Putting the eighteenth century online by hjkuiw354


Margaret Dent describes the
capabilities of ECCO,the new
online resource now available to
scholars of the eighteenth century

      he eighteenth century conjures up
      images of elegant men and women in
      silk and satin, with wigs and powdered
hair, and fluttering fans. The reality was
rather more tumultuous as it was a period
of huge social and technological change-
political and industrial revolution, and
major discoveries in science and medicine.
It was also a time when people rushed into
print with their discoveries and opinions,
generating a vast number of printed texts
for historians and other researchers
to investigate.
   Access to these texts is not always easy,
however, as they are scattered among
numerous libraries and many are very scarce.
So, keying-in a phrase from an eighteenth-
century text and finding out within seconds
not only who wrote it but also exactly
where it appears among almost 150000
works-and being able to see an image of
it-sounds like an impossible dream. Once,
it was; researchers could only find out what
people thought and wrote in the past by
tracking down actual physical copies of the
texts that were created at the time. Then to
find an individual phrase it was necessary
either to know just where to look for it, or
be prepared to spend a great deal of time
reading through likely texts searching for it.
   The first great step forward came with        that were too scarce or too expensive to
the compilation of the English Short-Title       buy as originals. The National Library of
Catalogue (ESTC), n amalgamated list of          Australia's holdings of the first 5600 reels
library holdings of English works published      of this set were welcomed by researchers,
from the fifteenth to the eig hteenth            though the accessibility of microfilm can be
centuries. In this context, 'English' means      accompanied by some headaches. Microfilm
published in the English language, or in         is not as easy to page-through as printed
any language within Great Britain or its         books, it needs a very good index in order to
dominions. The ESTCoriginated in work            locate the desired item among thousands of
begun in 1977, and was the base for the          reels of film, it can be scratched during use
second step forward: the microfilm called        and so become illegible and, finally, many
 The Eighteenth Century. This microfilm          users find that reading it for long periods
set meant that libraries could own texts         literally does cause headaches.
     The final breakthrough came in 2003              of-book indexes. Searches can be limited by
when the firm Thomson Gale released the               a date or a range of dates, by any of seven
Eighteenth Century Collections Online                 subject areas, by any of eight languages,
(ECCO).When first proposed some years ago,            or can even be limited to works containing
ECCOseemed formidably ambitious. Now,                 specific types of illustration such as portraits,
digitised from the microfilms made for                maps or coats of arms.
The Eighteenth Century project, it is a                    Searching on the word 'kangaroo'
reality. ECCOis a research tool that makes            produces eight hits, one of them with an
full use of the capabilities of the Internet.          illustration. A search for use of the word
The Internet is the perfect vehicle for an            'Australia' before 1780 yields 31 hits,
archive like this as it offers rapid access,           reflecting the roots from which our country's
powerful searching, easy printing-and               .,.name grew. The results can be arranged by
no pJoblems with storage space, retrieval              author, title, or by earliest or latest date.
or reshelving. Individual items cannot                Truncation and 'fuzzy' or 'near-match'
be misplaced or damaged so, even when                  searching increases the number of possibly
originals are held by a library that also has          useful hits-truncation to 'australi' finds
 ECCO,use of the database will generally               forms such as 'australis' and yields 278 hits,
be preferred both for its conven ience and             and low-level fuzzy searching yields 406. It
speed and to save wear and tear of the.                can still be a challenge to identify relevant
originals. The National Library of Australia            material where real names were deliberately
 has purchased ECCOand offers researchers              obscu red by the use of asterisks, dashes, or
 access to it through the computers in its             satirical allusions.
 reading rooms. The collection includes a                   ECCOincludes publications on three highly
 full bibliographic descriptio"n for every             significant events in the world's history: the
 item, and these records have been placed              American Revolution, the French Revolution,
 on the Library's catalogue so that                     and the Industrial Revolution. All of these
 researchers, wherever they are, can identify           had far-reaching effects on the lives of many
 items they want to work with when they                 people, from monarchs to working classes.
 visit the Library.                                     The collection enables these and many
      What can this marvel of technology do for         other topics to be studied in great detail,
 its users? Firstly, it is enormous-it contains         assembling previously unconnected works
 the full text of more than 33 million pages            and making links between them. It contains
  published in almost 150000 English works              the complete works of 28 important authors,
  (and thousands of important American                  such as Benjamin Franklin, Jonathan Swift
  items) that appeared between 1701 and                 and Edmund Burke, and all 500 editions
  1800 and are held in the British Library and          of Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe, first
  over 1500 other libraries (national, research,        published in 1719 and widely regarded as the
  university, public and private) around the            first English novel. Where a work appeared
  world. Secondly, it is powerful-searching             in many editions with important variations,
  is fast and flexible, and allows different            the database offers all the texts to enable
  combinations of terms or fields. The search           comparisons. The microfilm was made from
  screens are extremely easy to use, and the            original printed works, so the image
  'help' and 'search tips' information is very          a user sees on the ECCOscreen is the
  clear and easy to follow.                              page as it looked in the actual book.
       A user can search ECCOin ways                        One of the invaluable characteristics of
   unimaginable when author, title and subject           the collection is its aim for inclusiveness.
   were the standard methods, and an index               All topics are covered, and there are no
   of printers and places of printing was an             exclusions because a subject was considered
   innovation. Basic and advanced author and             less important or unlikely to be of interest
   title searches are available, of course, but          to researchers. This means that the collection
   searches can also be made on key words,               provides the source materials for research
   phrases, groups of words within a specified           topics uncontemplated at present, but
   number of positions from each other,                  which may be important for future scholars.
   chapter or section headings, the full text and         Not only is there a wide variety of subjects
   particular parts of the work such as 'front            (even cookery books are included) but
   matter' or introduction, publisher, and back-         also of formats. As well as books there are
 pamphlets, bibles, sermons, poems, satires,         remarkable variety of the content.
 printed ephemera, and single-sheet works            For instance, they can search all 33 million
 known as broadsides.                                pages using the term 'criminal conversation'
    ECCOis at present being used in the             (a contempor-ary term for extramarital
 Library for at least three major, and very         sexual intercourse), which would not be
 diverse, research projects: adultery and           practicable when working with print or
 divorce in the late eighteenth century,            microfilm, and this often reveals references
 military memoirs, and the Ladies of                to sources in unexpected places. When
 Llangollen (a pair of eccentric Irishwomen         the results are presented, the search term
 who set up house in Wales in 1780 and              is highlighted on the relevant pages,
 whose relationship was the object of               making the searcher's task even easier.
 much speculation in Regency society).              Users are permitted to print from ECCO
    The first of these three projects is a          provided they observe copyright
joint one: an in-depth investigation of the         restrictions, and Dr Lloyd and Dr Russell
 published records of divorce trials in the         find that the database gives prints of
 1780s and 1790s, being made by Dr Sarah            much higher quality than the microfilm
 Lloyd, a historian, and Dr Gillian Russell,       version does.
who works in the field of eighteenth-                  Despite its vast size, ECCOdoes not
century literature and cultural history. ECCO       contain every item that appeared in the
 is invaluable for their project as its search      eighteenth century, in particular most
capabilities have enabled them to change           journals. The microfilm set Early English
the type of research they can do, and to find       Newspapers, held by the Library, is a valuable
 publications not previously known to them         supplement to the database. Researchers
or discoverable from printed catalogues.            have found that some monograph items that
They liken its finding power, compared with        they know of are not on ECCO,particularly
that of the microfilm, to using an online          those from among the holdings of Australian
catalogue instead of a card catalogue. It has       libraries. So in some cases other sources still
also saved a great deal of time in accessing        need to be used in conjunction with ECCO,
material; where once they had to submit            and Libraries Australia, the search service
requests for microfilm reels either from the       for the National Bibliographic Database,
 Library's holdings or from other libraries, now   still has a valued part to play in locating for
they can see material immediately, decide          researchers the items not included in ECCO.
quickly whether it is of use to the project,
 and use the time saved for further research.      MARGARETDENT is a curator of exhibitions,
    Dr Lloyd and Dr Russell are impressed by       and former Rare Books Librarian, at the
 the ease and power of searching and by the        National Library of Australia

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