Using ECCO in the Undergraduate Classroom: Reviewing Gale Cengage’s Trial Access

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Gale Cengage gave SUNY schools a great opportunity this semester by offering free trial access to ECCO, Burney, and NCCO.  I, for one, learned a lot from working with undergraduates in my Gothic Novels course as they searched ECCO for relevant material for their final research papers.  Those papers were mixed, with some outstanding essays and some less successful attempts.  I  summarize my experience below:

  • ECCO must be part of a strong digital collection in order to be fully usefuL.  Spotty digital holdings make using ECCO difficult.  For instance, without a subscription to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, new users find it difficult both to identify the author of a lesser known work and to assess that work’s historical or literary significance.
  • Using ECCO requires both competency with secondary sources and access to those sources.  Though some students used many secondary sources, even ordering books on interlibrary loan, many were more timid about using JSTOR and Project Muse than I anticipated.  Now that we purchase almost no books, galvanizing interest in scholarly books feels more difficult.  Am I imagining this?
  • Using ECCO was great for new critical readings.  My students wrote lively and insightful papers using the search function to demonstrate the significance of words, phrases, or images in a given text.  The search function, however imperfect, helped students “read” more attentively.
  • Using ECCO posed significant challenges for historical readings–ironically the very readings that would theoretically most benefit from such a resource.  I prepared handouts, explained key historical moments and figures, and discussed competing approaches to these novels, but finally students required written accounts of contexts that they could study on their own.  Printing excerpts from secondary sources, particularly secondary sources that provided differing points of view helped.  The take away: students using ECCO would benefit from a textbook/anthology that clustered primary and secondary sources and provided suggestions for further reading  in ECCO. This seems like a productive printing possibility.

Some found ECCO a chore; others liked it; some quietly noted that it grew on them.  All of them acquired an appreciation for the vastness and richness of the archive at their fingertips.  Most felt students should have access to it. Using ECCO stretched us all as readers and interpreters of eighteenth-century texts, never something to be dismissed.

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9 Responses to “Using ECCO in the Undergraduate Classroom: Reviewing Gale Cengage’s Trial Access”

  1. Eleanor Shevlin Says:

    Many thanks, Anna, for offering this summary of your experiences using ECCO in the classroom. When we first had ECCO at West Chester University, we did not have the ODNB online, and I remember requesting that we obtain that database for similar reasons you note.

    For historical context, besides general reading I assign, students sign up to give presentations on historical or socio-cultural events and produce handouts that include an annotated bibliography. I supply the a list of articles/book chapters that they use for this assignment. I typically also order a work such as Roy Porter’s English Society in the Eighteenth Century or Paul Langford’s Eighteenth-Century Britain: A Very Short Introduction. These works need to be supplemented, too.

    In terms of students being reluctant users of scholarly material, I don’t think you are imagining this at all. Most of my upper-level students will turn to Project Muse and JStor if told they must use scholarly sources, but they won’t stray much farther in the scholarly world. The idea of using books or book chapters seems especially foreign to many.

    • Anna Battigelli Says:

      Thanks, Eleanor. Individual reports sound like a great way to get students invested in context. Porter and Langford sound helpful. I’ve also used Schwarz’s Daily Life in Johnson’s London with success. These might serve as good bridges to more detailed or more focused scholarly accounts.

      • Eleanor Shevlin Says:

        I’ve Used Schwarz’s work, too, as well as Maureen Waller’s 1700: Scenes from London Life. Langford’s work has been criticized as being too advanced for an introduction, but I don’t think that is necessarily the case–especially if one is supplying other material.

  2. shgregg Says:

    Dear Anna, thanks for your post / update on using ECCO at undergraduate level. My own experiences parallel yours in many ways; in particular, the opportunities and challenges of using ECCO to enable socio-historically contextualised readings. The problem of reading such (often obscure) texts can indeed be helped by students conducting critical research. But I was also very interested to hear your suggestion for ‘clustering’ primary and secondary texts together: this chimes with my own solution of providing a selection of themed socio-historical material from ECCO to parallel the themes of the novels of my own undergraduate course on gender and 18c fiction: http://18cliteratureatbsu.wordpress.com/

  3. shgregg Says:

    Reblogged this on digitalhumanistbeginner.

  4. Dave Mazella Says:

    Anna, thanks for this update and report. Your experience resonates with mine, which taught me that online, readily accessible biographical resources like the ODNB were really important for getting the most out of ECCO or EEBO. In your institution, where online resources are spottier than you’d like, clustering assignments makes a lot of sense, since you might be able to provide some additional context and direction to them, and results in one assignment can play a role in the next. One of the important things that ECCO can do is give them an insight into the limited value of isolated facts or sources whose contexts are not known, and which have to be constructed/supplied for other connections to be made. This should give them some insight into authentic research problems in the humanities.

    I agree that ECCO lends itself very readily to keyword assignments, which I like to give to grad students as part of a presentation that includes some critical sources as well. Students then have the ability to construct the running themes or contexts of the course’s texts in a variety of ways (these presentation handouts are available on the course blog). I will ask them to choose a significant keyword, find an entry from an 18c dictionary (usually Johnson), then find a few instances from roughly the same 10 years and a few critical discussions of it from peer-reviewed journals. These presentations become very useful for both the presenter and audience.

  5. Eleanor Shevlin Says:

    Presentations, as Dave describes, provide an especially important component in using these tools. Having students share their work using these databases can not only underscore some of the issues with research and historical context but they can also yield unexpected connections.

    On a different note, having access to the online version of the OED helps facilitate keyword assignments.

  6. Dave Mazella Says:

    Absolutely, Eleanor. Sharing results, whether on a blog or in presentations, is really key for teaching research. And juxtaposing 18c dictionaries with the OED for entries can be eye-opening for students, too.

  7. Eighteenth Century Collections Online (ECCO) | Beyond Citation Says:

    […] Using ECCO in the Undergraduate Classroom: Reviewing Gale Cengage’s Trial Access, Anna Battigelli. Early Modern Online Bibliography. 21, December 2013 […]

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