Archive for the ‘Evans’ Category

Unequal Access and Commercial Databases

December 9, 2009

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?
  • Text Creation Partnership (Redesigned Website)

    December 3, 2009

    The Text Creation Partnership (TCP) at the University of Michigan has recently launched its redesigned website. As its name suggests, TCP fosters collaborative efforts to create “accurately keyboarded and encoded editions of thousands of culturally significant works in all fields of scholarly and artistic endeavor.” That TCP works together with both the international library community and commercial publishers of scholarly electronic is one of its defining strengths. It is concerned not only with creating electronic texts in formats that keep pace with shifting technological changes but also with promoting access to texts. Its partnership projects with EEBO, ECCO, and Evans illustrate these commitments. Over 25,000 EEBO texts have already been encoded, and these texts will become part of the public domain on January 1, 2015. Aaron McCollough, Text Creation Partnership Project Outreach Librarian, has commented on this forthcoming access to these EEBO-TCP texts and also provided an example of what such access may look like in a recent comment to an earlier emob posting.

    Among the features of TCP’s redesigned website that Aaron announced on the SHARP-L listserv, the following should especially interest readers of emob:

    * regularly updated TCP “spotlights” on project milestones and related projects in research and scholarly application

    * reviews of recently encoded texts

    * fun with early modern print

    As McCollough noted in his announcement, “we aim for it to be a place of encounter between students and scholars working in Early Modern fields of study, especially those interested in the role of digital archives in those fields.”

    One can also follow TCP developments on the TCP News & Views blog. One of the recent announcements here and on the TCP website alerts users to the newly created The EEBO Introduction Series. This series provides bibliographical, contextual information, and more for less well-known early modern texts. Ten editions are now available, but access to them does require a subscription to EEBO.

    When is a Book Not a Book?: “Pseudodoxia Bibliographica”

    July 27, 2009

    The following assertion from the Monk Project’s description (and quoted by Anna in her comments about this tool):

    the scholarly use of digital texts must progress beyond treating them as book surrogates and move towards the exploration of the potential that emerges when you put many texts in a single environment that allows a variety of analytical routines to be executed across some or all of them

    identifies an issue that has interested me for a while now and is behind my embryonic formulations of the differences between digital database collections that act as delivery systems (JStor, Project Muse, etc) and those that proffer other functions such as serving as finding aids. The tendency to see digitized works such as those found in Google Books (in its present incarnation) as surrogates for physical books has frequently resulted in users’ frustrations and disappointment in using these resources. This tendency led me to title a paper I gave at last year’s MLA “When is a Book Not a Book?: Using Google Book Search.” Thus, when collecting additional material in preparation for the EC/ASECS and ASECS sessions, I was understandably drawn to an article by Hugh Amory entitled, “Pseudodoxia Bibliographica, or When is a Book Not a Book? When It’s a Record” (The Scholar & the Database: Papers Presented on 4 November 1999 at the CERL Conference Hosted by the Royal Library, Brussels, 2 [2001]: 1-14).

    Amory’s article is concerned with the distortions and misconceptions that can result when historians treat an imprint catalogue’s entries as books or titles. Amory uses the term “imprint catalogues” to refer to ESTC (incorporating Pollard and Redgrave and Wing) and the machine-readable form of Evans reshaped for the North American Imprints Program (NAIP) (2) and distinguishes these research tools from the original Evans and from European bibliographies. While those interested should read the article in its entirety, I offer the following extracts that I found especially noteworthy or interesting:

    “[O]ur bibliographies do not form a coherent series, employing different measures and various categories of the book” (1).

    “”Indeed, the term ‘imprint’ itself is peculiarly English in its ambiguous complexity. It comprehends both a publisher’s imprint or marque d’éditeur and a printer’s imprint or achevé d’imprimer, as well as the editions in which these imprints occur—i.e. an imprimé—or even fail to occur. Only in English, I believe, is it possible for an imprint to have no imprint” (2).

    “…any systematic, comprehensive access to places of publication is neglected…Unlike current national bibliographies, too, imprint bibliographies regularly include false and fictitious imprints” (3).

    “Peculiar too to Anglophone bibliography is the inclusion of colonial and postcolonial printing in the retrospective national bibliographies of the mother country” (3).

    These imprint catalogues

    were never designed to answer the general questions posed by book history — to calibrate the relative size of metropolitan and colonial printing, for example, of religious and secular production, or the rise of the novel. The scope of imprint bibliographies is retroactive, imposing territorial and cultural inclusions and exclusions that were alien to their periods. Indeed, even the cataloguing of a database is retroactive, defined by the nature of the question. The numbers that pour forth in such profusion represent a certain number of ‘hits’, not entries, and the fuller the cataloguing, the higher the number of ‘hits’. (4)

    “…it may be unfair to demand that imprint catalogues ‘represent’ anything, even imprints, for whose history they provide no more raw material. Nor are they really designed for the production of statistics on literary or intellectual history, where, especially in the form of union catalogues, they serve rather as inventories” (7).

    “[ESTC] is neither English, Short-Title, nor a Catalogue, since the ‘cataloguing’ is only a response shaped by the system at the user’s request. One of its most useful features, keyword searching, is precisely an index, whose accuracy and exhaustiveness depend on the illogical whims of language” (8).

    “The very accessibility of these catalogues distorts their numbers, and the exclusion or cataloguing of serials makes them even less representative of ‘the amount of printing performed’ than Evans” (10).

    “Nor is there any agreement on where a book ends and a pamphlet begins; as the Oxford English Dictionary remarks, ‘No absolute definition of a ‘book’ in this sense can be given’. … Escarpit, who abandons material concerns altogether, and proposes that the nature of a book is defined by how it is read–only opens up another abyss” (10).

    “To provide a more meaningful series of data, a number of minor technical devices might be proposed… At present, one may record alternative places of publication in what is technically known in the MARC format as the 752 field, but we need a third, distinctive field for false or fictitious places, and the 752 field is all-too-rarely-used. One would like to link editions with issues, and issues with states that affect the imprint such as misprinted or variant dates in a unitary record” (12).

    Again, the history of the book in the English-speaking realm needs a variety of new catalogues: an on-line catalogue of early periodicals that, at a minimum, would provide a count of the true number of issues, including those that have probably been lost; a catalogue of lost editions of monographs, or some standard for incorporating this information in imprint catalogues like ESTC; and finally, a census of books described in early libraries” (12).


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