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Institute of Historical Research Seminar in Digital History

Posted by jaskelly under Announcement, IHR, Seminar | Tags: #dhist, digital humanities, IHR | 0 Comments


Time: Tuesday, 21 February, 5.15 pm GMT

Venue: ST276 (Stewart House, second floor) and streamed live on the web at

Magnus Huber (Giessen), 'The Old Bailey Corpus: Spoken English in the 18th and 19th centuries'

On Tuesday Magnus Huber will be talking about the use of historical court records in the investigation of language change.The Proceedings of the Old Bailey, London's central criminal court, were published between 1674 and 1913 and constitute a large body of texts from the beginning of Present Day English (almost 200,000 trials, ca. 134 million words). The Proceedings were digitalized by the social historians Robert Shoemaker (University of Sheffield) and Tim Hitchcock (University of Hertfordshire) and are searchable at the excellent Old Bailey Proceedings Online (, which also provides detailed background information on the Old Bailey and the publication history of the Proceedings.

This talk reports on a project that turned the Proceedings into the linguistic Old Bailey Corpus (OBC). Corpus linguistics relies on the statistical analysis of large collections of electronic texts to investigate language variation and/or language change. In the absence of recorded speech samples before the invention of the phonograph, language historians have turned to written text types that are close to spoken language. The Proceedings of the Old Bailey are particularly suitable for the study of spoken English as they were taken down by shorthand scribes, and their verbatim passages are arguably as near as we can get to the spoken word of the 18th and 19th centuries. The OBC identifies about 114 million words as direct speech from the 1720s onwards, of which 22 million words have received detailed mark-up for sociolinguistic (sex, profession, age, residence of speaker, role in the court-room) and textual variables (the shorthand scribe and publisher of individual Proceedings).


The IHR Seminar in digital history is actively engaged in presenting and discussing new methodologies which have been made possible through the development of computational methods for the study of history. Further information can be found on the IHR Seminar page at  Follow us on twitter @IHRDigHist or join the mailing list for seminar announcements:

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