Hot Off the Press! The Eighteenth-Century Intelligencer’s Special Topics Issue: “Teaching with ECCO”


James May has generously forwarded a copy of the recent Eighteenth-Century Intelligencer, a special topics issue devoted in part to “Teaching with ECCO.”  It contains excellent essays by Nancy Mace, Eleanor Shevlin, Sayre Greenfield, and Brian Glover on how ECCO enriches the classroom.  As Linda Troost explains in a brief but useful introduction, the essays both “offer ideas and provide warnings.”   Access to this issue should contribute richly to our discussions of classroom uses of ECCO.  To read the issue in its entirety, click ECI_F09[1][1].


12 Responses to “Hot Off the Press! The Eighteenth-Century Intelligencer’s Special Topics Issue: “Teaching with ECCO””

  1. Anna Battigelli Says:

    Particularly interesting in this collection of essays on “Teaching with ECCO” is the inclusion of two sample student essays (one in Sayre Greenfield’s essay; the other in Brian Glover’s essay). These student essays reflect the rich historical sensibility that students begin to acquire as a consequence of using these digital text-bases. Additionally, Eleanor Shevlin’s essay describes particularly successful student essays that reflect a growing familiarity wiht book history. Her students also won competitive awards on campus, awards typically given to students working in the sciences.

    Thus, one thing that emerges from this collection is that these text-bases provide students studying literature with a body of empirical data previously unattainable. Does this mean that using EEBO, ECCO, and Burney will direct both literary studies and the teaching of literature to more historically-based lines of inquiries?


    • Eleanor Shevlin Says:

      Anna, you pose a very interesting question. I wonder also if one of the reasons we are excited about these tools is a growing interest in pursuing more historical and cultural investigations in our study of 18th-century literature–spurred in part by the opening up of the canon, increased interest in material and visual culture, book history, and similar developments in the direction of the discipline. I suppose it might be a chicken-or-the-egg question about which came first. Yet, I think what these tools enable would sustain historically-based interests and encourage more and more to pursue these lines of enquiry.

      Your remark about this data being “previously unattainable” also points to opportunities of interesting students in archival work–and of their gaining a better understanding of some of what our research entails. Although some of this data was available in the microfilm collections, the difficulties in using this material (both limited to library opening hours and also cumbersome and tiring to load the film, turn the wheels, etc.) pretty much ensured that it could never have the appeal that electronic access has for students.


      • Anna Battigelli Says:

        I think you’re right that this data allows for growing interest in more historical questions. I also have to think that the full-text searching capability in ECCO and Burney also facilitates more careful attention to more purely literary analysis, but that we have yet to explore that aspect fully.


      • Eleanor Shevlin Says:

        Yes, Anna, I agree, ECCO especially enables some interesting literary analysis–and it facilitates in some ways some of the uses that Matthew Wilkins and others using Monk and other programs that enable “reading machines” are involved in.

        It sounds as if 18thConnect might be planning on enabling such work that could then be harnessed for more purely literary and linguistic analysis.


  2. Dave Mazella Says:

    I looked over these essays and I was very impressed by the different kinds of approaches the presenters used, and the variety of courses that ECCO was used in. One response I had, though, was that many of these courses follow an “anthology” or survey format that probably does not tap into the strengths of ECCO, which is providing wide ranges of material for primary source research. This is not surprising, because the survey course, I think, was designed around the teaching anthology. But using ecco fully demands, I think, that we imagine teaching literature in courses wherein students are deciding to some extent which texts they will read next.

    So my first suggestion would be to give the students the opportunity to choose at least some portion of the reading, perhaps after directed reading and secondary research.

    My second observation would be that all the apparatus and mediation performed by teaching anthologies needs to come from somewhere when using ECCO, so time and opportunity need to be given over to those questions.

    My third observation would be that we don’t have to panic if students do or do not replicate the meta-narratives built up from our training in the secondary criticism. Their first-hand experiences with the texts, and their curiosity about what they find, are far more important. But if students look visibly lost or overwhelmed, it probably means that they need additional direction to see why we would benefit from first-hand experience, and why this kind of course is different from their lecture or read/recall style classes.



  3. Eleanor Shevlin Says:

    Thanks so much to Anna for obtaining a copy of these articles and to Jim May for providing them.

    I was on the panel that resulted in these essays and have seen later drafts, but I have not read them yet in final form. Yet, Dave, I am a bit puzzled by why you see the “survey” course not playing to the strengths of ECCO. Perhaps my puzzlement derives from not seeing the use of EEBO or ECCO as requiring that the course be devoted primarily to primary source research.

    The courses which I wrote about included an upper-level course that covered 18th-century poetry and prose and another which was a seminar on the novel, publishing history and material culture. The first course was a survey, though it was limited by genres due to WCU conventions related to its period courses. I did use the Longman Anthology; I also traditionally supplement the anthology with other selections/texts (for example, Mackie’s Commerce of Everyday Life, Carretta’s Unchained Voices, Bohls’s anthology of travel writing, etc.) and again did so. ECCO and EEBO worked well, but they were not the primary texts for the course. The anthology provided general background reading and contextualization as did material I had on electronic reserves and the introductions to other texts we were using. Even though the course had a set of selected, required readings, students used ECCO to enrich their understanding of those works. Moreover, for some assignments, they had complete freedom to chose those texts based on their exploration of the databases. Indeed, as I mention in the essay, one student found a response to Swift’s “Lady’s Dressing Room” that I was not aware of—“The Gentleman’s Study.”
    Others wrote on “The Rape of the Smock,” and a few wrote on texts they found using word searches they saw as themes or issues raised in required readings (much like the fine assignments you suggested, Dave, for the Haywood and Davys reading on The Long Eighteenth Century blog.

    EEBO and ECCO seem in some ways particularly useful for survey courses in which there is a set of required, pre-selected texts. In reading MacFlecknoe, for instance, students often wonder about Thomas Shadwell and the quality of his writing. Having access to EEBO allows students to bring to the table what they found by Shadwell and their impressions of his work. Assigning a secondary reading might not only equip students with a better understanding of the context of Dryden’s and Shadwell’s disagreements with one another but also suggestions for texts they may wish to examine. (For example, J. F. Burrows and Harold Love’s “The Role of Stylistics in Attribution: Thomas Shadwell and “The Giants’ War,” Eighteenth-Century Life, 22.1 (Feb. 1998): 18-30.) Similarly, when students encounter references to male travel narratives in Astell’s preface to Lady Mary Montagu’s Turkish Embassy Letters, having those narratives accessible can bring Astell’s comments to life–and also provide a good basis for class discussion.

    These are just two examples, but I can think of many more. In this sense ECCO and EEBO are sources that provide what one might term “deep footnotes” that can also emerge and be used as additional primary texts.

    The seminar course on the novel, publishing history, and print and material culture comes far closer to the type of course that Dave is positing as ideal for making the most of ECCO, etc. For this course we read only a few novels–and students spent most of the second half of the semester working on researching a novel that they selected and that we had not read collectively. Some used ECCO to gain access to a novel not available otherwise (though most were–for example, Pompey the Little–a Garland edition, Oxford novels, an e-text edition, and, now, Nicholas Hudson’s 2008 Broadview edition). But most used Burney and ECCO to find other sorts of information including newspaper ads, pamphlets, treatises, fashion commentary, other available editions of their chosen works (or titles by the author of the work they chose) and so forth.

    Finally, I very much agree with Dave’s final recommendation that students’ “first-hand experiences with the texts, and their curiosity about what they find, are far more important.” In my experience these two aspects–the ability to work with “fresh” texts and their many questions about their findings–proved highly beneficial and rewarding for my students. I should also note that I often conducted discussions of their findings as large group sessions–and not a lecture in which I filled in the gaps. Instead, the large group format seemed to encourage students to offer each other advice about searching, to respond and question individual speculations/claims about the meaning of a text that a particular student found, and to express excitment when findings intersected (either two viewing the same text–or two students whose texts seemed to confirm one another). My role was to comment in a variety ways (answer questions that stumped the class, provide suggestions for other possible explanations, supply additional context, and the like).


  4. Dave Mazella Says:

    Hi Eleanor,

    I’m in no way denigrating the use of ECCO/EEBO in survey courses, where as you suggest it enables a kind of “instant footnote” effect when students are reading primary (or better yet, secondary) sources. (I find it tremendously helpful to go straight to the primary sources cited by a critic like Susan Staves, for example)

    And I do think that students should challenge certain set assumptions about the badness of certain authors: that’s how Haywood and Davys were recovered, after years of being summarized or ignored in the secondary criticism. But the critical thinking piece of this is to teach students some critical principles that will allow them to judge how, say, the canonical and non-canonical works really do compare with one another. And the prospects of really comparing Shadwell and Dryden give us a much closer approximation of the arguments of literary history (was it that clear to contemporaries that Dryden existed in a different literary universe than Shadwell, at least when comparing their plays?) But this kind of teaching is very challenging, and takes time away from other things, so other kinds of value judgments will have to remain more stable.

    When I suggest, though, that ECCO etc. work better for research-intensive course work, all I’m saying is that they permit a research process that potentially includes the widest possible horizon of choices. This is very different than the 6-8 books a semester model we had when I was an undergraduate a million years ago. So I’m just hoping that the new medium enables conceptualizations of new courses and teaching techniques suited to this degree of open-endedness.



    • Anna Battigelli Says:

      I am finding it difficult to balance time between a detailed examination of all six Austen novels and time on ECCO and Burney. Though discussing the targets of Austen’s social satire is fairly straightforward, students need enormous time and help becoming familiar with Austen’s narrative technique. So I think Dave is right that if we are gong to use these tools, we probably have to reconceptualize the classes we teach–including, of course, what we teach.

      For the purposes of my Jane Austen class this semester (at least for now), the benefits of focusing on the printed texts we have outweigh the benefits of turning to ECCO. I don’t know if that will be the case all semester; I am hoping that we will get to ECCO & Burney before access shuts down at the end of the month.


      • Eleanor Shevlin Says:

        The time students need to becomeacclimated to eighteenth-century works (including the strategies, formal features, the historical, sociopolitical contexts, and the like) seems to be a general constraint. I can definitely understand why you would be concentrating on the printed texts far more than ECCO. To do otherwise might actually slow down the process of students’ gaining a firmer grasp of Austen’s narrative techniques–or end up short-changing them.


  5. Eleanor Shevlin Says:

    Thanks so much, Dave, for the clarification. I hadn’t thought that you were really “denigrating” the use of ECCO in survey courses (and sorry if my post made it seem that way) but rather that you were stressing the need for students to have more freedom in selecting texts and noting that survey courses were perhaps not that suitable for having them do so.

    And I agree with you wholeheartedly that the crucial task is helping students develop the skills to assess the differences/similarities between non-canonical and canonical work. As you note, doing is challenging and quite time-consuming. Having students attempt a comparison such as the one involving Shadwell-Dryden or the one I had great success with, Pope-Giles Jacob, gave me a better sense of what we needed to focus on in developing those skills. What I discovered through the comparison is that many more students than I had thought really were missing some fundamental issues about Pope’s work, including his command of rhetoricall skills. In essence I had already received some good , short papers that built on Pope’s formal features, his techniques, etc.. Yet after the comparison, I realized that they had only a surface comprehension of Pope’s skills that they had gained through introductions to his poems, footnotes, class discussions, and my comments. Ironically, their papers pre-comparison discussed Pope’s work in fairly decent if not fresh ways. The Pope-Jacob papers, however, suggested that students possessed merely a rote knowledge of Pope’s formal techniques and skills than I had realized and that they were referring to formal characteristics and the like without really understanding them. Engaging in this comparative work afforded me the opportunity to see where students needed more help and then supply it. Yes, we ended up spending more time on this segment than I might have originally intended, but I think (and they seemed to agree) that it was time well spent.

    I should also say that my courses were already incorporating more open-endedness and that our CORE courses prepare them for this approach.


    • Eleanor Shevlin Says:

      The 2008 essay New Scholarship, New Pedagogies: Views from the ‘EEBO Generation’ published in Early Modern Literary Studies 14.2/Special Issue 17 (September, 2008) 3.1-30 adds more voices to this conversation.

      Points 11 through 14 in the essay, which refer to a project on Lily’s grammar, seem to highlight the importance of biibliographic awareness and attention when using these these resources–as well as to the need for better contextual notes, documentation in the entries/descriptions of the texts they contain. As an aside, some may be interested in Nancy Mace’s article, “The History of the Grammar Patent from 1620 to 1800 and the Forms of Lily’s Latin Grammar ,” PBSA, 100.2 (June 2006).


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