1. Welcome to the Bristol Historical Resource CD

Frontispiece Map from Bristol Brewery Georges and Co. Ltd. (1938)
Bristol Brewery Georges and Co. Ltd.

This introduction to the Bristol Historical Resource CD indicates several themes; these include: first, a consideration of historical sources, methods and purpose which takes Bristol, and the Bristol Historical Resource CD, as its starting place; second, a discussion of the purpose and nature of the CD; third, a very brief contextual overview of Bristol's history; and, fourth, an assessment of the challenge posed to historians by Information Technology (IT).

The CD itself is easy to use. Most of the contents, including the various chapters, can be accessed by a standard web-browser, such as MS Internet Explorer or Netscape. The Bristol Timeline, a chronological reference tool is also accessed by this means; this resource can be copied to another file and customized to meet the needs of a user who wishes to add, subtract or alter its contents. A readily accessible Glossary also provides useful information relating to definitions, technical and specialist terms as well as providing a introduction to some aspects of historical methodology. One aspect of this CD is its explicit attempt to introduce new methods and techniques into historical research; in fact, the CD itself is a case in point!

The CD also contains a number of machine-readable data sets. One of these is the New Bristol Bibliography, now in at least its second full edition. The CD provides numerous other data sets which relate to various aspects of Bristol's economic, social and political history; most, however, relate to the eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth centuries; these are detailed in the Resources section.

All of these data sets can be viewed, saved and adapted for your purposes using standard computer applications. Most of these data sets were created with a spreadsheet and can be opened with MS EXCEL or QUATTRO PRO; it is also possible to use MS ACCESS, or an equivalent database management system, with these files. Some of these datasets are also provided in a freeform database format; these files contain the same data as those mentioned already but, in this format, they can only be viewed using a read-only version of IDEALIST. The HELP section of this CD, accessed from the main menu to the left of this screen, provides further information about using these resources.

In addition, a computer assisted learning (CAL) package, designed by the editor, can be accessed from the CD; this is HIST (the Historian's Interactive Statistical Toolkit). HIST has been used by history students at UWE for nearly a decade and generally they have found it a useful introduction to statistical analysis for historians. Historians generally are not usually noted for their enthusiasm for quantitative analysis and the discipline itself has a culture of resistance to statistical analysis. However, given the riches of historical information which is quantitative, and the potential offered to historians by statistical analysis, a concentration on written sources which are not numerical in nature is a myopic strategy. HIST was designed in an attempt to overcome some of the initial barriers students face when confronted by historical information which is numerical in character.

Further information and advice about each of these features can be found in the HELP section of this CD; the HELP section can always be accessed from the main menu, it is located at the bottom of the vertical bar which appears on the left hand side of the screen.

It is traditional to briefly review the contents of an edited collection but this does not appear necessary here. This is partially justified by the technology, which lends itself to easy browsing on the part of the reader. Some contributions to the CD are indicated below, particularly in the section on sources and methods, because they allow specific discussion or illustration of an aspect of historical methodology. However, as it would be tedious to review each and every one of the contributions, and invidious to mention the contents of only a few, the browsing reader is left to make their own selection.

It is obvious that this is a novel product, not least because different sections are directed to different audiences; these include the student, the lecturer and teacher, the researcher, and the local historian. If nothing else, this demonstrates in an unusual way the frequently cited maxim that history is "seamless". However, I hope the lay audience will find of interest those sections that are clearly of particular relevance for my academic peers; even if this is not relevant in your case, some of the points considered here might be thought provoking.

It is always possible that the information, or opinion, offered may be of use one day. Even if you don't intend taking a history course at college, you may be interested to know what could happen there, or what a relative might face if they did. You never know. If you are already interested in history and something here sparks your imagination, you might even find your intentions changing!