The recent post on the Bevin Boys by Simon Demissie set off a couple of trains of thought. The first was one of those vague recollections of something half remembered in the news a few years back, that the Government had commemorated the work of the hitherto forgotten army of the Bevin Boys. A thought easily expanded upon by putting ‘Bevin Boys’ into the UK Government Web Archive search engine:
Searching for Bevin Boys in the UK Government Web Archive
and there it all was… Continue reading »
We are always looking for new and better ways to make the content of the UK Government Web Archive accessible. One of the most innovative and exciting developments in this area is Memento, which was developed by Los Alamos National Laboratory in the USA.
Memento aims to add a time dimension to the web, by allowing users access to a specific web resource (for example, a web page, a document, or data) now, and at some point in the past, by using web archives. It harnesses an important principle of the web: the Unique Resource Identifier (URI). URIs identify specific resources on the web and, as the web archive preserves the original URI and ‘knows’ when that resource was captured, it can ‘slice’ into the web archive to show it to the user. Continue reading »
Wasn’t the recent discovery and identification of the remains of King Richard III in a Leicester car park absolutely riveting? I am not a medievalist (as will doubtless become clear during this blog post), nonetheless, Richard III was my way into the historian’s craft. As a schoolgirl I read Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time , where a detective, scenting propaganda in Shakespeare’s account of Richard, conducts an investigation into the murder of the Princes in the Tower from his hospital bed.
King Richard III by Unknown artist oil on panel, late 16th century (late 15th century) NPG 148 © National Portrait Gallery, London (CC BY NC ND)
This led me to read my first grown up history book, Paul Murray Kendall’s Richard III. At 14, I was equally fascinated and daunted by the footnotes: PRO E/179 117/77; PRO C 65/114; ibid; op. cit… What did it all mean? Historians were obviously rarified beings who had, I assumed, privileged access to the documents behind all this paraphernalia. It was all very remote from my experience: I felt I would love to be a historian, solving the mysteries of the past, but it wasn’t something that people like me did. Eventually, I not only learnt to cite PRO references and know my op. cit.s from my ibids, I ended up actually working at the Public Record Office (as The National Archives then was). I still like the idea of history as a detective story, with the extra dimension of time; an investigation into cause and effect, weighing the evidence in context – my colleague Sean Cunningham, who has written a book on Richard III is very good on this point.
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New Year Openings at The National Archives are a time for looking back at the world of 30 years ago, marvelling at how much has changed, or, as a recent blog post on Renewing the Values of Society demonstrated, how much has stayed the same.
What government was doing about the web in 1982 hasn’t received the publicity of the Falklands files. Mainly because, you might think, in 1982 the World Wide Web was little more than a gleam in the eye of Sir Tim Berners-Lee, called ENQUIRE. But while war was raging in the Falklands, a group of civil servants from the government’s Central Computing and Telecommunications Agency (CCTA) were trying to second guess the future (BN 120/8 and BN 120/9).
Pre-web, there was plenty of computing going on in government departments; most of it hidden away on the one large machine each department had, with a scattering of terminals that connected staff in distant offices to the machine. The CCTA were trying to establish how much need, if any, there would be to transfer data from one government department’s machine to another. Another 1982 anniversary was the official adoption of the TCP/IP protocol, building block of the internet, by the US Department of Defense. In 1982, data was being exchanged across the world, but the internet was still very much part of its US Cold War communications origins. In the UK civil servants were speaking not of nets, let alone internets, but packet switching. The climate for building networks was not very encouraging. There was a waiting list for new telephone lines – which it was hoped the privatisation of British Telecom would address – meanwhile the first Data Protection Act (1984) was stirring in Parliament; there was an awareness of the public’s reluctance to have their personal information shared across departments by these worrying computers that sent you gas bills for £1,000,000,000.99p. And cost was a major factor: to save taxpayers money data from local benefits offices was sent by the cheaper overnight tariff to the DHSS central computer in Newcastle.
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A sign in the supermarket yesterday advised me that there were only eight sleeps until Christmas. With that in mind it seemed like a good time to write a post with a festive theme.
Number 10 Christmas card 2009 - The official website of the Prime Minister's Office - archived 4th December 2009
The image above is taken from the website of the Prime Minister’s Office which was archived in December 2009. It shows the image chosen for the official Number 10 Christmas card that year. The accompanying text explains some of the changes the then Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, and his wife made to make Number 10 more sustainable. I think the historians of the future will be interested to see the importance placed on sustainability and the environment.
Last week was Diversity Week at The National Archives – a week in which we celebrate the diversity of our collections. This made me think about how the UK Government Web Archive is capturing ways that the UK Central Government web estate is being used to communicate with one minority group - disabled people. In writing this post I am aware that the term ’disabled people’ encompasses a wide range of very different people with many different needs. I will only be able to focus on a few specific examples in this short post.
The web teams responsible for UK government websites work to ensure that sites are as accessible as possible. Guidance about designing accessible websites is provided in the Cabinet Office (formerly Central Office of Information) Web standards and guidelines on delivering inclusive websites. Additionally, most websites in scope for our web archive include a page describing provisions made to ensure the website is accessible. We will have captured these pages as part of our regular archiving schedule. For example, the page below in an archived version of the Directgov website from December 2008 describes the accessibility features of the site.
Directgov - Accessibility features - archived December 2008
Interestingly, the page includes two audio files. In my opinion, one of the great benefits of the internet is the ability to communicate information to users in different ways. Whereas in the past a blind or partially-sighted person would have had to source specialist material, such as a leaflet printed in Braille or an audio book, they can now use inexpensive and commonly available technology such as a screen reader or changing the text size in a browser to access most information on the internet. This is made easier by careful website design.
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While the vast majority of content in the UK Government Web Archive is presented in English and Welsh, there is a substantial amount in other languages. This post offers a brief introduction to the variety of other language content in the collection. As yesterday was The European Day of Languages, this post seems quite timely.
Presenting content in multiple languages means that content creators can engage with both wider and more specific audiences. The necessity to produce such content online is as varied as in non-digital formats. The aims can range from improved community engagement through dissemination of information to celebrations of the diversity of cultures in the UK; from fire safety advice to recruiting intelligence officers.
British Council website from 2006, in Chinese
Not long after I joined The National Archives someone asked me whether I thought there was any point archiving the ‘job vacancies’ or ‘careers’ sections of government websites. The person who asked felt these sections contained current information which would not be of interest once the posts advertised had been filled. As someone with an interest in both family and social history I disagreed. Although the ‘current vacancies’ section of a website archived 18 months ago probably would not be the most popular resource, I believe that this and other content related to work and employment captured in the web archive will be invaluable to the historians of the future.
The world of work is hugely important to family and social historians. A person’s job can tell us a great deal about their life. It can indicate their status in society, what quality of life they had and how educated they were, amongst other things. Most family historians researching in the UK will first find out about the occupations of their ancestors from a few words on a birth, marriage or death certificate or from a census return. Sometimes it is fairly obvious what the job entailed: my own family tree features a bus driver, a chauffeur, a cricket ball maker and a vast number of agricultural labourers, but some are more of a puzzle . The first image below is taken from my grandparents’ 1941 marriage certificate. My grandmother’s father’s occupation is given as ‘Carter’. A quick poll of colleagues in my office (none of whom are family history experts, I hasten to add) demonstrated that none of them knew what being a carter would entail. Continue reading »
Last week, some of us from The National Archives were privileged to spend a day in Cambridge with over 50 people from the heritage spheres gathered for the Digital Preservation Coalition event, Links that Last.
(For those new to the concept of linked data, I have no hesitation in recommending this Wikipedia article: ‘linked data describes a method of publishing structured data so that it can be interlinked and become more useful. It builds upon standard Web technologies such as HTTP and URIs but rather than using them to serve web pages for human readers, it extends them to share information in a way that can be read automatically by computers.’)
As the Links that Last programme puts it:
‘The emerging ‘Linked Data’ approach … challenges us to think about preservation in new ways. Simultaneously, the digital preservation community has put considerable effort into the development of persistent identifiers, services that seek to ensure that essential links are not lost and … that the highly distributed contexts in which information is presented are protected against the vagaries of time and obsolescence’.
CERN announcement 4 July 2012
Searching for the Higgs Boson is not just a case of shooting particles around that collide somewhere under Switzerland (a lay person’s grasp of particle physics), CERN has to collect, analyse and manage all of the data this generates.
Big Data is a big thing just now. In the wake of the Government’s Open Data White Paper, Government departments have just published their Data Strategies, including their plans for Big Data - defined as: ‘data which is routinely collected and held by a department as part of its everyday activities’.