British Army Officers, 1790-1820

A case study of 40,000 British Army officers who served between 1790 and 1830

Dr Kevin Linch has been awarded an 18-month Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) fellowship, for his project ‘Re-archiving the Individual: British Army Officers, 1790-1820’.

This project will create and explore a ‘life archive’ as a tool to understand people in the past. Unlike the existing digitisation of archival records which just transcribe names, like the recent release of the 1921 census or parish records, this life archive links related records together making a transformational step in digital humanities techniques. 

Image: WO27 Inspection Returns (National Archives) and a portrait of William Ponsonby

Starting in August 2022, the project will use a case study of British Army officers in the late 18th and early 19th century. This analysis will work on 40,000 officers who served between 1790 and 1830 who were often stereotyped by famous but untypical individuals like Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington.  

Exploring the career of officers like Lieutenant James Gordon Ogle of the 33rd (1st West Yorkshire) Regiment of Foot, who joined the Army in 1811 from the West Yorkshire Militia and fought at the Battle of Waterloo is an example of how this project will work. 

This record-linking process will allow the exploration of individuals as historical actors and their social networks at a scale that is impossible through traditional historical techniques. Through this fellowship, Dr Kevin Linch will be working with the Digital Humanities Institute and The National Archives to ‘re-archive’ records.  The project will build on Jamie McLaughlin’s record-linking work for the Digital Panopticon.

The publicly available life archive will provide an adaptable and authoritative research and reference tool for scholars and students working on the British Army, as well as family historians looking for information about their ancestors who served as officers. Through the project, we’ll explore what was typical about officers’ careers, who were absent (and why), and the service they had at key moments. The fellowship reflects Dr Kevin Linch’s expertise in the history of Britain’s armed forces during the Napoleonic Wars and working in partnership with archivists and archives.  

Working with a Postgraduate Research Assistant recruited for the project, we’ll be delivering workshops and events for the archive sector and the public about the techniques we develop and the Army officers’ life archive.

Project team

  • Dr Kevin Linch (AHRC Fellow and Principal Investigator — University of Leeds)
  • To be appointed (Research Associate — University of Leeds)
  • Matthew Groves (Research Software Engineer — Digital Humanities Institute)
  • Jamie McLaughlin (Research Software Engineer — Digital Humanities Institute)