Randy Robertson’s “British Index, 1641-1700”


Randy Robertson has generously made available his annotated Index of Books and Pamphlets Censored in the British Isles and British North American between 1641 and 1700.  Items are listed chronologically by the date of suppression or questioning.  The link above will take you to his account on academia.edu.  That page has a link for the Index.

Plans are in the works for Penn State Press to publish the Index but first the massive Word document will have to be transformed into an Excel document to make all of its fields searchable, a summer project.  For now, however, he is generously sharing the Index with readers and inviting suggestions directed to him for how it might be made more useful.   He hopes to add EEBO links for each item and also a list of relevant secondary sources.

This is the kind of project that suggests how web publishing might be particularly useful to students of book history.  In an excellent article published in Studies in Bibliography 56 (2003-4), 140-170, Michael Suarez wonders whether the web might provide a richer medium than a printed volume for a national history of the book because, in part, it is expandable in a way that the printed text is not.  More generally, Robert Darnton has long held that web publishing provides opportunities of particular interest to scholars.

It would be interesting to hear from readers how Robertson’s British Index might be used in conjunction with the electronic resources we have been discussing, both in scholarship and in the classroom.


10 Responses to “Randy Robertson’s “British Index, 1641-1700””

  1. Dave Mazella Says:

    This is a very interesting project, and kudos to Randy and Penn State press for publishing it. I agree that one of the most interesting possibilities for projects like this would be to put it onto the web in some kind of expandable form (maybe through an editorial committee?); perhaps purchasers of the book, who I imagine would be mostly institutional, could also be given access to the site, or maybe PSP would be willing to open up the site anyway. In any case, I think that integrating this into the virtual workspace environment of EEBO would be tremendously helpful for those doing research in this area of history. For one thing, it would mean that this kind of thing could be taught to undergraduate students.


  2. Eleanor Shevlin Says:

    Let me second/third Anna’s and Dave’s assessment of this project and also congratulate Randy and Penn State press.

    Dave’s suggestion to incorporate this searchable index with EEBO is an excellent one, and it might also be useful to tie it into Burney, given the fact that this database includes some pamphlets from the period covered. Besides being extremely useful for history and literary scholarship and courses, it also could serve as a major tool for courses on early modern media and, obviously, censorship.

    I suspect that PSP would need to charge some sort of fee for the web-based resource, but if so, I would hope that the press would consider offering both individual and institutional subscriptions.


  3. Eleanor Shevlin Says:

    Once published, Randy’s searchable index will afford other scholars the opportunity to use this tool for their own research and teaching projects, and this capability distinguishes it (and others like it) from web-publishing projects that present research and fully developed arguments in electronic format but do so in ways that could have been just as well served by print.

    While Randy’s index project will complement his recently published Censorship and Conflict in Seventeenth-Century England
    The Subtle Art of Division
    , its web-based, searchable format will also make it a stand-alone resource. This tool not only invites others to read and respond to the material within the framework of the arguments being made, but it also encourages the production of entirely “new work”. In other words, this index could serve as both a secondary source and a tool to explore primary sources.

    This project and others such as Ben Pauley’s Eighteenth-Century Book Tracker employs the digital environment in ways that differ from e-books that follow traditional models or from publication projects such as Kathleen Fitzpatrick’s fascinating, admirable Planned Obsolescence: Publishing, Technology, and the Future of the Academy (forthcoming NYU Press). As tools, projects such as those by Randy and Ben foster not just ongoing scholarly conversation but also a resource and, yes, a service to other scholars. Fitzpatrick’s online forum for feedback and response to her book-in-progress, for example, decidedly encourages and harnesses collaboration in exciting, fresh ways. Those involved in reading and responding to her work as it is being revised and formulated will gain from the process and will no doubt see their “own work” enriched. In the end though, Planned Obsolescence: Publishing, Technology, and the Future of the Academy will ultimately be the work of Fitzpatrick. I should stress that my main purpose here is to identify distinctions between various forms and purposes of electronic publishing. Various types of electronic projects all possess potential value. While Fitzpatrick’s project fosters collaboration and presents a new way of conceiving the review process, the electronic “tool” projects are not necessarily promoting collaboration (though they certainly could result in new collaborative efforts) but rather proffering avenues for independent work.


  4. Anna Battigelli Says:

    The distinction you seem to be making, Eleanor, is between a reference tool and a traditional monograph. With reference tools, the author remains in the background, and the product is simply offered to others to use for their own work. It helps make the web a more powerful and flexible forum for research.

    With monographs, the author remains front and center, perhaps even more so with the admirably open collaborative work built into something like Fitzpatrick’s Planned Obsolescence. Both are necessary. But we have tended not to reward the disciplined generosity behind reference works in the same way that we reward authorship of a monograph. Perhaps with the advent of electronic resources, that system of rewards will need to be adjusted…?


  5. Eleanor Shevlin Says:

    Anna, yes, that is in many ways the the distinction I was trying to make. Yet, I was also trying to convey that the web-based nature of these tools encourage hybrids of sorts. Randy’s project, for instance, entailed the monograph and also some of the infrequent groundwork that helped inform the monograph. At the same time, his index could be the foundational tool for an entirely different project. A different case would an electronic scholarly edition that would feature the editor’s choice of a copytext but then alllow users to manipulate the copytext and witnesses for different sorts of purposes. In other words, these projects encompass more than what a traditional reference tool does.

    And, yes, a rethinking of current reward systems seems in order–both for these hybrid projects and for more “traditional” electronic tools.


  6. Benjamin Pauley Says:

    This looks like a really great project. To leverage the kinds of connections among projects that Eleanor imagines–especially as online projects proliferate–it’s going to be important to consider mechanisms for coordinating and sharing information among projects.

    This is something I know Brian Geiger at the ESTC has been trying to keep in mind: as we get more and more projects developing, there’s a risk that the information those projects provide might become fragmented and increasingly out of sync. (There are all sorts of metaphors one could use: “information silos” is one, or the software concept of a “fork”—a new project that may start from the same code base as a predecessor project, but which goes in a new direction that may eventually become incompatible.) This would be bad, of course. People have already noted some ways that information at ECCO and ESTC has begun to diverge. To their credit, as I understand it, both ESTC and Gale are now trying to figure out how best to ensure that their data remain synchronized.

    For Anglo-American texts, the ESTC number would seem to provide a sort of Rosetta stone for connecting instances or discussions of the same text across different projects. I think it’s great that Randy Robertson is hoping to provide EEBO links. Using the ESTC number, it could be possible to cross-reference with other projects, as well. (Including Eighteenth-Century Book Tracker, with a little bit of doing: I see that he’s using the ESTC’s system number, where I went with the ESTC citation number for Eighteenth-Century Book Tracker, but that’s not insurmountable, at this stage). If I understand correctly, ESTC records will be among the first things indexed by 18thConnect, which could provide a basis for cross-referencing all sorts of projects.

    I realize that some would like to see the ESTC become a bit more nimble about updating records to reflect new bibliographical findings, but the advantage of having a single, common authority for the enumeration of early modern editions is one that we shouldn’t take lightly. One reason I haven’t pursued adding non-English books to Eighteenth-Century Book Tracker as aggressively as I’d like (aside from, you know, lack of time and limited familiarity with works in languages other than English) is that there really aren’t many resources comparable in scope to the ESTC. (There’s the STCN and STCV for Dutch and Flemish texts, but not much else.) The decades of work that went into STC and Wing, and the ongoing efforts of the ESTC represent a legacy that, it looks to me, makes scholars of Anglo-American texts almost uniquely well-positioned to have new kinds of bibliographically-informed conversations as we move into an increasingly digitized landscape. Provided we take advantage of that legacy, of course.

    People who read French might be interested in two blog posts from last month that consider the question of creating a “universal” system of identification numbers. I suspect that that would be a decidedly non-trivial task, but it would be one that would seem to bring numerous benefits. (I’ve provided links to the original posts, as well as to Google-translated versions. I puzzled my way through the posts in my never-actually-studied-French way, but then consulted a colleague who’s fluent, and can vouch that the Google-translated versions are close enough to get the gist.)

    “Pour un identifiant des éditions anciennes” by Rémi Mathis at À la Toison d’or; and
    “Une proposition de Rémi Mathis : un numéro unique d’identification” by Raphaële Mouren at Bibliographie des éditions françaises du seizième siècle

    (These came to my attention when I started seeing a bit of traffic referred to Eighteenth-Century Book Tracker from Mouren’s piece. On closer inspection, I found that my site was listed as an example of a new crop of online resources characterized as “projets pratiquement inconnus.” Which I suppose means there’s no place to go but up…)


  7. Anna Battigelli Says:

    Thanks for those interesting observations.

    Is there a significant difference between an ESTC citation number and an ESTC citation number? That is, is there any reason to use one over the other, or will either do (so long as everyone agrees on which number to use)?


    • Benjamin Pauley Says:

      Frankly, I’m not entirely sure about the difference between the “system” number and the “citation” number, though others may be better informed. The only explanation I’ve found on the ESTC’s web site is as follows:

      “ESTC records now have a nine digit system number labelled ‘ESTC System No.’ (leading zeros must be included), as well as an alpha-numeric unique identifier labelled as ‘ESTC Citation No.’ in the Standard display. The letter prefixes denote the following:

      1641-1700 (=prefix R – Wing period)
      1473-1640 (=prefix S – STC period)
      1701-1800 (=prefixes T, N – 18th century)
      1603-1800 (=prefix P – Serials)
      1635-1800 (=prefix W – North American imprints)”

      If I had to hazard a guess, my hunch is that the numeric “system number” looks like a more or less arbitrary code for identifying the entry in the database, while the alphanumeric “citation number” is a more considered assignment. (Citation numbers tend to cluster in ways that make sense to a human: four 1729 editions of The Dunciad Variorum that I found for Eighteenth-Century Book Tracker, for instance, carry the citation numbers T5548, T5549, T5550, and T5551.)

      Either number can be used to search the ESTC, though. To take the first entry in Randy Robertson’s index, for instance (an edition of Filmer’s Patriarcha), the ESTC system number 006096696 is carried by the record whose ESTC citation number is R29832. Searching the ESTC for either number will get you the same result. My sense is that the alphanumeric citation number is more widely used, but if you had a list of one set of numbers, I should imagine you’d be able to get the others without too, too much trouble.


  8. Eleanor Shevlin Says:

    Many thanks, Ben, for your thoughts and the additional information.

    As for the desire to make ESTC “a bit more nimble about updating records to reflect new bibliographical findings,” I am in favor of retaining a fairly controlled environment. When ESTC allowed some holdings such as the Folger to make adjustments directly into ESTC, I welcomed that move, but I would feel quite differently about enabling scholars in general to enter changes directly (nor do I think ESTC or others would even consider granting such access). As Ben implies, broadening who can make changes could result in the undermining the authority of the ESTC. Despite the budgetary constraints affecting ESTC, I still think it is best to channel changes through them. Working to make funding bodies understand that the ESTC is not a finished product (an impression that, I believe, Brian Geiger at the EC/ASEC roundtable noted as being held by those who initially funded the ESTC in the US) but rather a project that continues to require updating is something that we could do.

    As Ben rightly suggests, Anglo-American scholarship has a long tradition of bibliographic work and this tradition makes its current practitioners particularly well-suited to taking the lead in new bibliographic online projects. Indeed, The Universal Short Title Catalogue (USTC), hosted by St. Andrews but also involving the University College Dublin and “aimed at bringing together information on all books published in Europe between the invention of printing and the end of the sixteenth century,” has been making steady progress for over a decade. It seems as if this project could provide either a model or the impetus for a database that continues the USTC coverage through 1800.

    Commenting on Rémi Mathis’s blog proposal for a unique identification number, Raphaële Mouren, the new head of the Rare books and manuscripts section of
    IFLA (RBMS), worries that such a large project might be too much for RBMS and suggests that LIBER (Ligue des Bibliothèques Européennes de Recherche) might be better to positioned to handle such a project. While I am not familiar enough with LIBER to weigh in with any firm confidence, the network of cooperation that LIBER fosters makes it seem well-positioned to coordinate if not sponsor directly major undertakings such as a unique identification number for all hand-press books or extension of the USTC. The move to create a unique identification number and the USTC project also raises the question of coordination among projects that Ben raises. The Heritage of the Printed Book in Europe, a subscription database, is a project of CERL (the Consortium of European Research Libraries) and hosted by OCLC/FirstSearch. It is “a steadily growing collection of files of catalogue records from major European and North American research libraries covering items of European printing of the hand-press period (c. 1455-c. 1830) integrated into one file.” Its website asserts that “the majority of these files consist of high-level bibliographical records created by book-in-hand cataloguing.” In short, there already seems to be several projects underway that suggest overlaps in content if not purpose.

    This discussion also makes me think of the fate of Book History Online (BHO), a wonderful tool established, maintained, and hosted by Koninklijke Bibliotheek, National Library of the Netherlands. Launched in 2000, BHO offers an online database, in English, of the history of the printed book and libraries and integrates all the entries found in the ABHB (Annual Bibliography of the History of the Printed Book and Libraries) from 1990 on. In September the BHO editors announced on SHARP-L that Koninklijke Bibliotheek was discontinuing, for various reasons, BHO. Mouren and others responded with interest in finding new support for this project (and plans for a SHARP committee to lend its assistance were also made), but I am not sure what happened. I mention this situation not only to bring this resource in its present state to blog readers but also to note the importance of not letting such projects die. That BHO’s discontinuation was announced on SHARP-L brought its termination to a host of individuals who may be able to resuscitate. Interestingly, one of its editors noted that BHO had not experienced as much use as had been anticipated. That BHO was under-used also points to the number of tools currently available that are not attracting the use they deserve.


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