Cross-Platform Concordances, anyone?

25 Feb

The Old Bailey Online offers a range of tools for statistical analysis and visual representation of large sets of data organized around categories (criminal accusations, verdicts and punishments) that make this site particularly useful for researchers hoping to employ quantitative social scientific methodologies to enrich their qualitative analyses. As such, the site functions as more than a searchable catalog of digitized collections, but as a toolkit for understanding and interpreting data that has long been available, but never so accessible and manipulable by so many.

In digging into the Old Bailey site, and the associated methodological literature, I have been particularly interested in how the site architecture facilitates the identification of individuals who appear in a variety of contexts in the Old Bailey archives. From what I can tell, the sociobiographical speaker data that is assigned to individuals within each discrete record (as illustrated in Magnus Huber’s Figure 15 below) is only valid within that record. [1]


In other words, one individual whose name is recorded in two records from the same day, will still be assigned two (or more) separate sociobiographical ID numbers in the metadata. For example, Ann Jackson, sentenced to death on January 13, 1790 after having been convicted of breaking and entering and theft is given the following IDs in the record of the court proceedings:

<persName id=”t17900113-2-defend63″ type=”defendantName”> ANN JACKSON
<persName id=”t17900113-2-person75″> Ann Jackson
<persName id=”t17900113-2-person79″> Ann Jackson
<persName id=”t17900113-2-person87″> ANN JACKSON

In the metadata associated with the “punishment summary” document of the same day, Jackson is identified as:

<persName id=”s17900113-1-person1025″> ANN Jackson

Mary Talbot, who had previously been sentenced to transportation, was convicted of “feloniously returning from transportation” and sentenced to death on January 13, 1790. In the metadata of the proceedings, Talbot is identified as:

<persName id=”t17900113-95-defend894″ type=”defendantName”> MARY TALBOT

and in the supplementary materials, in which the condemned pleads leniency on the grounds that she is pregnant, she is identified as:

<persName id=”o17900113-1-defend1024″ type=”defendantName”> Mary Talbot

According to that same document, the fact of her pregnancy is established by a Jury of Matrons, after which point her execution was stayed.

But another version of this record is also included in the Old Bailey database, in which Talbot is identified once as:

<persName id=”s17900113-1-person1037″> Mary Talbot

and twice as:

<persName id=”s17900113-1-defend1038″ type=”defendantName”> Mary Talbot

On December 8th of the same year, both Talbot and Jackson appear again in the records, having been “offered His Majesty’s Pardon on Condition of being transported for the Term of their natural Lives.” This time, Jackson asks the court to allow her child to accompany her, and the “Court referred her to the Secretary of State.” In the metadata to this document, Jackson appears as:

<persName id=”o17901208-2-defend655″ type=”defendantName”> Ann Jackson

Mary Talbot, in the same record is:

<persName id=”o17901208-2-defend662″ type=”defendantName”> Mary Talbot

An additional record including a verbatim copy of the above record has Talbot and Jackson identified as:

<persName id=”s17901208-1-defend724″ type=”defendantName”> Ann Jackson
<persName id=”s17901208-1-defend731″ type=”defendantName”> Mary Talbot

My questions about the future of this project (and others like it) have to do with how we might collapse these various IDs as we confirm the identities of the individuals and how we can go about annotating the collections of the Old Bailey Online and other similar projects in a way that allows for the creation of cross-platform concordances. I chose Mary Talbot and Ann Jackson because I had recently encountered the following newspaper article, printed in March of 1791 in Poughkeepsie, New York about them:

Jackson Talbot [2]

I want to know how we go about assigning unique identifiers to individuals such as Mary Talbot and Ann Jackson that would allow a researcher who encounters their stories in either of the source collections
to find the materials in additional collections where they are identified as the same individuals we encounter in the Old Bailey archives.
[1] Magnus Huber, “The Old Bailey Proceedings, 1674-1834 Evaluating and annotating a corpus of 18th- and 19th-century spoken English,” Varieng 1 (2007).

[2] “London, Jan. 21” Poughkeepsie Journal, March 16, 1791. Accessed february 23, 2013


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