Early English Books Online (an
Internet service offered in a variety of institutional access packages, typically
$31 250 for an annual subscription, $171 000 one-time payment for permanent
Gabriel Egan, Shakespeare's Globe London, email@example.com
John Jowett, Shakespeare Institute, University of Birmingham, firstname.lastname@example.org
John Jowett and Gabriel Egan.
"Review of the Early English Books Online (EEBO)." Interactive Early Modern
Literary Studies (January, 2001) 1-13: <URL: http://purl.oclc.org/emls/iemls/reviews/jowetteebo.htm>
- Early English Books Online (EEBO) is an online version of the University
Microfilms International (UMI) microfilm products Early English Books 1475-1640
and Early English Books 1641-1700. It is already a major resource for the study
of early modern literature, culture, and history. When complete it will provide digitized
images of every page of the works listed in Pollard & Redgrave's Short-Title
Catalogue (STC) of printed materials published in the English language from 1475 to
1640, Wing's Short-Title Catalogue of works dating from 1641 to 1700, and the Thomason
Tracts 1640-1661 collection of Civil War publications.
- Searches can be simple or advanced, the latter allowing use of the Boolean operators
'AND', 'OR', and 'NOT'. The search fields include 'author', 'subjects' (by Library of
Congress subject headings), 'title', 'keywords' (which combines 'title' and 'subjects'),
'reel position', 'STC number', and 'imprint'. A comprehensive Help section provides
excellent guidance. Consultation of Help can be necessary, for instance to identify search
fields such as 'DATE' that are not displayed on the Advanced Search screen. Sometimes the
searches proceed by mysterious operations. For instance, even though the imprint search is
supposed to cover the stated date of publication, the search for a work by Shakespeare
with an imprint of 1623, 'PUB(1623) AND AU(shakespeare)', produces no results. The
expected book, the 1623 Folio, is located by altering 'PUB' to 'DATE'. The difference
between the two fields is that 'PUB' supposedly retrieves information that actually
appears on the imprint, as '1623' does in the case of the Shakespeare Folio, whereas
'DATE' reflects the actual date of publication where there is a difference. This is a
recurrent failure of the imprint ('PUB') field.
- Curiously, the successful search for the Shakespeare Folio also retrieved the 1623
reprint of Thomas Lodge's Euphues. Further enquiry shows that Euphues
has under its subject heading 'Shakespeare, William, 1564-1616.Sources'. In some
sense this is how Shakespeare becomes identified as author, though the slippage between
fields is unexpected.
- Users will of course need to bear in mind the vagaries of early modern spelling when
conducting author, title, or keyword searches. A truncation facility for leaving
unspecified the end of a word is helpful here; for instance 'TI(owl? almana?)'
successfully identifies the title The owles almanacke without the need to check
the spelling variants for the end of each word. But truncation cannot assist with forms
such as 'drad' for 'dread', although more sophisticated search software can accommodate
such complexities. This example can be stated as 'dr' followed by 'a' or 'e', in any
numbers or combinations, followed by 'd', and in the underlying software of search engines
built using the computational commonplace of 'regular expressions' such
searches are quite routine. The difficulty which no manufacturer has overcome is the
provision of an easily-understood grammar and syntax for such search expressions; current
grammars cannot even agree whether '?' or '*' should be the symbol used as the wildcard in
- EEBOs citation file derives from the same source as the English Short Title
Catalogue (ESTC), an electronic database containing records for all the items in Pollard
and Redgrave's and Wing's STCs. ESTC is not immune to error, and
this can make searching difficult or impossible in a significant number of cases. One
example we noted is that Cervantes Exemplarie Novells is entered as
'Exemparie nouells', where each word contains a typographical error. Similarly, the title
of the 1613 edition of Montaigne's Essays is given as 'Essays vvritten' instead
of 'Essayes written', an error of spelling in the first word and of typography in the
second. Where transcription is accurate, the user conducting searches needs to be mindful
of typographical conventions such as the representation of 'vv' for 'w' as the two
- Once a book is located, the user can proceed to a full citation, illustrations, or
document images. The full citation gives bibliographical information following that in
ESTC, though it has been redesigned to meet the needs of the project. Where ESTC issues
notes on a number of different copies, in EEBO details of only the copy microfilmed are
provided. The editing has resulted in a few oddities; for instance the note on the format
has often (though not always) been deleted, leaving a hanging semicolon before the point
where it originally appeared. Format is in fact crucial information, as there is often no
other indication of the physical size of the book in question.
- Our attempts to consult several titles were met with the Bodleianesque message 'Could
not load image from vault'. Where there is no such obstacle, loading is quick enough if
the image has been requested previously, but it is currently common to receive the
Congratulations! You're the first user in the world to request this page image. Please
wait while the system moves it from CD-ROM to the server for you to view (this may take up
to five minutes.)
Naturally, the more collective use is made of EEBO the less this notice will need be
issued. In the meantime, delays may be expected.
- To receive the digital images of a book's pages requires software which the average user
is unlikely to possess: the DejaVu plug-in for Netscape Navigator and Internet Explorer,
or Adobe Acrobat Reader. The former allows the images to be seen within one's web-browser
window, while the latter allows selected images (or even an entire early printed book) to
be downloaded in the Portable Document Format (PDF), which is rapidly gaining ground in
the printing industry, ready to be viewed off-line. The DejaVu plug-in and Adobe Acrobat
Reader are available for free download over the Internet, but corporate users such as a
libraries may well have to make hard decisions about the computers on which they choose to
install such non-standard software and who has responsibility for keeping the software
up-to-date. (It is increasingly common for free 'reader' software, although not actually
time-limited by design, to 'expire' when it receives content which is significantly newer
than the reader itself and then attempt to load a more recent copy of itself from the
manufacturer's website. Such attempts generally fail on public-access machines which have
been set-up to prevent installation of new software by public users.)
- Compared to winding a microfilm, using the DejaVu plug-in makes the archive slow and
cumbersome to navigate. Locating a particular page in a long book can be a hit-and-miss
affair as one can only 'Go To' a particular image number, the numbers being simply a
serial count of the frames in the original microfilm. A system of cross-referencing to
page numbers and signatures in the printed book itself would hugely improve the utility.
By contrast to the DejaVu plug-in, one can move rapidly through a downloaded PDF file read
using Adobe Acrobat Reader because the data is loaded directly from one's hard drive
rather than travelling from EEBO's webserver screen-at-a-time. During the period of review
the DejaVu software was revised by its authors and greatly improved. We found that early
versions of the plug-in were unable to print images, producing a Windows 'Exception
Violation' after an extended and unproductive delay while it considered the task. The
current version, 3.2, prints reliably and can scale the image to fit the paper, a
necessary expedient when printing to standard A4 (or 8.5" x 11") office paper.
If one selects 'Printer Properties' from within the DejaVu print dialogue box one can set
the paper orientation to 'Landscape', which suits the 'short and wide' shape of most
verso-recto book images. Adobe Acrobat Reader also printed reliably, although even after
changing the application's Page Setup 'Orientation' setting to 'Landscape', and changing
to 'Landscape' mode within the Windows printer driver, the images were always produced in
'Portrait' mode on our office Lexmark Optra R+ laser printer, thus making poor use of the
paper and crowding the images unnecessarily.
- Educators seeking to enliven a presentation might well want to 'cut & paste' images
into another document such as a PowerPoint presentation. Early versions of the DejaVu
plug-in provided no way of doing this, but version 3.2 has an 'Export to File' option on
its right-click menu. The only file format DejaVu can export to is Windows bitmap (.BMP),
typically producing a 30-40 megabyte file which was too large to edit on an office 333MHz
Pentium PC with 128 megabytes of RAM. The version of Adobe Acrobat Reader we used, 4.0,
offers no export facility and makes inoperable the 'Copy' and 'Paste' items on the
application's 'Edit' menu. Experienced users of either DejaVu or Acrobat Reader can still
maximize the image window as large as their monitors allow and then use the little-known
'ALT+PrintScreen' facility to dump the screen image to the Windows clipboard for further
manipulation within a graphics package (such as removal of the window border to leave just
the microfilm image within), but it seems mean to deny the average user this facility by
omission of a more intuitive method.
- The images themselves derive from the master copies of the EEB microfilms, and although
film can, albeit to a limited extent, register greyness, the digitization process used 1
bit-per-pixel (0 for a white dot, 1 for a black dot) so all shades of grey on the film are
lost. The scanning resolution was 400 dots-per-inch which produces reasonably smooth edges
to letters: jaggedness appears only when the images are greatly magnified. On a standard
15 inch office monitor the zoom facility is usually necessary as the text is difficult or
impossible to read at the standard image size. Whether using DejaVu or Adobe Acrobat
Reader the images occasionally appear with heavy horizontal striations which can be made
to disappear by moving the image up and down slightly; only experience revealed that these
were not, as we first thought, scratches on the original microfilm.
- UMI is now part of Bell & Howell, who also recently acquired Chadwyck-Healey, makers
of the Literature Online (LION) database  which contains electronic
texts of every work of poetry, drama, and prose fiction published before 1910. Although
the items in the Pollard and Redgrave and Wing STCs are, of course, not limited to
literary works (their selection criteria is 'whatever gets published' not 'genre'), many
of their records are for literary works and there are potentially enormous scholarly
benefits to the linking of LION and EEBO. With a full-text search, one could locate any
work of literature in the period by its contents (LION indexes down to individual words in
the body text) and if it was printed before 1700 there is sure to be a digital image of
the work's early printing in EEBO. This opportunity has not escaped Bell & Howell. As
this review was being completed, the 'What's New' section of Literature Online (updated 15
December 2000) announced that records in LION are being linked to their corresponding page
images in EEBO and that over 4500 potential correspondences have been identified. Although
users "will still have to log into the service [EEBO] as usual" a hypertext link
would simplify movement from one database to the other. In January 2001 we could not get
this feature of LION to work. For a number of LION records concerning Thomas Middleton
(including the plays A Game at Chess and A Mad World My Masters) we
found a promising looking EEBO icon after the bibliographical data in the 'Summary of
results' listing for a 'Find authors' enquiry. The icon was also present in the listings
for 'Find works' and 'Browse authors and works' enquiries, but in all cases the icon was
merely decorative and not a hypertext link to the images in EEBO. When reaching the same
two plays by another route into the LION database the 'Search text' feature
the EEBO icon did not appear at all. It seems that the linking of LION and EEBO has only
just begun and cannot yet be used effectively.
- We have dwelt on mostly minor glitches. With a little perseverance EEBO is an invaluable
research tool . One of its great benefits is that it allows immediate transition from
searching for information to examining the relevant texts. In other words, it combines the
facilities of ESTC and the UMI microfilm series in one resource. Whether this facility
will justify purchase by institutions that already hold the microfilms is doubtful, but
libraries who do not have the microfilms should certainly be urged to obtain access to
this resource. The potential for generating new research in early modern studies is
considerable indeed. If proper integration with LION can be achieved, the potential
usefulness will be greater than the sum of these two databases. The relationship between
'literature' as an idealized conceptual category and its manifestation in particular
textualizations is currently a hot topic in theoretical work on the early modern period,
and electronic products such as EEBO and LION enable new forms of scholarly study which
were not possible using paper and film technologies.
1. The English Short Title Catalogue has been
reviewed in this journal. See E. Thomson Shields. "Review of the English Short Title
Catalogue." Interactive Early Modern Literary Studies (May, 2000) 1-10:
2.Various parts of Literature Online, some of which
are also available in CD-ROM format, have been reviewed in this journal. See
Hardy M. Cook "Review of the Chadwyck Healey Editions and Adaptations of
Shakespeare" Interactive Early Modern Literary Studies (January, 2001) 1-12:
Hardy M. Cook "Review of Chadwyck-Healey The Bible in English Internet and
CD-ROM databases" Interactive Early Modern Literary Studies (June, 2000)
1-10: <URL: http://purl.oclc.org/emls/iemls/reviews/cooklion.htm>;
and Catherine Alexander "Review of Chadwyck-Healey English Poetry, Early
English Prose Fiction, and English Verse Drama CD-ROM databases." Interactive
Early Modern Literary Studies (October, 1999) 1-16: <URL: http://purl.oclc.org/emls/iemls/reviews/alexlion.htm>.
- Anon. The Owles Almanacke. London: Edward Griffin for Laurence Lisle, 1618
- Cervantes Saavedra, Miguel de. Exemplarie Novells. London: John Dawson for
Ralph Mabbe, 1640.
- "ESTCEnglish Short Title Catalogue." English Short Title Catalog.
Web Page. URL: http://www.ohio.rlg.org/estc.html
20 November 2000.
- Lodge, Thomas. Euphues Golden Legacie. London: for John Smethwick, 1623.
- Middleton, Thomas. A Game at Chess. London?: n. pub., 1615?
- Middleton, Thomas A Mad World My Masters. London: H[enry] B[allard] for Walter
- Montaigne, Michel de. The Essays. London: M. Bradwood for Edward Blount, 1613.
- Pollard, A. W., and G. R. Redgrave. A Short-Title Catalogue of Books Printed in
England, Scotland, and Ireland and of English Books Printed Abroad, 1475-1640. London:
The Bibliographical Society, 1926.
- Wing, Donald Goddard. Short-Title Catalogue of Books Printed in England, Scotland,
Ireland, Wales, and British America, and of English Books Printed in Other Countries,
1641-1700. 3 vols. New York: Index Society, 1945-51.
1998-, Lisa Hopkins(Editor, EMLS).