Bradford History on the Net
(First published in 1999 in volume 7, pp. 58-60, of the third series of The Bradford Antiquary, the journal of the Bradford Historical and Antiquarian Society.)
[SInce this paper was written many of the sites mentioned have moved. If it has been possible to locate the new address (or the address of a similar site), it is given in square brackets after the original. Other relevant websites are listed on our links page.]
The Internet has arrived! It is already changing our lives and over the next few years, I'm afraid to tell you, no serious local historian will be able to work efficiently without a link to the net. So what is this new research tool that we hear so much about and cannot do without?
Basically, the Internet is a worldwide network of computers, all linked together by everyday telephone lines. It is all about people talking to each other and sharing information. If you have access to the Internet you can perform many tasks, such as sending and receiving E-Mail, joining in discussion groups and looking at sites and pages on the World Wide Web (WWW).
The WWW provides easy access to the mass of information on the Internet. Each screen that you view is called a 'page' and is basically similar to a page in a book, with the added advantage that it can include videos, sounds and music. You can move around the site by clicking on words and graphics, some of which are linked to other web pages all over the world. If you have a specific page or site you want to visit, you simply type in its address or URL (Uniform Resource Locator).
E-Mail allows you to keep in contact with people all over the world. It is the Internet version of the Royal Mail! Rather than putting a letter in a postbox, you send a message from your computer down a telephone line. You can send E-Mails to anyone who has access to the Net. E-Mail does have tremendous benefits. It is cheap and quick and you only pay for the price of a local telephone call, even if you are contacting a fellow historian in Australia. And your message can get there in as little as five minutes. To be able to send E-Mails, you simply need to set up an EMail address with your Internet Service Provider (ISP), or use one of the many free services now available on the Internet, such as Hotmail. For example, my address is: email@example.com Why not drop me a line and see if it works, or if you need any internet advice.
The Internet also allows you to join in history-related news and discussion groups. These are essentially chat forums where you can log in and leave remarks, ask questions or even 'talk' to other historians allover the world.
One of the main problems with the Internet is actually finding the information that you want. There are several 'search engines', such as Lycos, Yahoo or Alta Vista, which constantly trawl the Net looking for new sites, which they then sort by subject. Any enquiry is likely to come up with hundreds of different subjects. For instance there are over 1500 sites devoted to genealogy and family history. To get the most from these search engines you need to be fairly precise in your enquiry.
A useful way of searching is to try and find what are called 'gateway' sites. Gateways provide lots of links to other related sites. For example, the government gateway site at www.open.gov.uk [Directgov] allows you to gain access to hundreds of different government departments and local authority sites. Give it a try and check the organisational index. There is also a tremendous genealogy gateway called GENUKI at www.genuki.org.uk which again provides hundreds of links.
To get access to the Internet you need a modem, linked to your computer. This allows your computer to 'speak' down the telephone line to other computers. You must also sign up with an Internet Service Provider. There are lots of companies offering this service, many of them do not even charge nowadays. You merely pay for local telephone calls.
If you are still not sure whether the Internet is for you, why not try it at Bradford Central Library, where terminals are available providing access the Internet for free. You can sign on for an initial period of half an hour and if there is no one else waiting for a terminal, you can stay on for longer. The terminals are for information seeking purposes only. There are also plans to provide other, larger libraries in Bradford with Internet access. For example, terminals are soon to be installed at Keighley, Shipley and Eccleshill libraries.
Searching the Internet can be great fun and you can find hundreds of interesting things. However, it can, at times, be very slow to load the pages and therefore quite expensive to stay on line if you are using a computer at home. It can also be very addictive, so don't forget what it was that you were looking for in the first place as you wander around in cyberspace!
So, are there any sites on the WWW of interest to local historians? Here is a list of some that may be of interest. Why not give them a try.
This covers events in Bradford and links them to those elsewhere in the country over the years. It is especially strong on Bradford architects and architecture.
An excellent site, incredibly thorough. The site includes a section on the history and importance of Titus Salt and Saltaire and includes some useful maps and trails.
Bradford Tourist Trails
Includes three historical trails, Saltaire, the Cathedral and the City Centre. Each trail has a map. Just click on the area and you will be given history and pictures.
The council page gives a very brief history of Bradford [www.visitbradford.com/leisure-attractions/history-of-bradford.asp], including the legend of the boar. The 1991 census figures are there as well as some useful links to local museums.
Bradford Family History Society
The site includes the history of the society, publications available, news and events, and a list of the research items available in Bradford Central Library.
The Topographical Dictionary of Yorkshire is online at;
There is a description of Bradford in 1822 at;
West Yorkshire Archive Service have their own site at www.archives.wyjs.org.uk There are plans to put the index of archive collections onto the Internet, meaning hundreds of thousands of entries will be available to the public, forming a valuable educational resource.
Most national history related organisations will have their own websites. The Public Record Office (www.pro.gov.uk [www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/default.htm] runs the site which is the key to national archives. It includes incredibly useful research and information leaflets which can be downloaded or printed out. History provides access to the Institute of Historical Research website (ihr.sas.ac.uk/welcome.html [http://www.history.ac.uk/welcome.html]). This is a very large and comprehensive site which can take hours to 'wander' through. It contains details of conferences, research projects contacts and associated organisations and publications to name but a few.
The Royal Commission on Historical Monuments (www.rchme.gov.uk [www.rcahms.gov.uk]) is now part of English Heritage. Their site provides information on England's architectural and archaeological heritage through the National Monuments Record (NMR). This public archive holds over 12 million items, including old and new photographs, maps, reports and surveys as well as complete coverage of the country in aerial photographs. This Web site includes an on-line version of the publications catalogue, and short articles on some of the work currently being undertaken by the survey teams, providing new knowledge of England's heritage.
Local History Magazine has a useful website (www.local-history.co.uk) including sections on how to get started in local history and a list of all the local history societies in the UK and links to hundreds of other historical sites.
I hope you can try some of these sites and enjoy looking at them. Whatever you do think of them and the Internet in general, it is here to stay, and is likely to continue changing rapidly over the next few years. For serious users, there is likely to be more access to research tools. Archives and libraries throughout the world are deciding to put their resources on the Net. Even old documents can be put on the Net in their original form and thus can be viewed from home. But let's all hope that all these new developments do not take away some of the magic of historical research!
Pete Walker is the Librarian at the Reference Library, Bradford
© 1999, Pete Walker and The Bradford Antiquary