New Expert Search for “places”

This is the first of a series of posts about new features in the site we launched last week.

In the previous version of A Vision of Britain through Time, the Expert Search page just linked to various other pages with more specialised facilities. In the new site, the two of those facilities which were about our statistical content have been moved to the new “Data Access” area of the site, and the new Expert Search page is a form, or rather three very similar forms on a tabbed interface. We could not think of where else to put our Administrative Unit typology, so that is still there on a fourth tab.

The three forms look similar because all three let you search by geographical name, all three let you narrow the search by nation and county, and two also let you narrow by “type”. However, what they search differs:

  • Search Units accesses our main list of geographical names, but considers only names linked to specific administrative units, taken either from name authorities like Youngs’ Guide to the Local Administrative Units of England, or from the census and other statistical reports. If an administrative unit has yet to be linked to a place this is the only way to find it, and that is still true of many sub-parish units like manors and townships.
  • Search Descriptions accesses a separate list of names harvested from our large collection of nineteenth century descriptive gazetteers. Pretty much all entries for large settlements have been linked to places, but using Search Descriptions is the only way to access information for very small settlements, described as “hamlets”, and all sorts of physical features like rivers and mountains.
  • Search Places accesses the same main list of geographical names as Search Units does, but excludes the names of units we have not located and includes many more names we have extracted from the descriptive gazetteers and travel writers. These are mostly additional names for places which have administrative units associated with them, but there are now a substantial number of places which are just settlements, with no associated units.

In other words, each of these searches can bring back results which the other two won’t.

In the original site, there was no point having an expert search option for places, because places were just groupings of administrative units created to simplify searching. As we have added variant names that were associated only with places, not units, and added some places with no associated units, the need for expert searching for places has grown.

Of course, if all you do with Search Places is type a name in and click on Search, you are doing exactly what you could always do from the home page. What is new is that you can use wild card characters, find “sound-alikes” or narrow your search by nation (England/Wales/Scotland) and by county. If you make much use of wild cards, you will probably need to narrow the search by county to avoid getting too many results. We wanted to carry on using the existing results page for places, with the map but without the option of multiple pages of results, so Search Places is set up to return a maximum of 40 results.

About Humphrey Southall

Director, Great Britain Historical GIS; Reader in Geography, University of Portsmouth
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