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.