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Research Assessment Exercise Notes

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Document Contents
Research content
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This note is intended to assist anyone required to assess the clergy of the Church of England database (CCEd) for its historical research content. It does not address the technical side of the project.

The public website of the CCEd (www.theclergydatabase.org.uk) will continue to be updated with new website content and data after 1 January 2008 on a regular basis. It will not be possible to identify on this site what has been added after the final date for submission to the RAE. A central feature of the CCEd is that it is an ongoing project with constant interaction with its user community. This means that it cannot be frozen. However, as indicated in RAE documentation, a date marked copy of the website and database as they were on 31 December 2007 has been made available at the URL specified in the RAE documentation. This is fully functional, and assessors are encouraged to make use of it.

Research content

It may be helpful to assessors to indicate ways in which research is manifest in the CCEd, and the role in it of the project directors who have submitted the work to the RAE panel. The project as presented to assessors consists of three elements: first, the database itself; second, the website in which the database is embedded; and finally papers written both by the project team and made available on the website (currently with a methodological focus), and by others who have contributed to the Project’s peer-reviewed electronic journal CCEd Online Journal and its accompanying Notes and queries (dealing with the contents of the database and associated scholarly work). In what follows, reference will be made to all three.

The material currently available in the dates-stamped version is largely related to Phase 1 of CCEd, funded 1999-2005. (A notable exception is the Online Journal and Notes and queries, related to phase 2 running from 2005 to 2008.) An account of the rationale and aims of phase 1 of CCEd is provided on the website at About CCEd>What is CCEd?, supplemented by the articles published by the directors in Archives in 2002, in the Journal of Ecclesiastical History in 2004, and in Prosopography approaches and applications. A handbook, ed. Katharine Keats-Rohan (2007) (versions of the former two are available on the website at Publications>Publications by Members of the CCEd Team).

At the core of the CCEd lies the data concerning events in the careers of clergy in England and Wales from the Reformation to the mid-nineteenth century loaded into the database. The database contains well over 1,000,000 such records. These were gathered by a team of over 90 research assistants, the project research officers and the directors themselves from more than 50 local record offices and national repositories between 1999 and 2005; appropriate new data is still uploaded, as and when it becomes available. A key research role for the directors was the identification of those documents and sources most appropriate for entry into the database through a series of survey visits to the archives. The documents selected and the rationale behind the selection are set out in the website. This also contains lists of sources, and essays on those sources, for those dioceses in which record linkage is advanced or complete. See, for example, Supporting materials>diocesan resources>Coventry & Lichfield [eg]>Essay on the sources …/ and list of sources … . A consolidated list of sources used for those dioceses whose data has been/is currently being made available can be viewed at About Database>Sources used. The fact that so many non-diocesan sources are listed reflects the solutions adopted when confronted by lacunae in the diocesan archives, which were intended to be the central resource on which the project was to be built. The identification and surveying of such additional resources was again the work of project directors.

The project directors also had a central role in designing software which tailored screens to different types of evidence, in order to reduce the possibility of errors being entered by research assistants working from the original documents. In addition a rigorous set of principles of data entry were defined for the research assistants to follow and in which they were trained (available at About Database>Data Entry as a pdf).

Almost all of the data related to phase 1 of the project has been entered into the database, but not all of it is yet accessible to the public user via the database website. We are only making data available once it has been linked either to person and/or location, and users can search the data beginning either from a person or a place on the database. Currently, there are more than 80,000 ‘personified’ individuals available for public interrogation on the website. Personification is a highly skilled task, and it is carried out by the directors with the project research officers and a few regional specialists. To establish accurate identifications, it is necessary to consult a wide range of sources, notably Venn and Foster, and such information is often posted in the comment field visible at the top of a personified record in the database. We also frequently benefit from material sent in by users, who, using the links on the personified record screens, are able to access the original evidence records in order to confirm or challenge our identifications. Once more, such additional evidence is acknowledged in the comment box, while we are encouraging those who send in particularly interesting information to write it up for the Notes and queries section of the Online Journal (see for example, the note posted from Sarah Reveley, one of our many users overseas).

The process of linking location is also a complex and demanding one. It shares with linkage to person the challenge of dealing with variant spellings; it offers an additional challenge in the ever evolving ecclesiastical geography of England and Wales. A major contribution to the research component of the database has been the construction of a location structure for the database which takes account of both jurisdictional and regional geographies. No adequate list of parishes for England and Wales over the period of the database was found to exist, and the project directors took responsibility for constructing one. A structure initially derived from sources such as Youngs’ Local Administrative Units of England and VCH is continually being updated and modified in the light of the data we have recovered, notably with reference to chapelries and peculiar jurisdictions, and already represents an important contribution to the understanding of the post-Reformation geography and hierarchy of the Church of England in its own right. The articles already referred to contain some reflections on the challenges involved in constructing this account, and some of the detail of how it is structured and researched is recounted at About database>Location essay. As with personification, the location structure is gradually being rolled out as the process of data linkage proceeds. In both cases, the benefits to be gained from interaction with our users encouraged a decision to permit a gradual publication rather than waiting for all the structure to be linked before going public. Consolidated lists of locations arranged in various ways can be seen at Supporting Materials>General Reference>Location lists. The most significant body of location material still to be made available is that relating to Wales.

The interpretation of the material mounted in the database is not always easy, partly as a result of a variety of sources consulted to ensure as few clergy as possible slip through the net. This means that some events are recorded by multiple records with varying dates (e.g., a clerical appointment reflected in both the institution and subscription that preceded it). Two main strategies have been adopted to try and assist users here. One of the key aims of phase 2 of the project, not yet mounted publicly, is the creation of a ‘career modelled’ account of each personified person in the database which will select the best available records of each event by certainty and dating to construct a simplified account of the career to be accessible to users as the first point of entry. This will have the additional advantage of making quantification and structural analysis of the database more straightforward, for multiple recording is a problem here too. But at an early stage of the project it was decided that a much larger and more detailed website should be constructed to accompany the database than was originally envisaged. This website is an ongoing project, with some elements, such as the glossary, at a very early stage of development, but already it contains significant supporting materials for some of the dioceses for which most the data has been made available (e.g. Rochester or Oxford). The writing of the narrative accounts of the dioceses, their jurisdictional structure, the provision of bibliographies and links, the drawing of maps etc has been the work of the project directors. The creation of the Online Journal has been a major event in the history of the CCEd website, and we anticipate that it will become an important venue for the interchange of research and interpretation based on the database by its users in years to come. The project directors act as the editorial board and conduct peer review. The website also provides lists of all those involved in the project, giving a good sense of its scale and ambition (About CCEd>About Project>Personnel).

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