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A book launch and lecture of ‘Crusoe’s Island: A Rich and Curious History of Pirates, Castaways and Madness’ (Faber & Faber, September 2016)

From acclaimed naval historian Andrew Lambert, Crusoe’s Island charts the curious relationship between the British and an island on the other side of the world: Robinson Crusoe, in the South Pacific. The tiny island assumed a remarkable position in British culture, most famously in Daniel Defoe’s novel. Andrew Lambert reveals the truth behind the legend of this place, bringing to life the voices of the visiting sailors, scientists and artists, as well as the wonders, tragedy and violence that they encountered.

‘Superbly evocative . . . With its thrilling, even hypnotic naval narratives, Lambert’s book feels very reminiscent of Patrick O’Brian’s wonderful Jack Aubrey stories.’ – Dominic Sandbrook, Sunday Times on The Challenge
Andrew Lambert is Professor of Naval History in the War Studies Department, a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and also Director of the Laughton Naval History Unit housed in the Department. His work focuses on the naval and strategic history of the British Empire between the Napoleonic Wars and the First World War, and the early development of naval historical writing. He received the 2014 Anderson Medal for The Challenge: Britain against America in the Naval War of 1812.
His books include Nelson: Britannia’s God of War, Admirals: The Naval Commanders Who Made Britain Great and Franklin: Tragic Hero of Polar Exploration. His highly successful history of the British Navy, War at Sea, was broadcast on BBC Two.

There will be a reception following the book launch on Monday 12th September at King’s College London. To register for this free event please follow the instructions on the link below:

Researching in the Round Tower: report by Georgian Papers Fellow, Rick Atkinson

Rick Atkinson, freelance military historian, was an Omohundro Institute Georgian Papers Fellow who spent last April researching at the Royal Archives. He is researching the first volume of a projected trilogy about the American Revolution and used his time in the archives to look at the role of King George III in military decisions, specifically those relating to espionage and expeditionary warfare, starting in early 1775 and carrying through the Battle of Princeton in 1777.


Atkinson at Henry VIII Gate, Windsor Castle, April 2016
Atkinson at Henry VIII Gate, Windsor Castle, April 2016


I’ve worked in some exotic locations—Mogadishu, Mali, Baghdad, Kazakhstan, Riyadh—but none more evocative than the top of the Round Tower in Windsor Castle, where I spent the month of April 2016, as a Georgian Papers fellow. The researcher’s path to this archive is steep: through the Henry VIII Gate and the Norman Gatehouse, up 102 stone steps in the Round Tower and then another 21 wooden steps to the reading room. It’s as close to time travel as I’ve ever experienced.

As an author and a military historian from Washington, D.C., I’m working on a trilogy about the American Revolution. My previous books have been about four 20th century wars, each of them expeditionary, and I’m intrigued by the challenges of waging war at great distance in the 18th century. In the official and private papers of George III, complemented by the vast trove of Treasury, Colonial Office, Admiralty, War Office, and Audit Office documents in the National Archive at Kew, the depth and breadth of those challenges comes clear. So does the extent to which the King is closely involved in all aspects of logistics, politics, strategy, diplomacy, naval affairs, and intelligence collection during the Revolution. His appetite for information is enormous. What he knows is impressive; what he doesn’t know will help cost Britain her American colonies.

The American stereotype of a tyrannical nincompoop quickly dissolves with a little exposure to the Georgian papers. I also spent time examining the correspondence and documents of Queen Charlotte and two eventual heirs to the throne, George IV and William IV. In these papers we see the worries and preoccupations of a husband and father, and of a monarch wrestling with the fretful issue of how to prepare a prince to become a king in a changing world. I also took several days to examine the military maps of George III in the Print Room and to examine some of the King’s personal holdings in the Royal Library.

I couldn’t be more grateful to those responsible for opening up the Georgian Papers and giving us a deeper look at this extraordinary period in our common heritage, particularly King’s College London and the Omohundro Institute. Oliver Urquhart Irvine, the Librarian and Assistant Keeper of the Queen’s Archive, and his colleagues at Windsor Castle, were extraordinarily generous, accommodating, and good-humored. Not least, I was in Windsor for the Queen’s 90th birthday celebration. I told Oliver that the irony was not lost on me that I had interrupted my research on the Revolution to stand on a street curb with thousands of others to sing “Happy birthday, your Majesty.”

This post and others also appear on our sibling GPP site at the Omohundro Institute. 

Current good practice in search and discovery: your help invited

With a view to informing the search and discovery strategy for the Georgian Papers Programme, Chris Olver, Metadata Coordinator for the GPP at King’s College London,  has surveyed over 40 historical sites variously developed in the UK, USA, Australia, New Zealand Canada, Germany and. The Netherlands The survey included examples of manuscript transcription projects, historical databases, meta-aggregators, on line finding aids and electronic printed editions. A majority of the sites surveyed included a significant quantity of eighteenth century material but good practice in subject indexing, use of authority files and linked data was also of interest where it was likely that approaches were applicable to the Programme. Sites had variously been compiled by teams of academics, librarians and archivists and some predated the internet.

All suggestions about well-regarded and used sites have been followed up and further suggestions and thoughts will be very welcome. Do please tell us about which sites you find useful and why or indeed what you would like to do on a site but can’t.

Below is a list of the sites surveyed to date:

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Our conclusions to date from the survey about what makes a good site are:

– Websites need to be simple to use and easy to navigate and allow users to filter results in a number of different ways.

– The most effective browsing options navigate through authority files.
– The use of international standards based authority files facilitates cross searching other databases.
– Subject headings (hierarchically arranged) provide more focused search terms than keywords.

– The provision of open access to datasets allows researchers the ability to download records and preform textual and visual analyses that may not be possible within the site.

To these we would add some of the key conclusions of work undertaken in developing the Wellcome Medical Heritage Library:

– The need to provide an explanation of the corpus- what is and what is not on or covered by the site
– Sites should be capable of revealing networks of people, places, practices, suppliers, thoughts etc.
– Browsing/discovery through serendipity remains essential-the lightbulb idea that springs from chance discovery
– The integrity of the digital object must be preserved. Wellcome describe this as the ‘bookishness of the book’. For archivists this is about preserving the provenance of the object and associated contextual information.

These ideas were shared at the recent Omohundro Institute for Early American History and Culture annual conference in Worcester, MA and valuable feedback obtained. Colleagues in attendance suggested the following additional sites were important for their work:

  • Brieven als buit [Letters are Loot]: research database constructed by Leiden University allowing access to 40,000 Dutch letters from 17-early 19th century gathered from British archives. The website is extremely well indexed and allows visitors to search using Corpus Query language.
  • Documenting the American South: DocSouth provides access to a range of digital records of the American South run by the University of North Carolina. Site is very well indexed with multiple search pathways including browsing by Libary of Congress Subject Headings. 
  • Empire Online: a digital repository created by Adam Matthews, publishers. The site was recommended for having excellent contextual essays relating to the site content.
  • The digital library of the Franke Foundations was recommended for having great search features, including faced navigation and indexing. The library also has incorporated an adjustable document viewer and includes full text transcriptions.
  • Gallica (National Library of France): The Digital Library of the National Library of France, originally created in 1997 but recently overhauled, has a very impressive interface with multiple search pathways and a very sophisticated image viewer. 
  • Marine Lives: provides substantial amount of transcribed mid-17th century content from the English Admiralty Court. 
  • Massachusetts Historical Society: The oldest historical society in USA has a vast collection of digital resources, teaching aids, blogs and current events. 
  • MEAD (The Magazine for Early American Datasets): This online repository for historians’ datasets is a fantastic concept. The datasets are free to download with the metadata capturing donor information, context of work and place of origin. 
  • Nines (Networked Infrastructure for Nineteenth-Century Electronic Scholarship): is a meta-aggregator that collects information from 139 nineteenth century sources.  
  • Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database: remarkable series of databases that was originally published on CD-ROM in 1999. The project has been running for decades and provides information on voyages undertaken, estimates for numbers of slaves and an African names database. 

We will be following up these suggestions and look forward to hearing your thoughts on search and discovery.

Patricia Methven, GPP Programme Manager, King’s College London