Getting a list of all my Google Books

Just like the old days, a blog post dedicated to helping me remember how to do something.

I have a lot of research material in Google Books, mostly free books from the 19th century, and some pretty obscure titles. Many I’ve been able to download as pdfs. But I wanted a list of all my books in one category (Google calls them bookshelves), and it would only show me 10 at a time.

Well I don’t want to Next, Next, Next. So I did the old-fashioned thing and looked closely at the URL. And there it was, the number of entries:


I changed this from 10 to 100 and got them all.



The British book trade and what’s missing

P. Meijer Warnars’ bookshop in Amsterdam, painted 1820 by Johannes Jelgerhuis

Weedon, A., & Bott, M. (1996). British book trade archives 1830-1939: a location register. Bristol: Simon Eliot and Michael Turner.

I ordered this book through interlibrary loan (the service I could not do without). It was rather smaller than I imagined, basically a bound photocopied book that listed British book traders and publishers.

Then I realized why it was small – I think people are missing. I couldn’t find a single educational publishing house or book trader, and I know that there was at least one. William Briggs had a bookshop for his press, W.B. Clive, out of the University Correspondence College, at 13 Bookseller’s Row in the Strand.

I ordered the book hoping to find other educational booksellers, and there weren’t any. So it occurred to me that what I was seeing with book traders might be true in other areas. I started to notice that history journals had few articles on the history of education, and that Victorian Studies journals didn’t either. History of education journals (I found two) had little written by historians.

In the article “Victorian Education and the Periodical Press” (2017), Janice Schroeder also noticed this gap. I recently became a member of the Research Society of Victorian Periodicals, and, as she did, search the huge volume (a freebie for new member) of the Dictionary of Victorian Periodicals. There isn’t much at all.

I honestly didn’t expect this. Why wouldn’t the history of education be like the history of anything else? Time to examine further…

History of education: classics vs science

Because my work on distance education in the 19th century is so closely connected to the History of Education, I’ve been working on understanding that sub-discipline a little better. I have also been thinking about whether working in the History of Education for the late 19th century overlaps with Victorian Studies (another discipline) in a meaningful way.

My research took me to Alice Jenkins – Mathematics and Liberal Education in Victorian Cambridge  (2009), a paper delivered at the CRASSH conference ‘Changing the Humanities/the Humanities Changing’ (July 2009).

Victorian Studies is considered an interdisciplinary field, and I’ll cover that in a later post. From this video, it’s clear that there are hazards to looking at Victorians themselves for examples of interdisciplinarity, because they excelled in a range of disciplines but didn’t use what we would call an interdisciplinary approach. 

The talk focuses on the argument about curricula in Victorian universities, which I’ve been studying for a paper I just submitted to a journal.  In that article, I briefly discussed what C.P. Snow later called the Two Cultures Debate between classical curriculum and the newer science/mathematical curriculum (see The Rede Lecture, 1959). Classics and mathematics were the original Cambridge Bachelors Degrees, and were seen as combined into a common culture that represented a foundation of knowledge. But rather than representing a common culture, these degrees may have represented Cambridge justifying its own creating, using a narrow method to discipline the mind for future duties. Was it really necessary for stuents studying classics to sit exams in maths, and vice versa?

Tripos exam 1842

Some people criticized the focus on Tripos maths as “partial and inadequate”, but Cambridge defended it as broad. Jenkins uses one controversy to illuminate the issue: the “Slaughter of 1841”, where 25 of 130 students failed the maths exams and had to leave without a degree. The Senate House crowd booed the examiners, and the controversy became public. Half the students had been forced to take the Maths Honours exam just so they could study Classics (a nod to educational reformers), and two examiners that year had decided to raise the Maths standard without notice. Colleges became angry because they lost good Classics students.  Only one letter in The Times supported the examiners’ efforts to keep standards high – newspapers in general deplored it, and questioned the condition to pass Maths in order to study Classics.

By April The Times had changed its view. Did it mean the end of a unified culture? There is no evidence that those passing both classics and maths were culturally rounded anyway: the exam results show students only took Firsts at one or the other, although some were bad at both, and one was exempted from the maths tests because he was a peer. Students from both curricula did mix, and benefited from knowing each other, which might have created a common literary or interdisciplinary culture regardless of the curriculum. Cambridge (Trinity especially) remained the defender of maths in a liberal education long after others had abandoned this idea. The conflict did force universities to defend their curricular objectives, and may have encouraged Parliamentary intervention. It certainly encouraged public debate. 

 Jenkins notes that the scholars involved did not acknowledge that the entire curriculum perpetuated class and gender distinctions. I am disturbed by this comment. It seems to be necessary to acknowledge the fuzzy thinking of people in the past when it comes to class and gender, as if these issues were ignored during the Victorian era. Just because we now frame everything through gender and class does not mean that others did — it’s a form of presentism I think is distracting to historical studies. Besides, Victorians not only questioned gender and class norms but often worked against them, even if particular individual Victorians did not. That’s the same situation we have today, so I’m not in favor of woke-shaming.

Ghosts, urban identities, and evidence

Many people enjoy the Victorian era because there are ghosts and other supernatural phenomenon as part of the popular culture. There’s a reason why “haunted houses” are in the Victorian style, and the popularity of public lectures on psychic phenomenon and supposed practice of post-mortem photography (which could be bogus) indicate a fascination with the other world. 

So how do historians handle such subjects?

I took a look at a presentation from last year by Dr Karl Bell of the University of Portsmouth called Urban Mindscapes: Exploring Supernatural Cartographies and Victorian Urban IdentitiesIt was a paper given at a workshop: ‘Approaching Inner Lives: Thinking, Feeling, Believing, 1300-1900’ (University of East Anglia, 28 March 2017).

Dr Bell began with a ghost story of sorts: in 1869, the Feathers Hotel in Manchester drew crowds when it was rumored to be haunted. His theory is that ghost tales like this represent a narrative re-mapping of the urban environment. A story of a ghostly haunting fills in the blanks, imagines activity in places where there is no activity (one expects continual activity in a city), and rebels against urban planning. Ghosts, of course, do not recognize modern developments, and won’t abide by spatial orderings (data, maps). It’s as if ghosts live in a different space that is superimposed on our space.

So the thesis is that a nebulous imaginary city co-exists with the real city. But this thesis has holes: ghost stories don’t create an actual alternate meaning. So how can historians probe interiority without evidence? We can find reports of Victorian hauntings, but how can we prove a thesis about this theory of imaginary cities? Dr Bell has drawn upon non-historians like deSoto and deFevre. These thinkers would say that people re-walking the city (knowing their own shortcuts, for example) may not have been conscious that they were re-mapping the space, but that doesn’t mean the alternate city isn’t there.

For historians, this lack of evidence draws fire in the same way as fields like psychogeography – are wanderers really re-mapping the city? Psycho-anything is based on internal feelings, not verifiable events. Historians are accustomed to looking at society, and large groups of people, but looking at individual experiences turns us into either biographers or psychiatrists. But we can study activity: communal ghost hunting, like with the Feathers Hotel incident in Manchester, or 2000 people showing up hoping to view Bermondsey ghost, are verifiable events.

So stories of ghost sightings are difficult to use as evidence, but people’s response to the stories is explicit and can be studied. It’s often only through external manifestations that one can see the internal anyway (it’s not like biographers actually get inside the mind of their subjects). Instead of doing interdisciplinary work with sociologists and psychologists, one can focus on historical method as one would with any other topic.

As a historian, I have no problem with studying the reactions of people to any sort of event, when that can be documented. Sometimes, though, evidence of reactions is hard to find. Often I have students who want to work with propaganda, particularly war-time posters, as evidence. They’re great sources, but they cannot be used to prove that people did what the posters wanted them to do (buy war bonds) or feel the way they were encouraged to feel (hatred toward the enemy). That would have to be proven with other sources, and it would be very difficult to show that a particular poster generated a particular effect.

With cause and effect in general in disrepute (thanks partly to post-modernism), it becomes necessary for historians to divide what can be documented from what cannot, or at least what sort of evidence can be used to prove something. Ghost stories show this particular difficulty, and the historians’ solution, very well.

Starting my sabbatical

For the next four months, my blog will feature documentation for the independent learning portion of my sabbatical. I will be engaging in closed writing for publication, and open writing for learning about the Victorian era and the topics surrounding my research. If you want to read my closed posts, just email me at for the password.

My sabbatical application and more about my project can be found at my Sabbatical page.

My research concerns distance education in the 19th century, and connections to H.G. Wells. But to fully understand my topic, I need to work on a broader vision of Victorian culture, adult education, the history of distance education, correspondence college practices, and more. I will need to begin with an exploration of the field of Victorian Studies, to determine whether my research fits into that field or is more properly situation in the historical discipline in general, the history of education, or something else. This is a shift in topic for me, since my original field of study was medieval technology.

Many sabbaticals, I realize, are more focused than this. But I work at a community college, and teach broader survey classes. My main purpose as an instructor is to have students practice historical skills, which at MiraCosta College we have made the basis of our Student Learning Outcomes. In other disciplines, the SLOs are often content oriented, but in my department they are skills-based across the various eras and regions. Thus I have an opportunity to consider the larger reading and writing of history, and model wide-ranging research and historical writing, full-time for one semester.

I would like to first thank MiraCosta College for this opportunity, and so I begin.

The nostalgia of moving . . . hosts

Yes, it’s finally time to move. No, not my real-world house, but my server. Yes, I know it’s a rental, but…

I’ve been at Lunarpages since 2004. That’s a long time. And in that time, Lunarpages has gone from a groovy startup where you could call and get a person, to a business-centered company where they give you grief about SSL. And yell at you when someone hacks your blog. It got so bad I had to move to, so that tells you something.

In the meantime, my online colleagues Jim Groom and Tim Owens (I think I met them online back in the early CCK08 and first-run ds106 days?) started Reclaim Hosting. Faculty and student focused, Reclaim has provided excellent service to many, but I couldn’t move until I knew for sure that my students wouldn’t need access during the changeover. My sabbatical starts Friday – the time is now.

What do I use rented space on a server for? Well, everything, judging by my account stats. I have 31 MySQL databases, 6 subdomains, 5 FTP accounts. I’ve downloaded dozens of scripts, and many versions of Moodle, and run them. Not to mention the 23 GB of files. But this is exactly what needs mentioning.

You know how people downsize their dwelling as they get older? Time to downsize. The web has matured, not always in ways I approve of. And my college had gone over to Canvas, which I don’t approve of either. As the world cares less about creative ways to do things, I find that most of my files are no longer used. Broadband speeds have increased so much that my zillions of .mov files, painstakingly compressed to make them work on dialup modems, then digitized, then ripped from digital, then compressed more mildly – this has left trails of media files. Do I use any of them? No – everything now streams from YouTube or Vimeo.

Here’s a sample of just one lecture file from just one class of my six classes:

This is a lecture on the High Middle Ages (a great era for technology – come take my class!). The top file is the online lecture. The second one is text for a page that opens with a mouseover image, the manor map .png. Then there are my original audio files of me reading this lecture, recorded long ago as aiff and compressed through some antique application that no longer exists to make them .mov. There’s a poster image for a media file (took hours to make in my old freeware gif program) that now plays on YouTube, and then the most nostalgic item of all: the file. It’s a button that when you press it, the lecture audio file plays. I have red ones for this class, blue ones for others, and I made them myself by stealing a graphic and using code I learned from a book called Quicktime for the Web. (You can also see .mp3 files I made later, but my old Mac was acting up and used the origin dates.)

Good times, man. The old days, when I was up half the night learning media compression and stealing bits of code from various places, including printed books. When my HTML for Dummies book got worn out from use. Before Google, before learning management systems. Back when on the internet no one could tell you were a woman, or a non-coder, or just a historian who never really liked computers but was determined to teach online and do it well, reducing the “distance”. A time when I’d install programs from Fantastico to try polls and self-grading quizzes, when I could learn just enough Javascript to make stuff happen, cobbled together my own web pages with cool embedded stuff, having no idea what the hell I was doing, and later when I hacked Dreamweaver and WordPress. When students said, “wow! this is a cool class! all my others are just text”.

Nowadays, the databases don’t operate anymore because most of them were Moodle and Lunarpages gave me so much grief about Chinese hackers that I disabled them all. I no longer use all the cool apps I can run on the server, because Canvas won’t serve scripts that are inside of html pages. After two years trying to hack Canvas, I know what can be done, and none of it requires programs I run on my own.

So although Reclaim can migrate all my stuff over, for free, I’m saying no thanks. I’ve got only 10 GB on the Reclaim plan, but these days that should be plenty. So I’m spending a few days moving those old files out of the folders, and I’ll get it all under 10 GB (8 really) or bust. It’s an opportunity to pack up the stuff and put it in storage on a hard drive, upload everything and check it, decide whether I want to start up databases to run old stuff or just let my work (POT certificate classes, Moodle classes, old web pages) just fall off the Internet. It’s all backed up. I think I’ll let it stay that way.

Last stop Oxford

I have no idea why I like Oxford so much. I avoid George Street like the plague, would walk miles to avoid the toilets at the rail station, and head for the Eagle and Child only to end up at Itsu. But I know my way around, could spend all day at Blackwell Books and the Natural History Museum, count walking Port Meadow as one of my all-time favourite activities, and I love the Bodleian.

It’s silly to love a library. And of course, I’ve been there before. But it’s centrally located, unlike the Cambridge University Library, and they are so kind.

My library card had expired on June 22, so I had to do the application for a card over again. But they updated my card, upgraded my status so I could view a special collection, and gave me a new card, all in minutes. Didn’t even make me do another photo. Because my card had expired, they had permitted me to order everything I needed by email instead, and it was all ready for me.

Now, the Bodleian isn’t perfect. The card costs quite a bit. There was no trolley to haul my books, like I’d had at the British Library — it took me three trips from service desk to table. There was no drinking fountain conveniently located – it was down three flights of stairs. And their computer system did erase my entire e-cart when my card expired, forcing me to reconstruct my list the week before I left. But love is blind.

In the Weston (new) Library is the John Johnson Collection of ephemera, with Box 43: Education. This was why I needed special clearance. I arrive and was given the precious box, and told there was another (Box 45, apparently) waiting for me too. I was seeking ads or items about correspondence colleges. Many of the items were fragile, and this condition was not helped by their being taped to pieces of heavy paper. I managed not to tear or soil anything, and found gems like this:

Note the date, though: many items were from the 1930s rather than earlier. But I did found some, and I was happy, and I went up to ask for the other box, but was told I had to return the first one before I could have it. So I handed it to the librarian, and he got me the other box. This had more things about lower schools, rather than colleges, but had some interesting tracts on eduction, such as Illustrations of the Interrogative System of Education (1823) by a Sir Richard Phillips that recommended what we today would call “active learning”.

That’s when I packed up Box 45, stood up to turn it in, and realised I couldn’t find my library card. I looked all round my desk, and in my bag (they make you put everything you can bring inside a clear plastic bag – nothing was hiding). No card. I thought, “oh no! it got mixed up with these papers!”  I took every item back out of Box 45 first and sorted through every single page, carefully turning each item individually, but it wasn’t in there.

I thought, “oh no! Box 43!”. The librarian had kindly advised that I not declare that I was finished with a box until I was quite sure, so he’d kept Box 43 for me. I told  him he was right (but not why) and exchanged boxes. I carefully went through every single item in Box 43. No card. And here fate intervened, as another scholar went up to the desk to check out an item, and handed over his card, and said, “you keep that, then?” and the librarian explained that yes, they keep your card as long as you have a box out. It is a sign of how tired I was on this trip that I had forgotten he had kept my card.

Over at the Old Bodleian, where your card is swiped instead of held, I discovered that Bodleian librarians are quick with a knife.

One of the journals I’d ordered had clearly never been read, not since it was printed in 1888. I know this because the pages weren’t cut yet. At first I thought it was just one page, but there were many. After the third time bringing it to the desk so the librarian could cut one with a letter knife, he asked if I would like the knife so I could cut them myself? I told him I’d be terrified. I was quite sure that I, clumsy at the best of times, had no business slicing open 130-year-old pages. Thanks, though.

I found many advertisements I was looking for, and a photo I needed.

So why do I love the Bodleian?

Among the many other reasons is this: the windows.

Not only do they allow light in, but the staff still permits me to take items to the window to photograph them in the light. At the British Library, as I’ve complained to many people, they request that you don’t even stand up. The National Archives has camera racks, but if  you don’t have an old-style camera the rack just blocks the light. Cambridge is better, but the light is artificial.

But at the Bodleian the sun shines on your work. Worth the whole thing.


World Cup and Brexit

As it happened, I was here in England when the Brexit vote occurred two years ago. The night before the vote, I had dined with some European students who were concerned about their education and their personal relationships, both of which depended on free movement between Britain and Europe. The next day I heard from a cabbie how thrilled he was at the vote, because he was convinced money would come back from Europe and save the National Health Service. I witnessed the complacency of the papers announcing the polls showing a Remain victory, and the despair of educated people following the vote.

Two years on and Britain is still in the throes of polarised politics, even as the May government struggles to survive under criticism (much of which is manufactured by the media to sell papers). The snap election May stupidly called made everything worse. The government has an impossible job, and the Labour party has bizarre leadership and strange ideas of how to garner support. The Lib Dems continue to languish, even as their policy proposals make the most sense.

Britain is also having a heat wave right now, with everyone talking about how unseasonable the weather is. (I’ve been here each summer for the past several years, and always during a heat wave, so I’d say this is the new normal season — I’d call it “summer”.) The moors caught fire and everyone is dragging out rarely used garden hoses to save their gardens before water rationing is declared.

But now the England football team has been winning at the World Cup. You can complain about the government, optimistically refer to the “fine” weather as you sweat in your sandals and trousers cut with scissors at the knees (the train conductor had done this), or you can watch the football. So while in Cambridge, I heard there was an opportunity to view the quarter-finals at the air-conditioned cinema instead of in a pub, getting elbowed and beer-showered. You had to get the free tickets in the morning for the 14:30 match, so I did and got one before they ran out.

I’m a fair weather fan of big events: Olympics, Super Bowl, World Series, Wimbledon, World Cup. Not really a sports fan, but I had watched England win to get to this point, and wanted very much to see the match with other fans, instead of in my dorm room by myself. The two guys next to me drank copious amounts of beer. One spent most of the match in the beer line, while the other (after politely asking me whom I was rooting for) yelled at the players about everything they did, while the similarly-aged woman next to me told me she was rooting for England, of course, but weren’t those Swedish players handsome?

When England won, everyone was so happy and excited and completely ignoring the challenge of the semi-finals. The guys told me, “see you back here for the final!” Out in the streets people poured out of doorways, singing “It’s coming home!” (meaning the Cup, I assume) and flying flags and causing police to become concerned.

I was happy for England, and not just the team and the fans. Although I heard more people ostentatiously avoiding the football (and many calling it “soccer”, which seemed to be a slur), many more were totally engaged. It had been 12 years since England had made quarter-finals, and 28 years since they’d won one.

And my thought was how wonderful this was for a country torn apart by all the antipathies and mistrust that’s gone along with Brexit. British people, like Americans, woke up after election day to find the nation they’d thought of as united actually divided by deep rifts. I was not the only one to believe that the football was important as a unifier – I heard coach Gareth Southgate say so too, along with many others.

Tonight I’ll watch the semi-finals (in a living room with a friend and sports fan), and think of so many people doing the same, having this at least in common with the “other” Britain.


The wonderful National Extension College and what I found there

One could easily miss the offices of the National Extension College – and I did, several times. It is on the first floor of a cool building off a driveway next to Cambridge’s Homerton College, where I was staying.

Side note: I recommend staying at university rooms while doing research trips. They invariably have a tea setup, a comfortable bed, a private bathroom, and helpful people.

I was at the NEC to find out more about William Briggs, since the NEC is the new version of the University Correspondence College. The chief executive (Ros Morpeth, OBE) had hinted when I emailed in April that she might have boxes in an archive in the basement that might have something interesting.

As a historian, I have some experience with cardboard boxes in basements, so I anticipated the possibility of a dark cellar with enthusiastic arachnids, the smell of mold, and lots of dust. Cleverly concealed in my handbag were a dust mask and gloves. Despite the high temperatures (yes, another heat wave) I wore closed-toe shoes.

Instead I was provided with a friendly welcome, the coolest room in the office (with my own air conditioning machine) and clean old boxes stacked in the corner. Ros had already gone through them and pulled out everything related to Briggs, and put them on a big table. I was provided with a pitcher of water, and the lovely staff made sure the a/c was working. Around noon Ros herself brought me a sandwich and a custard tart. There were no arachnids in evidence, just one fly who came in to cool off.

There were several minute books from the 1930s, when the UCC was in full operation as the William Briggs Trust following his death, and the 1950s and 60s as it headed toward its demise. There was a copy of Anna de Salvo’s indispensable (and the only) book on the UCC, a draft of that book, and an unpublished article from that book put together by the editor, Helen Imam. Although there was nothing earlier than the 1930s, the minute books supported what I’d seen in Briggs’ will at the National Archives, and made it clear that the UCC became a charity only upon his death.

So I sat and read minutes. At first, the meetings were dull, setting up the salaries of the trust members and featuring the vague sort of business notes I see at my college meetings. The trustees were at first Briggs’ children. There is no mention of how the classes are doing, or who’s running anything. Each meeting they voted to politely thank the staff. In 1935, they decided to they would fix up the main building at Queen Anne Terrace when the lease expired (20 years later). Then the war happened, and in 1946 they met in London instead of at Burlington House in Cambridge, but were clearly prospering as they considered buying a building as freehold rather than leasing it. By then there was only one trustee named Briggs. In 1947 they returned to Burlington House and there were three.

In 1955, the year the lease was up, there was no mention of fixing up the building (de Salvo’s book said they just renewed the lease), and in 1962 there is an ominous thanks to the staff during a “difficult year”. Membership starts to shift. The minute book for the 50s clearly shows profits slipping, and an increasing number of years reporting a loss: £549 10s 10d in 1956, a profit in 1959, but then ongoing losses, and finally a transfer (via board membership) to the National Extension College. (Ros explained to me that educational charities, which is what the William Briggs Trust was, cannot be sold.) That same year, 1964, they had a net loss of £4787 0s 3d. They were selling off their bonds. Pensions were distributed.

A few years later the name hadn’t yet been changed as legally required, and there are complaints in the minutes, but other than that the UCC died quietly.

It wasn’t that they didn’t try. The June 1959 minutes show RR Briggs raising the question of continual losses, and wanting to expand the enterprise to cover other kinds of examinations, not just University of London exams. This would happen when he took over as chair after the retirement of CB Briggs (who had wanted to shut the whole thing down) in 1962. The trustees agreed also to continue spending on advertising and to stay open. But by the following year, the college publication, the University Correspondent, was losing subscribers and was too expensive to produce. They shut it down after discussing whether they should keep the name for copyright purposes, pointing out that the Educational Review had shut down but its name was taken by Oliver & Boyd.

It’s funny that reading the minutes I felt sad, both for the UCC and for the publications. I use both the University Correspondent and the Educational Review in my research.

The first minutes under new management contained a Progress Report, which was written in a more narrative style and considered all the problems they were dealing with. So many of the considerations are the same as we have now with distance education and education in general: the annoyance at having to consider finances, the difficulty with students who stop and start their studies, the necessity of offering some courses that won’t pay their own way.

I confess that I am also disappointed now that it is confirmed that William Briggs’ operation was clearly for profit. I have railed for years against the Nationals, Ashfords, and Phoenixes of our time. But, as Ros told me, it’s not just the good public enterprises versus the bad private enterprises: there is a third way: private, but self-supporting and answering a need. It’s what the UCC did then, and the NEC does now.

At this point, I need to look more closely at the thesis. If I’m going to say Briggs was answering a need, I need to prove that need. HG Wells can probably help me there, even if he can’t bring me water and a sandwich.


The British Library and the competition

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