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.”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.
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.
Robert Hatch suggested that “ ‘Digital Humanities’are
already with us,that unrivaled research opportunitieshave
already changed ourteaching and outreach responsibilities.” 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.
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.
 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.
 Robert Hatch, “Clio Electric: Primary Texts and Digital Research in
Pre-1750 History of Science,” ISIS (Vol. 98, no. 1, March, 2007), 150.
Responses to this piece intended for the Readers'
Forum may be sent to the Editor at M.Steggle@shu.ac.uk.