History of Britain’s changing places and lives is put online
The JISC-funded A Vision of Britain Through Time website launches today, giving e-access, often for the first time, to over two centuries’ worth of facts, figures, surveys, maps, election results and travel writing showing how 15,000 UK places have changed.
The changing story of Britain’s towns and villages can be explored in new depth online, which unites more than 200 years worth of official documents, maps and travel stories.
The site has been created with funding from JISC as part of a programme to offer a wider audience free access to academic research and resources.
Its launch provides an e-portal to over 12 million facts about places and lives in Britain. The site includes new-to-view historic boundary maps, a land use survey that helped to defeat Hitler, unemployment and wage records, farm surveys from 1866, the biggest e-library of historic British travel writing and - with pointers for Gordon Brown and his rivals - the results of every Parliamentary election since 1833.
Project director, Dr Humphrey Southall, of the University of Portsmouth, says: “Through the Vision of Britain site we are offering an unprecedented amount of information detailing how Britain has changed over many centuries. Simply keying in a place-name or postcode unlocks a vast treasury of facts, figures, images and descriptions. Simply keying in a place-name or postcode unlocks a vast treasury of facts, figures, images and descriptions
"From mediaeval boundaries to what the 2001 Census uncovered via, perhaps, a town’s appearance on a 19th century map, a comment by a touring agitator, a crop report from the 1930s and more. The range and depth of the information makes it a terrific resource for professional and amateur historians who want a complete picture of what a place was like at a particular point in history. But the site isn’t only a way to look back, the content is already in demand from researchers and forecasters watching for changes and trends of relevance now or in the future.”
One illustration of the dual value of the content comes with the online debut of 175 years of Parliamentary election results, complete with graphs and commentary on swings, turnout and topical issues.
Dr Southall explains: “For historians, the results provide fascinating insight into the rise and fall of political parties; how certain issues become mainstream or fade, and the growth of the political contest. But for today’s politicians, the statistics may point to the best time for a poll to be staged. To go by past outcomes, Gordon Brown should avoid May as, statistically, it is most likely to produce a win for the Opposition while David Cameron and Nick Clegg may face disappointment in February or October as, historically, they rarely see the Government change.”
The elections files, and many other additions and improvements, have been made possible by funding from JISC, which is working with a range of academic bodies to broaden digital access to authoritative resources.
JISC digitisation programme manager, Alastair Dunning, explained: “This new site is an excellent example of what JISC is enabling, and why. By helping the project to improve its historic boundary maps and add new, fully cross-indexed, content, JISC is making it easier for scholars across all disciplines, to access data. While also granting free access to researchers from other sectors, including healthcare planners, local government, climatologists and the ever growing number of people who are interested in local and family history.”
A Vision of Britain Through Time website is an initiative of the Great Britain Historical GIS (GBH-GIS), based at the University of Portsmouth.
Read more about JISC's digitisation programme and the wider work of GBH-GIS.