EEBO Interactions and Bibliography: Linking the Past to the Present


“Even as more and more texts become widely available through digital surrogates, studies of the book remain grounded in physical bibliography.”

–Stephen Tabor, “ESTC and the Bibliographical Community”

This is a heady time for literary scholars using digital tools.  Visualization and text tagging software offers new ways to analyze old texts’ rhetorical and linguistic features.  Docu-scope, for example, is being used by Michael Witmore, Director of the Folger Shakespeare Library, to chart maps of Shakespeare’s plays using 1000-word strings.  The resulting maps posted on Witmore’s blog, Wine Dark Sea, reveal that Othello, for example, shares linguistic features, such as frequent first-person forms, with Shakespeare’s comedies.  Asking why this is so may provide a more detailed understanding of Shakespeare’s craft.

Other data mining projects, underway at Matthew Jockers and Franco Moretti’s Stanford Literary Lab, broaden and transform the practice of literary study, in part by advancing what Moretti calls “distant reading.”  These projects forgo traditional “close” reading of individual texts to analyze computer-generated data derived from running thousands of texts through specific programs.

Elsewhere, annotation tools, such as Digital Mappaemundi, allow annotation of digital artifacts such as, in DM’s case, medieval maps and geographic texts.

Aggregating platforms, including 18thConnect and NINES, create virtual environments where digital work can be shared.  Digital texts, images, maps, data, video, and audio can be collected and annotated for projects difficult to imagine just a few years ago.

Finally, the digital world has nourished new participatory models of scholarship, advanced, for example, by Kathleen Fitzpatrick’s Planned Obsolescence.

These new and often visually alluring scholarly ventures chart new avenues of inquiry and reshape literary studies as we know it.  Stanley Fish has blogged about them; Witmore has been interviewed by Forbes, introducing them to the commercial world; and granting agencies like the NEH have responded by dedicating specific funds for such projects.

But in the shadow of these projects, runs a slower, methodical, far less glamorous digital task on which all other projects rely: ensuring that digital texts retain bibliographical integrity.  As Stephen Tabor put it in a 2007 comment used in the epigraph above, “even as more and more texts become widely available through digital surrogates, studies of the book remain grounded in physical bibliography” (The Library 8:4, 369).

EEBO Interactions offers a unique venue for scholarly dialogue about bibliographical matters.   Though it describes itself as a “social network for Early English Books Online,” it might be more accurate to think of it as a site for asynchronous conferencing about bibliographical matters.  A broad range of readers–Proquest editors, graduate students, theologians, literary scholars, historians, philosophers, independent scholars, curators, librarians and library administrators, digital editors,  undergraduates, bibliographers, and textual critics–have already posted queries or comments, often correcting bibliographical entries or expanding our understanding of a given text.  The comments appear under the following rubrics:

Comments about this copy: Comments include requests that missing title pages be restored, or that two variants counted as the same copy by both ESTC and EEBO be distinguished.  They range from providing resolutions of complex pagination problems, to asking general book history questions.

About this work:  This section allows readers to suggest the broader context of a given text.  Nick Poyntz of Mercurius Politicus fame identifies one pamphlet as an advertorial for a cup lined with antimony and notes that two customers died after using the cup.  Other readers correct publication dates, post questions about attribution, note additional authors not mentioned in the EEBO or ESTC entries, or track the evolution of a text from one edition to the next.

Notes:  Aliases can be discussed here, something helpful in reading recusant literature.  This is also the space to discuss a text’s plurality–its relation to other texts it cites or responds to, and its reception.

Suggest a link: This space allows for links to ODNB entries or to pertinent articles, particularly useful for acquiring a fuller understanding of little known works. 

Perhaps most innovatively, EEBO Interactions invites scholars and librarians to talk with one another and with representatives from the commercial world that produced EEBOEEBO Interactions is the only purpose-built space designed to bring together members of the bibliographical community–normally working in isolation and apart from one another–to collaborate for a moment or two on the joint endeavor of linking the past to the present.  This is the kind of experiment that benefits everyone. 

It would be great to hear readers’ responses to EEBO Interactions.


22 Responses to “EEBO Interactions and Bibliography: Linking the Past to the Present”

  1. Eleanor Shevlin Says:

    Many thanks, Anna, for this very fine post. While we have had several discussions of EEBO Interactions (EI) on EMOB, the most recent occurring this past summer, this post usefully distinguishes this resource from other types of digital resources and activities; it no doubt benefits from your ongoing experience not only as a regular user of EEBO but also one of EI’s editors/moderators.

    For one, reframing EEBO Interactions “as a site for asynchronous conferencing about bibliographical matters” conveys a perspective that “social networking” may fail to evoke among some potential users and might thus encourage those who have not yet explored EI to do so. That some contributions have resulted in corrections to ESTC records demonstrates the broad, collective utility of this space for exchange (see, for example, the corrected identification of the translator of Aristotles politiques). And, of course, the information provided and exchanged can benefit individual projects.

    As we have often discussed on EMOB, more conversation and collaboration are sorely needed among stakeholders in these tools and resources. The list of who those stakeholders are is well represented by those that Anna has identified as participating in EI: “Proquest editors, graduate students, theologians, literary scholars, historians, philosophers, independent scholars, curators, librarians and library administrators, digital editors, undergraduates, bibliographers, and textual critics.” Yet, the asynchronous nature of this participation, coupled with the thousands-upon-thousands of titles on which one could comment, may make the “interactions” seem far and few between. This uneven rhythm is understandable and should not dissuade the use of this tool. Adding links, clarifications in the “Comments bout this copy” section, and corrections or new information in the “Notes” or “About this work” divisions will help expand our knowledge of these texts—whether the contribution helps someone that week or the next year. Queries seem reasonable to post, but expecting a prompt answer does not unless there’s evidence of recent, active discussion for that text.

    On a different note, a few years ago Matthew Wilkens contributed an EMOB post “Reading with Machines” in which he outlined literary problems ideal for computational assistance. Among his useful remarks is an overview of cluster analysis that uses Shakespeare’s plays as its example and that displays the extended dialogue among DH practitioners such as Witmore, his collaborator Hope, Jockers and others.


  2. Anna Battigelli Says:

    Thanks for this, Eleanor. Matthew’s post presents an excellent outline of the kinds of projects computers are particularly good at.

    One question I have about the human activity on EEBO Interactions is whether it can be made more methodical. Would it be appropriate, for example, for someone or for a group of people to enter data from Randy Robertson’s superb British Index, 1641-1700 into entries?

    Are there group activities–such as collecting pamphlets pertaining to a given controversy, or tracking editions of a given text through time–that librarians, or graduate students, or groups of faculty might undertake to take advantage of this space?

    Do we need a cluster of editors to spearhead such projects?

    This space offers great opportunities for analyzing EEBO’s texts. How do we make the most of it?


  3. Eleanor Shevlin Says:

    The question you pose about how to make the most of EI’s opportunities is at the heart of the matter and underlies my remarks about the uneven ebb and flow of activity.

    Integrating the data from Randy’s British Index, 1641-1700 would definitely be beneficial. It would help centralize information as it simultaneously draws attention to this excellent resource.

    The group activities that you suggest are worthy ones, but I think they also need to come from an established need and desire. In other words, if there were a graduate seminar on the Thomason tracts or one on recusant literature or any other topic served well by EEBO, then it would be natural to have projects arise from that offering. I suspect that in many cases activity would continue long after the seminar was over. For one, the topic would no doubt reflect the convener’s current research and, secondly, a few of the participants might well have found longer related projects of their own.

    This is only one of several ways to promote a more organic and less manufactured use. A cluster of editors, with knowledge of those working in their respective, particular areas is another possible avenue.


  4. Dave Mazella Says:

    I agree with Eleanor that the big sticking point for collaborations is motivation: is there a specific problem that a group of people could address more effectively as a group than individually? I think it would be great to offer a grad course combining DH and bibliography that took on projects like this, so that the resources could be enriched even as students learned the principles. I wonder also if the collaborative modes of scholarship broached in the Profession DH issue would work for editorial projects, at least at institutions prepared to give faculty credit for bibliographic work?


  5. Matthew Wilkens Says:

    I don’t have lots to add beyond saying “Yay! Interaction and feedback around a huge database!” This is a great thing. Large collections always have errors and omissions that can be really hard to fix, even when the people who are using them know what should be corrected. In a related but different vein, discussions are too often held apart from the resources that occasioned them; moving the two together illuminates both.

    A subsidiary point/question: Is the information contained in EEBO Interactions available via an API alongside EEBO proper? (I have no idea what the status of regular EEBO API access might be.) If so, that would be great; one would really like to be able to pull discussions and corrections in real time alongside raw text access.


  6. Anna Battigelli Says:

    Good points. To answer Matthew’s query, one can pull up the comments from EI from the EEBO entry for a given text. When reading an EEBO entry, clicking on the text bubble icon brings up the EEBO Interactions page for that text. (Similarly, one can get to the EEBO entry from the EI discussion by clicking on the title, though this requires access to EEBO).

    I love Eleanor’s suggestions of graduate classes on topics like the Thomason tracts or recusant literature, whose students would use EEBO Interactions in a methodical way. Dave points to how this kind of practical exercise nicely supplements the more theoretical discussions in MLA’s DH issue of Profession.


  7. Eleanor Shevlin Says:

    ProQuest was quite wise to create the means for cross-access between EI contributions and EEBO proper.

    And, as Dave notes, “a grad course combining DH and bibliography that took on projects like” would have multiple benefits. The use of EI in this context would illustrate amplyto students just how important bibliography still is in very concrete terms.


  8. Anna Battigelli Says:

    Exactly right. It’s the marriage of new digital tools and old bibliography that makes EI so promising.

    So ProQuest has done its part. What innovations can be undertaken by the larger reading community to intensify or regularize use of EI? Eleanor’s point–that projects need to be organic, the result of established need and desire–is valid. Can this process be facilitated?


  9. Eleanor Shevlin Says:

    Perhaps one of the best ways would be forums–either held at relevant conferences or arranged for area faculty in a city/small region by faculty who have concrete examples of extended uses of EI. That use could either be for their own work or, more ideally, for a collaborative project or graduate seminar.

    I have been in touch with the one of the SHARP liaisons about SHARP hosting one of its affiliate sessions on this topic at the 2013 Renaissance Society of America (last summer was too late for 2012).


  10. Dave Mazella Says:

    My recommendation would be an interactive workshop at both bibliographic and period conferences, to see who turns up. Once people are there, poll people to see what kinds of projects might attract collective attention. Show them one or two successful examples. Then lead them through the resource, letting them work with it on the spot. People are much more likely to use the info when it’s done this way.


  11. lmaruca Says:

    Grad courses are a great idea in theory, but I don’t think EI could ever rely on them as a steady source of editing.

    However, I like Eleanor’s idea about a “cluster of editors.” So named, the position might attract volunteers because this would be a “c.v.-friendly” position (addressing David’s point about getting credit). Such editors might be required to participate in working on x number of texts or conversations. Finally, just to tie in every strand of this discussion, I can see the workshops David and Eleanor describe as excellent recruitment and training opportunities. Advanced graduate students, I think, might especially see this as a valuable networking opportunity.


  12. lmaruca Says:

    I’d also like to add as an aside that I’m relatively sure that the Early Modern (pre-1700) grad students in my department know little if anything about this–I wouldn’t even bet that our two asst profs in the field do. The word definitely needs to be spread beyond the traditional digerati.


  13. Eleanor Shevlin Says:

    Thanks, Lisa. Just to clarify I think that Anna first mentioned the “cluster of editors”–but it is an idea that I obviously support! As for the workshops, I like the fact tha 18thConnect is offering a pre-conference workshop at ASECS, and that dedicated time seems ideal for spreading the word and attracting users.

    Also, I see EI as more than an editing forum but a space to exchange knowledge and discuss a text or texts on which various individuals are working. I definitely agree that EI could not expect all the edits to come from various grad classes. Nor do I suspect that ProQuest established EI to serve solely as the means to accomplish editing. Its labeling the forum a “social networking” idea conveys an aim to provide a collaborative working space for the texts it contains.

    Proquest might increase the size of EI sidebar heading on its homepage–though I believe that universities have some leeway in customizing their homepages, so its relatively small appearance on the site I see may be the doing of my university (don’t think so, though–customization, if I correctly recall, is limited to univeristy logo and the like).


  14. Anna Battigelli Says:

    David, I’m wondering whether a workshop on using wikis, EI, and other technology in the classroom might be an idea.

    I should add, too, that EI is designed to be what users want it to be. I have called it a site of asynchronous conferencing and have focused on bibliography, but I should add that students have used it to ask about method, and that scholars have posted articles for discussion. Today’s interaction by Dr. Roy Booth provides background on Valentine Greatrakes for a pamphlet defending him against a now lost pamphlet attack. Worth a look.

    EI is social in a broad sense.


  15. Dave Mazella Says:

    Anna, to address your point about the workshop model: I do these all the time, now that I’m directing a Center for Teaching Excellence, and they do have an effect, though the hard part is expanding beyond the handful of people who keep up with technology, pedagogy, or whatever. The key issues are faculty time, which is always divided, and motivation. In general, people adopt technologies like blogs, wikis, clickers, or whatever because they’re dissatisfied with the status quo. What the “social” part of these new technologies offers are opportunities for asynchronous collaboration, which make the learning process go faster, and which allow people to learn from one another the best ways to implement what they’re interested in.

    Love to see more workshops at ASECS. I think ASECS needs much more variety in its formats anyway. So I think a workshop with a specific 18c focus on EI or other forms of social networking practices in upper-level classes would be great.


    • lmaruca Says:

      I would attend! But then again, I’m in that small handful…


      • Dave Mazella Says:

        That’s great to hear, Lisa. I think there’s some interesting overlap between the practitioners of bibliography and “history of the book” and those doing DH. Workshops like these might offer some possibilities of cross-pollination. Perhaps this is already happening.


  16. Eleanor Shevlin Says:

    I do think that the cross-pollination between DH and practitioners of book history and bibliography, is already happening. We did a search for a DH faculty position last year, and we had a huge response. So many of the sixteen candidates we interviewed were also working with bibliography, history of the book, or both, and the integration was obvious.

    I’ve run several tech/resources/pedagogy/research workshops at my university, and I just did a regional one last spring. As Dave notes, the crunch on faculty time is a big factor; that said, I witnessed fairly good turnouts.

    Time is also an issue at conferences; we’ve all no doubt felt torn about what session to attend. Tellingly,18thConnect is doing a day-long workshop before this year’s ASECS meeting, and this timing is no doubt to avoid the competition of concurrent sessions. It will be interesting to see the turn-out and how this experiment works. (I am attending, and I suspect other commentators here are, too). I would think it would be successful.

    There certainly would be enough material to host two or three consecutive afternoon pre-conference workshops at ASECS in 2013 if the Cleveland organizers were receptive to the idea. It might be good to have the Society for the History of Authorship, Reading, and Publishing (SHARP), the Bibliographical Society of America (BSA), and Digital Caucus of ASECS band together to do the planning. Indeed, the types of activities to which EI lends itself would support at least two workshops of its own (I can think of at least four possible topics).


  17. Eleanor Shevlin Says:

    Sure. Here are a few suggestions Although numbered, in no particular order):

    1) The Material and the Virtual: Using EEBO Interactions to Teach Bibliography

    2) Scholarly Links: Using EEBO Interactions for Collaboration
    This workshop could feature several subtopics:
    * identifying and contacting potential collaborators
    * working on texts collaboratively within a given project or for related but separate scholarly projects
    * designing advanced undergraduate or graduate student assignments and projects.

    3) EEBO Interactions as a Book Historian’s Tool*
    *Workshop could also be titled “EEBO Interactions as a Tool for Bibliographers and Book Historians”
    This workshop could illustrate how EI affords a space for recording, discussing, and correcting information related to the production, distribution, consumption of texts: details about authors, printers, booksellers, shop locations, dedications, distribution networks, illustrations, translators (and translations), pricing, and much more.

    4) Using EEBO Interactions with Other Electronic Resources and DH Tools


  18. Anna Battigelli Says:

    Those are great suggestions. Maybe we can set up an ASECS 2013 session at ASECS 2012. I’ll post more about this later but would be very interested to hear additional ideals of how such a session might best serve ASECS.


  19. Eleanor Shevlin Says:

    A session at ASECS 2013–if not a series of pre-conference workshops–seems worthwhile. As I mentioned before, we might consider having several co-sponsors (SHARP, BSA, DH Caucus), especially if we are hosting several workshops.

    Dave mentioned a desire to integrate new formats at ASECS, and a workshop format–sessions that are hands-on and offer practical application–offers one of several possible directions. Another format that has been very popular at SHARP is the “Digital Projects Poster Session.” This format features ongoing demonstrations of multiple digital projects by their authors within a given session slot.


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