Archive for September, 2009

EC/ASECS Annual Meeting, October 8-11

September 30, 2009

This is just a reminder that the EC/ASECS annual meeting in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania is coming up. There are sure to be many splendid sessions, but Eleanor’s roundtable session, “Bibliography, the ESTC, and 18th-Century Electronic Databases” will be a highlight.

Details of the conference can be found by clicking here.

Collaborative Readings #4: Shawn Martin’s “Reaching Out: What do Scholars Want from Electronic Resources?”

September 24, 2009

Shawn Martin’s brief 2005 article, “Reaching Out: What do Scholars Want from Electronic Resources?,” still poses relevant questions for this community. Noting the varied responses received by the TCP (Text Creation Partnership) when they interviewed scholars about why digital tools were not more widely used, Martin suggests the following:

1. Consider examining and perhaps reshaping the interface of the database.

2. Encourage librarians and faculty to raise awareness about the existence of these tools in their college communities.

3. Generate grants, contests, or prizes designed to reward “innovative electronic publication and research.”

As Martin goes on to note, however, these suggestions only raise larger questions about the influence of electronic resources on the humanities, including how use can be maximized, how best to reach out to college communities, how we can identify which obstacles impede using these resources in the classroom or in scholarly research, or how we evaluate their impact on the humanities.

All of these questions are important, but the last one seems especially significant. As promising new platforms such as 18thConnect begin to take shape, we should be asking what we want from these new capabilities and potentials.

Are ECCO and Burney Classroom Necessities?

September 16, 2009

We all know how indispensable these text-bases have become to eighteenth-century research.  The question many of us face from skeptical librarians controlling acquisitions budgets is whether these text-bases are crucial to undergraduate teaching.  It seems to me that a strong case can be made that the existence of these text-bases changes the nature of what can be taught in the classroom.  Whether we look at large century-spanning text-mining projects such as Matthew Wilkens’s study of parts of speech and allegory or the three very targeted assignments recently described by Laura Rosenthal, Eleanor Shevlin, and Dave Mazella on The Long Eighteenth, these text-bases  make new kinds of assignments possible.  Are these new kinds of assignments tied to a new kind of reading?  Is there a new kind of learning that can now take place in the classroom, and if so, is it an important kind of learning?

Many of us mounting arguments on behalf of acquiring these text-bases would be interested in hearing readers’ responses to these questions.  Have these text-bases become essential, or do they merely contribute to an alternative but no more important kind of learning experience than what the classroom offers without them?

ECCO Access Added through October 2009

September 9, 2009

Gale/Cengage has generously added access to ECCO in addition to access to the Burney Collection of Newspapers through October, 2009.  These resources can be accessed by clicking on this link or by clicking on the Pages link on the sidebar, “Accessing Burney and Ecco.” 

Access to both of these valuable text-bases will allow for a larger pre-roundtable preparation for Eleanor’s session at EC/ASECS.   And we will have a few weeks after that session to explore these textbases with an eye to preparing for a second roundtable discussion at ASECS in March.   Thank you Gale/Cengage!

Burney database now at the Library of Congress

September 8, 2009

The Library of Congress has now obtained the “17th – 18th Century Burney Collection Newspapers” database.

It also has the following electronic resources:

  • 19th CenturyBritish Library Newspaper Collection
  • 19th Century UK Periodicals
  • British Periodicals
  • ECCO, Part I and II
  • EEBO (at long last, but not the Text Creation Partnership searchable part)
  • and plenty of fine American stuff
  • Abby Yochelson, a Humanities Librarian at the LC, noted, “Sometimes it’s tricky to find the listing for the database if it starts with 19th because it can be listed as 19th or Nineteenth, but generally not both. Do a keyword search on other parts of the title!”

    Collaborative Readings #3: Sayre N. Greenfield’s “ECCO-locating the Eighteenth Century”

    September 6, 2009

    Greenfield’s article provides a useful case study of a series of searches using ECCO, revealing both its possibilities and its current limitations. Originally a Presidential Address for the 2006 EC/ASECS meeting, the essay was subsequently published in The Eighteenth-Century Intelligencer.  It originated in Greenfield’s interest in tracing Shakespearean quotations throughout the eighteenth century, a task that involves text-mining, or, as Greenfield puts it, “reading across centuries of texts to trace very specific threads of culture” (1).*  Greenfield sees this task as “cultural paleontology, trying to trace the evolutionary line of a cultural phenomenon by the records of cultural transmission of phrases that have fossilized into print” (1).

    To begin with, Greenfield makes a good case for the necessary rigor required to use ECCO as a text-mining tool. A familiarity with ECCO’s search function is crucial. Because ECCO disregards common words such as “to,” “be,” “or,’ “that,” “is,” and “the,” one would have a difficult time locating references to Hamlet’s “to be, or not to be” soliloquy using only that line. Using “whether ‘tis nobler” helped. Even when the search function works fluidly, the results need to be interpreted. To see how Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet fared throughout the eighteenth century, Greenfield conducted a series of searches for words and phrases from the play, such as “Romeo,” which produced 2441 hits. He broke down the hits decade-by-decade, taking into account the relation of number of hits to the total number of works printed. In the case of “Romeo,” he eliminated hits unrelated to Shakespeare’s play and also the many false hits electronic reading produces. Some of these false positives were produced by “Rome” or “Roman,” for example. Of the thirty-three hits produced for the century’s first decade, only twelve actually contained the word “Romeo.” When Greenfield eliminated non-Shakespearean Romeos and multiple editions of the same work, he was left with a single edition of the play and three other texts that referred to Shakespeare’s character for that decade.  As might be expected, using ECCO for this kind of search requires some labor.

    Greenfield’s article suggests ECCO’s promise, particularly for tracking cultural trends. Early in the century, references to the play are less likely to refer to Shakespeare’s original than to Thomas Otway’s adaptation, The History and Fall of Caius Marius. Here we see how ECCO helps trace the afterlife of an adaptation before the original reclaims public interest. In the case of Romeo and Juliet, ECCO confirms what might be expected: after the play was revived in 1744, references to it increase.  Greenfield was also able to isolate the specific passages that were most frequently cited and to place the emergence of “Romeo” as a common noun in the 1750s.

    Perhaps the most impressive part of Greenfield’s argument is the clarity of his solutions when he confronted problems.  When he found that “O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?” had become a familiar line to be parodied by the 1760s, he needed to devise a new searching strategy to include parodic versions of the line using names other than Romeo’s.  But searching for the phrase “wherefore art thou” called up biblical passages that needed to be eliminated:

    [S]earching for the entire phrase “Wherefore art thou,” from 1701-1800, gets 870 hits, mostly because of biblical uses of the phrase, “Wherefore art thou red in thine apparel” from Isaiah 63.2 , and so forth.  So I tried running an Advanced Search on “wherefore art thou” NOT “wherefore art thou red” NOT “wherefore art thou absent” (a phrase from teh Psalms) NOT “wherefore art thou come” (Matthew 26.50) in full texts, from 1701-1800, finding 389 hits.

    Some of the hits that emerged included the very phrases he tried to eliminate.  Nevertheless, his article provides an excellent case-study for ECCO’s text-mining potential–and some clear guidelines for using ECCO’s powerful search function intelligently.

    *page numbers refer to the printed copy of Greenfield’s Presidential Address.


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