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Frequently Asked Questions

Answers to some questions you probably have about the site.

Why are you doing this?

The field of eighteenth-century studies (at least in English) has benefited immensely from the digitization of a huge number of texts, but those benefits haven’t been spread evenly. Resources like ECCO are, inevitably, beyond the means of most smaller institutions, and aren’t available to individual subscribers at all.

People who don’t have access to the kinds of research libraries that can afford ECCO and other databases do have access to eighteenth-century texts by other means—Google Books and the Internet Archive are probably the two largest repositories, and there are other, smaller-scale digitization projects scattered around the web—but finding those materials at those sites isn’t as easy or convenient as it could be. This site aims to gather information about eighteenth-century resources into one place, so that students and scholars don’t have to visit dozens of different sites in hopes of finding what they’re looking for.

At the same time, this site serves to remedy some of the shortcomings of existing mass digitization projects from the point of view of scholars. The site enables people with focused interest and expertise in the eighteenth-century to identify the texts that have been scanned more precisely than is often the case at sites charged with digitizing books, essentially, by the yard.

Finally, the site aims to be both a resource and a tool for teaching students about the world of eighteenth-century print. Reading facsimiles of eighteenth-century texts gives students some sense (though not a perfect one, of course) of what these books looked like when they first appeared, and so gives them insight into things that can’t be divined from a modern paperback: a “text” may become a classic, but a book is an artifact of a particular time and place. Moreover, with a bit of training, undergraduates can learn to identify eighteenth-century texts for themselves using standard bibliographical references. Teasing out the differences among issues, between authorized and pirated editions, and so on, directs students’ attention to parts of the book that they might not otherwise consider, and serves as a further point of entry into the study of eighteenth-century print culture.

This site allows students as well as their professors (and, indeed, anyone at all who cares about eighteenth-century books) to work together to build a digital archive of eighteenth-century materials that anyone can use.

What’s up with the user login thing at the top of the screen? Do I have to register to use the site?

You don’t have to register to be a “consumer” of the site: anyone can search or browse the database to find links to eighteenth-century texts, anyone can create and email temporary marked lists of records, and anyone can subscribe to RSS feeds to be notified when new texts matching certain criteria are added to the database. Additionally, anyone can use the Eighteenth-Century Book Tracker bookmarklet to add links from Google Books or the Internet Archive to the database. Registering with the site, though, allows you to become a fully-fledged “producer” for the site: though anyone can submit links, for purposes of accountability only registered users can add bibliographical entries or connect links that have been submitted to the appropriate bibliographical entry.

Registration is free, of course. Though the registration form does ask for your email address, your address is never visible to other users. (By default, other users will be able to contact you at the email address you provide by using a contact form attached to your account. If you don’t want anybody contacting you in this way, you can opt out of the contact form by simply unchecking a box.) Your email address will also not be given, sold, or bartered away to any third parties. The site’s administrator has resolutely turned a deaf ear to the blandishments of purveyors of snuff, citron water, and full-bottomed perukes, for instance, all of whom were quite keen to reach the site’s rather specialized demographic.

Is this site just for books in English?

No, but you could be forgiven for thinking it was at the moment. This site was put together by an English professor, so the vast majority of links in the database are to texts in English (and mostly British ones, at that). The site has been designed, though, with a view to accommodating texts in languages other than English: the database is ready to accept entries in seven modern European languages, as well as in Greek and Latin, and other languages could certainly be added (though there would probably have to be some planning for how to deal with languages that don’t use the Latin alphabet).

Because anyone can register to contribute links to the site, all that’s really needed to increase the number of records for texts in other languages is for students and scholars of those languages to get involved in the project. But to really facilitate the growth of entries in languages other than English, the site would require the editorial expertise of scholars working in those languages. If you’d be interested in serving as an editor for the site, working on a language other than English, please contact Ben Pauley, the site’s administrator.

Hey, I’ve been using the site for a while, and the entries look different now. Did you change something?

Oh yes, indeed.

Eighteenth-Century Book Tracker now has a new-and-improved data model. Previously, entries mixed together bibliographical information about editions with copy-specific information about scans found at particular links. The site’s new model now divides that information into two different kinds of entries: bibliographical entries, on the one hand, and copy entries, on the other. Each copy entry can now be referenced to the appropriate bibliographical entry (or entries, in the event that a scan is of a volume including more than one edition), and each bibliographical entry displays information drawn from all of the copy entries that reference it.

The reasons for this switch are too tedious to go into here, and have mostly to do with site housekeeping (this new model makes it much easier to catch and correct errors in identification, for instance). But there are a couple of benefits for you, the user. First (provided you haven’t turned off javascript in your browser), you’ll now see Google Preview buttons next to the links for any scans from Google Books. Clicking on one of those buttons will open a small floating preview window that allows you to get a quick look at the scan to make sure it’s what you were looking for. That preview window also allows you to search the text of the book in situ (with the usual caveats about OCR of eighteenth-century print—though Google seems to be making strides here).

But the second benefit is the more important one. Turning to this new data model has made possible the development of the Eighteenth-Century Book Tracker bookmarklet, which aims to improve the experience of browsing texts at Google Books and the Internet Archive. When you’re viewing a text at one of those sites, you can click on the bookmarklet to open a new browser window and query the database at Eighteenth-Century Book Tracker. If the text has been identified in the database, you’ll get a quick, positive identification with a link to the site’s entry for that edition of the text. And if the text hasn’t been added to the site’s database yet, you can do so with just two clicks—the bookmarklet gathers the information you need from the record you were viewing.

So, how do I add a link to the database?

Given the site’s two-part data model—copy records linked to bibliographical entries—adding links to the database can seem like kind of a convoluted process. But it’s really pretty simple, in practice.

When you find an eighteenth-century text that you’d like to add to the database, you create a copy record. The easiest way to do this for texts you’ve found at Google Books or the Internet Archive is to use the Eighteenth-Century Book Tracker bookmarklet, which automates most of the data entry for submitting a link. (If you’re a registered user of the site and want to add a link to a text at a site other than Google Books and the Internet Archive, you can use the “Add a Link” link in the sidebar at the left of the page. If you know of a site that offers lots of facsimiles of eighteenth-century editions, and would like to automate the process of submitting links to that site, please contact the site editor, and he’ll try to add extend the site’s bookmarklet to accommodate that site.)

It’s best to add any additional information about the link (such as holding library and shelfmark, volume number, etc.) at the time you create the new copy record. If that seems like too much bother, though, or if you can’t figure out some of the information right away, you can simply submit the link as-is, and leave it for another user or the site’s editor to try to work out.

Before a copy record can turn up in searches of the site, it has to be matched to a bibliographical record. These records offer information about distinct editions of a work, and display links to all the copies (or volumes) of that edition that have been found so far. If you’re logged in as a registered user to the site, you’ll have the opportunity to identify the edition of the text you’re submitting when you create the copy record. If there’s already a bibliographical record for that edition in the site’s database, you can simply point your copy record to that bibliographical record using the Identification field, with its searchable interface.

If there’s not yet a bibliographical record for the edition (or if you don’t know and don’t have time to figure out what edition the text is), you can just submit the copy record anyway, leaving its edition unidentified for the time being. Registered users of the site can create a new bibliographical record using either the “Add a Bibliographical Entry” or “Add a Periodical Entry” links at the left of the screen, so if you’ve identified an edition that’s not yet in the database, you can create a new bibliographical record for it, and then match the copy record you created to your newly-created bibliographical record.

This is actually much simpler to do than to describe. For a series of video walk-throughs, check out the Tutorials page, which breaks the process down into manageable steps.

You know you only have 1269 records, right?  Are you really trying to compete with ECCO?

Not at all. This site isn’t in “competition” with resources like ECCO, EEBO, or Eighteenth-Century Journals, which are both larger and more comprehensive than this site is ever likely to be. In the first place, Eighteenth-Century Book Tracker doesn’t guide any digitization efforts of its own, but only attempts to index whatever eighteenth-century texts other players choose to scan and make freely available. Then, too, this site’s database only points to material that its users have submitted, so its size and scope are dictated by the interests and efforts of its users. Finally, this site doesn’t offer full-text searching: its unit of analysis is the book, not the word. You can’t really use this site to discover eighteenth-century texts you didn’t know existed in the way you can with databases like ECCO. But you can use this site to find eighteenth-century books you do know about but don’t have. For many people, that’s a better proposition than is currently on offer elsewhere.

The primary audience for this site is probably people who don’t have access to resources like ECCO. Realistically speaking, most academic libraries that aren’t at PhD-granting universities or top-tier liberal arts colleges (and public libraries that aren’t in major metropolitan areas) aren’t now, and aren’t likely ever to be, in the market for such resources at their current prices. The modest number of entries this site offers users needs to be considered not in comparison to the huge number of texts that they can’t get from the databases to which their libraries don’t subsribe, but rather to the number of similarly well-organized sources of links to primary materials that are available to them right now.

(That would be “Zero.” Which is less than 1269, if you’re keeping score at home.)

I’m lucky enough to have access to ECCO, et. al.  Is there any reason I should use this site?

It depends on what you want to do. This site doesn’t offer full-text searching, so if you consult databases like ECCO primarily to discover texts that use a word or phrase related to a topic you’re researching, you already have the best available tool for the job—this site isn’t going to help you do that.

If, however, you want to read a facsimile of an eighteenth-century book in its entirety, this site may actually make your life easier. The texts that this database links to can generally be downloaded in .pdf format with a single click, which is more convenient than the systems that ECCO and EEBO employ for downloading .pdfs. (On the other hand, downloading from Google Books and the Internet Archive is sort of an all-or-nothing proposition: you can either read the text on screen or download the whole thing, but you can’t download just selected pages. So if you frequently download sections of a text from ECCO or EEBO, again, you’re already using the best available tool for the task.)

Then, too, the facsimiles available from sites like Google Books and the Internet Archive were generally scanned at libraries other than the ones that provided the source texts for the microfilm series (The Eighteenth Century) on which ECCO is based. If you’re doing work that requires you to compare multiple copies of a text, you just might discover something useful here. Similarly, you’ll occasionally stumble across a facsimile of a text that happens to have manuscript annotations that are, of course, unique to that copy (like this one, for instance). So, if you’re interested in examining readers’ habits, there’s also a chance that the links this site provides might direct you to materials you wouldn’t find using ECCO.

If you’re a professor looking to teach students about textual studies or about eighteenth-century print culture, there might also be some value in having your students do work with this site (that is, find texts online to submit to the site), though the reasoning may seem a bit perverse. Precisely because the level of bibliographical information at sites like Google Books and the Internet Archive generally isn’t as good as what you’ll find in the proprietary databases, the challenge of identifying just what you’re looking at can provide a good point of entry for discussing matters of book production and book history.

So there’s no full-text searching here?  Oh.  Well, that’s, um...  Really?

Well, okay, this site doesn’t offer full-text searching, but the site’s administrator does attempt to add all of the links to volumes at Google Books to his own Google Books Library. Ben’s library is thus a kind of growing eighteenth-century-only subset of Google Books, so searching in his library represents a kind-of full-text search, but with several caveats:

  • You’re only searching the text of volumes available at Google Books, which leaves out all texts from other sources (the Internet Archive, etc.)
  • You’re only searching the books that Ben has managed to add to his library—that’s certainly not all of the eighteenth-century content of Google Books, and it’s probably not even all of the links that are available at this site, as he’s surely missed some.
  • Eighteenth-century print presents real challenges to optical character recognition software, and Google’s full-text searching isn’t especially optimized for the task—though they’re making some strides in this area. Full-text searching will find some things for you, but not others (the long-s, in particular, causes real problems); don’t assume that a word or phrase doesn’t appear in the text just because the full-text search doesn’t turn it up—in this case, the absence of evidence really isn’t necessarily evidence of absence. (To be fair, though, Google isn’t the only one who doesn’t have this problem entirely licked yet.)
I’m a professor who’d like to explore eighteenth-century print culture in my classes.  Any tips for how I could use this site to do that?

This site grew out of a pedagogical concern: how could one incorporate other primary materials alongside well-known works of eighteenth-century literature when one didn’t have a well-appointed research library handy? Searching for eighteenth-century texts online soon revealed that there was quite a bit of material available at sites like Google Books, but it wasn’t necessarily easy to find, and wasn’t always well (or even accurately) described. Things sort of snowballed from there.

If you’re just looking for works to assign to a class, or a place to send students looking for eighteenth-century texts, and don’t have access to databases like ECCO, EEBO, et. al. on your campus, this site is as good a place as any to start. (Keep in mind, of course, that the site can’t pretend to have exhaustively catalogued the eighteenth-century materials available even at Google Books, much less on the whole internet, so, if you don’t find something here, keep looking—and if you find what you’re looking for, please come back, register with the site, and submit the links to what you’ve found!)

You might also consider incorporating Eighteenth-Century Book Tracker into assignments for your class, however. With a bit of training and discussion, undergraduates can learn to use standard bibliographical reference sources to verify the identity of facsimiles they find online. The Tutorials page for this site offers video introductions to finding texts at Google Books and the Internet Archive, as well as to using the English Short Title Catalogue (for identifying English texts) and OCLC’s WorldCat (for texts languages other than English, and for English texts published after 1800), which might help your students to get started.

I’ve had some success with group projects in which I’ve assigned students topics to research, culminating in presentations introducing the rest of the class to eighteenth-century texts beyond the syllabus. (Of course, this requires doing a bit of scouting around yourself first to make sure that there are a reasonable number of texts for the students to find.) Assignments might center on tracking down texts by or related to a particular person who can shed light on print networks in the period (I asked one group of students to look into Robert Dodsley, for instance— he of the Collection). Alternatively, students could seek to trace a phrase or concept through the period (I asked students who had just read Samuel Richardson’s Pamela to look for instances of “familiar letters” and “the youth of both sexes,” for example). Students need to be alert to the difficulties that eighteenth-century print can pose for optical character recognition software, which has the indirect benefit of prompting them to look at print in new ways: if you’re looking for Dodsley, you’d best also be on the look out for “Dodfley.”