Breve: Visualizing the Bills of Mortality

This past weekend I attended the Southern History Association conference in Baltimore, my first time attending this conference. I was on a panel about work the Death by Numbers team has been doing on digitizing, transcribing, and building the computational infrastructure for the London Bills of Mortality.


The plague bills were compilations of burials, christenings, foodstuffs, and causes of deaths across (primarily) London’s parishes as early as 1592 until the middle of the nineteenth century (although our project ends in 1740). For each of the parishes, the bills counted causes of death that were generally printed as weekly broadsides, general notices posted in public spaces, or sold as handbills.

1679 Weekly Bill of Mortality. Call Number 265428. Used by permission of the Folger Shakespeare Library.

As you can see, the bills provide an immensely rich set of quantitative and geographic data. Part of how we’re handling this is to build out the computational infrastructure to store the transcriptions in a database, and retrieve that data through an API that powers our web application (which isn’t public yet, but will be soon).

Part of my presentation at the SHA was to discuss this Observable notebook showing work with the API and some preliminary data visualizations. Eventually much of that will be on the project site itself.

We have a lot of really great stuff planned for the project, and I can’t wait to start releasing more of what we’ve been working on. In the next week or two, watch for a new blog post by me at the DBN website on our data API.


Task List

There’s a lot of great things underway at RRCHNM in addition to Death by Numbers, including work on Connecting Threads, Hearing the Americas, and American Religious Ecologies. The next few weeks should mostly be about maps for Hearing the Americas and Religious Ecologies, so stay tuned.

The book manuscript is making steady progress, with plans to have it back to the press in December. Onwards!

Reading List