EEBO Interactions as an Interactive Guide

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One of the things I really like about EEBO Interactions is that unlike so much of the digital world, which prompts us and scolds us and reminds us and worries us into action, EEBO Interactions offers readers an opportunity to correct, tweak, and probe the digital world. Readers can post queries. They can email other contributors. They can correct incorrectly dated title pages, note cross-referenced material, suggest attributions, refer readers to pertinent sources, such as ODNB entries, articles, or books. Where these sources are electronic, links can be provided so that subsequent readers can check those sources instantly from within EEBO.

This interactive function points the way forward to a more mature and more robust resource, not just because entries themselves become more substantial–though that is one significant consequence–but because the database itself becomes more relational, more flexible, less static.

We have not yet discussed the power of electronic resources to go beyond their fixed print relatives. It would be great to hear from readers about the nature of this new relational power–and of how it might best be put to use within EEBO Interactions to strengthen EEBO, not just as a provider of texts, but as an evolving bibliographical database in its own right.

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18 Responses to “EEBO Interactions as an Interactive Guide”

  1. Dave Mazella Says:

    From my perspective, as someone who is not a bibliographer, but who is, like any other literary scholar, dependent upon bibliographers, I think EEBO Interactions is a very promising kind of resource. If it can leverage both the expertise and the social networking dimensions of its promise, it should become a very powerful tool for research, and a model for new forms of electronic resources. Once it is no longer understood as simply a tool, it becomes a vehicle for new forms of conceptualization of the materials its users want to investigation.

    Now that this project is underway, have you or any of the others involved with it thought about ways to make it more central to the scholarly discussions of early modern history, literature, and print culture? How might it get institutionalized? Are there models in other literary fields of implementation that we might draw upon for this?

  2. Anna Battigelli Says:

    Thanks for these great questions, Dave. If there are existing models in the Humanities for this kind of networked connectivity, I’d like to hear about them.

    It could be that the tradition of working in isolation rather than collaborating with others makes EI’s social network appear foreign for those of us working in the Humanities. But the opportunities EI offers to post queries or correct bibliographical detail or run a date by others seems particularly rich.

    As for how to make EI “more central to the scholarly discussions of early modern history, literature, and print culture,” well, I’d like to hear more about that. I have certainly learned a lot at the micro-level by reading the contributions. Perhaps there needs to be a macro-level discussion area.

  3. Eleanor Shevlin Says:

    Thanks for this posting, Anna. In my mind what seems truly novel about EEBO Interactions is the partnership it forges between a commercially developed database and its users to advance scholarship. Equally unusual is the co-existence of full-text primary works with scholarly exchange. As you note, EEBO Interactions harnesses concepts of social networking to promote the creation of a more robust resource. As part of this process, it reformulates the archive as an active place of collective exchange rather than solitary endeavor.

    Scholarly digital projects that cultivate exchange and active participation are not new, but these projects have, by and large, been initiated by scholars and often entail the creation of texts and other resources. Consider, for example, Romantic Circles or the Victorian Web.These resources do offer full-texts, but the number of texts is minimal, especially when compared to the holdings of EEBO. Sometimes the texts these resources contain have been created in response to scholarly discussion. I am thinking, for instance, of a discussion on NASSR-L (North American Society for the Study of Romanticism listserv) in 1997 that resulted in the impromptu creation of a digital copy of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “On The Medusa of Leonardo da Vinci,” posted on Romantic Circles in less than a day. Along with the text, images were posted and “dialogic commentary” from NASSR-L incorporated. Noentheless, the scholarly editions found in these resources are often the work of individuals (or small teams of 2 and 3) and not the product of larger collective action. I am not suggesting that exchange is absent, for it certainly is not; instead, it just seems that solitary work habits still hold sway for certain kinds of tasks.

    Some environments might foster more involvement than others–and EEBO Interactions has the potential to generate and encourage activity. Yet, whether it will probably depends on a number of factors including the ability of scholars to re-conceive EEBO as more than simply a text delivery system and, perhaps, the fortuitous convergence of scholars working on similar topics and willing to participate actively in making connections.

    The Proceedings of the Old Bailey resources and the more recent London Lives project differ from Romantic Circles and the Victorian Web because they were constructed foremost as digital archives of primary texts. In this way they are more akin to EEBO. These two resources have also invited collaboration and reciprocal relationships. Yet, the Old Bailey announced this March that it was discontinuing its Wiki “owing to limited use.” They did retain the corrections feature, but moved it to the main page. Launched in 2010 by scholars who established the Old Bailey, London Lives has a wiki, and the project is adding more tools that promote the active involvement of users such as a users’ forum (it already has a corrections tracker, but it notes that the editors will only correct “significant errors”).

    The conversations that occur on listservs, blogs, and twitter suggest that humanities scholars welcome collaboration and exchange. Often topics will die out, though sometimes they become projects of their own. For example, some might remember the collective, online reading of Richardson’s Clarissa in the 1990s inspired by postings (invitations?) on C-18L. This project, of course, provided an extended conversation but was not an instance of formal scholarship being conducted collaboratively.

    When Anna speaks of what EEBO Interactions offers

    Readers can post queries. They can email other contributors. They can correct incorrectly dated title pages, note cross-referenced material, suggest attributions, refer readers to pertinent sources, such as ODNB entries, articles, or books. here these sources are electronic, links can be provided so that subsequent readers can check those sources instantly from within EEBO.

    these activities are ones that frequently characterize listservs. Yet, her phrase "instantly from within EEBO" also points to EEBO Interactions' distinctiveness from listservs and other forms of exchange: Primary texts are immediately accessible alongside these references, annotations, and commentary. In a scholarly printed work, primary texts are represented by quoted excerpts; unless the primary text is extremely brief, it must be sought elsewhere. In EEBO interactions, the potential for exchange is joined by the availability of the full text.

  4. Anna Battigelli Says:

    All excellent points and some pointedly useful comparisons, as always! I wonder whether EI’s minimalism is one of its assets. Though it advertises itself as a social network and can be used as such, it is also extremely efficient. It is possible to zero in on a problem, ask a question, and with luck get some answers, all fairly quickly. Of course it can become something more chatty than this, and perhaps it will.

    I am interested in hearing more about whether readers want a “social network” or a space for bibliographical queries. The two don’t have to be completely different, but there is a difference in mission that affects both design and function.

  5. Eleanor Shevlin Says:

    EI’s minimalism is a potential strength and is what made me think of scholarly listservs because many function as a place to pose queries and obtain quick, accurate responses. But the trick is developing a broad awareness of EI as a go-to-place for such queries. That would also perhaps require more visible traffic.

    You are quite right, Anna, about design and function signaling mission. The name “EEBO Interactions” probably generates expectations of a “social network” rather than a site to ask questions and receive prompt responses.

  6. Anna Battigelli Says:

    Yes. Your comparison of EI to a listserv seems exactly right in that brief queries can be posted and even discussed, with the added benefit of allowing access, at least to subscribers, to digital facsimiles.

    And readers might feel even freer to use EI than a listserv because unlike a listserv, an EI contribution does not get disseminated. That allows for contributions on highly specialized topics, without the fear that too few readers will be interested in a given topic.

    Because EI facilitates highly specialized discussion, it may not be highly “social” in its networking, at least not in the sense that dozens of scholars discuss a topic. But just because the interactions may be limited to two or three contributors does not mean that those interactions lack significance or value, either for the contributors or for other readers.

  7. Eleanor Shevlin Says:

    Your clarification of “social” networking, Anna, adds precision to what we are discussing here. EI has adapted social networking to facilitate scholarly work. Your point about the less public nature of the exchanges is also a good one. I’ve seen proposals for digital projects that seek to use several types of exchange forums. These include building the capability for “private” forums that would allow a smaller group of scholars to discuss matters in a more intimate, specialized venue.

  8. Peter White Says:

    I think if EEBO Interactions develops into a forum that encourages discussion or interaction on highly specialised topics – for instance, about some of the less frequently studied texts in the collection, or about some of the less well known authors – it will certainly have been a very worthwhile initiative. We know that users of EEBO access many texts in the collection serendipitously, as a result of finding matches for their search terms in the EEBO-TCP keyed editions that are available for an increasing number of titles, so there ought to be tremendous potential in a resource that allows its users to connect with other scholars who have studied – or perhaps merely stumbled upon – the same out-of-the-way items. Certainly, users of EEBO Interactions who choose to leave some notes on their reading of a given work, or even a more developed commentary – like Roy Strong’s very enjoyable posting on William Rowland’s Judiciall astrologie, judicially condemned (1651), Wing R2074 (http://eebo-interactions.chadwyck.com/node/195597) – can be sure that they’re reaching the widest possible audience for their work, and that they will be providing a resource not only for other users of EEBO (who will be alerted to existence of an EEBO Interactions posting for a given work by the speech-balloon icons displayed in EEBO itself), but also for users of the web more generally (since entries on EEBO Interactions are searched and retrieved by internet search engines and can be accessed by everyone with access to the internet).

    As the Product Manager for EEBO I receive a lot of extremely insightful correspondence from users of the collection, much of it relating to particular texts. Although my colleagues and I do our utmost to ensure that this information is used to enhance the bibliographic information in EEBO, there’s a limit to what can be captured within the confines of a bibliographic record. EEBO Interactions is an attempt to provide a forum for discussion and commentary of this kind.

    Thank you so much for discussing EEBO Interactions on EMOB. My colleagues and I are following the discussion with interest, and look forward learning more about how the resource might develop to meet the needs of (its current and potential) users.

  9. Anna Battigelli Says:

    Thanks, Peter, for these good points. It is helpful to have your insiders’ perspective.

    You are absolutely right that the exchanges on a given text will be limited to those few readers interested in that text, or more specifically, that text’s aspect being discussed. And also well worth mentioning is that EI is open to all readers, meaning that these exchanges can be found by anyone. So we have a kind of ideal combination, especially for lurkers. As readers with specialized interests exchange notes, anyone can follow the exchange.

    What you’re identifying is the specialized functionality of EI.

  10. Dave Mazella Says:

    Hi everyone, my suggestion would be that, just as ASECS has hosted some ECCO-themed panels, perhaps ASECS or other conferencees could organize similar panels that show how EI operates, what its benefits are, and how it might be integrated into our research and teaching? My suspicion is that for someone doing a certain kind of bibliographic work on these texts, the possibility of meeting up with others doing similar projects would be extremely helpful, and would encourage more interactions, both face to face and virtual. There are always early adopters, who enjoy the process of learning new things, but a broader and deeper assimilation into scholarly practice demands a certain amount of exposure, practice, and hand-holding to learn something new. But everyone benefits when new people are brought into something like this.

  11. Peter White Says:

    Dave, Anna – I couldn’t agree more, and think that EI would benefit hugely from the insights and attention that an ASECS panel would generate. There was a panel on EI at SHARP 2008 in Oxford (‘Towards an interactive EEBO’), but this took place before the resource was launched. I think that another discussion would be very valuable now that EI is up and running.

    Another of the potential uses of the resource that such a panel might consider would be as a clearing house for notes on the early reception histories of works in EEBO. In other words, the interactions page could be used as a way of directing researchers to other texts and resources – both within EEBO and beyond it – that bear witness to the dissemination, reception and influence of a particular work among its author’s contemporaries. A collection of contemporary references and responses of this kind, produced collaboratively over time, would form a very powerful resource for scholars, but the amount of effort and time required from each individual contributor might actually be relatively small – especially where cross-references of this kind are generated as a by-product of one’s reading of works from the period.

    Another potentially interesting use of EI would be as a way of directing the attention of EEBO users and other visitors to other scholarly initiatives associated with a given text or illustration. I was at a workshop on 17th-century British Book Illustrations last week at which the possibility of creating links from EEBO to images hosted as part of Professor Michael Hunter’s excellent British Printed Images to 1700 project (www.bpi1700.org.uk) was discussed. Given the overlap between the two projects, I think some form of cross-linking or signposting using EI would be very beneficial for users of EEBO and bpi1700.

    We’d be very interested to hear about other potential uses of an interactive resource such as this one, and about the ways in which EI might develop to accommodate them.

  12. Eleanor Shevlin Says:

    Peter and all,

    Using EI as a clearing house for reception studies (and perhaps other subjects, each given its own distinctive heading/space within EI) is an excellent idea. Having EI offer this kind of information would help develop more traffic to the site and, by extension, more use. As listservs often demonstrated, many scholars are pleased to provide suggested titles and resources. Such suggestions require less effort and time than contributing to a discussion (though discussion often evolves in response to the suggestions).

    Linking to Hunter’s British Printed Images to 1700 project is an equally excellent idea. A site that centralizes resources–especially electronic ones–becomes more valuable and more attractive to scholars. Plans are no doubt already in place to link ProQuest’s new Early European Books project to EEBO, much in the way that one can search EEBO and ECCO simultaneously, with full access being dependent upon an institution’s subscription.

    Organizing a panel at the Renaissance Society of America, perhaps a SHARP-sponsored one, would complement a similar panel at ASECS, and there may still be time to do so for the 2012 meeting. The SHARP 2011 conference convenes this Thursday in Washington, DC, and SHARP/RSA members could be recruited to propose a panel. As an affiliate society of RSA, SHARP has automatic slots on the program. We are already sponsoring several sessions at 2012, but we have been given four or five slots in the past.

  13. Anna Battigelli Says:

    It’s either unfortunate or really fortunate that RSA meets exactly at the same time as ASECS in 2012. RSA would be a great place for further discussion, so if that can be pursued, it ought to be. I’d also like to see a discussion of EI at ASECS, as Dave suggests.

    Either way, we could brainstorm here on emob prior to the conferences, with a series of proposals for what could be done along the lines of Peter’s suggestions. (For instance, links to Randy Robertson’s British Index would seem a logical step.) At the meeting, wherever it is, we could gather those proposals and discuss strategies in person for implementing them.

    If interested people meet at both RSA and ASECS, we can regroup here on emob after the meetings to share what we have found.

    This might be a really good idea–even better if we can clone Peter and Jo-Anne, so that they can attend both meetings.

  14. Eleanor Shevlin Says:

    Yes, RSA and ASECS do overlap this year, but there are many scholars who go to RSA but never ASECS and vice versa. In other words, I do not see that to be a real problem–with the important exception of needing to clone Peter and Jo-Anne!

    Launching an exchange both before the conferences and then after on EMOB could foster collective energy that, in turn, could help implement the ideas that emerged from these panels in EI.

  15. Anna Battigelli Says:

    Very good points. I look forward to hearing whether an RSA session on EI can get organized. I’ll look into what can be organized for ASECS. Maybe we’re discovering a new functionality for emob in coordinating related events at different conferences!

  16. Philip Wainwright Says:

    ‘The tradition of working in isolation rather than collaborating with others makes EI’s social network appear foreign for those of us working in the Humanities’—this is an important point, and one which only time will overcome. As younger historians for whom use of EEBO, and occasionally EI, has been ‘normal life’ become dominant names in their fields, the use of EI will grow. Hopefully the commercial pressures to which EEBO is subject will not curtail the time necessary for this development.

    The one change I’d make now would be to cease the use of the phrase ‘social networking’ in connection with IE. To most people it immediately brings Facebook to mind, and I hope I’m not the only one who has concluded that Facebook is an addictive ‘substance’ that can cause people to waste so much time ‘networking’ that their useful work suffers.

    I accept that this may merely reveal that I am some sort of dinosaur, whose opinion on the subject is best ignored (as my college age children politely do), but my belief that it’s the truth shows no signs of abating. Perhaps ‘professional networking’ would be better. But only slightly.

  17. Eleanor Shevlin Says:

    I agree wholeheartedly about the connotations of “social networking.” “Professional networking” is a decided imporvement, but it may also carry connotations that do not capture exactly what EI and similar resources are enabling. Adopting the term “scholarly networking” or perhaps “networked scholarship.”

  18. Anna Battigelli Says:

    Philip and Eleanor make excellent points. The brilliance of EI was to harness the potential of social networking for an academic use. But EI isn’t social networking, so perhaps the search for the proper term is the next important step. Is the result an academic web, mesh, matrix, grid, lattice? Eleanor’s suggestion of “networked scholarship” is so far the best term. Are there other possibilities?

    Lurkers, this is your chance to chime in!

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