called Sources for Building History. It was utterly boring in those days - about 20 pages of lists. Because bibliographies and suchlike are too tedious to dictate to students in class, teachers will often produce reference sheets instead. They may be as exciting as the telephone directory, but they are just as useful.

So I found that there was a small but steady demand for copies of Sources for Building History from people I wasn't teaching. I made a small charge for them to cover the cost of desk-top printing and binding. Then when I hooked up to the Internet, I realised that I could email digital copies free. From there it was a short step to someone suggesting a web version. Sources for Building History first appeared online in December 1998 thanks to the Internet-savvy David Bailey, who took the trouble to put it on a site he was then maintaining. When I gained my own web-space I used it for SBH in February 1999.

Within days SBH had been listed in a (now defunct) directory. I was startled to see the description. It proclaimed to the world that my site covered buildings in the UK. In fact it was much more limited. Since I was teaching in Southwest England, there was almost nothing related to the Celtic fringe. Picturing the complaints that would come pouring in from irate Welsh, Scots and Irish at yet another Englishwoman who imagines that England is the whole UK, I worked feverishly on SBH. Extra pages were added. Extra works went into bibliographies. In a week or so SBH had expanded its horizons even beyond the UK to the whole British Isles. I didn't quite manage to stave off a complaint or two, but I learned a lot.

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