Shawn Martin

Shawn Martin. "Introduction.". Early Modern Literary Studies 14.2/Special Issue 17 (September, 2008) 1.1-5 <URL:>.

  1. Ten years ago when commercial publishers first digitized their microfilm collections a new age was born.  Large electronic databases like Early English Books Online (EEBO), Evans Early American Imprints (Evans), and Eighteenth Century Collections Online (ECCO) allowed scholars around the world to have instantaneous access to nearly every work printed in English between the fifteenth and nineteenth centuries.  Mark Sandler, Director for the Center for Library Initiatives at the Committee on Institutional Cooperation, said that “For humanists, these collections represent an intellectual analog to the role played by the cost-effective Model T in unleashing a culture of ubiquitous automotive transportation.” [1] In September of 2006 the Text Creation Partnership (TCP) project at the University of Michigan held a conference entitled Bringing Text Alive:  The Future of Scholarship, Pedagogy, and Electronic Publication to investigate how databases like EEBO, ECCO, and Evans have changed research, teaching, and publishing in early modern English and American studies.  This special edition of Early Modern Literary Studies contains just a small portion of the papers presented at that conference. 

  2. These essays are not, however, a mere recitation of interesting ways to use electronic technology.  Rather, they are a reflection of the evolution of electronic scholarship in early modern studies.  To build on Sandler’s analogy, creating cars was only the first step; an entirely new system was required to use them effectively.  Paved roads, petroleum stations for refueling, a code of laws, and traffic lights all were developed later as ways of harnessing the potential of the automobile.  The same is true for large electronic collections.  Now that the initial revolution has ended with the publication of these databases, new research methodologies and tools are necessary to navigate a complex network of information.  The humanities scholars of the next generation are now working to create such an infrastructure.

  3.  The disciplines represented in this issue are diverse including librarians, historians, literary scholars, and students.  Patricia Fumerton (University of California – Santa Barbara) provides an interesting think piece about the nature of reading in the early modern period as compared to the electronic age.  Stefania Crowther (University of London), Ethan Jordan (Michigan Technological University), Jacqueline Wernimont (Brown University), and Hillary Nunn (University of Akron), provide a viewpoint from the “EEBO generation” pointing out how electronic collections influence teaching, research, and the intersections between them.  Simon Hodson (University of Hull) looks specifically at the creation of new tools for research in political discourse.  Ian Lancashire (University of Toronto) similarly provides a discipline specific perspective by describing the use of electronic collections for early modern lexicography.  Finally, Kristine Anderson (Purdue University), and Thomas Izbicki (Rutgers University), both librarians, look at problems with the use of databases in translation and publication history respectively.

  4. Robert Hatch suggested that “ ‘Digital Humanities’ are already with us, that unrivaled research opportunities have already changed our teaching and outreach responsibilities.”[2]  The essays within this collection no doubt prove that point.  As scholars rely more upon electronic resources like EEBO, Evans, ECCO and many others, it will become even more important to be engaged in the important debates about how to build the equivalent of roads, traffic lights, and refueling stations for humanities computing, and what effect new technologies have on the profession.  Though this collection is far from a complete overview of the problems and opportunities currently available, it is a road map showing some of the avenues already being explored, and hopefully it can continue discussion on what role the community has in shaping the future.

  5. I personally would like to thank the many people who helped to put this edition as well.  In addition to everyone who contributed essays, I owe a great deal to Matthew Steggle (Sheffield Hallam University) and the staff of EMLS, Ray Siemens (University of Victoria), Maria Bonn (University of Michigan), and the many colleagues who helped to make this collection.

[1] Mark Sandler, “New Uses for the World's Oldest Books: Democratizing Access to Historic Corpora,” Association of Research Libraries Bi-Monthly Report (232, February, 2004), 4.

[2] Robert Hatch, “Clio Electric: Primary Texts and Digital Research in Pre-1750 History of Science,” ISIS (Vol. 98, no. 1, March, 2007), 150.

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© 2008-, Matthew Steggle (Editor, EMLS).