Hearth Tax Digital – an exciting new website has been launched by the University of Roehampton’s Centre for Hearth Tax Research in partnership with the University of Graz’s Centre for Information Modeling. The Roehampton-Graz website has been designed by Professor Georg Vogeler and Dr Andrew Wareham, and it has been built by Theresa Dellinger and Jakob Sonnberger, with financial support from the British Academy and the Department of Humanities at the University of Roehampton.
As a result early modern historians, local historians, family historians and genealogists now have full access to an increasing number of records of the Restoration hearth tax in a single searchable database. The database enables searches across returns and counties. At present the site has the records for London & Middlesex and Yorkshire East & West Riding, and over the next six months data for more cities and counties will be added.
The team has been working on the intersection between Digital Humanities, local and regional history and the documentary study of the Restoration hearth tax. The new website represents a breakthrough in hearth tax studies and makes a major contribution to the digital humanities, transforming our understanding of this source to provide deeper insights into early modern society.
Digital approaches to taxation records, such as the hearth tax, have typically used databases and spreadsheets (eg Access and Excel) to extract data on numbers of taxpayers/households, indexes of taxable wealth/hearths and payment status. The data can be quickly sorted and interrogated and compared with other numerical datasets, and these approaches have been particularly popular in the social sciences, especially with economists interested in working with historical data.
But this approach is of less value to historians and students interested in social and cultural history. The problem is twofold. Firstly, the cleaning of the data required for a database structure results in the removal of all the extraneous data on the personal circumstances of taxpayers, and, secondly, readers are not able to follow collectors as they went from house to house to collect the hearth tax. In the medieval and early modern periods, plague, fire, famine and other disasters were part of the everyday experience and information on these problems find their way regularly into the hearth tax records. But because these marginal notes were not recorded in a systematic way in a tabular format they cannot be captured readily through databases. For instance, there may be a sequence of entries providing references to tax-payers who were blind in a particular locality and/or as the result of the work of a particular collector.
Social and cultural historians are likely to capture such information through textual descriptions supported by Word tables (just as powerful as Excel if you are doing basic calculations), and this is a very powerful tool if one is interested in a series of micro or local history case studies. But it is of limited use once the data starts to build up to cover a multitude of locations. However this new database technology on Hearth Tax Digital would allow the user to combine numerical and textual data to search for all references to blind people living in properties with one or two hearths, as opposed to three and four hearths.
Hearth Tax Digital has four key features:
There is a general search button which allows users at any time to do any textual search – by personal name, location or descriptor. (All searches enable you to move from the results of the search to the record in which the results were found.)
A records page which allows readers to read the entries in the returns, together with the preliminary information, as they were written in the original returns and assessments.
The databasket which allows users to click on all the entries which they are interested in for further use.
There is also an advanced search function which allows users to combine searches for people and places with numbers of hearths.
As the team worked on the project it became clear that this technological advance, which took account of nuanced understanding of the hearth tax records, opens the door to other early modern records allowing them to be read and searched in the same way. As a result on the about page, a statement has been added to encourage those who may have similar digital records to approach us to see about making these available on Hearth Tax Digital. Perhaps this will lead in team to a fifth feature – watch this space!
Hearth Tax Digital http://gams.uni-graz.at/context:htx