Boston College Libraries Faculty Newsletter


FALL 2010

Eighteenth Century Collections Online

The Library recently purchased Part II of the database Eighteenth Century Collections Online (ECCO).  Part II adds 46,607 new titles of previously unavailable or inaccessible materials comprising more than 6 million pages of text. The complete database now has 182,898 titles corresponding to more than 32 million pages of text. It consists of practically every English-language and foreign-language title printed in the U.K. during the 18th century, together with thousands of significant works from the Americas. The works digitized come from the British Library, Oxford University, Harvard University, Cambridge University, National Library of Scotland, National Library of Ireland, the Library of Congress and other distinguished institutions.


The full-text ECCO clearly revolutionizes access to an amazing wealth of 18th century materials that otherwise would be extremely difficult to consult. Covering all subject matter, it is potentially of great use to scholars and students in many disciplines. For example, ECCO is an excellent resource for examining how literature, including the birth of the novel, developed during the 18th Century. Daniel Defoe, Samuel Richardson, Alexander Pope, William Congreve, Richard Brinsley Sheridan, William Cowper are among the literary figures whose works are well represented. The "Browse Authors" option is an excellent method to retrieve full-text works by specific authors. For example, one may locate 795 variant editions of works by Defoe. Having all these editions on one's screen obviously allows one to conduct sophisticated textual, editing and other research. There are hundreds of different editions of the works of Jonathan Swift.

Medical works are well illustrated in ECCO. In 1712 J. White, M.D. published his frightening sounding De recta sanguinis missione: or, new and exact observations of fevers. In which letting of blood is shew'd to be the true and solid basis of their cure, as well as of almost all other acute diseases . . . . On the other hand, medical advances are also evident. The database has several editions of Giambattista Morgagni's The seats and causes of diseases investigated by anatomy; in five books, containing A Great Variety of Dissections. Morgagni was one of the founders of modern medicine, particularly of anatomical pathology. In 1798 Edward Jenner, the "Father of Immunology", published An inquiry into the causes and effects of the variolæ vaccinæ, a disease discovered in some of the western counties of England, particularly Gloucestershire, and known by the name of the cow pox in which he described inoculation with the cow-pox virus to build immunity against smallpox. Many changes were also taking place in the development of law in the British Empire during the 18th century. Legal texts in the database that played a particularly prominent role in this development include multiple editions, abridgements, and summaries of Blackstone's Commentaries on the Laws of England. The database also has 16 editions of Richard Burn's influential The justice of the peace, and parish officer. Not surprisingly the turbulent 18th century is well reflected in numerous important works of political science. ECCO has 20 editions of Common Sense, Thomas Paine's fervent call for American independence from Britain and over 45 editions of his Rights of Man, a passionate attack on British political institutions and a call for radical social action. One may also read the very widely read work of the Irish Protestant Theobald Wolfe Tone: Catholics. An argument on behalf of the Catholics of Ireland. in which the present political state of that country, and the necessity of a parliamentary reform are considered (1791). There are at least 18 editions of Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith's classic argument supporting free market economics.

Browsing through ECCO one may come across a multitude of fascinating works. For example, in 1710 was published the odd but probably useful The compleat English and French vermin-killer: being a companion for all families. Shewing ready way to Destroy Adders, Badgers, Birds of all sorts, Bugs, Ducks, Earwigs, Fish, Fleas, Flies, Foxes, Frogs, Gnats, Lice, Mice, Moles, Otters, Pismires, Polt-Cats, Rabits, Rats, Scorpions, Snakes, Snails, Spiders, Toads, Wants or Moles, Wasps, Weasles, Wolf-Fly, Worms in Houses Garden, &c. With some directions for gardiners, and the prizes of workmens labour. One may read Jacques André Naigeon' 1768's fervently atheistic, anti-Christian tract  Le militaire philosophe ou difficultés sur la religion proposées au R. P. Malebranche, prêtre de l'oratoire. Par un ancien officier. ECCO is replete with a multitude of encyclopedias, dictionaries, lexicons, catalogs, almanacs, and other reference tools. There is the full-text of the first Encyclopedia Britannica, published in Edinburgh in three volumes in 1771. Three years earlier appeared the four page Proposals for printing, by subscribtion, a work, intitled, encyclopædia britannica; or, A new and complete dictionary of arts and sciences . .  . In 1777 appeared John Richardson's 1148 page A dictionary, Persian, Arabic, and English. To which is prefixed a dissertation on the languages, literature, and manners of eastern nation. The database contains much erotica, for example the anonymous 1748 Adollizing: or, a lively picture of adoll-worship. A poem in Five Canto's and the 1741 A court lady's curiosity; or, the virgin undress'd authored by a "Facetious Florentine." There are 23 works with the words "slavery" and "abolition" in the title, the earliest being William Dillwyn's Brief considerations on slavery, and the expediency of its abolition. With some hints on the means whereby it may be gradually effected. Recommended to the serious attention of all, and especially of those entrusted with the powers of legislation (New Jersey, 1773). Aristotle is mentioned 12,183 times in ECCO whereas Plato is mentioned 27,609 times., thereby beating the 27,563 occurrences of Virgil. 

While the vast majority of ECCO's titles are in English, there are also other languages represented. There's one work in the Montagnais language (an Algonquian dialect):  Nehiro-Iriniui aiamihe massinahigan, Shatshegutsh, Mitinekaptish, Iskuamiskutsh, Netshekatsh, Misht', Assinitsh, Shekutimitsh, Ekuanatsh, Ashuabmushuanitsh, Piakuagamitsh, gaie missi missi Nehiro-iriniui astshitsh ka tatjits, ka kueiasku aiamihatjits ka utshi.  This contains prayers and catechisms of the Catholic Church. There are seven titles in Irish, the earliest being the 1711 Seanmora ar na priom phoncibh, na chreideamh. Ar na Ttarung go Gaidhlig, agus ar na ccur a ccló a Lunnduin tre Ebhlin Everingham, a book of sermons dealing with aspects of religion. 10 works are in Manx, a Goidelic language of the Isle of Man. The last native speaker of Manx died in 1974.
All of ECCO's 32 million plus pages of text are full-text searchable. Admittedly there are difficulties, mainly because the 18th century typefaces are generally so different to more recent ones. Indeed, sometimes the original typesetting is of poor quality thereby rendering accurate full-text searching difficult. A particular problem for the OCR (optical character recognition) process is the resemblance of s's to f's. Still, the declared OCR rates of low to mid 90% is impressive for such old texts. A useful search tool is that of fuzzy searching. ECCO offers three levels of fuzzy searching: high, medium, and low. When one employs a low fuzzy search for the word "harbor" texts retrieved should include the words "harbor" and "harbor". A high fuzzy search will retrieve more texts including those with such words as "harbor," "harbour," "Harper," and "Harben". Such searching helps to overcome some of the challenges caused by variant spellings and OCR problems.

ECCO may be used by both the advanced scholar as well the younger student. To aid the latter there are numerous contextual essays on such topics as: American Independence, War of (1775-1783); Deism; The Enlightenment; Sensibility; Slavery and the Slave Trade; Encyclopédie (Denis Diderot); Hanoverian Dynasty and many others. There is also a useful chronology, an overview of key documents in major disciplinary areas, as well as an interesting image gallery.



Brendan Rapple Brendan Rapple

Collection Development