Visible Prices

Visible Prices

(VP) is a digital humanities project, currently in development, for a collection of prices drawn from literary and historical sources in 18th and 19th century England. Users will be able to search for information relating to a specific good or service, or a specific amount of money. For example, a query for 3 shillings in 1789 reveals that in London, that amount would purchase a bushel of wheat, a quarto of translations from Diderot, or a day’s services of a crippled or deformed child as a companion to an adult beggar. My intent is for the database to make use of the influx of printed texts onto the web in facsimile format, in databases like Google Books, the Hathi Trust Digital Library, Eighteenth Century Collections Online, the British Newspapers Collection, and the London Times Online Archive, to name only a few. Though entry privileges are currently restricted, the goal is to eventually make it possible for registered users to enter data in the process of individual research or classroom activities; and thus to make it possible for researchers specializing in other time periods and regions to extend the scope of the database.

The pointer is from Pam Regis.


It sounds like it would be a useful research tool, at least if users could be confident in the quality of the data in it.

Nonetheless, it seems somewhat like open-source software development in that even if the end product is good, those who created it probably won't be rewarded (e.g., with tenure) for doing it.

Sounds really interesting.

I am curious what the price of steel was, year by year between 1750 and 1900. This might give it to me.

Wow, this could cause quite a few retractions.

Like which ones?

THE foremost book written on the topic:

Highly recommended.

How much was a tuppeny fart?

I've always thought the other way around would be extremely useful or interesting when reading. That is, if books could give some appendix in order to give some sense of relative, historical price levels when specific monetary figures are mentioned. (In the Count of Monte Cristo, for example, I know he came into extraordinary wealth, but I have no tangible sense of what 1,000 Livres could really buy in the broader Western Mediterranean economy of that time).

Sounds fascinating. When I read something like the English won a battle because of the longbow I always wonder what the thing cost. Was it easily replaced or worth more than the soldier who pulled it etc.

In reply to Albigensian: if every entry is annotated with a link to its source (and the article describes that the sources are all going online), then the user can confirm the quality themselves with a single click. If it is that easy, many people will do it and someone like you will feel confident that taking a whole set of data without checking each individual data point is safe. Further, when scientifically reporting data, it is most prudent to give two-to-three values: the mean value and a range (or above-and-below ranges) to indicate confidence.

Best regards, Oliver.

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