In commemoration of the 800th Anniversary of the Magna Carta, the International Commission for the History of Representative and Parliamentary Institutions (ICHRPI) held a conference in the UK that brought together leading scholars to discuss cutting edge parliamentary scholarship, national digital projects, and comparative parliamentary history. Presenters hailed from the UK, US, Spain, Italy, Germany, France, and many other countries.
Andrew Laas, senior Product Manager (House of Commons Parliamentary Papers), gave a presentation at Portcullis House (see photo above of the Parliamentary Estate) on the digitization of the upcoming House of Lords Papers, 1800-1910. Other presenters on this roundtable (from the University of Glasgow, Oxford University, the London School of Economics, and the Institute of Historical Research) discussed other digital projects by the History of Parliament Trust, textual analysis of parliamentary debates using gendered language, using historical dictionaries to add the element of historicity to an analysis of Parliamentary debates, and upcoming plans to analyze the nonverbal gestures of Congressional and House of Commons committee members to glean further meaning (more than from mere text) from what goes on during a committee meeting. There was some really ground breaking scholarship by leading parliamentary scholars in looking at different ways of analyzing the workings of Parliament, and ProQuest was there as an acknowledged leader in digitization and essential partner in providing content for their further research.
About an hour before Andrew’s presentation, Dr. Elizabeth Hallam Smith, Director of Information Services and Librarian at the House of Lords Library, informed Andrew that they had just signed all the required paperwork and was on board to join the National Library of Scotland and ProQuest in this digitization partnership. This was a huge deal! There are only a select few extant collections of the House of Lords Sessional Papers, and ProQuest is partners with two of the very best of them! Although the House of Lords Library was party to meetings on the project from the very beginning and was quick to agree to fill in any gaps in the National Library of Scotland’s collection, it was only moments before Andrew’s roundtable discussion that the MoU was signed to formalize this relationship. Andrew quickly modified his presentation and this news was enthusiastically received by the audience.
The participation of the House of Lords Library not only reinforces the importance of this collection for scholars, but also guarantees that there will be no gaps in coverage in this important and hitherto neglected set of parliamentary papers.
Attending this conference afforded Andrew the opportunity to meet scholars who use and appreciate HCPP and to introduce this valued community to this new House of Lords digital product as well as to update them on the upcoming migration of HCPP to the ProQuest Government Platform. Hugh Chatterton (specialist sales rep) staffed a table during the first day of the conference and made a number of important contacts.
In addition to the sessions Andrew attended on the use of the “myth” of the Magna Carta throughout history, the rebuilding of Parliament after the 1834 fire, how Parliament operated during the First World War, how public petitioning was used to further reform during the 19th century, and on other topics, there were also a few social gatherings that allowed him to meet a number of important scholars. During these events, Andrew was able to solidify contacts in the scholarly community that may well grow into future partnerships for new digital projects!