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New databases a boon to research and teaching

Monday, June 16, 2008 – Ann Claycombe

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Georgia State students and faculty have exciting new opportunities to read British historical documents – without having to travel to the overseas archives that contain the originals. The University Library has purchased access to two new databases that between them contain nearly a quarter of a million titles published in Britain and elsewhere between 1473 and 1800.

“I use both and so do all my students,” said Murray Brown, associate professor of English. “In a seminar setting, I could assign different texts to everyone in the class - texts that may not have been in print for a very long while.  This kind of access would be impossible without the database. It’s like having the British Museum on one’s desktop.”

The databases have some special features. First, they contain digital scans of every document included, which means that researchers can look not only at the words but also at maps, illustrations, and satirical cartoons. Second, both can be searched digitally for specific words or phrases, which should greatly reduce the time it takes for researchers to find relevant material. The two new collections are:

Eighteenth Century Collections Online, or ECCO, includes every significant English-language and foreign-language title printed in Britain between 1701 and 1800, and thousands of important American works from the same period. The collection includes books, pamphlets and broadsides, and important resources on women writers and the French Revolution. In all, 138,000 works running to 26 million pages are included.

Early English Books Online, or EEBO, contains facsimiles of virtually every work printed in England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales and British North American printed between 1473 and 1700. The collection begins with the first book printed in English by William Caxton, and includes more than 100,000 titles. The database purchase was funded partly by a grant to the library from the National Endowment for the Humanities, and partly through the support of the university provost’s office.

“Having access to a resource of this magnitude is a huge boost to both faculty and graduate student research,” said Jacob Selwood, an assistant professor of history who wrote the original proposal for the library’s EEBO purchase. “It’s also an amazing teaching tool, allowing undergraduates to get a sense for themselves of the wonderful range of early modern printed materials, everything from almanacs and news books to accounts of witch trials and overseas travel.”