Thursday, 16 December 2010

What You Miss Online: text-bases vs microfilms

I have been working on an article on An Apology For The Conduct of Mrs Teresia Constantia Phillips (1748). Phillips (aka Con Phillips) does not have a Wikipedia page (shame on Wikipedia) but you will find a few details about her here.

My article is an account of the publication of Phillips's Apology. It was published in parts. Eighteen of them over the course of a few years. I mention this because, one aspect of my research has been trying to uncover newspaper advertisements for each Number. I started, of course, with the Burney Newspaper database.

It took a while to find a few advertisements, but once I was on the right track I refined, varied and repeated my search in a way that has rapidly become familiar to literary scholars. Below is the text of a typical advertisement (from Old England, 9 April 1748):

On Monday next will be published,
(Price One Shilling)
The First Number of

AN APOLOGY for the Conduct of Mrs TERESIA CONSTANTIA PHILLIPS; more particularly that Part of it which relates to her Marriage with an Eminent Dutch Merchant: The Whole authenticated by faithful Copies of his Letters, and of the Settlement which he made upon her to Induce her to suffer (without any real Opposition on her Part) a Sentence to be Pronounced against their Marriage; together with such other Original Papers, filed in the Cause, as are necessary to illustrate that remarkable Story.

Were ye, ye Fair, but cautious whom ye trust,
Did ye but know how seldom
Fools are just,
So many of your sex would not in vain.
Of broken Vows, and faithless Men, complain;
Of all the various Wretches Love has made,
How few have been by
Men on Sense betray’d?
Rowe’s Fair Penitent.

To be had at her House in Craig’s Court, Charing Cross; where all Booksellers may be supplied, with the usual Allowances; and to prevent Imposition, each Book will be signed with her own Hand.

N.B. Whoever presumes to pirate this, or any of the following Numbers, will be prosecuted with the utmost Rigor of the Law, being duly enter’d at Stationers Hall.

No. II. will be publish’d on Monday the 25th Instant.

It is amazing how few advertisements you find if you search for "Teresia Constantia Phillips" or "Apology for the Conduct"—none in fact. This is because the Burney database search-engine doesn't cope well with caps. So you have to search for words not in caps. Or in italic, that also doesn't work well either. Oh, or words that start with a lower-case s, or contain a medial s (that is, a long-esse, the one that looks like an "f"). Or multi-word searches. Otherwise it is great!

Keeping this in mind, and—as I said—refining, varying and repeating my search, I found sixty-six advertisements using these seven search terms

Mrs Phillips = 26
Teresia = 11
Apology = 11
Phillips's Apology = 7
Fair Penitent = 7
Dutch Merchant = 3
Metzotinto = 1

Of course, I used other terms too, but didn't find anything that had not already been discovered using the above terms. That is, other searches only threw up duplicates. I was pretty happy with what I found, and was able to write the first draft of my article on the basis of these advertisements.

But, having satisfied myself that this was all I was going to find on the Burney database, I then turned to the microfilm series on which the Burney database is founded. It is time-consuming and—frankly—unpleasant work, but by searching for advertisements in just a single newspaper title I found a further fifty-four advertisements. Important advertisements, which added enormously to my article. (Including the advertisements for a Dutch translation of Phillip's Apology!)

Which is the reason for the title to this post. And this warning: if you rely on text-bases like EEBO, ECCO, and Burney, you will almost certainly miss at least half of the material you are looking for. I say this confidently because the microfilm search I conducted could be expanded to other newspapers to discover even more material.

And this is why, tedious as it is, it is still necessary to search the microfilms that text-bases like the Burney Newspaper database are generated from. And it is also why, expensive and seemingly redundant as they are, it is still necessary for genuine research libraries to buy and keep the microfilms that these text-bases are generated from!

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