Collaborative Readings #5: Lindquist and Wicht on Assessing EEBO in Teaching and Research


Thea Lindquist and Heather Wicht’s “Pleas’d By a Newe Inuention?: Assessing the Impact of Early English Books Online on Teaching and Research at the University of Colorado at Boulder” claims to be “the first [study] to evaluate systematically how undergraduate students, graduate students, and faculty are using EEBO” (347).  They assessed students in 2005, and much of what they found then reinforces comments made here and on The Long Eighteenth on using online databases in eighteenth-century classes.  Some of the study’s findings can be summarized as follows:

  • Students learned about EEBO through class assignments.
  • Even though almost all students attended library sessions instructing them on the use of EEBO, just over half said they received assistance from a librarian, a clear signal to both librarians and classroom instructors that individual instruction is often essential.
  • Only half of the graduate students and faculty respondents claimed to use EEBO in tandem with ESTC or EEBO-TCP.
  • The downloading/e-mailing function was the preferred function.
  • The least preferred function was online help (now much improved).
  • Graduate students enthusiastically embraced EEBO, but most undergraduates felt challenged by orthographical and typographical differences from the modern printed page.  Advanced undergraduates, however, responded enthusiastically.

Steve Karian’s excellent guide to EEBO, ECCO, and ESTC lucidly addresses the need to use digital databases in tandem with ESTC. EEBO now has very strong supporting materials on its site.  And by now, faculty will be even more familiar with EEBO’s web site and perhaps better skilled and more practiced at introducing students to it.

Nevertheless, the look of the early modern page seems to remain a stumbling block for many undergraduates accustomed to modern typography and orthography.  Perhaps we need to concede that there are a variety of teaching uses of online databases. Though my lesson plans frequently use EEBO, I have not yet asked undergraduate students to use these databases, not least because they are still studiously and successfully working at learning how to read early modern English in modern standardized formats.  That does not in the least make EEBO less necessary to me or to my students. Showing students the digitized facsimiles enriches their historical imagination; it also reminds them that what we are reading is alien and requires a carefully recovered context for a proper understanding. I write this simply to complicate, but not to minimize common claims that digitized databases enrich the classroom.  They do, but they enrich them in different ways.


18 Responses to “Collaborative Readings #5: Lindquist and Wicht on Assessing EEBO in Teaching and Research”

  1. SA Says:

    Thanks for this fascinating entry. I will be using EEBO in the undergraduate classroom next semester and found this very helpful.


  2. Eleanor Shevlin Says:

    Anna, many thanks for bringing this article to the table for discussion and for offering a very fine overview of its contents.

    That these databases have many potential uses in the classroom seems to be a trait that we should embrace. It also should heighten their value to those making purchasing decisions (more uses might arguably suggest more faculty who using the resource for their classes and using it more often).

    Because I tend to highlight the physical properties of texts by discussing the importance of material form in making meaning as well as the ways in which the physical appearances of texts shift over time and the many hands involved in the production of a work at any given time, the digital facsimiles EEBO provide visualizations of concepts I am teaching undergraduates, so I find them extremely helpful. Students also seem to be interested in shifting appearances of texts.

    We always start with the title pages and decode them. I’ve had students who have noticed modern “reincarnations” of certain features in books they own (several have found colphons in contemporary books, for example). Imprints can help demonstrate the later historical “disappearance” of women from the world of early modern publishing, and they also can help in discussions of genre and its identification with certain sites. Dedications,frontispieces, and the like also hold useful lessons, and once in the body of the text, their alien appearance also generates interesting conversation. The use of quotation marks for each line, for instance, often yields discussions of attempts to capture orality/speech.

    I do typically tried to provide modern “reading” texts for most (if not all) the full-text works assigned. Doing so both illustrates the changes that have occured while also reducing initial frustration or distraction.


  3. Janice Says:

    I’ve taught with EEBO at everything from the freshman to the graduate level and found your discussion of this very illuminating. I think that students don’t understand how helpful the ESTC can be because they’re mostly interested in results they can get from the databases, directly: ESTC seems to them more as a kind of dead-end, I suspect!


    • Eleanor Shevlin Says:

      I suspect that you are right, Janice, about why students might see ESTC initially as incidental if not a dead-end. In my upper-level undergraduate and graduate courses in which I use EEBO, EECO, and the like, I introduce the ESTC when introducing the database(s). In doing so, I demonstrate why ESTC is not only useful but often essential to identifying what we find in EEBO. That said, in lower-level courses I mention bibliographic issues more in passing, aiming for exposure to the existence of these matters.

      We hope to hear more from you, Janice.


  4. Anna Battigelli Says:

    Janice, I think you’re right about why students initially resist the ESTC. For one thing, they don’t easily see how useful ESTC alone is for mapping out the give and take of controversies, an important step before plunging into the texts themselves. Correspondingly, the ESTC helps correct the kind of single-text myopia that using EEBO, ECCO, or Burney alone can cause.

    I’d love to hear more about how you encourage students to use both the digitized text-bases and the ESTC.


  5. Dave Mazella Says:

    Great article, nice discussion. But Anna, could you double-check the link? My computer is telling me there’s a problem with the URL. Thanks, DM


  6. Anna Battigelli Says:

    Thanks, Dave. The link should work now. AB


  7. Anna Battigelli Says:

    I should have made clearer distinctions in my post about the kinds of uses of EEBO I have experienced. I used EEBO successfully (or, I should say, my students used EEBO successfully) when as a sabbatical replacement I taught a graduate class at BU. Students were industrious in digging up material to augment both class discussions and papers. One student showed up with an impressive powerpoint presentation on the fire of London and its textual aftermath. Another student supplemented a paper on Swift’s Travels by looking at printed records of colonial attitudes toward the Americas. Having EEBO available for students in that context was absolutely and obviously essential.

    In the undergraduate course I taught at BU, however, I could not use EEBO in the class because the classroom was not equipped with internet access. I used printed handouts from EEBO, and those were important. At Plattsburgh, where our classrooms have access to the internet but not to EEBO, my use of EEBO is limited to handouts, which I get when I visit libraries that do have access. I would still say that EEBO is essential for teaching at Plattsburgh; I just use it differently than I would if I were teaching a graduate class or teaching an undergraduate class more strictly focused on book history. I have had many talented students here who would have benefited from access to EEBO for an independent study or a paper.

    My point is that the argument for purchasing EEBO stands, but that we should concede that instructors will deploy that tool differently for different classes.


  8. Eleanor Shevlin Says:

    Thanks, Anna. Your comment that you “have had many talented students here who would have benefited from access to EEBO for an independent study or a paper” draws attention to another, significant fall-out from the unequal access issue we have also been discussing on emob. By bringing in materials collected from EEBO elsewhere, you have exposed and enriched your students’ experience of the period’s textual landscape. Yet, the lack of direct access to EEBO for your Plattsuburgh students has limited what they can do on their own in terms of independent research and the types of paper topics they can pursue. This lack of access also prevents you and your students from engaging in collaborative discovery that EEBO fosters.

    While I used EEBO a bit for my book history courses taught elsewhere, I have employed it more in my literature courses at WCU. As I might have mentioned in previous postings, students have found EEBO extremely useful for exploring prior male travel writers’ depictions of the Levant when studying Lady Mary Wortley Montagu’s Turkish Embassy Letters, gaining a broader context when reading Dryden’s Absalom and Achitophel, examining discourse surrounding early coffeehouse culture, the London plague and the fire.


  9. Eleanor Shevlin Says:

    In a 2008 Early Modern Literary Studiesessay, “New Scholarship, New Pedagogies: Views from the ‘EEBO Generation'”, Crowther, Jordan, Wernimont, and Nunn, discuss ways in which EEBO in the classroom creates a new, collaborative dynamic between the instructor and students (see the section entitled “Teachers, Students, and Alien Texts” that draws upon the work of Paulo Freire).

    But I also mention this article because of Stefani Crowther’s cautionary tale of EEBO perhaps facilitating drawing erroneous conclusions. The account appears in paragraphs 11 through 14. This case seems to offer a good example about how consulting ESTC in tandem with her EEBO work might have prevented her making what in some ways could be seen as understandable conclusions. In addition, this tale draws attention to the risk of error that arises from the speed with which electronic resources enable us to do research.


  10. Anna Battigelli Says:

    This is a very smart article. Thanks for reminding me of it. It describes why using EEBO in graduate classes is so exhilarating; in part, EEBO allows a truer mentorship because the instructor has to be prepared for items she or he has not yet seen and thus the student observes the instructor reviewing something new. I don’t know of a better way to teach archival exploration. It helped in my case that my class was quite small, so I had time to work with each student individually. Also, my students were extremely sharp.

    As for your earlier point, you are right, Eleanor, that my undergraduate students at Plattsburgh deserve access to databases like EEBO. Your example of teaching Dryden’s Absalom and Achitophel is perfect; once one has taught that poem with EEBO, teaching without it feels anemic. Though printed handouts work well as a kind of guided tour, nothing can replace a student’s free exploration of the hurly-burly of print culture.


  11. Eleanor Shevlin Says:

    For a while now, the Proquest product managers at EEBO have seemed attuned to the usefulness of this database in the undergraduate classroom. The EEBO undergraduate essay contest is perhaps one of the most obvious examples. While the EEBO Introduction Series, currently consisting of ten (nine of which were added in October 2009) introductions “to some of the less frequently discussed early modern printed texts available in Early English Books Online,” offers a potentially rich forum for collaboration among scholars, it also makes these texts more user-friendly for the undergraduate classroom. The series also helps those undergraduates whose institutions subscribe to EEBO gain a sense of the dynamic ongoing conversations about early English texts. The exposure that EEBO’s essay contests and Introduction Series forum (still in just its first installment, but these initial efforts suggest much potential for this series) affords students to a wider audience of scholarly activity, moreover, has the definite advantage of enlivening the study of this period. EEBO also posts examples of how others are using EEBO in their classrooms. Currently under one can view an example of how Dr. Georgia Wilder (University of Toronto) has used EEBO in her “Prose Styles across Genres” courses:

    EEBO provides the basis of two term paper questions.
    This fourth year course focuses on methods for analysing various
    aspects of prose styles, tracing rhetorical trends across a broad
    textual history.

    Wilder’s remarks about using EEBO in teaching echo some of the comments already offered in response to this post.
    • For example, Wilder clarifies that different levels of students prompt different uses.

    • Noting that EEBO can assist in fostering textual understanding for students early on in their undergraduate careers, she states that she “employs texts written in verse to help students puzzle out the correct words in places where text is difficult to read.”

    • Wilder prefers assigning non-canonical texts and doing so helps eliminate plagiarism.

    • Non-canonical texts, moreover, provide students with the opportunity to produce more original work, enabling them to engage in work that can offer revisions to current scholarship.


  12. Anna Battigelli Says:

    Thanks, Eleanor. What EEBO has done to help new users makes it much more approachable. There is room for even more of this kind of contextual help, particularly “how-to” approaches: how to teach students about orthography and typography; how to use ESTC and EEBO, and so forth.


  13. Thea Lindquist Says:

    I’m glad our article can contribute in some way to your discussions about the utility of EEBO for teaching and research! While you’re thinking about it, I’d like to make a shameless plug – please remember that at most institutions librarians offer tailored web pages of resources and research instruction sessions to help the students in your classes effectively navigate the library catalog and secondary-source and primary-source databases. In my experience, these sessions have proved quite useful for students and make the greatest impact when a hands-on component is integrated for students to search on their topics. They are particularly helpful when both the librarian and the course instructor are on hand to assist with search strategies and refining topics.


    • Eleanor Shevlin Says:

      Many thanks, Thea, for your comments–and for your “shameless plug”! We have discussed elsewhere on emob how important and neccesary collaboration with one’s librarians can be. As you suggest, to make these sessions truly useful, it seems imperative to have the librarian and course instructor work together on both the design and the conducting of the session.

      The importance of collaboration, moreover, extends beyond teaching to include the selection, acquistion, and feedback to the vendors of these commercial databases.


  14. konsulenterkanfindes her Says:

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    […]Collaborative Readings #5: Lindquist and Wicht on Assessing EEBO in Teaching and Research « Early Modern Online Bibliography[…]…


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