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News: British Library to Digitize Eighteenth-Century Texts

Posted in books, the 18th century in the news by Freya Gowrley on July 31, 2011

With a growing number of eighteenth-century texts available online, the period should become increasingly accessible to scholars around the world. This latest cooperative project between the British Library and Google promises to augment the already invaluable contribution made by Gale’s subscription-based resource, Eighteenth Century Collections Online. As reported by Mark Brown for The Guardian (20 June 2011) . . .

British Library and Google Bring 18th-Century Hippos to the Web

British Library, Photo by Mike Peek, Wikimedia Commons

Digitisation project will make out of copyright books from 1700 to 1870 available online, including account of Prince of Orange’s stuffed animal interests.

An 18th-century treatise on the Prince of Orange’s interest in a stuffed hippo will join one of the first modern constitutions and pamphlets on Marie Antoinette as part of an ambitious project to make 250,000 books in the British Library available online for the first time.

The library and Google said they were linking up to digitise out-of-copyright books from the collection, making them available to both specialised researchers and the simply curious.

The library’s chief executive Lynne Brindley called it a “significant partnership” which was part of the institution’s “proud tradition of giving access to anyone, anywhere and at any time.”

The out-of-copyright books from around 1700 to 1870 will be digitised over three years, with the majority being books from continental Europe. The library will not choose the books in forensic fashion, although they will be thematically linked – colonial history, for example. Shelves of books relating to the French revolution will be some of the first packaged up and sent to Google for digitisation

Others which will be digitised include Georges Buffon’s hitherto little-known 1775 work on the natural history of the hippo which also gives an account of the stuffed hippo taking up much of the Prince of Orange’s cabinet of curiosities. . . .

The full article is available here»

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In the latest issue of Eighteenth-Century Studies 44 (September 2011), Patrick Spedding’s article “‘The New Machine’: Discovering the Limits of ECCO,” pp. 437-53, addresses the difficulties of conducting research with scanned text-bases such as Eighteenth Century Collections Online — in this case, Spedding catalogs some of the ways ECCO fails to turn up texts with references to condoms, even though the texts are available in the database. It will be interesting to see what the results of the BL/Google initiative look like, though if scholars’ reactions to Google Books serves as any guide, there will be plenty of grumbling. -CH.