• JVCBobCover

You Kick The Bucket; We Do The Rest

My article on the transatlantic circulation of a 19th century newspaper joke has just been published in the Journal of Victorian Culture. ‘You Kick the Bucket; We Do the Rest!’: Jokes and the Culture of Reprinting in the Transatlantic Press "In December 1893 the Conservative candidate for Flintshire addressed an audience at Mold Constitutional Club. After he had finished attacking Gladstone and the local Liberal incumbent, he ended his speech with a joke. He advised the Conservative party to adopt, with regard to the government, the sign of an American undertaker: ‘You kick the bucket; we do the rest’. How did a sign belonging to a Nevadan undertaker become the subject of a joke told at a political meeting in North Wales? This unlikely question forms the basis of this article. Using new digital archives, it tracks the journey of the gag from its origins in New York, its travels around America, its trip across the Atlantic, its circulation throughout Britain and its eventual leap into political discourse. The article uses the joke to illuminate the workings of a broader culture of transatlantic reprinting. During the final quarter of the nineteenth century miscellaneous ‘snippets’ cut from the pages of the American [...]

By |September 14th, 2012|blog, Journal Articles|0 Comments
  • jack the ripperpage

First Look: Nineteenth Century Collections Online

It's been nearly ten years since the launch of Eighteenth Century Collections Online [ECCO]. This ambitious project aimed to digitise "every significant English-language and foreign-language title printed in Great Britain during the  eighteenth century, along with thousands of important works from the Americas." The definition of a 'significant' text remains open to interpretation, but the contents of the archive are undeniably impressive - in its present form it contains more than 180,000 titles. The unparalleled breadth of its coverage - along with the number of university libraries that took up subscriptions - quickly established it as a key focal point for the researching and teaching of eighteenth-century history.In other words, it's a tough act to follow. Enter Nineteenth Century Collections Online [NCCO]. This recently launched project follows in the footsteps of its eighteenth-century predecessor and, in the words of its publisher Gale Cengage, aims to be "the most ambitious scholarly digitisation and publication program ever undertaken." The archive will contain millions of pages of nineteenth-century books, periodicals, diaries, letters, manuscripts, photographs, government records, pamphlets, and maps. More interestingly, it promises researchers the opportunity to subject these sources to some interesting new forms of qualitative and quantitative analysis. I've spent the last few days playing [...]

By |June 6th, 2012|blog, Digitisation|2 Comments
  • boundthesis

It’s alive!

In Mary Shelley's version of the story, Victor Frankenstein locks himself in a laboratory for two years in order to pursue his scientific research. He is driven by an insatiable appetite for discovery, but when he finally witnesses the results of his labours he is filled with an overpowering sense of dread: "I had desired it with an ardour that far exceeded moderation; but now that I had finished, the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart. Unable to endure the aspect of the being I had created, I rushed out of the room..." I was reminded of this passage a few weeks ago on the morning of my PhD viva. It had been more than a month since I had last read my thesis, but in preparation for the big event I plucked up the courage to have a final look. It was a mistake. Every page seemed to bring a fresh disaster; a grammatical error here, a missing footnote there, and so many sentences that I longed to rewrite. Three and a half years earlier I had set out to create something beautiful. Now, as I looked upon it with fresh eyes, I saw only [...]

By |June 2nd, 2012|blog, History, Journal Articles|0 Comments
  • coglogo

See me speak

If you'd like to see what a Digital Victorianist looks like in the flesh (hint: pasty and out of shape) then you might like to come and see one of my forthcoming talks. Over the next 6 months I'll be giving at least four conference papers: 17th March 2012 - "Goodbye, old fellow, I must skedaddle!": Reading the American Voice in the Late-Victorian Press London Nineteenth-Century Studies Seminar, Institute of English Studies, 11:00-17:00. Free entry [details available here]   16th -17th April 2012 - Imagining America: W. T. Stead's Vision of the New World W. T. Stead: Centenary Conference for a Newspaper Revolutionary, British Library. Registration (until 31 January 2012): £70 (£60 postgraduates / over 65s); Day rate: £45 (no concessions). [details available here]   21st - 23rd June - "Goodbye, old fellow, I must skedaddle!": American Slang and the Victorian Popular Press 5th Annual British Scholar Conference, University of Edinburgh. [details available here]   5th July- 7th July - The Laughter of Good Fellowship? Negotiating the past, present, and future in Anglo-American humour, 1870-1900 History and Humour - 1800 to Present, Freiburg University. [details available soon]   As of next week I'll also be leaving Manchester to take up a temporary lecturing [...]

By |January 18th, 2012|Announcements, blog|2 Comments
  • coglogo

Unlocking the Potential of Digital Archives

Last night Jim Mussell posted an excellent review of the British Newspaper Archive on his blog. He makes a number of really important points that I skirted over in my own review. I recommend reading Jim's post in its entirety. However, one of his arguments is particularly worth emphasizing:   This leads me to my second point: the way brightsolid have digitized this material also restricts possible uses. This is a resource for finding articles, not reading newspapers, and this is done by brightsolid’s search engine and database on the user’s behalf. There is no scope here for data mining, for analysis of textual transcripts, or for the interrogation of metadata. This actually runs counter to the dominant trend within both the digital humanities and commercial digital publishing, making BNA seem a little old fashioned. Gale Cengage’s NCCO, for instance, allows users to carry out rudimentary data mining. This is no mere moan about the way the project was executed. Taking advantage of the digital properties of digitized materials is the way in which we learn new things about them. Locking the data away means that users are stuck with old methodologies, treating the articles as if they were printed paper even though they clearly [...]

By |January 10th, 2012|blog, Digitisation|2 Comments
  • times leader

The Jokes of Christmas Past

This time last year I was trudging along a slushy pavement with a soggy copy of The Times in my hand. It was only Christmas Eve, but I'd been given an early present - an interview I did with one of the paper's journalists had just been published. These were heady times. A few month's earlier I'd given a paper at Yale University and written a well received article for The Guardian. I was beginning to fancy myself as a bit of a media don. This was more than a touch premature - I  haven't got close to a newspaper, radio show, or TV documentary since. However, at the time, a glittering showbiz career was beckoning (if only in my own mind) and I was undeniably excited. The whole process started a few weeks earlier. I met with Mike Addelman, the University of Manchester's brilliant press officer, to talk about publicizing some of my research. I ran through a few possibilities, but when I mentioned my work on American jokes his eyes lit up. "This stuff will really sell", he said. The only thing missing was a topical hook. It was at this point that I said something that  I've lived to regret: [...]

By |December 25th, 2011|blog, Uncategorized|0 Comments
  • smilingvictorian3

Smiling Victorians

Two years ago I taught on an undergraduate course which gave 1st year students an introduction to Victorian Britain. In the opening seminar I divided my students into groups and asked them to define a 'typical Victorian'. As I expected, they drew upon every cliche in the book: top hats, bonnets, monocles and waxed mustaches cropped up in every discussion. When I asked them to imagine their character's surroundings, they immediately thought of gloomy workhouses, smoke-filled factories and crumbling Dickensian rookeries. Finally, I asked them to describe their character's personality. All of them imagined the 'typical Victorian' as glum, joyless, or incapable of expressing any emotion at all. When I jokingly asked them to do their best impression of a Victorian they all stared back at me with expressions of disdainful indifference (which I decided not to interpret as genuine contempt). These responses were not unexpected. For the best part of a century we've imagined the Victorians in these unflattering terms. Most people tend to think of them as old fashioned, stuffy, pompous, cripplingly respectable,  emotionally stunted, sexually repressed, and obsessive about manners and decorum. One of the most enduring (though probably apocryphal) images of the period is of Queen Victoria, dressed in black [...]

By |December 19th, 2011|blog, History|2 Comments
  • ocrfix

British Newspaper Archive – changes to the ‘fair usage’ cap.

When the British Newspaper Archive was launched a few weeks back a lot of researchers were frustrated to discover that the 'unlimited' subscription package actually had a 'fair use' cap of 1000 page views per month. When I e-mailed the archive's customer service team about it they informed me that the archive was intended for 'personal use' only and that the cap was non-negotiable. Fortunately, they seem to have had a slight change of heart. The 'fair usage' section of the archive's terms & conditions has now been updated to read: Why do we have a fair usage policy for subscribers? Well, it is certainly not a way to penalise or hold back our customers from conducting their personal research. We have this in place purely for the (very rare) cases where people might abuse the service, and it is designed to keep the price of subscriptions as low as possible for our customers. You are permitted to view an average of 1000 pages per month (calculated over a 3 month period). If you get close to the limit, we’ll send you an email to warn you. We always contact users to establish the reason for abnormally heavy use of the [...]

By |December 12th, 2011|blog, Digitisation|1 Comment
  • coglogo

BNA security problems – bad link to blame

If you clicked on any of the hotlinks in my review of the British Newspaper Archive you might have been taken to an address with "www1." at the start. If you were also using IE or Firefox this might have resulted in your browser warning you about a security risk. It's a false alarm; a minor glitch that stems from the addition of the "1" after "www". The BNA have assured us that their website is completely secure and that the problem has now been resolved. I've fixed the links in my own review - if you've linked to the archive on your own blog it would be worth double checking to make sure that the address is correct. Thanks to Charles Robinson for alerting me to the problem.

By |December 11th, 2011|blog, Digitisation|0 Comments
  • results

Hit-term Highlighting: a half-baked solution

In my recent review of The British Newspaper Archive I moaned about the fact that 'hit-term highlighting' was mysteriously absent from its interface. Unlike every other archive on the market, the BNA doesn't highlight your search term on the article image. Here's how it works in other databases: In this example, I performed a keyword search for the term 'Victorian'. One of the articles it returned was this lengthy piece from the Liverpool Mercury. It's 5616 words long. Fortunately, thanks to hit-term highlighting, I can just skip straight to the word shaded in green and read the part of the article that I'm interested in. A similar search on the BNA would require me to carefully read a column and a half of text in order to find the word I searched for. This really slows down the research process when you've got 500 articles to analyse. With any luck, brightsolid will address this problem with an update to the BNAs interface. This might take a while - in the meantime, there's a temporary solution to the problem that should save us all a bit of time: Step 1: perform a normal keyword search. Step 2: open up an article. [...]

By |December 5th, 2011|blog, Digitisation|0 Comments