World History Sources Logo
Finding World Histoy Heading Graphic

Keyword Search Graphic

Advanced Search GraphicAdvanced Search Go Button

Bodleian Library Broadside Ballads

Bodleian Library, University of Oxford
Printer-Friendly Version

Reviewed by:
Wayne Hanley
West Chester University
January 2004

This website highlights 16th-, 17th-, and 18th-century broadside ballads. These were popular songs (frequently with lavish woodcut illustrations) sold at a relatively affordable price and widely circulated. They celebrated contemporary events and figures and were an early means of mass communication. Because of their subject matter and their ubiquity, they are an invaluable resource for the study of British cultural and social history as well as the history of printing in general. This collection of over 30,000 songsheets is perhaps the largest in the United Kingdom.

The broadsides may be accessed three primary ways: using the “Some Images” button, using the “Sound Files” button, and using the “Browse/Search” option. The first option highlights six broadsheets, introducing the collection and how to use it. The first two broadsheets within this option illustrate how the same songs were tailored for local markets. Two ballads are about the Jacobite Rebellion and the last two display the frustrations of the British with the Crimean War. Clicking on each thumbnail will take the viewer to a more detailed image and summary of the piece. Clicking on that larger image will open a full-screen image of the broadside.

Thirteen sound files add an interesting touch because many of the broadsides contain words to the songs, but no music (although they often include a reference to a popular tune to which the new song would be sung). The “Browse/Search” option offers keyword (or phrase) seraching. One can also conduct a Boolean search and limit by indexing information (author, subject, publisher, etc.). These capabilities allow users to find ballads dealing with most topics and gain an understanding of popular attitudes during a given period of British history.

The site would make an excellent resource for students working on a social or cultural history project. Copyright is limited to educational purposes (such as a visual aid for a lecture).

finding world history | unpacking evidence | analyzing documents | teaching sources | about

A project of the Center for History and New Media, George Mason University,
with support from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation
© 2003-2005 center for history & new media