Reflections on Transcribing the Georgian Papers

By Tom Murray, King’s Undergraduate Research Fellow, King’s College London

I was introduced to transcription as part of the Georgian Papers Programme (GPP), and as such my transcribing experience is decidedly Georgian. Having transcribed a number of documents for the GPP, however, the value of transcription for historians has become manifest. Admittedly, there remains nothing quite like engaging first-hand with primary sources – which for the vast majority of history, and certainly for the Georgian period, means written or printed documents. Having said this, however, there is definite value, both practical and otherwise, in transcription and transcribed sources. The process itself is relatively simple, though collectively represents a heroic effort on the part of the GPP with the eventual aim of digitising the Royal Archives’ extensive collections from the reigns of the Hanoverian monarchs. My transcription contributions were a number of essays written by George III, including ‘Some short notes concerning the Education of a Prince’ – intended for his son, the future George IV – and ‘Lectures on Modern History’, musing on the benefits that come of studying history; something I can certainly get behind.

Essay on the German Empire’s governance by George III (RA GEO/ADD/32/481). Royal Archives/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017

Never having known a world in which the Internet was not integrated into every aspect of modern life, I initially found the practice of reading handwritten documents bemusing. This was reflected in some preliminary difficulty in reading handwriting itself – once I became familiar with George’s style of writing, however, this became less of a problem. More disconcerting was his habit of making complex additions to and deletions from his essays, often in erratic handwriting reminiscent of exam answers I’ve written myself. Thankfully, it was clear that the GPP had foreseen this – I had been provided with an extensive transcription manual with guidelines for how best to transcribe the many quirks thrown up within Georgian writings, from aforementioned deletions and additions to marginalia and doodles. These guidelines were especially useful, providing an invaluable manual for transcribers as well as ensuring that GPP transcriptions and all their complexities are recorded in a uniform way, much to the relief of future researchers.

A secondary challenge I encountered in transcription was another product of my own twenty-first century, digital upbringing. Much to my initial dismay, George III lacked the benefit of spell-check when writing his essays, and thus his spelling, grammar and punctuation were often not as I – or anyone else writing in 2017 – might anticipate. Given that the very first instruction within the GPP transcription manual reads “Type What You See: Transcribe the document exactly as written”, I was therefore required to hold my syntactic nose and accept that when George wrote about the “pedantick applications of Colleges and Schools” or apologised for “how odly soever it may sound”, this was exactly what he meant. This took some adjustment: even in transcribing those quotes onto this blog post my own instinct – and spell-check function – attempted to alter George’s original spelling. However, once these initial challenges had been overcome, the transcription process proved rewarding and enjoyable – as well as surprisingly accessible. As a recent graduate, I was pleased to discover that, aided by the GPP manual, I was able to contribute to the programme’s transcription efforts with just my laptop, Microsoft Word, and a few hours of work. The ease and relative brevity with which the transcription project can be added to – depending, naturally, on the length and complexity of the documents themselves – surely bodes well for the project as a whole, as well as the prospect of encouraging individual contributions to the GPP like mine.

There is clearly real value in transcribing the Royal Archives’ Georgian documents that makes any challenges to the transcriber worthwhile. Following the success of a similar project to transcribe and digitise the papers of Queen Victoria, the process of transcribing the Georgian papers with a view to their digitisation seems a natural step. This would of course provide some relief to future historians, who will be able to benefit from digital access to the Royal Archive collection via the internet, not unlike my own use of the venerable Founders Online digital archive in researching for my undergraduate dissertation. Likewise, the capacity to search within a digital database, as opposed to trawling through original documents, will aid researchers in their specific pursuits. Democratising access to the Georgian papers in this way will allow historians across the world to employ them in their research, facilitating new and exciting contributions to the field of eighteenth-century and Georgian studies without requiring a visit to the Royal Archives at Windsor, as impressive an experience as I know that to be. This, surely, is the long-term objective of the Georgian Papers Programme, of which transcription forms a crucial, fruitful cornerstone.

Gabriel Paquette: 2017 Sons of the American Revolution Visiting Professor

King’s College London is delighted to announce that the 2017 Sons of the American Revolution (SAR) Visiting Professor is Gabriel Paquette.

Professor Paquette is the second SAR professor to be appointed and he will be joining the programme from Johns Hopkins University. He will be hosted by the Department of Spanish, Portuguese and Latin Americans Studies. Professor Paquette plans to continue his work on the Anglo-Spanish relationship and particularly the role of Bourbon Spain in the American Revolution.

Professor Paquette is following on from Professor Andrew O’Shaughnessy, our inaugural visiting professor. King’s is delighted to be working with The Sons of the American Revolution (SAR) and we are grateful for their support, which will enable us to attract leading international academics to join the work of Georgian Paper Programme. The SAR is an historical, educational, and patriotic, non-profit corporation whose members are direct descendants of the men and women who supported the cause of American Independence during the years 1774-1783.  The SAR’s headquarters is in Louisville, Kentucky, but its members are located in all fifty United States and throughout the world.

We are currently inviting applications for our 2018 SAR visiting professorship. For more information and to apply, please see our application page.

“What, here? Really?” Finding Native Americans in the Royal Archives

Harrison Cutler, a third-year undergraduate student in History at King’s College London, reports on his project “Marginalised Indians: Native Americans in British Archives, 1763 to 1795” (supervisor: Dr Angel-Luke O’Donnell), as part of the King’s Undergraduate Research Fellowship scheme.

“What, here? Really?” – the potential difficulty of finding Georgian sources on Native Americans was encapsulated succinctly by a fellow researcher upon a visit to the Royal Archives at Windsor. Nevertheless, over the course of July and August 2016 I was able to accumulate two vast bibliographies of both pamphlets and books regarding Native American peoples from the library catalogues of George III located in the British Library.

Portrait of Thayendanegea (Joseph Brant) by Gilbert Stuart, 1786.

Before embarking on upon the Library reading rooms, Dr. O’Donnell and I discussed potentially illuminating themes and terms via which Native American sources might be found within the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century context. That George himself was such a keen naturalist suggested environmental texts might be fruitful. The French and Indian War, which culminated in the Royal Proclamation of 1763 (restricting colonial settlement to east of the Appalachians), as well as the American War of Independence highlighted that texts pertaining to warfare might be useful considering the significance of Native Americans in these military engagements. I was also wary of significant figures in colonial relations with Native Americans, including Indian Agent Sir William Johnson, whose regular relations with Native Americans would inform any authored works. These themes, amongst others, provided the starting point for beginning the databases.

The crucial source for these bibliographies were the unpublished Catalogue of King’s Pamphlets (9 vol., 1850s, L.R.419.b.3) and F. A. Barnard’s Bibliotechae Regiae Catalogus (10 vol., 1820, RAC Rare Books and Music Reading Room), which exhaustively detailed the contents of the King’s Library. Whilst systematically poring through each volume, I produced two longlists, each containing c. 500 potential sources by applying the selection criteria pre-established, which was continually broadened as I grew better accustomed to the nature of the respective collections.

From the catalogues, I noted the shelf reference, the author or reference name, the title, size, location and date of publishing, as well as the edition of the print. Taking down all of this information enabled me to further reduce the longlists I had created using the Eighteenth Century Collections Online (ECCO), a fully digitised database of over 180,000 books, pamphlets and much beyond. Since these documents are fully text-searchable, having found each of the documents from my longlists I used a series of key terms to identify whether Native Americans appeared therein.

Using the terms ‘Indian*’, ‘Tribe*’, ‘Native*’, ‘Savage*’, ‘Iroquois*’, ‘Mohawk*’, and ‘Cherokee*’, with the asterisk serving to broaden the search to similar terms or derivations, I was able to roughly quantify the preponderance, or absence, of Native Americans in each of the sources. Consequently, I reduced the longlist to a shortlist, ordered by the number of my key terms that appeared within each, taking the assumption that the greatest number of references would provide the best starting point for further investigation

This process was completed in full for the pamphlet database, taken from the Catalogue of King’s Pamphlets, which was the first task I undertook on my project. From a Catalogue of around 19,000 titles, I noted 673 titles, which produced 234 titles which struck at least one of my keywords. As Dr. O’ Donnell and I had predicted, the books database longlist was smaller, at only 310 titles. The mentioned process of reducing this to a shortlist is ongoing.

Overall, this was an extremely valuable experience for me to engage in broader academic investigation beyond my degree at King’s. I am very grateful for the support of Dr. O’Donnell, as well as manifold others including the staff at the Royal Archives for their invaluable tips into making the best of any archival visit. It has been fantastic to bear witness to the display of the Georgian Papers Programme at King’s, and I look forward to maintaining an eye on the progress of the project.