New Release: 2,200 18th-Century Texts

Through lots of hard work from the University of Michigan Libraries and support from the Gale publishing company, over 2,200 fully-searchable 18th-century texts have been made freely available through 18th Century Connect, an excellent collection of online, peer-reviewed resources in the 18th century. Why is this such a big deal? Isn’t everything on Google Books? In a word, no. These texts are hard-to-find and typically not available anywhere else. In addition, 18th-century spelling and typography are so different from ours, and so non-standard, that machines have a hard time automatically reading and understanding these texts. So every single text had to be re-typed and correctly coded to allow analysis by modern computers. Until now, these texts were only available through an expensive personal or institutional purchase. But this subset has now been released into the wild, which is very exciting news for humanists — see for yourself at 18th Century Connect. For more information, see the website of the Text Creation Partnership (the lovely people that do all the hard work of re-typing and coding these titles) or their official blog post.

9 thoughts on “New Release: 2,200 18th-Century Texts”

  1. G. Karen Merguerian


    Peer-reviewed: The publisher refers to the material as “peer reviewed.” It seems very shady to me to refer to this material, which includes poetry chapbooks, advice and self-help, fables, and so on, as “peer reviewed” in any sense that is meaningful for the 21st century student and scholar. Can we lobby to have the publisher remove that phrase from the footer or at least have some transparency about what they mean by it?

    Full Text: Not all the material in the database is actually available in full text. Some entries describe things that haven’t been scanned yet, and some is behind a pay wall.

  2. That’s a really interesting comment about 18th Century Connect and peer review. 18th Century Connect (and NINES, for the 19th century) are forays into establishing high-quality guides to online resources in the humanities. Both projects have established heads and editorial boards that evaluate every resources listed in 18th Century Connect (or NINES). Not all resources are guaranteed to be public access, as this group of scholars are most concerned with collated the highest quality of what’s out there.

    18th Century Connect talks about their peer review policies here, and overall mission here. NINES and 18th Century Connect are both exciting projects in the digital humanities — they develop new tools for scholarship as well as experiment with new models for peer review.

    In short: not all material will be freely available, but some will. I might be able to change some of the links in the blog posts, so they should bring you directly to the free ECCO texts. These texts (and other stuff in 18th Century Connect) are considered “peer reviewed” because an international team of scholars has agreed that they are important resources for study in the era. In other words, when someone does a search in 18th Century Connect, they’re looking through some of the best online collections, as selected by the editorial boards.

  3. Here’s a more extensive article about the subject, with lots of great background info, from The ProfHacker Blog (hosted by The Chronicle).

    I’ve noticed that the full-text might temporarily be down, but these are supposed to be publicly available.

  4. So maybe the confusion about “peer-reviewed” comes if someone is reading it to mean that the 18th-century sources themselves implemented peer review before being published, which is not the case. That is, these are not 18th-century journals that published articles reviewed by experts of the time, even though that is how we typically think of the term “peer-reviewed”. Rather, “peer-reviewed” here refers to the selection by current (21st-century) scholars of these items as important texts.

  5. Rebecca, I think you’re totally right. (It’s also possible I wasn’t very clear with my use of “peer review” in the original post.)

    I think it’s such an interesting discussion because there seems to be this general agreement that peer review needs to change for the digital age, but we don’t all know exactly what “peer review” means in these new environs. Peer review of each document in a collection? Or peer review determining “this is a good collection of documents on this topic”?

  6. I agree that it’s misleading to use the phrase “peer-reviewed” to mean something different from what it is generally understood to mean. These contemporary experts are peers of the original authors only in the most conceptual sense. I would advocate for the publisher to change “peer-reviewed” to “selected by experts” or something similar.

  7. That’s so interesting — I totally disagree with you all. (In the most friendly way possible.) 18th Century Connect and NINES are trying to establish ways to evaluate digital humanities projects: “Digital humanities projects have long lacked a framework for peer review and thus have often had difficulty establishing their credibility as true scholarship. 18thConnect (and its partner site, NINES), exist in part to address this situation by instituting a robust system of review by some of the most respected scholars in the field of eighteenth-century studies, British and American.”

    If we want scholars to work on open access projects, like encoding 18th century texts or developing an archive on Walt Whitman, then there needs to be a system by which scholars get recognition suitable for tenure and promotion considerations. Peer review is part of that system.

    It’s also, I think, not quite accurate to think of 18th Century Connect a “publisher” per se — it serves as an aggregator (and peer reviewer!) of high-quality sources published elsewhere.

  8. Oh, I completely agree that we should be encouraging this kind of scholarship as being worthy of inclusion in the promotion and tenure process. But maybe I’m unclear on what’s actually being referred to as peer review in this example. Is it the review for inclusion of the primary source documents, or the review of other contemporary scholars’ work to encode and make accessible these documents?

  9. I think they evaluate on both content and technical details. From their website:

    Our Editorial Boards locate reviewers to evaluate both the intellectual content and the technical structure of each project submitted for inclusion in 18thConnect.

    As part of the peer-review process, 18thConnect requires the submission of metadata describing the objects within the resource. This metadata (in the form of RDF) is largely based on fields such as author, title, data, and course. It also includes a set of genres relevant to nineteenth-century studies.

    It would be interesting to find out about the criteria used for different projects.

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