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Response to Review of The History of Parliament Online

Jason Peacey’s thorough and thoughtful review has captured well the aims and ambitions we had for the online version of the History of Parliament. We are delighted that he has found so much material in it to contribute to existing lines of enquiry, and perhaps to stimulate new ones. Jason has provided some useful pointers to improvements that could be made. The search facility may indeed need further development, but it should be said that it is possible to narrow one’s search by period, using the faceted search provided. This can be accessed by selecting one of the article types offered in the box at the right hand side of the search page – members, constituencies, and so on. This will limit the article to whichever article type is chosen, and then a further filter can be applied (by clicking on ‘refine search’), limiting the search to one of the nine periods currently available.

It is also possible to refine the search to some of the separate components of our articles: so a search can omit the headword of an article, and the paragraphs giving the basic biographical detail. This might help to limit the number of articles returned in a search for ‘weaver’ where the word is a surname, although in this case it is likely that a person called Weaver will also be referred to frequently by that name in the text of his biography, so many references to the surname will still be included in the results (as well as references to the River Weaver, and the River Weaver Navigation Bill, and, since the footnotes can’t be separated out from the biography text, to Frederick William Weaver, the editor of a series of Visitation volumes in the 19th century).

As Jason mentions, the site should be considered as a continuing project: there are very many improvements that we are keen to make to it, in collaboration with the Institute of Historical Research who are now maintaining it for us. As with all websites of this size, maintaining and further developing the site is far from cost-free. While we hope to keep the site free, we do have to reserve our right to charge for access in the future if it becomes necessary in order to keep it online. The strongest argument for maintaining free access is precisely that of ‘impact’; the more who follow Jason Peacey in using the History of Parliament Online to discover, and publicise, new material – on subjects as diverse as weavers, Shakespeare, divorce and the uses of the Painted Chamber – the more we will be able to demonstrate its continuing value to all, as a public good.