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.