Contents of this article
The Parliamentary Papers are vital to the historical record of Britain, its former colonies and the wider world. They are among the richest and most detailed primary sources for the history of the 18th and 19th centuries, and are fundamental to an understanding of current legislation, policy-making and the political environment.
The resource includes over 200,000 House of Commons sessional papers from 1715 to the present, with supplementary material dating back to the Glorious Revolution of 1688. While at present the online database publishes papers up to the parliamentary session 2003/4, Connected Histories has not indexed data beyond 1900 and consequently offers access to 136,000 items. The Parliamentary Papers are divided into collections (by century), and within these the browsing options vary (for example the 18th-century material is further divided into 'Journals of the House of Commons', 'The Parliamentary Register' etc., while the 19th-century papers are accessed by year and then volume).
The Parliamentary Papers provides users with high quality page images, but searching is carried out on the full text that lies behind them. There are a number of search options, including keyword, subject (choosing from two authority lists), session, and so on. Search terms are clearly highlighted on the page images returned by the search. Users have the option to save search terms in a 'My archive' facility and material may also be downloaded.
The resource contains material originating primarily from Britain and the British empire, but also treaties, trade reports, diplomatic correspondence etc. from overseas nations. Almost all of the sources are in English, although some documents are presented in the original languages (e.g. French, Italian), accompanied by an English translation.
The Parliamentary Papers is derived from the Chadwyck-Healey microfiche edition of the 19th-century House of Commons sessional papers published in 1980-3 with an accompanying subject index. The resource publishes high quality scans of this microfiche, with the addition of 18th-century material digitised by BOPCRIS at the University of Southampton. The underlying full text, on which searching is conducted, was produced using Optical Character Recognition (or OCR). OCR is not as accurate as the rekeying of text, particularly for earlier printed materials, but it allows the digitisation of material on the large scale required for a resource of this type.
Strengths and weaknesses
The Parliamentary Papers is invaluable for the history of administration (domestic and colonial), legislation, finance, society, foreign policy, trade and commerce. The resource includes every paper ordered to be printed by the House of Commons in the 19th century, subject indexed using consistent hierarchical terminology. However, not all papers have survived from the 18th century; and the 18th century collection also lacks subject indexing.
As noted above, the use of OCR, and the inevitable misreadings that this produces, means that searching will not find all instances of a particular term or word in the text.
About the project
The 18th-Century Parliamentary Papers were created through a partnership between ProQuest, JISC, the University of Southampton, the British Library, and the University of Cambridge. The 19th-Century Parliamentary Papers were created by a JISC and ProQuest partnership.