Musings on a Multimodal Analysis of Scissors-and-Paste Journalism

The concept of scissors-and-paste journalism is not a new. Indeed, the practice of obtaining, selecting and faithfully reproducing news content (without attributing its original author) dates to before the advent of what we would now call the newspaper and into the years of the handwritten newsletter. That historians have not, until very recently, explored the specific nature and nuance of these reprinting practices is simple pragmatism. Whether they are attempting to uncover the dissemination pathway of single article, or to understand the exchange practices of a particular newspaper title, the task is a daunting one.

In order to achieve one-hundred-percent confidence in any given dissemination map, a historian would need to have read every newspaper ever printed, along with the personal papers of every newspaper editor, compiler and printer that has ever lived, and, for good measure, they would need to develop robust methods for examining the conversations that had taken place in every coffee house, tavern and postal exchange across the breadth of the world and throughout the entirety of time.

This, of course, is probably too much to ask of any historian, even a very diligent one.

Although we may never achieve one-hundred-percent confidence, recent developments have made achieving a reasonable degree of certainty more likely. The ongoing digitisation of historical newspapers has made it possible to obtain regular access to a larger percentage of possible reprints. Of even greater assistance are the efforts of certain digitisation projects to provide users with direct access to the machine-readable transcriptions of  these digitised images. These texts, obtained through optical-character recognition software (such as that employed by Chronicling America) or manual transcription and OCR-correction (such as that championed by Trove) lay hidden behind most searchable databases, but only a select few providers have thus far made them accessible, indeed mine-able, by the general public. Yet, even when they remain hidden, and even if their quality remains highly variable, their existence has revolutionised research into dissemination pathways and provided the intrepid reprint hunter with two novel modes of inquiry.

The first is for the historian to select a set of articles for which there is good reason to believe a reprint exists, or for which he or she has already identified a number of reprints in the past. Having identified an appropriate text, the historian can then search for a selection of keyword phrases, or nGrams, in the relevant newspaper databases in order to obtain a reasonable number of hits.

This method of reprint analysis is hampered by many limitations. At best, the historian has a limited idea of where reprints, or indeed the original version, of any given text may appear. The proven commercial viability of newspaper digitisation, for genealogical and historical research,  as well as the efforts of public or part-public projects, has led to an ever-growing number of online repositories. For any dissemination map to be considered robust, each of these must be searched with a consistent list of keyword strings, representing different portions of the article.

More importantly, mechanical limitations, such as variances in search interfaces or the quality of machine-readable transcriptions, often obscure the true reach of a given text. Even if a legitimate version of article does exist within the database, these variances means that there is no guarantee the researcher will ever find it without manually examining each individual page.

Finally, even supposing the historian is able to identify all versions of a given text within all current newspaper databases, this still represents only a tiny percentage of all possible prints. As with any preservation project, the costs associated with digitisation have led to the subjective selection of popular, representative or historically important titles from an already reduced catalogue of surviving hard-copy newspapers. Likewise, even if a newspaper has been selected for preservation, multiple editions and non-surviving issues mean that true certainty will always remain elusive, even with manual examination.

Another method for determining reprints is to retrieve machine-readable transcriptions en masse and analyse them for duplicated phrases or word groupings, a method currently employed by the Viral Texts project. This methodology has significant advantages over manual search-and-inspection research. First, the historian no longer needs to make an initial identification of an article for which there are likely reprints; instead, all articles can be compared with all other articles, highlighting new and perhaps wholly unexpected ‘viral texts’. Second, by using a computer processor, rather than the eyes and mind of a single historian, the time spent in research is vastly reduced, perhaps transforming a lifetime of work into a few dozen hours.

There are, of course, also disadvantages. Although seemingly more efficient than using a database’s propitiatory search interface, this method requires full access to the raw OCR data, something provided by only a minority of databases. It also required a highly specialised procedure for cleaning that data to a level at which no reprints will be excluded—a procedure, moreover, which must be refined to accommodate a range of dialects, typefaces and discourses. Finally, and worryingly, complete reliance on computer matching means that significant OCR errors, those that cannot be overcome through pre-designed replacement protocols, will forever obscure some reprints.

The irretrievability of a certain percentage of reprints is not, of course, a primary concern of the Viral Text project, whose aim is to examine which ‘qualities—both textual and thematic—helped particular news stories, short fiction, and poetry “go viral” in nineteenth-century newspapers and magazines.’ For others, such as myself, who are primarily concerned with the path these texts took, and the practical mechanisms associated with their transmission, we are seemingly left with the unsatisfying conclusion that no true map of the dissemination networks can ever be devised.

Yet, all hope is not lost.

In my next two posts, I will set forth what I believe can be the foundation of robust, high-confidence dissemination pathway mapping: a multimodal research methodology—combining the advantages of manual and digital analysis—and the development of specific digital tools for determining directionality in historical newspaper reprints.

**Image courtesy of  Ram Karthik

Confessions of a Tablet Addict; or, Why I Am Returning to Pen and Paper (Mostly)

When I purchased my tablet computer last year, I knew that it would change the way I worked.

I expected that having immediate, portable access to EvernoteSpiderOakZotero and iAnnotate would make me a more efficient researcher and lecturer.

  • No longer would my right shoulder ache from lugging my laptop computer around; my tablet and Bluetooth keyboard fit easily and discretely into my medium sized bag.
  • No longer would I tell my students that I would email them key references after class; I could locate and send it to them as they stood beside me.
  • No longer would I need to choose between electronic submission and handwritten annotation; I could easily mark essays or review colleague’s articles on the train to work with my stylus.
  • I had Remember the Milk installed for task management and easy access to my calendar and email.
  • I had task timers to make sure I worked efficiently.
  • I could even track my food and exercise, to prevent the ill effects of a research (read: sedentary) lifestyle.
  • Most importantly, rather than take handwritten notes at seminar papers or conferences, I could type notes directly into Evernote for later use.

This was the moment, I thought, that I would finally transition into the superbly organised academic I always wished I could be.

I could not have been more wrong.

In some respects, having a tablet has made me a more effective, organised individual. I am able to mark essays and read electronic articles during my commute, on my couch and in my back garden without printing them off or stretching my power cable through the kitchen window. I am also able to quickly bring up notes, drafts and other files at meetings or during tutorial sessions. My grand schemes for a seamless workflow, however, have fallen far short of expectations.

This is not, necessarily a technological failing. With the exception of being able to easily dock two independent windows (such as Evernote and Word) on a single screen, my tablet and applications generally provide the services advertised. Instead, I have overestimated my own ability to stick to the regimes necessary to achieve these lofty goals.

  • I often forgot my Bluetooth keyboard, or decided to do non-keyboard tasks “for now”
  • My Zotero database, while fully accessible, remains far from organised, and thus relatively useless in time-sensitive situations
  • I rarely remembered to mark my tasks as completed or reference the list regularly. I read my emails, but, unfortunately, did so to the point of obsessive compulsion
  • I timed my work habits but often felt depressed at ‘how little’ I actually worked once mid-morning chats, comfort breaks, and ‘quick’ trips to the shop were removed**
  • Tracking my exercise was automatic (thanks to FitBit) but facing up to my unhealthy canteen lunches was another story
  • Finally, on those rare occasions when I took effective notes at conference, I have not read or referenced them since

Most importantly, I found that my easy access to all my data was eroding what meager powers of memory I had left. The names of the articles I had read, and the authors who had written them, were never entered into my long-term memory. Nor were the reams of evidence from papers I had attended or books I had read. Tasks, once entered into my tablet, became an unobtrusive (1) in the corner of my screen, never to be thought of again. In short, my tablet was making me a very poor academic.

So, this autumn I decided to make a change. Rather than create a digital workflow, I would reintegrate paper into my life. I had tried paper to-do lists and project notebooks in the past, but they often became lost or jumbled. This time, I turned my attention to a short article on Lifehacker: The Bullet Journal. The concept, described in detail here, is simple enough. One book to rule your life, with good old pen and paper. All your tasks, events, contacts and notes go in one place, annotated with a variety of bullet point styles, and, like commonplace books of old, you can index your entries for easy reference.

After four months (and three pocket notebooks later), I am fully convinced of the power of paper, over my own mind at least. I have not abandoned my tablet (as my colleagues will surely attest) but I have integrated it into my life in a wholly new way.  With the exception of marking essays and tweeting, the tablet is now a reference device only. I do not input into my tablet.

Instead, I carry my journal with me at all times, noting down every stray work-related thought, every task I am given, every contact I should know, every interesting reference I should follow up. At the end of the day, I type up all my notes, carefully, into Evernote, my digital commonplace book. I migrate all of my uncompleted tasks into either my master to-do list (at the end of the journal) or to the start of tomorrow’s entry. I then migrate any relevant tasks from my master to-do list to tomorrow’s entry as well. Finally, I write out any appointments I have planned for tomorrow. Shutting the book, I rest for the evening, making sure to keep away from the perpetual glow of my tablet’s screen.

The result? First, while seemingly inefficient, the double (triple, even quadruple) writing out of my tasks lodges them within my long-term memory. Any task that is left unfinished several days in a row becomes a priority, if only to save myself the hassle of writing it out once again. Second, my recall memory of names, dates and events (from my own life) has vastly improved. I have long known that I learn best through spatial positioning. I may not remember the name of a book, but I can remember the exact colour of the cover, where it resides on a given library shelf, and the approximate spot on the page where my fact can be found. By writing out my notes and data, I gain a much stronger visual memory of the content, including the approximate day on which it was written from its position within the notebook. Moreover, by retyping my notes at night, I am practicing the knowledge, shifting it from my short-term and into my long-term memory.

Finally, and this is only a recent development, I have started writing in an unlined notebook, which I photograph directly into Evernote. Why do I do this when I also retype my notes? Because if I can get Evernote OCR to understand my handwriting, I will have finally achieved the consistent penmanship I so envy in the Georgian men and women I study.

*Image Courtesy of Mike Licht,

**My average work day, all breaks and digressions excluded, for this January (no teaching) was about 5 hours a day, seven days a week.

Bills of Exchange; or, A Bride Worth Paying for

A humorous Adventure of a Marriage negotiated by a Bill of Exchange, in one of the English West India Islands. A Merchant, originally from London, having acquired a great fortune in this island, concluded with himself he could not be happy in the enjoyment of it, unless he shared it with a woman of merit ; and knowing none to his fancy, he resolved to write to a worthy correspondent of his in London. He knew no other [????] than that he used in his trade ; therefore treating affairs of love as he did his business, after giving his friend in a letter several commissions, and re serving this for the last, he went on thus: “Item, seeing that I have taken a resolution to marry, and that I do not find a suitable match for me here, do not fail to send by next ship, bound hither, a young woman of the qualifications and form following: As for a portion I demand none; let her be of an honest family; between 20 and 25 years of age ; of a middle stature, and well pro portioned ; her face agreeable, her temper mild, her character blameless, her health good, and her constitution strong enough to bear the change of the climate, that these may be no occasion to look out for a second through lack of the first, soon after she comes to hand ; which must be provided against as much as possible, considering the great distance and the dangers of the sea. If she arrives, and conditioned as abovesaid, with the present letter endorsed by you, or, at least, an at tested copy thereof, that there may be no mistake or imposition, I hereby oblige and engage myself to satisfy the said letter, by marrying the bearer at 15 days sight. In witness whereof I [????] this, &c.”

The London correspondent read over and over the odd article, which put the future spouse on the same footing with the bales of goods he was to send to his friend ; and after admiring the prudent exactness of the naturalised Creole, and his laconic stile, in enumerating the qualifications which he insisted on,he endeavoured to serve him to his mind; and after many enquiries, he judged he had found a lady fit for his purpose, in a young person of a reputable family, but no fortune ; of good humour, and of a polite education ; well shaped, and more than tolerably handsome. HE made the proposal to her as his friend had directed, and the young gentlewoman, who had no subsistence but from a cross old aunt, who gave her a great deal of uneasiness, accepted it. A ship bound for the West Indies was then fitting out at Bristol; the gentlewoman went on board the same, together with the bale of goods, being well provided with all necessaries, and particularly with a certificate in due form, and indorsed by the correspondent. She was also included in the invoice, the last article of which ran thus: “Item, a maid of 21 years of age, of the quality, shape, and condition as per order; as appears by the affidavits and certificates she has to produce.” Writings, which were thought necessary to so exact a man as the future husband, were an extract from the parish register ; a certificate of her character, signified by the curate ; an attestation of her neighbours, setting forth that she had for the space of three years lived with an old aunt who was intolerably peevish, and that she had not, during all that time, given her said aunt the least occasion of complaint. And lastly, the goodness of her constitution was certified, after consideration by *line unreadable* departure, the London correspondent sent several letters to advise by other ships to his friend, whereby he informed him, that per such a ship he sent him a young woman of such an age, character, and condition, &c. in a word, such what desired to marry. The letters of advice, the bales, and the gentlewoman, came safe to the port ; and our Creole, who happened to be one of the foremost on the pier at the lady’s landing, was charmed to see a handsome person, who having heard him called by his name, told him, “Sir, I have a bill of exchange upon you, and you know that it is not usual for people to carry a great deal of money about them in such a long voyage as I have made ; I beg the favour you will be pleased to pay it.” At the same time she gave him his correspondent’s letter, on the back of which was wrote, “The bearer of this is the spouse you ordered me to send you.” Ha, madam ! said the Creole, I never yet suffered my bills to be protested, and I swear this shall not be the first : I shall reckon myself the most fortunate of all men, if you allow me to discharge it.” Yes, Sir, replied she, and the more willingly, since I am apprized of your character. We have several persons of honour on board, who knew you very well, and who, during my passage; have answered all the question I asked of them concerning you, in so advantageous a manner, that it has raised in me a perfect esteem for you.”

This first interview was in a few days after followed by the nuptials, which were very magnificent. The new married couple are satisfied with their happy union made by a bill of exchange, which was the most fortunate that had happened in that island for many years.

The Glasgow Advertiser, 17 September 1790

A Curious Way to Start a War or Bring Down a Government


WANTED-A good clever argument to prove the approach for a WAR between this country and another.–Whoever inclines to undertake the job will receive a Spanish fleet of four ships to begin with.

N. B. No objection to a war with any country.

Apply at the Stock Exchange between ten and two.

WANTED–A division in the Cabinet for some cause or other. No objection to the Journey to Hanover, the Dissolution of Parliament, or any other.

N. B. Nothing under undoubted authority will be admitted.

—The Glasgow Advertiser, 19 April 1790.

Cargoes of Women: Ill-Repute

This is part four of ‘Cargoes of Women’.
For part one, please click here. For part two, please click here. For part three, please click here.

Georgian Britain suffered from a surplus women problem. With each passing census, its inhabitants grew increasingly concerned about the poor distribution of the fairer sex within their empire and proposed a number of methods for a more equitable distribution. Yet, however tempting it may be to describe it so, the relationship between colonial demand and metropolitan supply was not a simple numbers game.

Although these women were almost universally stripped of personality, of identity, there were aspects of their character that remained. Despite robust encouragement for the emigration of eligible maids, some contributors to the Scottish press made a clear differentiation between women and wives.

In the early nineteenth century, this dichotomy existed primarily in Britain’s antipodean colonies, namely New South Wales and Van Diemen’s Land. In the 1820s and 30s, their demand for female companionship had prompted a number of government emigration schemes, including the provision of free passage to unmarried ladies and the offering of an £8 bounty to the head of their family—their father, brother or employer&mash;or to the captain of the ship that took them thither. These bounties were surely a powerful incentive for men to escort their daughters or unmarried sisters around the Cape, but prospective grooms were clearly not as satisfied with the scheme.

In 1829, a Tasmanian correspondent noted mournfully that free female servants, a sought-after replacement for untrustworthy convict labour, were ‘scarcely to be had’ in the colony. More than a mere labour shortage, this paucity of young, reputable working-class women meant that ‘Mechanics and tradesmen cannot get females of this description for wives, and mostly all of them remain unmarried in consequence.’ It is here that the correspondent makes his opinion of the bounty-scheme clear. Although the raw number of unmarried women entering the colony had increased in recent years, ‘those who get free passages are not the caste’ for marriage.

The notion that government was shovelling out the prostitutes, as well as the paupers, was deeply ingrained in the British conception of single-female migration, both historically and in literature. In the seventeenth century, Virginia, suffering from a similar paucity of eligible maids, had received significant numbers of female convicts—many of whom had a history of prostitution—to serve as companions and wives. Despite their questionable past, redemption of these so-called fallen women was a documented reality, leading in part to Virginia’s ‘widowocracy’ and inspiring Defoe in his creation of Moll Flanders. Thus, the idea that female migrants were women of ill-repute became a trope of colonial settlement

More importantly, despite the apparent social mobility of female convicts within North American colonies, the idea of contamination haunted efforts to transport free and convict women to Australia. According to Tait’s Magazine,

female convicts are, with hardly a single exception, the most drunken and abandoned prostitutes; and so great is the dread of contamination to the children from such wretches, that it is usual to employ men in the performance of duties fulfilled by women in this country, and to dispense with servants altogether as much as possible.

Even free servants were suspected of depravity, the bounty system having seemingly led to questionable recruitment practices. Although advertisements for respectable, hard-working women were issued, if ‘a sufficient number of these to fill the ship does not come forward, a supply of sweepings is taken from a workhouse! Here, then, is such a mixture of good, bad, and indifferent, to the amount of two hundred and upwards, that there is enough of evil to corrupt the good.’ Indeed, even reputable women, left unprotected on their journey or upon arrival in Tasmania, had ‘been irrevocably consigned to prostitution, and that such as obtained services found themselves placed among a very different class of persons to that which they had been accustomed to mix with in this country.’

What we must take away from this dichotomy of demands is that, as ludicrous as the gender imbalance had become, as ravenous as settlements were for female companionship, they still had standards, and would not simply accept what they felt was the refuse of England’s workhouses.

In response to these fears, discussions of female migration, especially that of young servants and eligible maids, began to describe in detail the particular care that should or would be taken in their reallocation. In 1836, the Emigration Committee stated that they could no longer ‘conscientiously recommend to the Government to encourage the further emigration of single females, however well selected, unprotected by parents or near relatives, to Sydney.’ Likewise, it was the advice of experienced travellers that

should you bring a servant girl with you, you should have her in the same berth with yourselves […] to take a steerage passage for their female servant, is just using her as bad as they possibly can do–let her character be never so good before she left home, it would be a wonder if she reached N. S. Wales much better than a common prostitute, at any rate she could never prevent language of the most filthy and disgusting kind being addressed to her both by night and day.

When family could not provide the necessary protection, it fell to the colonial companies to ensure their cargoes reaches the antipodes unspoilt. Women travelling to New Zealand in 1841, for example, were said to be ‘under the superintendence of a matron, and there is a doctor on board to attend upon them during their long voyage to the new colony’ and protect them from disreputable influences. Maids, it appears, were a delicate commodity, in need particular care in their transport.

Although the debate surrounding their character seemingly re-humanises these cargoes of women, the continuing lack of specific detail, of names and histories, of dates and trajectories, seems to return them firmly to the realm of trade goods; in every cargo, after all, some hogsheads must needs be tipped overboard to save the rest. This point was, indeed, rather cruelly made by the Sydney Gazette of 17 January 1818:

On Tuesday arrived the ship Friendship, Captain Armet, with 97 female prisoners, having lost four on the passage, Anna Beal, Sarah Blower, Martha Thatcher, and Jane Brown, the last of whom, from a sudden irritability of temper, threw herself overboard, and was drowned.

In some strange foreshadowing of Project Mayhem, it was only in death that these women had a name.

To be concluded next week with ‘Cargoes of Women: From Marriage Ships to Women’s Rights


Questions to explore…can you help?

  • To what extent are single-women migrants in literature represented as fallen women—redeemed or otherwise?
  • How often did the charge of prostitution actually lead to the migration of single-women?
  • How common was redemption and conjugal acceptance for women of dubious reputation in the Antipodes?

If you have any thoughts or comments on this developing research, please share them below, via twitter or email.


**Image courtesy of William Hogarth (via Wikipedia)

Who would have guessed the fountain of youth was in Pennsylvania?

Longevity.–At Taconey, a small village about seven miles from Philadelphia, there is now living a shoemaker of the name of Robert Glen, who in December last attained the great age of one hundred and fourteen years. Scotland was the place of his nativity; he remembers having seen King William III. and was present at the two succeeding coronations. Neither his memory nor his sight, are in the least impaired; and such is his strength, that after working all the week at his profession, he regularly walks on Sunday to Philadelphia [10 miles], and back. His third wife is now living, and is not more than thirty years old.

The Glasgow Advertiser, 23 April 1792

Wasson’s ‘The Whigs and the Press, 1800–50′


This article provides a strong counter argument to the general perception that Whig politicians failed to properly control or even utilise the rising power of British press in the first half of the nineteenth century. The article is separated into five substantive parts, each of which provide an encapsulated and well evidenced argument regarding the concrete connections between politicians and newspapers editors, including direct contributions to existing journals, support for cheap publications such as the Penny Magazine, and through strong friendships and congenial working relationships. The breadth of manuscript and newspaper evidence in this section makes it worthy of particularly close attention. The article also highlights the independence of key Whig journals and their often inconsistent relationship with the party they supposedly supported. Particularly rewarding for this reviewer was the holistic coverage of the British press, including key provincial English and Scottish journals, so often neglected in studies of high politics. The final section deal with the hypocrisy of maintaining ‘taxes on knowledge’ during their control of Parliament, which Wasson sympathetically excuses on the grounds of very real fiscal crises.

Overall the piece provides a highly engaging, robust (if perhaps still preliminary) rebuttal to traditional treatments of the Whig-Newspaper relationship. The style of discourse also makes it a useful resources for those teaching newspaper history, and demonstrating the value of extra-periodical source material to students.

May Be Useful To Those Studying

  • Press history
  • The Whig Party
  • British Parliamentary Politics, 1800-1850
  • The history of political public relations


Wasson, Ellis Archer. “The Whigs and the Press, 1800–50.” Parliamentary History 25, no. 1 (2006): 68–87.

Cargoes of Women: A Numbers Game

This is part three of ‘Cargoes of Women’. For part one, please click here. For part two, please click here.

At the heart of the Victorian surplus-women-problem debate was the 1851 British census. In this mighty document lay the seemingly irrefutable proof that Britain was plagued with an over-abundance of women. The reason for this sudden realisation, according to scholars such as Worsnop, was that this demographic survey was the first to publish figures on the ‘age, sex, and “conjugal condition” of the population.’ By recording the precise number of unmarried maids residing in the Britain, the nation finally understood the true nature of its gender imbalance, and a fierce, often inflammatory, debate ensued.

While this was, indeed, the first national census to record the kingdom’s vital statistics in such detail, it was not the first enumeration to provoke debate on gender ratios; the reallocation of women was often discussed by the late-Georgian press. Yet, as discussions of single-female migration were often stripped of any significant personal details, these life-altering changes were more or less reduced to simple statistical statements.

This does not, however, divest them of their cultural value. Despite their shallow nature, demographic details and census schedules were staples of the Scottish newspapers and were surprisingly fertile ground for satirical displays of mathematical prowess. Throughout the period, accounts of extraordinary longevity (and fecundity) were often reported for the amazement, or amusement, of newspaper readers. For example:

A very industrious man, who works at Messrs. Hare and Son’s floor-cloth manufactory, Bristol, was married Jan. 20, 1801, to Hannah Taylor, by whom he has had fourteen children in little more than six years with a speedy prospect of a farther increase to his family. The children consist of three boys, born Oct. 1, 1801; two boys, Oct. 3, 1802; one boy and a girl, July 16, 1803; two boys, May 13, 1804; one boy and a girl, Feb. 19, 1805; one boy and a girl, Jan. 15, 1806; one boy, Nov. 16, 1807.

It was in the same semi-astonished toned that urban sex ratios were pondered by the editors of Britain’s provincial press. In 1831, the editor of the Scotsman, who seems to have taken a particular interest in Britain’s feminine surplus, reprinted the abominable sex ratio of the borough of Liverpool, along with the original remarks of the English commentator:

The comfort and the happiness of the males are, doubtless, greatly increased by the overplus of the softer sex; but, when we view that overplus in its effects on the comfort and the happiness of the ladies themselves, we are filled with alarm for our fair friends. “‘This true, and, pity ’tis ’tis true.” That they cannot all get husbands, unless the men, some of whom deem one wife more than enough for one man, should be compelled to support the surplus female population.

Rather than suggest the exportation of Liverpudlian ladies, however, the Albion saw the solution in ‘an immigration of males’, though from where it does not state. Thus, the idea of a sex imbalance is well ingrained in the public sphere by the 1830s, but the Georgian response is not the same as the Victorian. Rather than a fierce battle in a political or ideological war, it is viewed as merely an unfortunate demographic misalignment and thus proves ripe for light-hearted satirical comment.

The idea of a feminine surplus at home, of course, was not wholly uncontested. Victorianists have convincingly demonstrated that their surplus referred specifically to unmarried, unemployed and seemingly overeducated women of the middle class, who contributed nothing to the home economy and were equally burdensome to the colonies. Conversely, notices in the late-Georgian press toyed with the notion that the colonists were attempting to steal the best Britain had to offer. Liverpool, despite it documented imbalance, was reluctant for its ‘softer sex’ to depart and the same was evidently true further south. One account, almost certainly apocryphal, recounted the whirlwind marriage of James Stubbs, a young mariner, to Charlotte Savage, his shipmate’s sister.

The young woman had recently departed for Australia, in search of a husband, when the young sailor, recently arrived from China, met up with her parents in Portsmouth. The mariner, upon hearing of Charlotte’s impending voyage, declared ‘that she shouldn’t go there for a husband; he would have her himself.’ The three then set off for Bristol and, despite finding her already ‘in the roads’, managed to board the emigrant ship, arrange the marriage with the young lady and depart for Rownham Ferry. The next morning they were ‘married (by license) to the satisfaction of all concerned, little more than twelve hours after the parties had first seen each other.’ Unlike accounts of actual emigration, Miss Savage’s marriage is conspicuously detailed, making it much more akin to the corpus of domestic anecdotes, such as our Bristol cloth-maker, than semi-serious commentaries on emigration to the Antipodes.

The latter are only semi-serious owing to the indulgent flourishes of the Scottish editors included, seemingly to pad out otherwise slim statistical data. For example, in 1837, the Scotsman related a census report from Sydney, noting that while the current generation of Australian men quite outnumbered their female counterparts, there was ‘comfort for the rising generation; of free males under twelve years of age, there are 7164—of free females, 7007—so that, with few exceptions, every Jack may have his Jill.’ This optimism was evidently short lived as by 1843 the same editor offered, under the impressive heading of ‘IMPORTANT TO UNMARRIED LADIES’, the following calculation:

Suppose the whole population of Australia were now grown up and wished to be married, out of every hundred bachelors only forty-nine could find wives. Supposing all the unmarried males now of age wished to be married, out of every hundred only eleven could find wives. Supposing all the free bachelors now in the colony wished to be married, out of every hundred only eight could find wives. As there are at present in Australia 66,366 unmarried males, and only 26,007 unmarried females, it follows that before every son of Adam could be provided with a daughter of Eve there must be introduced into the colony no fewer than 40,359 unmarried daughters!

These computational feats are notable for their relative paucity in the migration debate. Although significant numbers of men and families departed Scotland for North America and the Antipodes before 1840, and statistics of their departure were a frequent addition to local and metropolitan papers, it was only single-female migration that prompted these flights of numerical fancy. No such hypotheses were posited when discussing the proportion of free to convict labour in New South Wales, nor were there statistical debates of religious diversity in the Canadas. The semi-satirical treatment of these statistics was wholly unique.

Thus, the Georgian surplus women’s problem was not an ideological battle over employment rights or marital duties. In the end, it seemed to be nothing more than a simple numbers game.

To be continued next week with ‘Cargoes of Women: Ill-Repute’


Questions to explore…can you help?

  • Where do similarly light-hearted statistics appear in other debates within the periodical press?
  • Are the references to ‘Jack and Jill’ and ‘Adam and Eve’ allusions to the language of ongoing debates or merely standard gender archetypes?
  • Many of these pieces refer to ‘the recent census’ but do not align chronologically to any national enumeration. Were there local Scottish or English censuses that would have been common knowledge to the readers?

If you have any thoughts or comments on this developing research, please share them below, via twitter or email.


**Image courtesy of Citizensheep, provided CC-BY-NC-SA

Electronic Annotation of Student Essays (without Grademark)

Last year, I wrote about electronic marking with Grademark. The system had many advantages, including full integration with TurnItIn’s Originality Check software package. Students submitted their work online and it was stored in an online repository that I could access anywhere with an internet connection. I could create custom rubrics and pre-programmed annotations, such as ‘citation needed’ or ‘run-on sentence’, both of which made my marking more efficient. When I had completed my work, students could retrieve their electronic essays online using the same interface with which they had submitted them.

It was not a perfect system, but it did provide a straight-forward workflow.

When I began my new position, I found that my new department had a TurnItIn subscription, which could be used for electronic submission and plagiarism detection, but that it had not subscribed to the GradeMark package. My options were to forgo electronic submission, print out the submitted essays myself, or find a new annotation system. A friend to trees and a foe to falling down stairs—I am now on the eleventh floor—I opted for number three.

When students submit their essays electronically, they usually do so in one of two formats, a .doc (Microsoft) or a .pdf (Adobe). The former is the simplest to create and therefore the most popular choice. Although I do not rely upon TurnItIn’s originality check system, I do continue to use it as a submission platform; it provides me with a time-stamped repository and my students with immediate piece of mind that their essay has been received.

When I log on to the system, I can download each essay individually or I have the option of downloading a single archive (.zip) of all the essays in either format.

Which do I choose? In the end, it is a matter of personal preference, but here are my thoughts on a few, basic annotation options.

Review Tools within Microsoft Word

The first instinct of many experimenting with electronic marking is to use the review tools within Microsoft Word. These are often used in scholarly review and copy-editing and therefore many markers already have a solid understanding of their functionality. After clicking track changes, any revision you type will be inserted into the text—red and underlined—and any text your remove will be scored out. You can also highlight passages and add comment bubbles for more detailed annotations or comments throughout the text.

Pros: If you tend to make only minor annotations, or rely primarily on comment bubbles to convey your thoughts, Microsoft Word review tools may be the best choice for you. The file retains its original format and is therefore easily opened by you and your students. Assuming both of you are using Word (rather than another compatible word processor) the bubbles and annotations will automatically appear on your student’s screen exactly as they have on yours.

Cons: If you tend to make significant corrections, especially to grammar and syntax, you risk completely transforming the document to an unrecognisable mess of red ink. Although helpful during a copy-editing process, these annotations can be difficult to decipher without accepting the changes, which removes the student’s text or formatting, making it more difficult to see the difference between to the two versions.

When printing out the annotated essay, as most if not all your student will do, Word helpfully reduces the size of the text in order to add a column of ‘revision bubbles’ in the right-hand margin. For students with poor visual acuity, this can make reviewing the essay in hard-copy very difficult. Moreover, the more annotations you add directly to the text, the more the final format of the paper is altered. If a student has created page breaks by multiple taps of the enter key (rather than cntl+enter) or manually entered footnotes (rather than using cntl+alt+f) you end up with a terribly formatted paper, which can be very distracting to you and your student. Finally, if you enjoy making circles, squiggly lines or other free-hand annotations, these are possible in Word—using the insert shape or drawing tools—but are far from intuitive.

Mark-up Tools with Adobe Acrobat Reader or Foxit Reader

If you want an essay to maintain its original layout, allowing you to replicate the hard-copy annotation experience, it is better to use the .pdf format. Once opened in Adobe Acrobat Reader or an alternative—I use Foxit—you can make a wide variety of annotations to the text such as highlighting, underlining, inserting or striking-out text, as well as adding comment bubbles for more complicated notes.

Pros: The essay maintains its original layout, allowing you to easily comment upon the student’s margins, spacing and pagination. It also more closely replicates the hard-copy experience for students. Finally, annotations can be removed quickly if you make a mistake or change your mind.

Cons: If you do not use TurnItIn, you will need to convert your students’ essays to pdf yourself, or have your students do so before submission. This is not complicated, but does take time and energy. Making hand-drawn annotations, such as arrows or circles, is slightly more straight-forward but still requires a steady hand and can be slightly fiddly.

For students, the file should open effortlessly, but it is possible that some students will not have a .pdf reader on their computer, or will use a different programme from yourself. This could make the annotations appear in a slightly different way from what you intended. For example, in many readers, the student will have to hover over the comment bubble to see its contents, rather than have it displayed automatically. Likewise, unless the student selects the correct printing options, the bubbles will not appear in a printed version, leaving them with only your direct annotations, such as underlining. You can prevent this by creating a ‘comment summary’ (an option within Adobe and Foxit Readers) to send along with the marked essay, but this is an extra step you must factor in.

Mark-up Tools with Annotate for the iPad

If you are lucky enough to possess a tablet computer, you can take advantage of the hybrid annotation process offered by iAnnotate—available on both Android and iOS. This platform allows you to import either format—though .docs will be automatically converted to .pdfs— and annotate them with both your stylus (or your finger) and your keyboard. This allows you to highlight, underline, and strike-out text as you would with Adobe or Foxit, but also allow you to create free-hand circles, arrows or other copy-edit marks. You can also add comment bubbles to type long comments within the margins of the text.

Pros: The tablet programme fully replicates the hard-copy annotation experience, but allows you to improve it when and where you see fit. Illegible handwriting can be avoided by typing long comments, but short notes, such as ‘good’, can be scribbled using the signature function—which zooms into the text, allowing you to write legibly with your finger or stylus. It also provides a significant degree of portability, no matter how many individual scripts you have. Finally, the programme can be set to automatically sync with your DropBox or other cloud provider, allowing you to manipulate them further or send them from your desktop or laptop computer.

Cons: The programme is not free on iOS—though the introductory version on Android is—and you obviously have to own a tablet to make use of the software.

Both: You have to take a bit more care in returning the essays to your student than with the desktop pdf readers. If you upload them to your desktop before sending them, they will have some of the same comment bubble limitations as Adobe or Foxit annotated files; the comments may or may not appear on your student’s screen or printed version. However, if you send them directly from the app—to the student or yourself— you can choose to flatten the annotations. This will make them permanent, and uneditable, but will also essentially burn them into the pdf, making sure they do print and appear on the student’s screen regardless of which pdf reader they use.

Thus, the flattened comments will appear as numbered icons on within the text

and a list of comments will be automatically appended to the end of the file.

So, which programme should you use for electronic marking? It is entirely up to you. Word review tools provides the most straightforward workflow, especially if you do not use TurnItIn as a submission platform, but is also the most disruption to the visual appearance of the text. iAnnotate, on the other hand, best replicates the hard-copy experience students expect, but requires the greatest outlay of time (in returning the essays) and money to utilize. Desktop .pdf readers provide a solid, free middle ground and will likely be the best choice for most markers.

Image courtesy of rosefirerising, by CC-BY-NC-ND

‘Because I did well on it at school’: Progression and Novelty in HE History

Each semester, I ask my first-year students why they chose to study history at university. With some very minor variation in vocabulary, the most prominent responses are ‘because I think it’s interesting’ or ‘because I did well on it at school’.

In their second year, I ask them why they chose to take my module on US history. A sizeable minority continue to state ‘interest’ but the majority, by far, state that ‘I did some Civil Rights (or Civil War) history at school, and I did well at that, so I thought I would do it again.’

As they prepare for their final year, and their honour dissertations, I ask them what they would like to do. Their first response is generally along the lines of ‘I did some (insert module title / A-level subject here), and I did all right at that—or occasionally, I found that interesting—so I guess I’ll do that for my dissertation.’

Let me preface that there is absolutely nothing wrong about any of these responses. Interest and ability are completely rational reasons for choosing a degree programme, a module or a dissertation project. If a student did not find a topic at all interesting, or felt certain they would fail, no sensible person would recommend it. Moreover, it is a testament to the hard work of secondary school educators that history, including American history, was so engagingly taught.

Nonetheless, it worries me slightly that these responses change very little over the course of their university education. Many students are hesitant, if not outright hostile, to the idea of exploring a wholly new topic for their coursework, let alone their dissertations. I was extremely pleased that so many of my second-year students wanted to pursue a US history topic for the dissertations—it means that I did not completely terrify them during the introductory module—but the prevalence of the Civil Rights Movement and the Cold War, very broadly defined, left me somewhat concerned.

These are excellent topics, but they are well covered in secondary school units and second-year modules; thus, in initial dialogues, students stick very closely to the themes, and sources, with which they are already familiar. Some students, it seems, are not necessarily progressing into more detailed, nuanced examinations of these topics of their own accord; they usually need gentle prodding from their supervisors.

But is this all a matter of preference? I had an extremely eclectic undergraduate experience, an experience my liberal arts university encouraged. Take, for example, my first year

  • First Semester: Western Civilisation, Spanish, The Freudian Interpretation of Grimms’ Fairy Tales, The Creative Actor
  • Second Semester: Actor as Thinker, Spanish, Comparative Genocide, Introduction to Logic

and my final year

  • First Semester: Intimacy and Dictatorship, Latin, Modern Drama, Comparative Colonialism, Dissertation
  • Second Semester: Renaissance and Reformation, Dissertation, Latin

Although my degree specialism was pre-1800 Europe, I took as many modules in literature, theatre arts and foreign languages as I did in history. It was, after all, a liberal arts institution. In the end, I do think that this nearly random assortment of modules—my personal tutor had to reign me in slightly my final year—made my choice of dissertation topic equally random, but that was the fun of it.

My students are no less clever than I was. Many are probably cleverer, or at least more knowledgeable on certain historical topics than I was at their age. But many are less adventurous, and I often wonder why.

On the one hand, perhaps it is the much earlier specialisation of British history students. My experience of history at secondary school was two, non-consecutive years of US history, a year of European history, and a year of world history. They were roughly chronological romps and assessed, in the main, by short coursework essays and rote-learning exams. My students, on the other hand, have already spent months, even years, on very narrow themes and topics, developing a great deal of intimate knowledge about them. There is absolutely a momentum to education—it was why so few historians suddenly become biologists after completing their PhD—and perhaps their experiences have focused their interest at a much earlier age.

This early specialisation is magnified by their relatively short university experience, a mere three years, at most eighteen to twenty semester-long modules, compared with my thirty-four. I had much more space to explore (and be bored with) a huge variety of periods and topics. With some British programmes consisting of just 9 year-long modules, there is little encouragement for eclecticism.

Finally, it could just be plain and simple common sense. There is a huge financial and social pressure upon students to immediately enter a ‘good’ programme at a ‘good’ university and leave with a ‘good’ degree. Experimentation may not seem worth the risk.

What I do find heartening, however, is that some students do rise to the challenge. Over the past semester I worked with forty-or-so second-year students to develop proposals for their dissertations. Many began with very broad topics, heavily influenced by the current coursework. But with a little prodding from me and my colleagues, many began to ponder the wider possibilities a bit more seriously. Random comments during lectures and seminars began to trigger ideas. Suddenly they were coming up with very precise, very unusual, but completely feasible projects.

This was I find most particularly gratifying about supervision. I am a curious person and I like nothing better than learning something new from my students.

So I ask you, gentle readers, and especially any of my students who have wandered here today, what has your experience of progression been? Have you been eclectic or focused? Safe or reckless? Contented or left wanting?

**Image courtesy of The University of Iowa Libraries, provided CC-BY-NC