Unequal Access and Commercial Databases

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In his role as the president of the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies (ASECS), Peter Reill has recently written the ASECS membership about issues extremely relevant to this blog’s purpose: the increasing importance of commercial databases to scholarship and the reality of unequal access to these tools. As we have been discussing on emob, databases such EEBO, ECCO, Burney, and the like enrich our ability to do historical and other forms of research in ways that simply weren’t possible before. At the same time, a lack of access to these resources seriously hampers the types and scope of projects that one can undertake. While these resources have definitely made more texts accessible to more scholars, those who lack access are now at a far greater disadvantage than scholars previously were. Interest in interdisciplinary work, book history and print culture studies, material culture, transatlantic studies and global perspectives continues to grow within and across fields, and these resources foster such work. These tools also offer new directions for more traditional approaches. Given the inherently historical nature of eighteenth-century and early modern studies, the access that these databases afford to facsimiles of primary documents is crucial.

Peter will be attending a meeting hosted by the Mellon Foundation to address access in February. We thought it would be helpful to create a series of posts that will supply some feedback to the questions Mellon posed to attendees (and that Peter, in turn, posed to ASECS members).

To initiate this series of postings, this post is devoted to the following three questions:

  • How important is access to commercial databases to scholars in your field?
  • How are scholars’ careers affected when they are at institutions that do not subscribe to those resources?
  • Which databases are likely to be of greatest value to the broadest segment of your membership?
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    30 Responses to “Unequal Access and Commercial Databases”

    1. Dave Mazella Says:

      Well, my first reaction is that these commercial databases have become much more important than most printed sources because they affect both the scope and the direction of the research one is able to do, as well as the time-frame in which one can work.

      Most of the research fields that have developed in the last 10 years or so have evolved (largely because of the advent of these resources) out of the new possibilities of skimming, keyword searching, and comparative analysis, not just within single works, but across large numbers of works, almost all of which will be out of print. Not having these resources means simply not being able to follow these practices, or teach them to one’s students.

      So not having the databases available at one’s institution means that valuable research time (and time is at a premium at institutions like mine) results in scholars like myself to travel to places that do have access. This is especially true for scholars at institutions with any kind of publication requirement for tenure, which nowadays includes many places that nonetheless lack resources like these for their faculty and students. In those cases, scholars will just make those trips, but it’s yet another circumstance that takes time away from the real work, when both tenured and tenure-track faculty are juggling plenty of other commitments.

      So the question of access will certainly affect the publishability of one’s projects, if certain new approaches are essentially impossible without these tools, and they will also affect the speed at which one can work, at a time when tenure and promotion standards are getting steadily ratcheted up.

      DM

    2. Anna Battigelli Says:

      Dave is absolutely right: scholars are hurt by lack of access to these databases. So, too, are institutions. As Robert Hume put it in his famous white paper on ECCO,

      A university that does not have ECCO is not a serious player in eighteenth-century British and American studies — in literature or in anything else. Any institution giving graduate degrees in eighteenth-century subjects reduces itself to below minor-league status if it does not provide ECCO to its students— and is putting its publishing faculty at a crippling disadvantage.

      By the same logic, another entity is also hurt: the discipline of eighteenth-century studies. We have always had to defend eighteenth-century lines to administrators prepared to replace those lines with Creative Writers, Teacher Educators, Compositions specialists, Modernists, or Post-Modernists. These are, of course, valuable positions, but so, too, are eighteenth-century positions—and the other early modern positions increasingly replaced by post-1800 positions. The digital divide enforced by the question of access further encourages administrators to view their institutions as deficient in the archives needed for these earlier positions. Recruiting and retention of faculty becomes more challenging. The case for eliminating pre-1800 positions becomes more attractive. As smaller institutions decide against recruiting eighteenth-century scholars, fewer graduate students at larger institutions will venture into the field. And so the cycle continues. The health of eighteenth-century studies–or of any form of early modern studies–is at stake.

    3. Eleanor Shevlin Says:

      Both Dave and Anna articulate what’s at stake well. I especially like Dave’s emphasis on time: the scholar at “Subscriber University Y” could have the evidence he or she needs collected before the scholar at “Non-Subscriber University X” finishes identifying the relevant texts, let alone working through them to test hypothesis and compile evidence. And, Anna’s point about the effects on the future of eighteenth-century studies might seem hyperbolic at first glance, but I think her claims are very much grounded in reality.

      As for what databases seem most important, I would say EEBO, ECCO, and Burney would top the list for eighteenth-century studies. When one has access to all three, then the possibilities expand for what one can do on several fronts, whether one wishes to trace the use of a word or phrase, generic transformations, historical development of a theme, the print corpus of a bookseller-publisher, the ties between material culture and textual representations, and much, much more. Burney, the newest of the three, perhaps promises the most in the way of untapped possibilities. The degree of accessibility and the speed of searching newspapers and periodicals enable scholars from various fields to uncover a wealth of information about the period. Moreover, the way information is presented in newspapers especially often creates a dialogical effect among otherwise seemingly disparate material. In other words, the value of these resources extends beyond accessibility and quickness of obtaining results. All of these databases arguably enhance our abilities to uncover connections that would almost certainly go unnoticed in manual searches.

    4. Anna Battigelli Says:

      This doesn’t answer any of the three questions in Eleanor’s post, but I also wonder whether we need to think about remaining competitive with countries like the U.K., which offer these databases nationally. To the extent that these databases are essential to eighteenth-century studies, the pursuit of eighteenth-century studies can flourish in the U.K. in a way that it cannot in the U.S. The same would seem to be true for Renaissance studies.

    5. Eleanor Shevlin Says:

      Although not directly related to the three questions, Anna’s thoughts about the potential ramifications that a lack of access would have on the health of early modern studies in the US compared to the UK has some applicability to question 2 if not also 1. Many of the scholars with whom I interact in eighteenth-century studies are based in Britain, and I have noticed the difference.

      A recent announcement by Wim Van-Mierlo the reviews editor for Variants is suggestive of the lead that the international community is taking:

      Variants: the Journal of the European Society for Textual Scholarship, I am planning to introduce a new regular feature in the journal with reviews of digital editions and electronic archives. … At the moment, only very few organs and organizations take the matter of reviewing these edition at heart. In an academic climate that increasingly depends on impact and
      bibliometrics, it is of huge importance that digital editions deserve this kind of rigorous assessment.

      We will shortly be devoting an independent post to Wim’s call, but it seems worth mentioning in this context because it supports the claims being made here about the growing importance of digital tools.

    6. Eleanor Shevlin Says:

      One of the commercial databases that we have not mentioned is the Evans Early American Imprints Collection: Series I 1639-1800. This collection is also involved with the Text Creation Partnership, and it would be very interesting to hear from early Americanists about the role this database plays in their research. I know that for those Early Americanists working in book history, the Evans is an imporant resource.

    7. Anna Battigelli Says:

      Good point, Eleanor. We should also mention the non-digitized Women Writers Project.

    8. Anna Battigelli Says:

      Readers will be interested in the concurrent discussion on this topic posted on The Long Eighteenth.

    9. Jennifer Forsyth Says:

      While I am not an 18th century specialist (I’m a Renaissance scholar), this question about databases is one that I’m very passionate about. I’m a recently tenured professor of English at a public teaching institution (4/4 teaching load) with a MA program, and we do not have EEBO (or ECCO) despite my constant pleading with the good folks in the library for EEBO; apparently, we simply do not have the funding for what they see as expensive niche resources. In fact, our budget is tight enough that I had to present arguments last month for why the library should not drop our Project Muse coverage.

      For my own research, I am an editor, and the ability to search contemporary texts for parallel use of words, phrases, or collocations (not to mention Shakespeare editions) would be invaluable. I am relatively lucky now compared to when I lived on the west coast because the greater geographical density of universities with EEBO access on the east coast means that I can commute to another university’s library on a weekend day to perform some searches. I know from experience that this is not the case for many scholars in other parts of the country where the nearest library carrying EEBO may be hundreds of miles away.

      Naturally, being able to perform a few searches from my computer in that valuable half hour before I go to bed when I do so much of my research would be more ideal. I don’t usually have large chunks of time for traveling to a university, and I can’t anticipate all of the directions my research might take me when I get there for a long work session, and I don’t have the time to review my results carefully until I get home, at which time I discover scores of other searches that would have been productive but which have to wait for another time. Still, I’m grateful that this kind of option is available to me today.

      I agree completely with the comments above by Anna and Eleanor about how difficult it is to recruit students to our areas of specialization without full access to the kinds of materials that are now available, and I do feel that I am at a disadvantage compared to the Americanists in our department, for instance, who happen to have a lot better access to electronic materials in their fields and can easily construct assignments where they ask students to search for contemporary documents to provide more full cultural context. (This could conceivably affect student evaluations of professors, which would be another way of creating inequity regarding tenure and promotion besides the relative difficulty of publishing without convenient access to these materials.)

      But that’s all about me me me. I’m also very concerned about my students’ access. They simply don’t have the meaningful opportunity to explore this huge field of literary, historical, and cultural context that is all but at their fingertips. Not only will it limit how they engage with the texts during their studies here, but they will also be at a disadvantage when applying to grad schools because they have unequal access to research tools that are I think undeniably fundamental in our field: their writing samples will almost certainly reflect that gap; their statements of purpose will most likely not be informed by the breadth of content that others may have. I don’t even know how to address the fact that our MA students do not have access to these databases.

      I know there has always been a difference between the academic haves and the have-nots; the difference between a research institution with its own copies of the Shakespeare Folio and a teaching institution with their single library copy of the Norton facsimile, e.g., has always been present. Now, I think the sense that the information is right here but that we are not allowed to drink adds to the sense of Tantalean anguish.

    10. Eleanor Shevlin Says:

      We’re very glad you have joined the conversation. Your institution and mine are actually part of the same state system (and I, too, have the 4/4 teaching load, etc.), but my institution does have EEBO and ECCO I. It seems odd to me that there can be such differences among our 14 institutions.

      As I’ve noted in other postings, however, the director of our libraries is very committed to securing these resources for us, and he is also a leader in a library consortium that helps negotiate better pricing for its members. Our students pay a yearly technology fee, and faculty can propose requests for monies from these collected fees. Our library director works with the English dept. to secure money from these fees for database purchases. The fees also support smart classrooms, computer labs, and the like, so it’s competitive, but that’s how we got ECCO I, the ODNB, and the Times digital archives….we are trying for Burney for 2011. I will inquire of our director why the difference among schools within the same system and also ask if there’s anything he could do or suggest.

      On a different note, we do very oddly have copies of all of SHakespeare’s folios in our special collections.

    11. Jennifer Forsyth Says:

      At our last department meeting, we discussed the possibility of the kind of consortium you’re discussing. I’m serious that our librarians are as helpful as possible; I know they’re frustrated by the budget limitations just as I am. We’ve been using the tech fees for databases as well, but a different element of the budget was recently shifted at the local level, and we’re in discussions right now to see whether we can restore that money somehow. Apparently, the annual costs to maintain database access have been increasing by 10% lately, if I remember what our librarians said accurately, which has to be part of the problem. Also, though, they do look at figures like, essentially, cost per search. If you have a database that costs $15,000, and you only get 500 searches on it per year, they have to wonder whether each search is really worth $30 (to pull some figures out of the air). Since relatively few departments will use EEBO, that limits the number of students who are likely to be performing searches it (compared to EBSCO, for instance). I still think it’s valuable, but I can certainly be sympathetic to what must appear to the people in charge of budgets as the cost/benefit ratio.

      By the way, as I tried in desperation to see how I could get access to EEBO, it has occurred to me in the past that I could sign up for a class (free to faculty, right?) at your institution simply in order to get online access to EEBO. I do wish Chadwyck-Healey allowed individual subscriptions… or that we had national access or something.

      • Anna Battigelli Says:

        Hi Jennifer,

        I have read your comments with interest. I wonder whether it would be helpful to look at the respective costs of online databases by division, in the sciences, the humanities, professional studies, and so forth. The disparities are substantial. Elsevier, the Dutch company that bundles science databases, is famously expensive. And yet even small schools like mine find funds to pay for Elsevier’s bundled databases, though EEBO, ECCO, and Burney remain out of the question. We do not even have access to the ODNB online!

        I’m not at all suggesting that we should cancel subscriptions to scientific databases, but we should look at the effect of Elsevier’s pricing policies, which may have artificially inflated database pricing and which certainly knocked out entire division budgets for electronic databases, to say nothing of book budgets. If our humanities databases were priced a bit more reasonably, we would have very good arguments for access–even if those databases were used primarily by faculty members and not students.
        AB

    12. Eleanor Shevlin Says:

      Glad to hear that your librarians are concerned and you are all working together. From blog postings here and elsewhere, that does not always seem to be the case. The consortium I mentioned above is Lyrasis.

      I can also sympathize about the need to consider the cost per search hit. Those of us who teach appropriate classes incoporate these databases in the courses and give assignments that require students to use these tools. As many of us have noted on emob (especially Dave Mazella), these databases are extremely useful in teaching information literacy skills.

      Yes, we have remote access so if you were to sign up for a course, you would gain access.

    13. Dave Mazella Says:

      Hi Jennifer,

      It’s astounding to me that an institution that grants MAs in English could consider dropping JSTOR, but I should know by now how inconsistent institutions are. And, yes, I think blaming libraries is a mistake, when they are often at the receiving end of the cuts in an era of rising enrollments and “making do with what we’ve got.”

      One way to deal with this is collaborate as much as you can with the librarians assigned to your area, and try to figure out the formulas used to justify budgeting decisions. The collaborations are good long-term strategies, anyway, since you’ll hear about year-end money that sometimes crops up.

      But I’d also encourage you and other faculty to build into your courses _explicit_ and graded research assignments and requirements (annotated bibs, keyword exercises, etc.) that model and dictate the kinds of searches students should be doing anyway. This teaches what they should be doing, anyway, and if it becomes a general expectation in your department would boost your numbers. Take a look at what I did for my Austen class (on this blog and on the Long 18th) for some ideas, and I can always show you variants on this.

      One argument to make is that a database is not used by just a single faculty member, but every single student that faculty member teaches, especially if you do the kind of explicit info-literacy, research assignments I’ve just proposed. So that multiplies the impact considerably of a database acquisition considerably.

      I think that English departments and librarians have to make the case together that expectations of research are rising for both faculty and for students, esp. grad students, and that these rising expectations demand commitments for resources. Institutions that ignore these realities will find themselves, and their students, left behind. But I know this is a tough sell in this economic environment.

    14. Eleanor Shevlin Says:

      Your specific suggestions for assignments are excellent ones, Dave.

      Yes, it is shocking that an institution would even consider cutting Project Muse or JStor.

      Also, I did not mean to blame librarians at all; I am a big advocate of collaboration, and I realize that we are all in this together.

    15. Jennifer Forsyth Says:

      Very pragmatic suggestions! I’m a lurker on your blog, too, Dave, and I remember being impressed by the way you framed your assignment (and I just reviewed it and was impressed all over again). I do have some information literacy assignments, and they were more successful this semester than previously (and I’ll bet our search numbers are up), but I’m always looking for ways to improve, and this is a great direction.

      I think the point about making it part of the departmental culture is key as well, for a number of different reasons (pragmatic and idealistic).

    16. Eleanor Shevlin Says:

      Anna raises an important point about considering how costly commercial databases are for the sciences compared to those for the humanities. Historically, scientific journals have typically cost more than humanities journals. One of the reasons (I believe) used to justify the the pre-electronic differences in pricing was the higher costs involved in typesetting tables, special symbols and the like that characterize scientific articles.

      The economist Ted Bergstrom at the University of Santa Barbara studies pricing of academic journals. Here’s a
      link
      to some of his papers on the topic. His collaborative work, with Paul Courant, who is Arthur F. Thurnau Professor, Harold T. Shapiro Collegiate Professor of Public Policy, Professor of Economics, Professor of Information, and Faculty Associate in the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan as well as the Dean of Libraries, and R. Preston McAFee, who is Vice President and Research Fellow at Yahoo! Research, on the bundling and pricing of electronic journals by large publishers, seems quite interesting. Information about the practice they call the “Big Deal” (so named by Ken Frazier, a University of Wisconsin librarian) can be found here. While I have not conducted an extensive search, I have not found Bergstrom to have examined the policies of Cengage-Gale or Proquest.

      It seems important to remember that ECCO, EEBO, and Burney are very different products than academic journals because they supply access to digital facsimiles of primary material.

    17. Jennifer Says:

      Due to end-of-semester time crunch (and impending weather issues), I’m not going to be able to respond with the depth I’d like to right now, but before I lose regular Internet access in my winter travels, I wanted to say thank you all so much for your perspectives. This all sounds very helpful, and I will be following up on my return. Until then, I hope you enjoy your winter breaks!

    18. Eleanor Shevlin Says:

      Safe travels, Jennifer, and we look forward to your return. Although our roundtables and much of this blog has focused on the long eighteenth century, we welcome those working in other periods to join the conversation.

    19. Dave Mazella Says:

      Jennifer, I’m getting ready to fly into that snowstorm, but not tomorrow, thankfully. If you’re not going to MLA, please stop by EMOB or the Long 18th at some point to let us know how things are working out over there.

      Eleanor, I really like these Bergstrom pieces, which describe all too well the self-reinforcing mechanisms that allow journal publishers to fleece their customers. I’m definitely going to show this to our librarian in charge of collections development. Unfortunately, it’s unclear what libraries can do about this, besides promoting electronic journals. But it’s striking to me how much of library budgets are now going to science journals.

    20. Eleanor Shevlin Says:

      Yes, Jennifer–we look forward to hearing from you on emob and on the Long Eighteenth Century (I was a lurker on Dave’s blog for long before I ever chimed in) when you return.

      And, Dave, I found the Bergstrom pieces very useful, too. I was encouraged by the fact that his collaborators are economists and also librarians. I suspect this topic has received discussion at ALA, too. It is helpful to see that the Association of Research Libraries passed a resolution this past May to encourage “Members to Refrain from Signing Nondisclosure or Confidentiality Clauses…[and] to Share Agreement Content.”

      Safe travels everyone…and for those attending MLA, reports on any of the sessions mentioned in our latest emob post or other, relevant panels would be most welcomed.

    21. Anna Battigelli Says:

      Eleanor, these are great links! Like David, I found Bergstrom’s “Free Labor for Costly Journals?” valuable. Bergstrom focuses on economics journals, and his data comes from before 2001, and thus before the “big deals” with electronic bundlers discussed in the other link you mention, but what he discovers applies to humanities journals. Between 1960 and 2000, the number of economics journals rose from 30 to 300, but they also moved from being almost 100% nonprofit to being 2/3 commercial. His data shows that since 1995, prices rose 13% per year, “faster than for any other discipline except military and naval science” (Library Journal, April 15 issues, 1999, 2000; Bergstrom, 9).

      Most interesting is his point that subscription behavior is motivated by game theory’s concept of a coordination game, where “each player chooses an action from among several alternatives and each players payoff increases with the number of other players whose choose is the same as her own” (9-10).

      Bergstrom’s “Big Deal Contract Project”–Eleanor’s second link–is also interesting. Now that libraries purchase journals electronically through bundles–a practice dubbed “the big deal” by U of Wisconsin Librarian Ken Frazier–every library or consortium negotiates its own deal. Librarians skilled at such negotiations get better deals; those who are less skilled or simply complacent get worse deals.

      Though many of our librarians will know of these articles, it might be valuable to forward these links. It also might be useful to forward these links to those in charge of university budgets so that more of us are aware of the complexity of financing library journal acquisitions.

    22. Aaron McCollough Says:

      Here’s a very vital conversation on the future of scholarly publishing (Planned Obsolescence): http://mediacommons.futureofthebook.org/mcpress/plannedobsolescence/

    23. Eleanor Shevlin Says:

      Many thanks, Aaron, for bringing Kathleen Fitzpatrick’s Planned Obsolescence: Publishing, Technology, and the Future of the Academy (forthcoming NYU Press) to our attention. It is indeed highly relevant and fascinating site/conversation.

      I’ve made my way through Lisa Spiro’s review comments 1 and 2 (as always, she offers insightful, cogent remarks), and am on the Introduction to the book (but I stopped to acknowledge Aaron’s suggestion).

      The notion of “networked scholarship” is akin to a discussion that Anna and I briefly had off-blog when we were musing about why some scholars blog and others don’t. I do think that a form of networked scholarship has existed and still exists today and that its existence helps explain why some don’t blog and/or embrace the possibilities of networked online environments. These pre-existing networks are admittedly quite different in many ways from what Kathleen, Lisa and others are identifying as such. But their presence also perhaps serves as resistance to change.

      At one point in her comments, Lisa Spiro briefly questions Fitzpatrick’s decision to publish her work in book form given its arguments, but Lisa is persuaded by Kathleen’s rationale–she has decided on print in order to attract scholars who are still wedded to traditional forms. More than issues of reputation/academic valuing (or de-valuing, lack of value for) surrounding digital scholarly publication, it is this issue of reaching diverse readers that tempers my own feelings about publishing a book only in electronic form (I should note that electronic publication is not without its appeal for me). Some works, in fact, seem foolhardy not to publish digitally. Critical editions, for instance, seem ideal for electronic publication and allow for a much better use of tracing variants and the like.

      While I know I will be commenting much more on Planned Obsolescence (we might well set up an independent post on this work), I will offer a few, fairy unconnected comments here.

      The use of CommentPress to engage in pre-print publication discussion of Planned Obsolescence presents a model that generates attention to the work well in advance of its appearance in the print marketplace. This strategy not only helps negotiate the issue of reaching audience but also arguably expands the audience and fosters publicity about the work that should positively affect sales even before the book appears in print.

      I strongly believe that the relationship between print and digital is a symbiotic one, that the two work in tandem to support one another. In some cases making arrangements for print on-demand availability for electronic publications seem prudent. The relationship that exists between the digital facsimiles made available by EEBO, ECCO, Burney, etc. and their material, physical counterparts is another, albeit very different example.

      We might also consider different notions of networked scholarship than (based on what I have reviewed thus far) the one discussed in Planned Obsolescence‘s text/site. That is, the networks that digital environments present and foster for conducting research, often enabling new paths previously not feasible. In her 2007 work, The Ordeal of Elizabeth MarshLinda Colley mentions several times the ways in which her study was facilitated by this environment:

      The coming of the worldwide web means that historians (and anyone else) can investigate manuscript and library catalogues, online documents and genealogical websites from different parts of the world to an extent that would have been unthinkable even a decade ago. (xxviii)

      .

      Colley’s excavation of the history of this woman attests to this change in the condition of possibilities for scholarship, for Elizabeth Marsh would have no doubt remained unknown otherwise. Many gaps in Marsh’s story have not been recoverable, but Colley addresses this problem by using the global and familial networks in which Marsh operated as well as the momentous changes in the world that affected and shaped the trajectory of March’s lived experiences. One could argue that Colley’s choice of subject and her approach were inspired and influenced by an increasing cultural awareness of today’s globally networked world.

      In short, digital culture is altering the possibilities not just for how we conduct research and how we package and distribute our work, but also our cognitive approaches to subjects.

      Many readers may well be interested in examining the bibliography found on the Planned Obsolescence site.

      • Anna Battigelli Says:

        Eleanor and Aaron, I am interested in Colley’s acknowledgment of how the worldwide web has transformed historical work. I am also reading through Planned Obsolescence with interest. In the meantime, Chuck Tryon has posted an abstract of his MLA Paper for Kathleen Fitzpatrick’s Panel on Media Commons. Chuck’s paper is titled “Blogging, Scholarship, and the Networked Public Sphere,” and it argues that blogs can be a constructive part of scholarly conversations. The goal, whether we discuss scholarly blogs or peer-reviewing, is to sustain rigorous scholarly standards.

        These projects (Chuck’s and Kathleen’s) help highlight both challenges and possibilities.

        Chuck’s abstract can be accessed by clicking here:

    24. Eleanor Shevlin Says:

      It does not seem surprising that Colley would note the importance of the WWW to her project. Excavating the history of Elizabeth Marsh would have taken much, much longer (if it would have even been possible to do so) without the web’s existence. On one level her acknowledging its role is akin to traditional acknowledgements of the help received from librarians and archivists. Yet on another level her acknowledgement is also a testament to the changing conditions and possibilities of scholarship.

      While Colley does not dwell on specifics, she mentions genealogy sites, online library and archival catalogues, online documents, and the like. My own work on a late eighteenth-century publisher-bookseller and printer has been indebted to such tools, and Colley’s descriptions of her methods mirrored many of my own practices. Like Marsh, my publisher is an obscure figure today. Not only did his sudden, impoverished death foster his later obscurity, but his common name (one shared by many in the booktrade, including another bookseller-printer who operated a few doors down from his establishment) has led to his conflation with others in the trade.

      The ability to find holdings through A2A (the UK archives network), search local records office, discover genealogical information through family history sites, search auction records, find references through Google Book Search or even eBay listings, discover information on websites often established by knowledgeable but amateur historians, and more has expanded considerably uncovering knowledge of everyday people and has thus facilitated the pursuit of “history from below.” That one can purchase pdfs of eighteenth-century wills online for a nominal price and have them delivered to email instantaneously or that one can arrange for digital copies of manuscripts, letters, account pages held by local archives around the world to be sent to one’s email has accelerated the pace of research while also often cutting costs. This ability also allows one to streamline one’s research trips when one is able to travel physically to libraries and record offices.

      Yet, as I note above, what most struck me about Colley’s work was how she adapted the twenty-first-century idea of networked information and the web as a paradigm of such structures as a model for making connections and dealing with gaps in Elizabeth Marsh’s personal history.

    25. Eleanor Shevlin Says:

      Thanks, Anna, for drawing our attention to Chuck Tryon’s MLA paper.

      His examination of Walker-Rettberg’s three categories of blogging is quite interesting. That he expresses dissatisfaction with his treatment of the “filter” blog perhaps stems (as he also indicates) from the overlaps that can occur between topic-driven and filtering blogs (and arguably all three).

      The “pure” filtering blog, based on Chuck’s description, would seem to potentially frame its author as an authority and thus maintain certain traditional traits of individual authorship. Although collaboration would emerge in comments about the links, articles, and videos, the author would be the agent performing the filtering and directing of information. The mediacommons collaborative project, In Meda Res, which could be considered either a revolving topic-driven or filter blog or perhaps a hybrid of the two, does manage to foster a collaborative model by rotating its authors or “curators.”

      While blogs are definitely forms of publications and while academic blogs would seem to offer a new form of scholarly publishing, they seem to function as expansions of the forms of available scholarly exchange rather than replacements of the traditional monograph (I have regarded traditional monographs and articles as components in “an ongoing conversation” about a given topic or historical period for many, many years). I have used “expansion” intentionally, and I should note that I do not see the newer forms of exchange fostered by technological change as necessarily “supplements.” Ways to evaluate the expanded field of scholarship, of course, will no doubt construct a hierarchy of valuing various forms, but as more scholars become more involved as creators, collaborators, or consumer of blogs, digital projects, and so forth, their value should eventually become less of a contentious matter. It will be interesting to see how notions of productivity are altered by this changing landscape within the context of value.

      In his section labeled “The so-what question”, Tryon asserts that “the most notable aspect of blogging may be the temporal orientation that encourages daily or semi-daily publication.” Acknowledging that such frequent writing “may seem to discourage the deeper reflection privileged in academic essays,” he points out that blogging has the advantages of bringing expertise to a larger audience and of constructing an archive of present history. While I do see these advantages, I also see the habit of daily writing as affording the opportunity to engage with an extended form of reflection. Writing helps one think through ideas and crystallize what one means, and academic blogging also enables one who is overloaded with teaching and administrative duties to sustain intellectual engagement.

      Tryon also notes that “one of the most powerful effects” of blogging is “that scholarship can now become increasingly networked.” In many ways such a claim is quite accurate, but it seems important to remember that scholarly networks are not a recent phenomenon. Stanford’s Mapping the Republic of Letters is charting Enlightenment networks. Besides acknowledging the world wide web’s role in researching The Ordeal of Elizabeth Marsh, Colley also notes by name numerous scholars with whom she networked in writing her work. And, of course, we have footnotes and readers’ marginalia. What is “new” about today’s electronically created networks is the ability to traverse space in record time.

    26. Jennifer Forsyth Says:

      Update (from a once and future lurker):

      I just wanted to share that last week, I was floored to hear that our library had acquired EEBO! I had used your recommendations to help make the case for acquiring it, but I had had no idea that our good librarians had been swayed by them. Thanks so much to all! Now, all I have to do is do a good job of utilizing it in the classroom….

      (Actually, that’s not all I have to do; I will probably offer a short workshop for profs across the campus to offer suggestions for how they might use EEBO in their classes, too.)

    27. Eleanor Shevlin Says:

      Jennifer,

      This is excellent news; glad your efforts yielded results. More collaboration between faculty and librarians is so important and can result in benefits to both parties. Moreover, such work helps ensure a stronger future for academic libraries in their ability to meet the needs of its constituents.

      We would love to hear about any workshops you offer.

    28. Commercial Databases: Greater Access to JStor, EEBO, ECCO, Burney, and more in 2014? | Early Modern Online Bibliography Says:

      […] databases has been one of our key concerns over the years. Posts such <a href=”http://earlymodernonlinebib.wordpress.com/2009/12/09/unequal-access-and-commercial-databases/“>Unequal Access and Commercial Databases</a> have addressed this problem in detail, […]

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