New Scholarship, New
Pedagogies: Views from the 'EEBO
Crowther (University of London), Ethan Jordan (Michigan Technological
University), Jacqueline Wernimont (Brown University), and Hillary Nunn
(University of Akron)
Stefania Crowther, Ethan Jordan, Jacqueline Wernimont and Hillary Nunn. "New Scholarship, New Pedagogies: Views from the 'EEBO Generation'.". Early Modern Literary Studies 14.2/Special Issue 17 (September, 2008) 3.1-30 <URL: http://purl.oclc.org/emls/14-2/crjowenu.html>.
- Students and
scholars today are faced with a pleasant sort of problem – how to manage our
new avenues of access to primary documents. One element of this problem is the
difficulty in transforming all of this new information into insight regarding
texts, textual practices, and historical contexts. This question is
particularly acute for literary scholars working on the sixteenth, seventeenth,
and eighteenth centuries, for whom the landscape of texts has been dramatically
altered by the developments in digital imaging projects and in electronic text production.
Digital resources like EEBO (Early English Books Online), Evans Early American
Imprints, ECCO (Eighteenth Century Collections Online), and SCETI (Schoenberg Center for Electronic Text and Image) serve an immediate and much needed
pragmatic function, making early printed texts accessible to a broader range of
readers. The implications this new availability will have on scholarship and
pedagogy, however, have only recently begun to be explored.
- These issues
prove especially significant for academics just entering the field, ourselves
among them. As young scholars, we each began research projects that simply
would not have been possible without Early English Books Online, the digital
resource that will serve as our focus in this essay. While the early modern
texts to which EEBO provides access are also available on microfilm, our
projects relied heavily on the electronic resource's increased search
capabilities for their success.
Supplying downloadable .PDF versions of almost one hundred thousand texts, EEBO,
simply put, made our literary and historical work possible, and it no doubt
continues to do so for many undergraduates for whom extensive research in a
distant archive makes little sense without digital resources. Further, EEBO gave some of us the flexibility to work around full-time work schedules
that made the traditional brick and mortar library, especially the rare book
collection, difficult to access. While these experiences represent the positive
elements of digital text archives, we have also found our own subsequent access
to these archives limited by lack of institutional subscription or by
independent scholar status. It has become quite obvious to us that, as students
with good access and adequate technology, we were working from within a
position of privilege. Not every undergraduate classroom has technological
capability, not every institution can afford to subscribe to digital archives,
and, despite the commonplace that all students are technophiles, we realize as
newer teachers that not every student owns a computer, nor is every student at home in the digital world. Finally, those of us who are currently looking toward our
careers as professional scholars have noted that faculty familiarity with
digital archives and new research technologies can be surprisingly scant.
- The predicaments
of access, along with the academy's still-evolving stance toward the role of electronic
resources in scholarship and teaching, have a particularly strong impact on
younger scholars like ourselves.
As members of the first generation to have enjoyed the use of electronic
archives and texts as students, we now find ourselves engaging with these
digital tools as we enter into new roles as teachers in our own classrooms.
Our largely positive experiences with EEBO – a resource first introduced in 1998 – leave us eager to introduce our students to the exciting research possibilities
digital tools bring to the undergraduate classroom. It is significant, too,
that three of the four of us never encountered EEBO in classroom settings
during our years as students; while we all have found the easy electronic
access it offers to early modern books invaluable to our own research, we lack
models for incorporating the collection in our teaching.
Just as importantly, the sheer amount of information about the early modern
period that a tool like EEBO offers our students can seem a challenge to our
evolving notions of ourselves as classroom instructors. Not only do we
suddenly find ourselves guiding students through the steps of using unfamiliar
(and constantly changing) online resources; we also put our own sense of the
field to the test by inviting these students to confront us, in a public
setting no less, with the often unfamiliar texts that their research yields. As
we work with students and peers to develop the technological expertise needed
to utilize these resources in the classroom and in our research, we are also
confronting the implications of these new archival forms for our own
theoretical positions, both as teachers and as scholars. In short, we find
that a new conceptual vocabulary – one that strives to pinpoint the
contributions and limitations of digital resources within the field – is being
created as we work.
unpredictability that research in EEBO might bring, both to the classroom and to
our research more broadly, ultimately brings about new insight not just into the
early modern period, but also into the nature of literary scholarship. The
conversations that EEBO and other digital resources provoke can provide a
valuable means of exploring the ways that four hundred years worth of scholars
have engaged with texts, allowing users a deeper understanding of what
generations of academics have considered worthy of study. This conversation in
turn helps students – and beginning faculty – to see room for their own work
within the wider discipline.
Just as importantly, digital resources like EEBO allow students and teachers
alike to see how earlier generations of scholars have found new things to say
about an old, but still evolving, body of literature.
Scholarly Approaches and
Classroom Practice: EEBO and the Expanding Reading List
- The multiplicity
of methodologies practiced today in early modern literary scholarship offer a
variety of patterns for using electronic resources in scholarship and teaching,
often presenting a bewildering number of avenues for those seeking to find
meaningful ways of using – and even scrutinizing – such tools in their work.
The manner in which our methodologies interact with digital tools, when they
either provide us with objects of study (in the form of the archive) or serve as
research tools (blogs, wikis, and digital collaboration, for example), can be
radically different. These differences make it impossible to say that digital
text resources like EEBO function in any single way to advance the field.
Scholars of varying dispositions and methodologies value the electronic source's
ability to manipulate our view of literary history, if not of time itself. A
brief and limited survey of some differences will illuminate this point. For
those working to theorize and understand the "morphospace" of
literary history, discussed at length below, the digital archive makes possible
a manipulation of vast arrays of texts, on a scale simply not possible prior to
text encoding. This reduction in the sheer scale of labor needed to survey a broad spectrum of
texts has enabled scholars like Franco Moretti and Martin Mueller to recognize
(and visualize) trends spanning decades that were not visible to earlier generations.
As we will discuss later in this paper, this new capability has enabled both
scholars and students to interrogate previously held assumptions regarding
changes within literary genres.
- For the
historicist critic, the digital archive makes available the artefacts of a more
complete discursive system, bringing broadsides, ballads, royal decrees,
poetry, short fiction, and prose narratives of all sorts into the critical
purview in ways that modern print publication has failed to accomplish.
Similarly, the presence of a much wider range of authors within the digital
archive continues the work of making the marginalized and underrepresented more
visible – a project which may be a corrective both to historical directed
exclusion and to our own predilection for familiar forms and the vernacular
languages. In many ways this makes the digital archive a more democratic space,
no longer restricting the scholar – and more particularly, the student – to the
boundaries of the canonical works more easily found in print. It opens up the
possibility of serendipitous discovery and the return of a more eclectic
analytic method, one that harkens back to its early modern predecessor, the
commonplace book. In this way digital archives foster intellectual curiosity and offer deepening
insights through emerging research paradigms.
- For many scholars
and students of a more formalist mode of analysis, though, the digital archive
does not initially appear to hold much excitement beyond the pragmatic
benefits. From this methodological perspective the digital archive facilitates
access to the primary documents, but seems to offer little in terms of
theoretical insight. However, research methods are shaped by training, and, within
the post-secondary classroom, the digital archive serves an important pedagogical
tool for the formalist scholar. When students see images of early modern texts,
their surprise regarding early modern printing practices is itself
instructive. Here the digital archive, in particular those composed of electronic
facsimiles, constitute more than just the dispensary of early modern texts, an
informational source; it also functions as the site where students can
encounter regularly the distance between the language and print culture of the
early modern writer and the modern reader. This is not just an issue of
pragmatics – the alienation, if you will, that results from the student's encounter
with primary texts is itself a way of producing new insight while also making a
formalist intervention into modern literary practices. EEBO underscores that
the early modern texts within it are indeed products of a different time, and
that as much as we might want to identify with its people, fundamental
differences exists between their society and ours. As students engage in
fruitful struggles with challenging blackletter typeface, unfamiliar spellings,
and strange formatting conventions, they are constantly reminded of these
historical differences.  While the same benefits can be gained through encounters with the primary documents
themselves, classroom use of the digital archive makes this effect a regular
and consistent element of the scholarly encounter.
- As we have
noted, our own positive experiences with EEBO convince us of its worth as a
teaching tool. Unlike microfilm or even the rare books library, its electronic
format allows every student to access and read a single document at once; just
as importantly, EEBO presents these texts in online facsimile form, thereby
requiring students to read works in their often challenging original formatting.
The few models that exist for incorporating these texts into classroom
teaching, however, often leave instructors insecure in their own authority (not
to mention technical prowess) in the classroom. Yet simply accessing the page
images of works already on the syllabus can help students understand the
differences between early printings of, say, Webster's plays and their modern anthologized
versions. Other instructors who emphasize the importance of a broader
historical context often view EEBO as a way to "let loose" their
students in the electronic archive to conduct their own research projects.
Using EEBO in this manner, however, creates a number of pedagogical challenges
in the literature classroom, effectively adding new material to the class reading
list for both the student and instructor.
- Despite these
risks in bringing EEBO to the classroom, the payoffs for students can be
remarkable and even liberating. The database provides students, to a
certain degree, an opportunity to create something "new" in
academia. Many of the valuable early modern texts EEBO contains are not
anthologized, discussed in criticism, or found to be worthy of note by
scholars. When students have the opportunity to work with these lesser known
texts, they often feel less burdened by the weight of already-existing
scholarship. All too often, students in literature feel as though they have
nothing new to say, that any research project they undertake will simply be
rehashing or unknowingly plagiarizing some earlier work in the long line of
criticism surrounding a text. Students dealing with early modern works are
especially prone to such feelings of inadequacy, and even speechlessness. By
using EEBO, students of literature may be able to undertake fresh research,
either in terms of texts or the methodologies. In addition to allowing
students to make productive observations about early publications of
foundational and often-studied works of literature by providing ready access to
facsimile page images, digital archives facilitate student inquiry into
neglected primary texts that allow new insight into the historical context
surrounding canonical pieces. At the same time, in using the digital archives,
students are experimenting with emerging methodologies that have the potential
to invigorate the field of literary history; as a result, they are active
participants in the evolution of literary practices that digital archives have
- As instructors, however, it is important for us to realize that, despite the easy access computers provide, significant barriers
still face our students when dealing with early modern texts. The rapid access
that EEBO allows can challenge both students and instructors to make
responsible use of unfamiliar primary texts. The use of EEBO encourages
students to incorporate primary texts into their own term papers, but the
limited time that school calendars allow for such activities can lead to
rushed, and sometimes sloppy, scholarship. We feel it is important to
remember, though, that while the unfamiliar nature of the texts and typefaces
(not to mention historical contexts) may lead to misconstrued meanings, the
experience of deciphering these materials generally improves a student's subsequent reading of primary documents. At the same time, we must remain
aware that these misreadings may occasionally result in larger mistakes, ones
that ironically stem from a student's adherence to established, and often
ambitious, scholarly practices while striving to connect unfamiliar texts to
their early modern contexts. A student's mistakes are
inevitably compounded by his or her lack of thorough contextual framework for
studying the early modern period.
- To illustrate
our point here we would like to share the particular experience of one of our
authors to show how a student's willingess to make daring – and not entirely
inappropriate – scholarly leaps can result in errors unlikely to have occurred
before EEBO's arrival on the scene. As an undergraduate, Stefania Crowther
wrote an essay that drew on a miscellany celebrating the Restoration, published
in 1661, Stella Meridiana Caroli Secundi Regis, which took as its key theme the alleged star seen shining during daylight hours on the day of the birth of the future Charles II. She linked this to astrological pamphlets
of the period, and in particular those written by William Lilly (1602-1681),
the parliamentarian astrologer, who wrote that
the star was meaningless, and not, as Stella Meridiana would have it, an
affirmation of Charles II's right to the English throne. By using EEBO's search
tool she was able to quickly discover other texts by William Lilly, and other
texts sold at the same location – St. Dunstan's churchyard – as the miscellany
in question. William Lilly had published three Latin grammar texts, and
in her further explorations in EEBO, she found a surprising number of Latin
textbooks sold at St Dunstan's, with titles including:
Seeing this title, Crowther took it
to be a deliberate attempt to besmirch William Lilly's intellectual
credentials. Having also discovered in a biography of Lilly a reference to
Lilly being offended by Dr Donne, a preacher at St Dunstan's,  she formed the conclusion that St Dunstan's was an active royalist hub of
opposition to William Lilly, and made this suggestion in her essay.
grammar fitted for the use in schools, wherin the words of Lillie's Grammar are
(as much as might be) retained; many errors thereof amended, many needless
things left out, and many necessaries that were wanting supplied.
- In drawing these
conclusions, Crowther followed the precedent of many historicist scholars.
Situating the information gleaned from careful, even close, readings of title
pages within her knowledge of the historical context, she arrived at a
conclusion about the religious culture and book trade of London. Her moves,
that is, reveal the very sort of thinking about books and their consequences
that scholars value, and she deployed her argument with the confidence that
teachers yearn to see in student papers. Crowther's paper did more than report
on a significant discovery; it also showed the comfort and assurance of an
early modern scholar making strides in the process of finding her voice.
- In a matter of
weeks after handing in the essay, however, Crowther came across more references
to ‘Lillies Grammar’, in publications dating back to 1567, decades earlier than
the three William Lily grammars she had previously seen, and using another
EEBO search she discovered another William Lily, who lived from the late 1460s
to 1522, and published several grammar texts in both Latin and English. It
quickly became clear that her St Dunstan's conspiracy theory was completely
unfounded. She attributes her mistake to the combination of her lack of
background knowledge (having never encountered the earlier William Lily before,
or seen references to ‘Lillies Grammar’) and the accelerated pace of research
which electronic resources allow. She reports that her discovery of the St
Dunstan's Latin grammar texts came just a few days before the deadline, and she
included the material in the essay, albeit tentatively, without probing any
further into the issue. In fact, she had noticed a discrepancy in the dates –
the earliest Latin grammar by William Lily she found on EEBO was published in
1673, long after the texts of the 1659 book sold at St Dunstan's which she was
claiming were a response to Lily's. However, she assumed that Lily had published another Latin grammar, some years
earlier, of which there is no surviving copy. While she claims to have done so
"for convenience," Crowther followed the lead of many established
scholars in this move as well, having seen many arguments that admitted – and
relied – on such speculation to make their cases.
research led her far afield from the more traditional texts found on her class
syllabus, which is no doubt a partial explanation for her inaccurate claim. In
the traditional model of pedagogy, the instructor is there to supply a
framework of background knowledge, guiding students away from such false
conclusions while encouraging their explorative drive to find historical
connections. Yet students inevitably make such mistakes while grappling with
unfamiliar texts and literary figures, let alone when reading unfamiliar
typefaces. However, in the new, faster paced academic environment, with student
research effectively adding texts onto the syllabus at an exponential rate, the
instructor can no longer be expected to possess all of the answers or to spot
the misperceptions and misinterpretations. This raises an important challenge
for a revised critical pedagogy: how can we reinstate the quality control
measures and guide students towards successful and accurate scholarship, and
thus towards real contributions to the field, without taking away the sense of
freedom and the excitement of exploring uncharted academic territory?
Teachers, Students, and Alien
- As the above
story shows, students' new access to primary texts also requires
instructors to reassess their own authority in the literature classroom. The
practice of what Paulo Freire and others have come to call "critical
pedagogy" may provide a way to undertake such research involving EEBO and
new primary texts. This approach, which is increasingly emphasized in training
graduate students, encourages instructors to create a dialogue in the classroom
that will foster investigation – in this case, investigation beyond the canon
and into new methods of scholarship and even into new realms of literary
theory. In this way, the EEBO database allows students to become fellow
participants in the learning process, creating a critical dialogue with their
texts and with the field of early modern literature itself.
pedagogy asks instructors to relinquish some authority to students, and it is
founded upon some of the pioneering work of Freire, whose Pedagogy of the
Oppressed created the impetus for many following him, such as Ira Shor and
Patricia Bizzell. A key element of Freire's ideas is
his denunciation of the "banking method" of education, which posits a
model of instruction where the student is empty, a bank to be filled by the
instructor, who has all of the knowledge that is to be transplanted to
students. In opposition to this view, Freire offers the notion of dialogue
between student and instructor, one where knowledge is created by the exchange
between them, the interstitial space in which different ideas come into contact
and change: "this dialogue cannot be reduced to the act of one person's 'depositing'
ideas in another, nor can it become a simple exchange of ideas to be 'consumed'
by the discussants" (Freire 89). As the tropes of deposit and consumption
suggest, such a practice presupposes the unquestioned delivery of information
to students without any re-evaluation of that material. Despite growing
enthusiasm for critical pedagogy, many instructors still assume a degree of
authority over students, who are still seen as knowledge-less, always sitting
in supplication to the higher knowledge of the instructor. The use of resources
like EEBO render it difficult for instructors and students to fall into this
unproductive rhythm, one that leaves students feeling as though the only
knowledge of any value (the only "truth" to be discovered) comes from
the work or scholarship that is valued by the instructor. EEBO necessitates the
exchange between students and instructors, as the students deal with pieces
that may be unfamiliar to their instructors. As instructors, then, we must step
out of the comfort zone of familiar texts into a new perspective, as does the
- The fear with this
model of instruction is that it may be unpredictable. How can instructors
adequately prepare to help students with material that is as unfamiliar to us
as it is to the students? The content of a course using EEBO as part of its
syllabus can seem daunting, especially when compared to one dealing with the
standard authors in the canon, where there are set paths and methods that must
be discussed. Critical pedagogy, however, takes its cues from student needs. If
each student in a classroom using EEBO is analyzing a specific text, the
content of the classroom may change dramatically. This is especially true when
the instructor no longer controls course content. Stepping
outside the banking model, we as instructors can deploy digital archives like
EEBO as tools to actively invite student participation in determining course
content. Freire's "banking educator" approaches the question of the
syllabus by seeing it as a "program about which he will discourse to his
students; and he answers his own question, by organizing his own program"
(93). In essence, the instructor dictates how the course will look by constructing
it as he or she sees fit, and the syllabus determines, rather than guides,
content. In contrast, Freire discusses the way in which content is created in
the dialogue-focused classroom: "For the dialogical, problem-posing
teacher-student, the program content of education is neither a gift nor an
imposition—bits of information to be deposited by students—but rather the
organized, systematized, and developed 're-presentation' to individuals of the
things about which they want to know more" (93). In a sense, this notion
of the "teacher-student" position of the instructor can be used as an
example of the possibilities of EEBO in the literature classroom, where the
instructor guides students in their own research and also learns from that
research. The authority of the classroom is shared, and students decide "about
which they would like to know more."
- Implicit in this
discussion of critical pedagogy and its relation to the EEBO database is the
idea that not only does EEBO place the instructor and student as fellow creators of critical insight, it also makes them fellow investigators of that
insight, questioning the way we read and discuss texts in relation to the
literary canon. This approach is particularly fruitful for us as young
academics who are constantly re-evaluating our own notions of literary studies
because it allows us to bring our own sense of scholarly exploration into our
teaching. Ira Shor, building on Freire's work, sees that the "empowering
teacher does not talk knowledge at students but talks with them.
In a critical classroom, the teacher does not fill students unilaterally with
information but rather encourages them to reflect mutually on the meaning of
any subject matter before them" (85). This reflection is key, and both the
instructor and student "reflect" on their perceptions of the text, in
what Shor describes as a "'horizontal' relationship where people talk
mutually" (86). In doing so, both the instructor and the teacher take an
active part in investigating – and even reshaping – the theoretical
underpinnings of early modern studies. Another way to delineate this notion of reflecting is that of questioning. As Shor notes, "dialogue is a mutually
created discourse which questions existing canons of knowledge and challenges
power relations in the classroom" (87). Questioning the existing "canon"
of literary criticism, including its texts, provides a way for students to
enter into academic research while helping us as scholars to further articulate
our own understandings of the field.
- The critical
classroom invites both new challenges and opportunities for students faced with the unfamiliar texts they find in EEBO. Just as importantly,
the unpredictability that EEBO brings to classroom dynamics enables students
and instructors to share authority over texts and their interpretation.
Together, students and instructors must "codevelop a joint learning
process" in order to come to an understanding of how texts fit into and
re-evaluate literary traditions (Shor 90). Students encountering a new
discourse, in this case, the discourse of literary scholarship, will often make
mistakes, simply due to the fact that endeavoring to appropriate the language
and convention of a discourse is not the same as mastering that discourse. In
undertaking original research on a text that is neglected in scholarship, the
fear of doing too much may create uneasiness in both instructors and students.
As instructors, we may indeed hesitate to encourage students to explore new
frontiers out of concern that their projects may stray, may be too large in
scope, or may fail to address issues important to mainstream scholarship. Needless
to say, our students may feel the same or worse, especially given the risks
inherent in attempting to place one's own findings into the larger critical
- However, as noted
earlier, these mistakes need not make either scholars or students overly
cautious in analyzing texts and producing interpretations of those texts—the
so-called "mistakes" instead prove a part of the critical process. As
Mina Shaughnessy notes, instructors must become students as well in order to
see their own students' "difficulties and their incipient excellence"
(317). In this way, the mistakes illustrate the notion that both instructors
and students learn in the critical classroom. At the same time, students who
recognize their own failings and shortcomings become better writers, better
critics, and better students for it. Likewise, these students will become more
critical of not only their own texts, but those produced by other scholars as
- The unfamiliar
nature of this process – one that many instructors might also consider unstable
– makes it is all too easy for the potential of in-class research using EEBO not
to be realised. The undergraduate essay is generally filed away immediately
after the grades are seen, never to be looked at again, and the undergraduate
moves on to something completely different. If the instructor is unfamiliar
with the early modern texts that the student "unearths" in EEBO, the
mistakes in the student's argument may go unnoticed, and the student may never
realise the error and therefore never learn from it. While critical pedagogy strives
to revolutionize the student-teacher relationship, we also hope to begin a discussion
of how we can change the system for assessing student work. This process too
demands a closer relationship between instructor and student, and it also
should reflect a dialogue regarding a project's end results. Ideally, the
student's essay should not be written in isolation from the rest of her
academic career, handed in at the deadline and returned with a grade. We argue
that it is worth working toward a system that considers the essay as a part of
the conversation, a perpetual work in progress that functions as an occasion
for the kind of exploratory research facilitated by resources like EEBO. In
this system, students would be assessed instead on their progress in mastering
scholarly dialogue, not on the end results of their one essay's outcome.
Close and Distant Readings: EEBO and Scholarly Trends
- As much as EEBO
has increased the speed of access to primary works – and as valuable as it had
proven in bringing early modern texts into the classroom efficiently – it is
also vital to note that the resource also has the power to slow us down in
productive ways. Much of the training done in the last twenty years has focused
on thematic criticism of literary texts, and
some argue that the urge to quickly boil down the significance of a text to a
few key concerns has led to inaccurate conclusions.  The digital early modern primary text can act as abarrier to over-easy thematic
reduction by requiring the reader to attend to the formal elements of the text
in order to understand its meanings. The irregular and unfamiliar early modern
primary text presents a number of difficulties that require a slower, more
attentive reading practice. This is true most particularly for the
undergraduate scholar-in-training who is often learning literary interpretive
practice for the first time, and who therefore learns the most from
productive mistakes. This deliberate, more difficult encounter with the text offers
the occasion for the reinvigoration of a more formalist interpretive practice.
As the reader labors to decipher the script, the visual conventions, and the
spelling variants present in the digital primary text, his or her attention is
drawn to the variability of early modern language use. Rather than the more
conventionally accessible modern edition, where language variance and print
conventions are present as footnotes (if at all), EEBO and sources like it
require an attention to form just at the level of comprehension, and as a
result form again becomes a visible and regular element of readerly
comprehension. In this way, the early modern primary text reminds the reader
that meaning is contingent upon the structures and relations of language.
- By presenting difference in the shape of literary form, and by prompting
fruitful misreadings, mistakes, and, hence, discovery, EEBO forces the modern
reader to attend to the importance of form and structure in all linguistic
discourse. This practical aspect of the tool is significant, but it is not the
only place where the archive represents the possibility of an intervention into
a formalist literary practice. As briefly suggested earlier, digital text
resources like EEBO also intervene by facilitating a mode of analysis that
emerges from the synthesis of one of our current critical binaries, that of close
reading and distant reading. According to Franco Moretti, distance is "a
specific form of knowledge,"  one that accounts for the large percentage of texts ignored by traditional
literary history (Moretti, Graphs 1). For Moretti, interpreting from a distance is a practice that offers "knowledge"
rather than "readings," a distinction that situates both pleasure and
formal analysis as something other or secondary to the "knowledge"
produced by literary historiography. Thus distinguishing between literary history
and literary criticism, Moretti's work has attempted to write a new history of
the novel in the nineteenth century, as well as to write new histories of a
number of other literary forms. His focus is on the "temporary structures
within the historical flow," a project which can illuminate what he has
called the "morphospace" of literary history (Graphs 14, 70). In
order to make these arguments Moretti has banished close reading from his
critical practice. But we need not sequester reading (and pleasure) off from
knowledge about literary history. Rather than restricting ourselves, as Moretti
does, to a dualism where (close) "readings" provide information,
while distance offers the only key to "knowledge," it is possible to
generate insight for both ourselves and our students through a methodology that
integrates close and distant reading practices. The digital archive, while not
making this possible, does go a long way to facilitate such an otherwise
- Moretti's form of knowledge is cartographic, diagramatic, and
quantitative, and his critical perspective is decidedly diachronic. His texts
include novel maps – including those that illustrate authorship trends by
charting quantity over time, and others that represent the distribution and
duration of British novelistic genres in bar graph form. For some, in taking
the long view of the large field, Moretti's scholarship "often turns out
to be banal" or is tautological in each of its modes (Guy 402). According
to this critique, Moretti finds what he is looking for – his data reveals only
what good close readers already know. For others, the interpretation of his
work is very different. The volume of data allows Moretti to tell "a
substantial story," opening up "a fascinating territory for
discussion" (Maxwell 696, 699). For these readers, Moretti's work is a
first step in positing a new mode of inquiry, of articulating a new form of
literary knowledge (Maxwell 696, 699).
- Rather than wade into the debate regarding Moretti's results, in
particular those of The Atlas of the Novel, 1800-1900, to which the
above critiques refer, we offer these perspectives as a way into evaluating
Moretti's theoretical statements regarding the inherent opposition between
close and distant reading. The oppositional nature of contemporary assessment
of Moretti's model is engendered by his own bifurcation of critical reading. For
those practicing close reading, Moretti's conclusions seem trite, while for
those interested in the long view of distant reading Moretti offers exciting
new vistas. We think it is more fruitful to argue that distant reading does
offer exciting new interpretive horizons but that these horizons are visible
only through movement between close reading and distant reading – and it is precisely
this movement that digital archives allow. In making the argument that close
reading and distant reading need not be oppositional modes of scholarship (a
claim which recovers the scholarly role of "reading"), we will be
pointing to a second way in which the digital archive facilitates a synthetic
formalist approach. As Thomas Rommel has noted, digital humanities research,
which can utilize digital archives like EEBO, allows for a highly detailed form
of distant interpretation that is "based on procedures of close reading"
(92). The value of this approach is that it neither dismisses historical, social,
and political contexts nor devalues the essential role that reading, in the
sense that Rooney and others have worked to recover, plays in writing literary
- The synthesis of close and distant reading practices is not entirely new,
nor is it dependent upon a digital archive. Erich Auerbach's Mimesis is
perhaps the best example of a synthetic approach to literary history. Written
as a theory of representation in the Western literary canon from antiquity to
the early twentieth century, Mimesis utilizes careful and elegant close
readings of primary texts to generate a number of arguments regarding
historically specific modes of representation. His approach, however, differs
from Moretti's in that Auerbach begins with the particular to move to the
general. Auerbach begins with a series of careful readings of the formal
structure of various works and in so doing develops his theory of representation.
Through analysis of strategies such as lineal location or grammatical
constructions – in other words, careful analysis of the linguistic and formal
strategies deployed within texts – Auerbach produces insight into the
operations of language in a text while also marshalling this evidence to make
the more abstract, or general claims regarding literary representation. In
eschewing the large chunk of text that has come to signal a close reading,
Auerbach is perhaps more elegant, but it is close reading all the same. As Ato
Quayson has observed, "Auerbach consistently attempts to move from the
close reading of literary fragments to an abstraction about reality and its
representation" (125). Auerbach himself recognized that his work was
historical (Moretti's term would be "explanatory," that is,
productive of knowledge), but Quayson's trope of motion suggests that the text
crosses critical modalities – that it can be read as exemplary of a close
reading/distant reading synthesis.
Quayson's recognition of Auerbach's use of "literary fragments,"
along with the motive trope, suggests that in moving between textual selections
the critic is able to generate new "abstractions," which incidentally
are exactly what constitute new knowledge for Moretti.
has asserted that there is an "either/or choice" between
interpretation (that tends to make a close reading of a single text) and
explanation (that works with abstract models on a large group of texts)
(Moretti Responds II). Auerbach's text seems to suggest otherwise. With its
movement between literary fragments, Mimesis shows that an approach that
focuses on both "the very small, and the very large" need not exclude
close reading, so long as we do not define close reading as the exegesis of a
whole text (Moretti, Graphs 76). Or alternatively, close reading remains
valid in this system so long as we do not define close reading as only
concerned with only the single text. It could be argued after all that if close
reading is teaching rather than telling, that the close reading analysis need
not explicate how all of the structures function within a text. Rather, it can,
as Auerbach's readings do, offer insight into how a structure functions within
a particular narratological moment, leaving the scholar-teacher and her students
to work through the implications of this structure (and its variants) elsewhere
in the text.
reading is not inimical to distant reading; on the contrary, it is part of it.
Or rather, they are both a part of a synthetic mode of analysis that moves
between the diachronic and the synchronic view in order to render an image of
the dynamic play of discourse and its genres and forms. True, this mode does
not highlight the exposition of a single text, selecting instead to consider
the fragment both within the text and as a structure across time. It is not
better than a mode that focuses on the single text or set of texts, but it is
different and as such it will offer different critical horizons. Perhaps what
is most exciting about this synthetic mode is that it greatly facilitated by the
large-scale digitization of primary texts. This is true both in the scholar's
study and in the classroom. With digitally encoded texts, keyword searches and
proximity searches, search-directed reading can now be accomplished by the
student with limited research time and, on a larger scale, by the researcher.
Student and scholar alike (or more accurately all student-scholars) can draw
insight from a critical view that moves between the small and the large, between
discrete forms in particular texts and changes in the use of such forms in the longue
duree. Such methods are perhaps more intimidating than using electronic
facsimiles as resources in the classroom, yet they nonetheless under gird
productive, approachable pedagogical uses of EEBO. Even for those whose access
allows only the searching of EEBO's bibliographic records, such inquiries can
still allow students to see how genres evolve on the larger scale across the
collection's centuries. While the digital text approached as a unified whole
offers the opportunity for a formal emphasis in pedagogy by slowing down the
student/scholar, digital archives like EEBO offer the ability to fragment
texts, an amazing number of texts, along structural lines.
- Discussing data
demonstrating that clusters of British novelistic genres 'die' every
twenty-five or thirty years during the period 1740-1900, Moretti claims that "the
causal mechanism must thus be external to the genres, and common to all: like a
sudden, total change of their ecosystem…. when an entire generic system
vanishes at once, the likeliest explanation is that its readers vanished at
once. This, then, is where those 25-30 years come from: generations." While we would never
argue – and certainly never advocate – that the arrival of EEBO and other
digital primary text tools should lead to the "death" of rare book
libraries or the research conducted in them, such electronic resources will undoubtedly reshape literary scholarship – and indeed, they already have. Our entry into the academy coincides with the
development of these sources, marking us as a new generation of scholars with a
new generation of tools at our disposal. The significance of EEBO and similar
resources to our careers, however, remains largely uncertain, even as the
research and pedagogical approaches they enable become more and more
influential in our field. The expenses and technological issues involved in
accessing EEBO add an element of instability to our scholarly work, and, for
those of us who use the resource in our teaching, into our daily lives as
well. Not only are we perpetually experimenting with the new activities
sources like EEBO allow, we experience a great deal of insecurity as to how the
results of our efforts will be valued within the academy.
are, in short, members a generation of new early modern scholars who increasingly
find ourselves in dialogue with sources like EEBO. The place of such
electronic resources continues to evolve within the academy, and the
relationships we forge with them reflect – and, to some extent, define – our
theoretical positions as both scholars and teachers. Digital archives offer
tremendous opportunities for our own research, allowing us to take up projects
that would never have been possible fifteen years earlier; at the same time,
sources like EEBO confront us with questions about the value of
long-established and newly-arrived modes of inquiry and interpretation. We
find ourselves in need of new ways to define our work both to colleagues who
did not have access to digital tools early in their careers, and to students
who strive to create a firm foundation for their own academic work. The
digital resources themselves continue to change, too, in ways that both respond
to and shape our scholarship and teaching. Yet, as new as these electronic
tools may prove, we find that they enrich traditional approaches to literature
as well as newer ones, and that the academic conversations sources like EEBO
provoke flow naturally from those occurring outside (or even before the
existence of) the digital realm. In that sense, it is important to modify Moretti's
notions of generations, since EEBO's arrival does not mark a sudden and total
change in our discipline; it has, however, begun a radically new conversation
that has the power to reshape the scholarship – and scholars
– to come.
Stefania Crowther is an MA student in Renaissance Studies at
Birkbeck College, University of London. She began using EEBO in 2004 while an
undergraduate at the University of Warwick.
Ethan T. Jordan is a Ph.D. student in Rhetoric and Technical
Communication at Michigan Technological University. He has used EEBO in a
number of conference presentations and research projects since 2005.
Jacqueline Wernimont is a doctoral candidate in the
department of English at Brown University. She extensively utilizes digital
archives such as EEBO for her teaching and research on early modern poetics and
mathematics. She is also working to understand the possible relationships of
the digital archives and text encoding practices to mainstream scholarly
Hillary Nunn is Associate Professor of English at The University of Akron. She has been using EEBO in her own research and teaching since 1998.
- Auerbach, Erich. Mimesis:
The Representation of Reality in Western Literature. Trans. Willard R
Trask. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 2003.
- Brown, Richard Harvey. "Toward
a Sociology of Aesthetic Forms: A Commentary." New Literary History
17 (1986): 223-228.
John., A Computation into Criticism. A Study of Jane Austen's Novels and an
Experiment in Method. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1987.
- Crowther, Stefania. "Never Was King So Like to God Before:" Stella Meridiana and the Restoration Panegyric."
- Curran, Kevin. "Virtual Scholarship: Navigating Early Modern Studies
on the World Wide Web". Early Modern Literary Studies 12.1 (May,
2006) 1.1-23 <URL: http://purl.oclc.org/emls/12-1/currvirt.htm>
- Ellis, Scott.
"Digitizing the Past: Using Electronic Texts in Scholarship and the
Classroom." Legacy 19 (2002): 115-120.
- Flanders, Julia. "Learning, Reading, and the Problem
of Scale: Using Women Writers Online."
Pedagogy 2 (2002): 49-60.
- Freire, Paulo. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. 30th Anniversary
Edition. Trans. Myra Bergman Ramos. New York: Continuum, 2003.
- Fumerton, Patricia. "Remembering by Dismembering Broadside
- Guy, Josephine. "Atlas
of the European Novel, 1800-1900" Nineteenth-Century Literature,
1999 Dec; 54 (3): 401-404.
- Hanlon, Christopher. "History on the Cheap: Using the
Online Archive to Make Historicists out of Undergrads." Pedagogy 5 (2005): 97-115.
- Hill, Tracey and Jonathan Gibson. "EEBO in the
Seminar Room: A Case Study from Bath Spa University."
- Hoole, Charles. The latine grammar fitted for the
use in schools, ... 1659. Wing H2685A.
- Jones, Basset. Herm’aelogium. London, 1659. Wing J925.
- Lily, William. A Short Introduction of Grammar Generally to Be Used. [A facsimile of the edition of 1567]. With an introduction by Vincent J. Flynn. New York: Scholars' Facsimiles & Reprints, 1945.
William. A Short Introduction of Grammar Generally to Be Used. Cambridge, 1673. Wing L2292.
William. A Short Introduction of Grammar Generally to Be Used. Cambridge, 1681. Wing L2297.
William. A Short Introduction of Grammar Generally to Be Used. Cambridge, 1695. Wing L2301.
- McGann, Jerome J.
Radiant Textuality: Literature
after the World Wide Web. New York: Palgrave, 2001.
- Maxwell, Richard. "Atlas
of the European Novel, 1800-1900" Review, Modern Philology, 2001 May;
98 (4): 695-699.
- Modern Language Association.. "Guidelines for
Evaluating Work with Digital Media in the Modern Languages." May 2000. http://www.mla.org/guidelines_evaluation_digital
- Moretti, Franco. "Conjectures
on World Literature." New Left Review 2000 January: 54-60.
- Moretti, Franco. "Moretti
Responds II", The Valve blog: http://www.thevalve.org/go/valve/article/franco_morettis_graphs_maps_and_trees_a_valve_book_event/
- Moretti, Franco. Graphs,
Maps, and Trees: Abstract Models for a Literary History. New York: Verso,
- Moretti, Franco. Atlas of
the European Novel, 1800-1900. New York: Verso, 1998.
- Murray, Heather. "Close
Reading Closed Writing." College English 53 (1991): 195-208.
- Pack, Thomas. "Bringing
Literature Alive." EContent 22.6 (1999): 26-29.
- Parker, Derek. Familiar
to All, William Lilly and Astrology in the Seventeenth Century. London: Jonathan Cape, 1975.
- Perkins, David. Is Literary History Possible? Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1992.
- Perloff, Marjorie. "Teaching in the Wired
Classroom." MLA Newsletter Winter 2006: 3-5.
- Quason, Ato. "Incessant
Particularities: Calibrations as Close Reading." Research in
African Literatures 36 (2005): 122-133.
Thomas. "Literary Studies." A Companion to Digital Humanities
(Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2004): 88-96.
- Rooney; Ellen. "Form
and Contentment." Modern Language Quarterly
61 (2000): 17-40.
- Shaughnessy, Mina. "Diving In: An Introduction to Basic Writing."
Cross-Talk in Comp Theory: A Reader. 2nd ed. Ed. Victor Villanueva. Urbana, Illinois: NCTE, 2003. 311-318.
- Shor, Ira. Empowering Education: Critical Teaching for Social Change.
Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1992.
 While scholars like Jerome McGann, among others, have published foundational
work on the significance of electronic archives and texts, academic publication
on the use of digital archives in the classroom has been slow to appear; when
has appeared, it has often focused on American literature. For example,
Christopher Hanlon discusses his students' use of texts from sources like The
Making of America and the Library of Congress, and Scott Ellis outlines the
pedagogical possibilities presented by the Emory Women Writers Resource
Project. Julia Flanders is one of the few venturing into print discussion of
earlier online material in her article regarding the Brown University Women's
Writers Project in the classroom. See Christopher Hanlon, "History on the Cheap: Using the
Online Archive to Make Historicists out of Undergrads," Pedagogy 5 (2005): 97-115; Scott Ellis, "Digitizing the Past:
Using Electronic Texts in Scholarship and the Classroom," Legacy 19
(2002): 115-120; and Julia Flanders, "Learning, Reading, and the
Problem of Scale: Using Women Writers Online,"
Pedagogy 2 (2002): 49-60.
 It is worth noting that, like many university libraries, Bierce Library at The
University of Akron – one of our home institutions – owns only a portion of the
Early English Books microfilm collection. The library's subscription to EEBO
thus not only made finding early modern works easier; it allowed students to
access thousands of additional early modern books in their research.
 The Modern Language Association has had guidelines in place since May 2000 for
evaluating scholarly work with digital media, and the group's president,
Marjorie Perloff, has written about teaching with electronic resources in the
group's newsletter. See "Guidelines for Evaluating Work with Digital
Media in the Modern Languages" at http://www.mla.org/guidelines_evaluation_digital and Marjorie Perloff, "Teaching in the Wired Classroom," MLA
Newsletter Winter 2006 3-5. Scholarly publication on the use of electronic
archives in the classroom, however, has been slow to appear and often focuses
on American literature. For example, Christopher Hanlon discusses his
student's use of texts from sources like The Making of America and the Library
of Congress, and Scott Ellis outlines the pedagogical possibilities presented
by the Emory Women Writers Resource Project. Julia Flanders is one of the few
venturing in print into discussion of earlier online material in her article
regarding the Brown University Women's Writers Project in the classroom. See
Christopher Hanlon, "History on the Cheap: Using the
Online Archive to Make Historicists out of Undergrads," Pedagogy 5 (2005): 97-115; Scott Ellis,
"Digitizing the Past: Using Electronic Texts in Scholarship and the
Classroom," Legacy 19 (2002): 115-120; and Julia Flanders, "Learning,
Reading, and the Problem of Scale: Using Women Writers Online," Pedagogy 2 (2002): 49-60.
 For an early history of the EEBO project, see Thomas Pack, "Bringing
Literature Alive," EContent 22.6 (1999): 26-29. A number of
significant changes have taken place since then to improve download speeds.
Chadwyck-Healey (the current overseer of EEBO) continues to add documents to
the online collection; in particular, they plan to "begin scanning the
Tract Supplement collection and work on STC I Units 74-78 and Wing Units
125-127" in 2007. See http://eebo.chadwyck.com/about/about.htm.
Some of us, and our students, even lack access to EEBO itself, either because
we have moved on to institutions that do not subscribe, or because the
technology to support its use proves a barrier on our campuses
 As Kevin Curran recently noted in his
discussion of the World Wide Web in early modern studies, the purpose of using
electronic tools in the discipline "is about finding constructive
continuities between traditional and technologically more progressive forms of
scholarship; it involves building upon already-existent foundations of
intellectual enquiry rather than obliterating or revolutionizing those
foundations" (par. 22).
 For more on "morphospace" see Franco Moretti,Graphs, Maps, and Trees: Abstract Models for a Literary
History (New York: Verso, 2005).
Patricia Fumerton made this comparison in her talk, "Remembering by Dismembering Broadside Ballads," at the Bringing Text Alive: The Future of Scholarship,
Pedagogy, and Electronic Publication conference in Ann Arbor this past fall. See http://extra.shu.ac.uk/emls/si-17/Fumerrem.htm.
 Institutions that belong to the Early English Books Online Text Creation
Partnership (EEBO-TCP), however, may well offer students access to online,
encoded transcriptions of these texts in addition to the page images. For more
on the EEBO-TCP, see http://www.lib.umich.edu/tcp/eebo/.
 Tracey Hill and Jonathan Gibson vividly illustrate the students' difficulty
with these facsimile texts in their paper, "EEBO in the Seminar Room:
A Case Study from Bath Spa University," presented at the Bringing Text Alive: The Future of Scholarship, Pedagogy, and
Electronic Publication conference.
Of course, there are difficulties to reading the facsimiles on a computer
screen as well that some might argue compound the challenges EEBO poses to its
James Shirley, 1661, printed in London for T. Basset [Wing/ S5401] Copy from
Henry E Huntington Library and Art Gallery.
See the 1673, 1681, and 1691 versions of Lilly's A Short Introduction of
Grammar Generally to be Used.
 Charles Hoole, 1659. Wing H2685A.
Derek Parker, Familiar to All, William Lilly and Astrology in the
Seventeenth Century (London: Jonathan Cape, 1975) 38-9.
 In a further irony, the essay went on to win a top prize in the 2005 Early
English Books Online/ EEBO-TCP Undergraduate Essay Competition. Entitled
"Never Was King So Like to God Before:" Stella Meridiana and the Restoration Panegyric,"
the essay is available online at http://www.lib.umich.edu/tcp/eebo/edu/UE%20Essays/crowther.pdf.
See Hoole, and Basset Jones, Herm’aelogium, London, 1659. Wing
 See Ellen Rooney, "Form and Contentment," Modern
Language Quarterly 61 (2000): 17-40.
Moretti's model of distant reading is not based exclusively on
the use of digital archives – in Graphs, Maps, and Trees he depends on
prior book history scholarship – nor does it directly engage with the use of
EEBO. Nevertheless, we believe that for early modern scholars the model of
distant reading, and especially that of a synthesized distant/close reading, is
facilitated in particular ways by EEBO and other archives like it.
John Burrows has noted, as Moretti and others have as well,
that traditional literary criticism depends on a limited textual selection; "It
is a truth not generally acknowledged that, in most discussions of works of
English fiction, we proceed as if a third, two-fifths, a half of our material
were not really there." For more on this practice and the ability of
digital humanities work to do otherwise see John Burrows, A Computation into
Criticism. A Study of Jane Austen's Novels and an Experiment in Method (Oxford:
Oxford UP, 1987); also, Thomas Rommel "Literary Studies," A
Companion to Digital Humanities (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2004): 88-96.
Here it is important to note that our point is that digital
archives facilitate in unique ways, not that they make possible methodologies
which have a clear tradition prior to the advent of the computer. As our later
discussion of Erich Auerbach is meant to suggest, we find that the digital
archives can uniquely foster a form of scholarship which has a tradition that
pre-dates computing technologies.
Rommel himself does not discuss the work of Moretti in this
article. Nevertheless, his discussion of the mapping and quantification of
literary structures clearly relates his discussion of literary criticism, and
its manifestations as digital humanities research, to the distant reading
Though Auerbach would not have articulated his method as a synthesis of distant
and close reading, those terms were not part of the disciplinary parlance of
the early to mid-twentieth century, his philological approach to the study of
literature can be construed in just this way.
Franco Moretti, Graphs, 20-21.
The authors would like to thank the organizers of the 2006
Text Creation Partnership Conference, Bringing
Text Alive: The Future of Scholarship, Pedagogy, and Electronic
Publication. In particular, we thank Shawn Martin for his efforts, as well as
Irina A. Dumitrescu, who also presented her work as part of our panel, "From
Student to Teacher: Electronic Resources in the Classroom."
Responses to this piece intended for the Readers'
Forum may be sent to the Editor at M.Steggle@shu.ac.uk.
© 2008-, Matthew Steggle (Editor, EMLS).