Tuesday 29 September 2009

Bawdy Songbooks Online

Below are links to any early nineteenth-century bawdy songbooks—such as we will include in our Bawdy Songbooks of the Romantic Period (2011)—that are on Google Books, The Internet Archive, or anywhere else. There are very, very few online, but I'll add whatever items I can find, as I find them.

Fanny Hill's Bang-up Reciter, Friskey Songster (1835)

Friday 25 September 2009

Transcribing Eighteenth-Century Texts

A colleague at Monash asked me if I knew of a commercial transcription service that could transcribe a 450-page early eighteenth-century English text into a Word document. The text would serve as the basis for an edited version of the text. It would be compared, word for word, punctuation mark for punctuation mark, a number of times over.

This sort of textual editing is tedious, but it would be even more tedious to type the whole thing first, and still have this job ahead of you. Transcription is also very, very time-consuming for all but the fastest and most accurate typists. Which is why she wanted to pay someone else to do it. Unfortunately, the conditions of the grant she has received rule out paying a research assistant to do the job; but she can pay a business to do it.

I should explain, that the text had never been reprinted, and no version of the text was available in digital form. So, not on Google Books, not on ECCO, no substantial excerpts in recent editions. Zip. She was going to have to create the text ex nihilo.

When she first discussed this problem with me I suggested that, if the text were clear, she could scan the text and run OCR software over it herself. She would have a lot of f/s substitutions to make, but you can get a fairly useable text this way. Nowhere near as good as a transcription service, but usable. But she would have to spend quite a while getting nice clean copies and then either scanning them all herself or send these to a bureau to be scanned and OCR'ed.

I also suggested voice-recognition software, which I use all the time for transcribing chunks of eighteenth-century texts. You get better results than with OCR, but still, a lot of copy-editing is required.

We also discussed just sending it to a secretarial service for typing. You might end up with a lot of f/s substitutions, but, as I said, that really isn't too difficult to do. But once you are sending it out to be done you start to think of commercial transcription services who have handled eighteenth-century texts before.

I had heard of a number of large projects that have sent material to be transcribed in India or in Asia: I am pretty sure that the British Library Catalogue was transcribed in Asia (with predictable results). And I figured, other people must have wanted a commercial transcription service before, for the same reason. But, looking online, the only transcription services my colleague could find were for legal and medical records. What she wanted was someone with experience handling eighteenth-century texts.

So I sent a query to the 18C-List. The answers I got, on and off-list, were (1) offers by individuals to undertake the transcription, (2) suggestions that the she didn't need a transcription (that the text might already be available in some form), (3) suggestions that her publisher might do the transcription for her and (4) details of a transcription service. (There was also a reply that contained an attack of Obama's health insurance legislation (!?!), which implied the question was off-topic, or warning that the answer was. I am not sure which.)

I gathered from the answers I got that most editors transcribe their own texts, even very lengthy ones. It is seen as part of the job. The textual editor might take over responsibility (in a larger project) but the volume editor, the editor of an individual text in a series or multi-volume set, actually does the typing. It is called keystroking. Which suggests something much more pleasurable than the RSI-inducing activity that is transcribing.

The next most common arrangement—no. 3 above—is that the press does it in-house. I know Pickering & Chatto do this, they are transcribing the texts of 2000 bawdy songbooks right now for a collection I am editing with Paul Watt. But apparently it is not just Pickering & Chatto. It seems some of the larger presses, like Cambridge, farm out this transcription, but I couldn't find out who they were sending their texts to.

This brings us to no. 4 above: one scholar with experience in this area told me that,

We outsource practically all our transcription to India. The only transcription we tend to do ourselves is unique manuscript material. The companies we use are Planman Technologies (good, but slightly uneven) and Acogent.

How this works is that we sign a contract with the companies for a certain volume of transcription work (this gives us a bulk discount), and then we fill this using our own internal budget to cover the costs. We either ship books physically via courier to India, or, if they’re fragile or rare, scan them here and send the page scans to India via FTP server.

What we do is somewhat different from what your colleague wants, in that we do bulk digitization and we get our transcription encoded in TEI XML rather than as a Word document.

A New Zealand scholar also suggested that it would be worth getting in touch with digital humanities centres that deal with early modern and eighteenth-century works (such as The Centre for Computing in the Humanities at King's College London and the Electronic Textual Cultures Lab at the University of Victoria) to see who they outsource their transcription to.

Both of these answers suggested what is now obvious.

Thinking of the texts as special (they are almost three hundred years old!) is misleading. Transcribing eighteenth-century texts is just data-entry and data management: "Acogent provides data entry and data management services …"

Also, thinking of single-author, single-volume, painstakingly edited texts is also misleading (i.e., it leads you in the wrong direction). The digital world is full of text collections created in digital humanities centres, all of whom outsource transcription. (The New Zealand Electronic Text Centre, to take an example that never occurred to me, contains the text of The Travels of Hildebrand Bowman, Esquire (1778). Texts like this are all over the net). So, asking a bunch of scholars who prepare one-off, minutely collated texts, is really unlikely to elicit a useful answer. I am just lucky—and so is my colleague—that 'online, everyone hears you scream' (for help).

Wednesday 23 September 2009

Fear-mongering for FREE! 1724

In The Weekly Journal; or, Saturday’s Post, 22 February 1724, an advertisement for the 9th ed. of Onania (a work on the evils of onanism—i.e. masturbation) concludes:

N.B. As the Pamphlet lately published on this Subject, under the Title of ERONANIA, is made up only (as by comparing them will be seen) of Paragraphs, Sentences, and many Bits and Scraps stolen from ONANIA, abovementioned, by one notorious for pyrating other Mens Works; the Bookseller thought proper to give Notice thereof, that the Publick may not be imposed upon by it.

What this note doesn't mention is that Eronania was being given away; so whether or not the "Paragraphs, Sentences, and many Bits and Scraps" were "stolen from ONANIA," the price was pretty attractive. (BTW only two copies of Eronania survive to verify the claim that it was made up of "Bits and Scraps.")

Clearly, the publisher "at the Sign of Dr. Chamberlen’s Anodyne Necklace" was making his money from the cures he offered to the "Nine miserable Consequences" of masturbation, which he spells out in his advertisement in The Weekly Journal; or, British Gazetteer, 1 February 1724:

Publish’d this Day the Particulars of, ERONANIA on the Crimes of those two unhappy Brothers ER and ONAN Judah’s two Sons, who for defileing their Nuptial Bed, and frustrating the end of Marriage, were punish’d with immediate Death. Gen. 38. Or the hainous Crime of Self-Defilement, with all Nine miserable Consequences; SELF-EMASCULATION, Impotency, Senility, unfitness to Marry, deprivation of Manhood, Seminal Gleets, and the other Three wretched Miseries of it in both Sexes, (whom it generally Initiates in Wickedness) laid open to all Persons ever guilty of this Vice, whether Single, Married, Widdowers, WOMEN-HATERS, or Molles: And why this infamous Word MOLLES made English is applied to the Doers of this ill Action.[1]

Felix quem faciunt Aliena pericula Cautum.[2]

Also of the Use, Abuse of, frustrating, and defileing the Marriage Bed: With all Doubts thereunto belonging (as also of Retentio Seminis, and it’s Consequences in the Body, where the Debitum Conjugale cannot be) solved.[3]

Hoc nihil esse putas? Scelus est, mihi crede, sed Ingens.
Quantum vix animo concipis ipse tuo:
Ipsam tibi crede Naturam dicere rerum.
Istud quod … Pontice
Perdis, HOMO est. Martial.[4]

With the Particulars of a scarce Tract cited by a late Author pag. 25 on this Crime; entituled Letters of Advice from two Reverend Divines to a young Gentleman about a weighty Case of Conscience[5], viz of Defileing himself, to which he was so greviously addicted, that he had well nigh bereft himself of his Manhood, and almost EMASCULATED himself by this wretched Practice of Self-Conversation[6], but was quite cured by these Letters, which being printed some Years ago, and now out of Print, and not to be had for any Money, and therefore are here Reprinted along with this Treatise.

Sometimes the Sin does us o’ertake,
  And on
OUR SELVES our Ruin make,
  And We o’ertake the Sin.
O save us, Lord from all such Darts,
  That seek our Souls to slay;
  Lest WE OUR SELVES betray. Aust. Dev.[7]

GIVEN GRATIS up one Pair of Stairs, at the Sign of Dr. Chamberlen’s Anodyne Necklace, next to the Rose-Tavern without Temple-Bar. Where the SCHEME on the Secret Disease, Gleets, Broken Constitutions, and the GOUT is given Gratis.


[1] Molly: An effeminate man or boy; a male homosexual.
[2] "Fortunate the man who learns caution from the perils of others."
[3] Retentio Seminis, retention of semen; Debitum Conjugale, the duty of married couples to have sex with each other.
[4] Martial, Epigrams 9.41:

Pontice, quod numquam futuis, sed paelice laeva
  uteris et Veneri servit amica manus,
hoc nihil esse putas? scelus est, mihi crede, sed ingens,
   quantum vix animo concipis ipse tuo.
nempe semel futuit, generaret Horatius ut tres
  Mars semel, ut geminos Ilia casta daret.
omnia perdiderat si masturbatus uterque
  mandasset manibus gaudia foeda suis.
ipsam crede tibi naturam dicere rerum:
   "Istud quod digitis, Pontice, perdis, homo est."

The Mad-Latinist translates this as follows (here)

Ponticus, the fact that you never fuck, but use your left hand as a concubine
  and your girlfriend-hand serves Venus,
do you think that this is no big deal? It's a crime, believe me, and a huge one at that,
  so big that even you can hardly conceive it in your mind.
I mean, Horatius fucked just once to father three,
  and Mars just once, to give chaste Ilia twins.
Either of them would have ruined everything if he had masturbated,
  and entrusted his shameful pleasures to his own hands.
You had better believe that it is Nature herself that tells you:
  "That mess which you waste on your fingers, Ponticus, is a human being."

[5] Only a single copy survives of Letters of Advice from Two Reverend Divines … (London: J. Collins and D. Newman, 1676) Wing (2nd ed.), L1782B.
[6] i.e., criminal-conversation with yourself: "criminal-conversation" being adultery.
[7] John Austin, Devotions in the ancient way of offices: with psalms, hymns and prayers for ...‎ (Paris, 1668); Wing (2nd ed.), A4248A; "John Austin" is a pseudonym for William Birchley.

Tuesday 22 September 2009

Selling Content vs Selling Paper

Paul Graham has published an essay on his site (here) that was picked up by Cory Doctorow on boingboing.net. A colleague (Rebecca-Anne Do Rozario) thought I might be interested in it. She was right.

Graham starts:

Publishers of all types, from news to music, are unhappy that consumers won't pay for content anymore. At least, that's how they see it. In fact consumers never really were paying for content, and publishers weren't really selling it either. If the content was what they were selling, why has the price of books or music or movies always depended mostly on the format? Why didn't better content cost more? […]

Almost every form of publishing has been organized as if the medium was what they were selling, and the content was irrelevant. Book publishers, for example, set prices based on the cost of producing and distributing books. They treat the words printed in the book the same way a textile manufacturer treats the patterns printed on its fabrics.

Economically, the print media are in the business of marking up paper. We can all imagine an old-style editor getting a scoop and saying "this will sell a lot of papers!" Cross out that final S and you're describing their business model.

Graham's argument isn't exactly news to book historians. In 1932, W. W. Greg wrote: "what a bibliographer is concerned with is pieces of paper or parchment covered with certain written or printed signs. With these signs he is concerned merely as arbitrary marks; their meaning is no business of his." ("Bibliography—an Apologia," (W. W. Greg, “Bibliography—An Apologia.” The Library, 4th ser. 13 (1932): 113–43).

Those who believe that Greg is right can feel a bit like the the "flappers" of Laputa, who must constantly remind star-struck literary historians that the books that have captured their attention are, basically, unimportant. Eighteenth-century book history does not begin and end with Pope, Swift, Fielding, Sterne or Haywood and Burney, nor are the works of these authors particularly important. As I have said before, more "ordinary" books are almanacs, tables of interest and other practical books, then, perhaps, sermons etc. With such books, it is more obvious that "words [are] printed in the book the same way a textile manufacturer treats the patterns printed on its fabrics."

Graham continues: "Now that the medium is evaporating, publishers have nothing left to sell. Some seem to think they're going to sell content—that they were always in the content business, really. But they weren't, and it's unclear whether anyone could be." The remaining option is to focus on the physical object, printing "magazines" and books that are "made lush in a way that would be hard to match digitally" (coffee-table books, food-porn: books as prestige wallpaper).

Regarding authors, with the advent of digital books,

Whoever controls the device sets the terms. It's in their interest for content to be as cheap as possible, and since they own the channel, there's a lot they can do to drive prices down. Prices will fall even further once writers realize they don't need publishers. Getting a book printed and distributed is a daunting prospect for a writer, but most can upload a file.

This is put a little clumsily, and Cory Doctorow criticises this, but Graham's point seems to be, that, as the device-makers are likely to maintain a monopolistic control of the market for digital books, they will have the power to pay author's such small sums, that the authors would be better off not playing the game at all. And just as musicians "give music away and make money from concerts and t-shirts" and small academic journals are now publishing articles for free and "make money from one of a dozen permutations of advertising"; so authors may be better off publishing their works for free and trying to cash-in on their "books" in new ways.

Of course, what is left out of all of this is the second-hand and antiquarian market, where good books have always cost more; where literature is valued, where the market remains strong, and where the meaning of certain written or printed signs is the business of the bookseller."

Tuesday 15 September 2009

Monash ECPS Blogs and Websites

I thought it might be useful to start a list of the blogs and websites of my colleagues and graduates, starting with my immediate colleagues in English.

Department of English

Assoc. Prof. Chandani Lokugé: Chandani Lokugé [website; 8 pages; ©2009]

Dr Rebecca-Anne Do Rozario: Doc-in-Boots [blog; 285 posts; started 2 Sept. 2008]

HDR students, recent graduates in English etc

Dr Kim Edwards Arts House [blog; 1 post; 17 May 2009]

Zachary Kendal Silk for Caldé [blog; 82 posts; started 4 September 2009]

School of English, Communications and Performance Studies

Dr Thomas Ford: Climate change and contemporary fiction [blog; 3 posts; started 1 June 2010]

Dr Virginia Lowe: Create a Kids Book [website; 12 pages; ©2001–2010]

Assoc. Prof. Peter Murphy: website [1 page]

Mr Felix Nobis: Felix Nobis [website; 1 page]

Assoc. Prof. Kate Rigby: ecological humanities [website; 1 page]

[Last update 21 July 2011]

Monday 14 September 2009

What do we do with our Books?

Shelley Cox posted an interesting query on the ExLibris-List on Tuesday. As she explained, she has "several thousand" books, and her partner has "over 6000":

I am not talking about very rare or specialized collections, which might have some considerable monetary value, individually or as a collection. I am talking about the general collection that any booklover of any kind might accumulate over 60-80+ years of life. Most of these books might have been bought at a general interest bookstore, and … include best sellers, general non-fiction, popular science, how-to books, cook books, and books on special topics like literature, economics, psychology, etc.

Having reached the stage of planning wills and trying to figure out where these books might go, Shelley and her partner "have no idea of how to proceed."

Our local library heavily weeds its shelves and would take only a tiny percentage, relegating the rest to the book sale at $.50-$1.00. As far as I can tell, even the largest research libraries are no longer interested in these titles, even if they do not have them on the shelf. The kind of bookstores that sell used books like this are slipping away, and few bookdealers have the time, energy, transport, etc., to wrangle a large book collection. Is there some organization that would help struggling libraries who do want books? … I've been asked variants of this question a hundred times or more and have never known how to answer this. Surely someone here would have some ideas?

Well, a few people did have ideas—dealers, charities—which you will find if you look in the exLibris List (just Google a chunk of the above text).

Having been a book-collector for a long time I have also "been asked"—and asked myself—"variants of this question a hundred times." Like Shelley, I have not really known how to answer.

For more than a decade I worked in a series of second-hand bookshops in Hobart and Melbourne; as a result I knew almost everyone in the "Trade" in these cities. And as a result of constant traveling, exploring and systematic book-shopping, book-catalogue-reading, etc, I was familiar with almost every bookshop of any pretension from Adelaide to Brisbane.

But times have changed. I haven't worked in a bookshop in years, many of the shops I knew have closed, and these days I buy almost everything online. So what I was particularly interested by about this query was the comment: "The kind of bookstores that sell used books like this are slipping away …" They certainly are.

In fact, even when I was working, cataloguing stock for the internet, the rot had already set in. And the rot—as far as the dealers are concerned—was caused by amateur dealers on the internet. For book buyers, especially for collectors like me, with interests that are not parochial, this last decade has been a paradise of new buying opportunities. I bless the internet every time another Eliza Haywood volume turns up (like today). But for the dealers … the last decade has been cruel.

When I first visited the bookshops of Melbourne, Prahran was the Mecca. It took two days for me to do the rounds. Now it is all-but deserted and, for me, there isn't a single shop there I'd want to visit. I spend just as much now as then, but not locally. I keep hearing about more shops closing, and every time I do I feel a little guilty.

(The latest very sad loss was a tiny place in Cheltenham full of cheap sci-fi paperbacks, with a mix of other books. I never knew the name of the shop, there was no point remembering it because the proprietor didn't have a phone or a web-page to look up. That was the beauty of the place: no margin added to cover such things. Well, without warning, it is gone. And no indication of where.)

And as each shop closes, there are fewer dealers left to help sift and recycle Shelley's general books for another generation of readers. And as the numbers decrease, the remaining dealers are so over-supplied by all the would-be sellers that they can be more and more selective about what they take and what they pay, that the situation becomes increasingly desperate for dealers and sellers alike.

So, what will become of all the gzillions of general books that Shelley mentions? Nine-tenths of them will probably be pulped. There is not, in fact, anything useful, uplifting, worthwhile, or satisfying to be done with them.

Ten years ago a standard $20.00 book—what was standard shelf-filler—was worth about $2.00 to a dealer. Now it is worth nothing, a liability. You can still sell such a book on eBay, and you can get your $2.00, but you have to ignore what you paid for the book, all your time, and your overheads (mortgage anyone?). In other words you have to ignore the fact that you loose money on every sale. You'd be better sending them to be pulped. (That people, nevertheless, keep selling books for $2.00 is great for the remaining buyers, at least until they have to consider what they will do with their books when they die …)

Funnily enough, there is a "lesson from history" on this subject. One of the reasons so few eighteenth-century books survive is that paper was quite expensive. If you needed a fire-lighter, or a pie-base, or a piece of paper to stop your curling iron burning your hair, or if you need something to use in the toilet, you used whatever scrap-paper you had at hand, and that "scrap" included books. Just consider a world in which toilet-paper was not to be had at your local grocer and you will understand why so few books survive. Although we pulp our paper before re-using it, the principle is much the same.

So enjoy your books while you have them, but you might just have to accept the fact that, when you are dead, your books are likely to become bum-fodder.*

*Public Advertiser, Tuesday, 17 April 1753: "This Day at Noon will be published, Price 6d. Bum-Fodder for the Ladies. A Poem, upon soft Paper. Printed for the Author, and sold at the Pamphlet-shops at Westminster-Hall, Charing-Cross, Temple-Bar, and the Royal Exchange."

Wednesday 9 September 2009

The Society of Booksellers, 1741

The following extraordinary advertisement appears in The Country Journal; or, The Craftsman, Saturday, 18 July 1741 [Issue 785]. Although no copy of The Publisher’s Magazine is listed on ESTC, this "Society" did publish nine works.

To the Authors and Proprietors of Manuscripts, or other Copies design’d for the Press.

  The Booksellers in general having the Unhappiness to lie under the Imputation of making Properties of learn’d and ingenious Men, and enriching themselves by the Fruits of their Study and Labours, whilst they allow them but scanty Premiums, and make use of all Artifices to deceive and Impose upon them, to the great Discouragement of Learning and Detriment to the Publick, who are thereby deprives of many valuable Pieces; in order to remove these or any other Prejudices, several Booksellers have form’s themselves into a Society, and offer the following Proposals to all whom it may concern.
  1. That they will give ready Money to any Author or Proprietor of a Work which shall be approved of by two Persons of Judgement to be nominated one by the Author, the other by the Society, who shall also fix the Price to be given, on the Author’s conveying to the said Society his Right and Interest in such Copy.
  2. That if the Author chuses not to part with his whole Interest in the Copy, and had rather wait the Event of its Sale, he shall receive the full Moity of the Profits arising from its Sale of the first and all future Editions of it, freed of all Risque, (the Expenses of Paper, Print, and other incident Charges, being first deducted) the other Moity to vest in the Society for the Hazard they will run, the Money they must expend, and for their Skill and Care of Management &c.
  3. That the Paper shall be bought at the best Hand, the Work printed on the neatest Types, at the Rate Booksellers pay for both, and proper Vouchers procured to justify such Payments; and none but Persons of Credit, either Stationers or Printers, to be dealt with; and the Rates of Publication to be the same as Publishers usually reckon to Booksellers.
  4. That all Pamphlets, from three Sheets (which are usually sold for Six Pence) to books of any Size or Price, shall be received if approved, on and Subject in the whole Circle of Learning; nor shall Political Pieces be excluded on either Side of Questions, whee not offensive to good Manners; for one establish’d Rule of the Society will be, not to be of any Party themselves, but to observe a strick Impartiality; and Names to be conceal’d, and the utmost Secrecy obcserved, if required.
  5. That a reasonable Price shall be paid for such small Pieces as will not make three Sheets as above, in Order to be inserted in a Twelve penny Pamphlet, to be publish’d under the Title of the Publisher’s Magazine, by which Means the Publick may receive a curious Miscellany, in one, two, or more Volumes annually, and many beautiful small Pieces will be thereby preserved, and handed down to Posterity.
  So many Advantages will accrue to Authors from these Proposals, besides the Security of the Copies from Piracy, (as the Society will be able to make Reprisals on such as shall invade their Property) that no more need be said on that Head.
  And to the Publick in general this Design will be no less advantageous, as it will be the Means, at an easy and reasonable Rate, to bring to light many curious Pieces in every Branh of Science.
  Gentlemen therefore who incline to take Advantage of and encourage this Undertaking, are desired to apply to James Crockatt, at the Society’s-Office in Fleet street, near St. Bride’s Church; or to Messieurs Osbourne and Smith, in Grey’s-Inn.
  The said Messieurs Osbourne and Smith gives ready Money for any Library or Parcel of Books.

This advertisement re-appeared one week later, in The Weekly Miscellany, Saturday, 23 May 1741, but James Crockatt and the Mr "Smith" disappear, leaving only Thomas Osbourne to "transact the necessary Business."

This second version of the advertisement was reprinted in The London Daily Post and General Advertiser of 25 May, but on 10 June Crockatt and Smith reappear. On 13 and 27 June the advertisement is reprinted (in The Weekly Miscellany ) and the first of the titles "Publish'd, By the Society of Booksellers for promoting of learning." Another eight followed within the year, then nothing.

The full list of titles, in alphabetical order, is:

[1] Anon., The Christian Philosopher
[2] Anon., An Essay on the Divine Paternity, or, God the Father of Men
[3] Robert James, M.D., Proposals for Printing a Medicinal Dictionary [ESTC explains that A medicinal dictionary was published in three volumes, 1743-45].
[4] Robert James, M.D., A New Method of Preventing and Curing the Madness Caused by the Bite of a Mad Dog
[5] John Kelly, The Levee. A Farce
[6] James Nihell, M.D., New and Extraordinary Observations Concerning the Prediction of Various Crises by the Pulse
[7] Benjamin Parker, The Divine Authority of the Scriptures Philosophically Prov’d
[8] Charles de Saint-Yves, A New Treatise of the Diseases of the Eyes
[9] J. Shortess, Harmonic Architecture. Exemplified in a Plan, Elevations and Sections, &c. of a Building

I wonder what reflections can be made on the sort of manuscripts that were being held up by the "Imputation" that "Booksellers in general" were "making Properties of learn’d and ingenious Men … enriching themselves by the Fruits of their Study and Labours" while offering "but scanty Premiums" and using "all Artifices to deceive and Impose upon them"?

To me, the publication of this "Imputation" is more interesting than the titles this learned Society published; that, and the fact, that Thomas Osbourne was spruiking for manuscripts by acknowledging such criticisms. Advertisements like this tell us a great deal about the Trade in mid-1741 (at much the same time that Eliza Haywood was trying to establish herself at the Sign of Fame in Covent Garden).

Monday 7 September 2009

Google Books, a Disaster for Scholars?

On Friday Beatrice Fink posted a link to a 31 August news item from The Chronicle of Higher Education by Geoffrey Nunberg titled "Google's Book Search: A Disaster for Scholars" (2009) with the comment "To laugh or to cry, that is the confusion!" (here) Actually, to scream seems more appropriate.

After forwarding it to a colleague and fuming about it for a few hours, I decided to reply. I did this on the 18C-List, rather than on the The Chronicle of Higher Education for two reasons, [1] I try to avoid supporting any organisation that calls itself The [anything] (as if The Chronicle of Higher Education could speak to, or for, Higher Education everywhere on the planet) and [2] I figured that I would get a more interesting discussion on the 18C-List than in the feedback on the article itself. Although a few people wrote in to support my comments, it turns out I was wrong about no. 2.

So, for the record, what I wrote was:

Even though I have repeatedly pointed out the failings of ECCO, Google Books, etc, in a series of articles and papers, I think it is a bit rich to described Google Books as a "Disaster for Scholars." It is no such thing, it is one of the greatest developments in the history of scholarship: I'd place the printing press first, and email a close third.

I spent ten years working on Eliza Haywood, systematically trawling two centuries of scholarship, and the Rare Books collections of three continents. I thought I had been everywhere and seen everything. But five minutes on Google Books peeled my eyelids back. I still mourn the time I lost—not having Google Books earlier.

And the research I have done since simply could not have been undertaken without Google Books. Yes, it has failings, yes, the OCR is dodgy, the dating is dodgy, and it can be very frustrating knowing a reference appears in a work without being able to pin it down to a page, or even a volume, as has been rehearsed on this list many times over. But most of the criticisms carry very little weight for me, because they are easy to work round, or will inevitably be fixed.

No self-respecting scholar should accept a date of 1899 or 1999, or any other date for that matter, for Raymond Williams's Culture and Society (as the article in The Chronicle of Higher Education mentions). We teach our students how to cite a book, what details to use and where to find them. If we want to know the details of an edition we are quoting from Google Books, then we simply have only to scroll up to the imprint page and read it, which is exactly what we do every time we cite a book, regardless of how plausible the catalogue date is.

So, even if a subscription cost as much as that for ECCO, or EEBO, or the Burney Newspaper archive, I'd lobby my University to subscribe. But, instead, is free, fast, and vast.

Yes, Google have a market-leading position, but to grudge them that, given what they have invested and what they offer, seems pretty feeble; and to claim that Google will never have any competition is just ridiculous. Every market leader faces competition, eventually.

There really seems very little grounds for this sort of catastrophising.

It occurred to me after I posted this that I should have asked how many Edison light bulbs Geoffrey Nunberg happens to use, but the joke would probably have only amused me.

Wednesday 2 September 2009

Associational Reading in the 18C

Eleanor Shevlin is seeking proposals for a panel to be held at the annual meeting of the American Society of Eighteenth-Century Studies (ASECS) 18-21 March 2010, in Albuquerque, NM

"'Associational Reading': Libraries, Reading Societies, and Book Clubs in the Eighteenth Century”

“Associational Reading” is a term used to describe formal library activity defined by the association and sociability of the participants. It is used particularly to distinguish subscription and membership libraries, book clubs, reading societies and specialist societies that had libraries (medical societies, law societies, agricultural societies etc) from other book-lending institutions, especially the commercial circulating libraries (which were usually owned and managed by a single profit-oriented entrepreneur) and charitable foundations. Although profit-driven, commercial circulating libraries sometimes adopted associational language to promote their ventures many private libraries facilitating an associational (or at least sociable) form of reading, lending books to friends, neighbors and relatives in their area. This panel invites paper that explore various forms of “associational reading” in the long eighteenth century. Papers may focus on a particular library, reading club, society or reading group, or may focus on another aspect of as this phenomenon. Panelists may also wish to consider the ways that associational reading intersects with issues of race, class, gender, genre, or commerce.

Please send one page abstracts to Eleanor Shevlin, eshevlin@wcupa.edu (or 2006 Columbia, NW, Apt. 42, Washington, DC 20009)

All panelists who are not members of the Bibliographical Society of America are kindly requested to join before the ASECS meeting in March.

The Eighteenth Century on Film: CFP

John H. O'Neill is accepting proposals—up to 15 September 2009—for the special session on "The Eighteenth Century on Film" at the 2010 Annual Meeting in Albuquerque. The session is sponsored by NEASECS, but participation is open to all members of ASECS.

John has said that he welcomes and encourages proposals for papers on any aspect of this topic, including film adaptations of eighteenth century narratives (e.g., Castaway, Tom Jones), films set in the period (e.g., Stage Beauty, The Libertine, Amazing Grace), and film explorations of eighteenth-century history (e.g., Peter Watkins' Culloden).

Please send proposals to John H. O'Neill, Dept. of English, Hamilton College, Clinton, New York 13323; Tel: 315/859-4463; Fax: 315/859-4390; E-Mail: joneill@hamilton.edu