Daylight Robbery - Task 1: Using different sources for research and transcribing old documents
Historical researchers usually sift through lots of different kinds of evidence before they reach a conclusion about how something happened. There are two main types of historical evidence. They are known as:
- Primary (or original) sources, and
- Secondary sources (interpretations of original material)
Sometimes people claim that original evidence is always more trustworthy then evidence produced later. This is not true. Original evidence can be misleading, difficult to understand or missing altogether. You also needs to take into account who produced a source of evidence, the reason they produced it and who was intended to read or see it. Some original evidence will need to be translated from another language such as Latin or may be written in an old fashioned English. It may also be written in handwriting that is hard to read.
Therefore a researcher will usually want to start by getting a broad idea of what may have happened before investigating original evidence in detail. You can do this for the events at William Cooper's and George Steven's houses on 23rd May 1816 in two ways.
- Read and listen to the following sources of information:
- Tigers in the Fens? How revolutionary were the Ely and Littleport Rioters? This will give you an interpretation of general events in Ely and Littleport at the time of the riots. You can use the notes worksheet to write down what this interpretation claims were the causes of the Riots and the motivation of the rioters.
- Go to The Case. This case story is was made especially for this website about the Ely and Littleport riots. The main character is Aaron Layton, one of the rioters found guilty of robbing William Cooper and George Stevens. Although the video is a piece of historical fiction it is also an interpretation of the events, based on original evidence.
Watch the scenes featuring the schoolmaster, Mr Watts, William Cooper and Aaron Layton's speech to camera after Cooper. These speeches describe the scene at Cooper's house.
- Use the notes worksheet to write down what happens.
Once an historical researcher has read about the events in later interpretations, they usually go back to the original evidence produced at the time.
One of the main pieces of evidence for the events at George Steven's and William Cooper's houses on May 23rd 1816 is the prosecution papers for the lawyers at the trial of Aaron Layton and other rioters. These were handwritten before the trial and summarised the evidence of the witnesses to be called. The lawyers prosecuting Aaron Layton may have read directly from these papers in court.
The handwriting has been very carefully presented. However, on the back of each sheet of the document, someone probably the clerk of the court made short notes which gives more evidence about what the witnesses apparently said in court themselves. This evidence is much more difficult to read.
You are going to transcribe parts of this document relating to the crime against George Stevens. This will give you a chance to do the kind of work that an historical researcher has to complete from scratch.
The document has been presented in two parts.
Go to Prosecution - Crimes against George Stevens Official Pages. This link displays the official prosecution pages. Choose a page and start to transcribe it into your own handwriting or in typed or word-processed form. Click twice to maximize the page to full size. You will be able to download it if you wish. If you want to compare the accuracy of your own transcription with a transcription available here.
- Part One is photographs of the original document showing all the pages officially prepared for the prosecution. It is written very neatly.
- Part Two are photographs showing the notes taken during the trial and written quickly on the back of the official front pages.
Be patient, it sometimes takes time to get the hang of the nineteenth century handwriting. You will probably become faster as you get more used to it.
Next go to Prosecution - Crimes against George Stevens - Notes. This link displays the notes on the back of the official prosecution pages. Choose a page and start to transcribe it into your own handwriting or in typed or word-processed form. You will be able to download it if you wish. Follow the advise given for the first document you transcribed. Once you have completed this you can compare your work with a transcription available here.
Be warned you will find this transcription much harder.
Now you have collected evidence about what happened at the home of George Stevens you will want to compare this with what happened earlier at the home of William Cooper. The prosecution account of this event was more detail so we have provided a transcription of the prosecution papers and the notes for you to read. Once you have read this you may want to think about the following questions:
- Are there any similarities between the two events
- Were the same people involved
- Who do you think were the ring leaders
- What was there motivation
- Did what happened at Willaim Cooper's house influence their behaviour later at George Stevens home
Return to: Tasks Menu
Back to Aaron Layton - The Ely Rioter homepage