Early English Books Online, the Internet Archives, and Chronicling America are specialized online databases that provide researchers with the ability to access, read, and in most cases, download full replications of hard to find, early American texts. Each of these databases features different types of historical collections and specialize in specific texts. These databases, also known as Internet libraries or collections, are highly useful for established scholars, graduate students, or anyone with an interest in literary history.
Early English Books Online, or EBBO, is a self-described “incomparable collection” of texts printed or published in England between 1475 and 1700. The collection features texts taken from Pollard & Redgrave’s Short-Title Catalogue, Wing’s Short-Title Catalogue, the Thomason Tracts, and the Early English Books tract supplement. The site design is simple and easy to use, allowing for quick searches of the vast materials available on the site. Users can search by keywords, bibliographic numbers, and dates, allowing for a focused search that yields only the results relevant to their research or studies.
A site called Early English Books Online might not seem useful for the purpose of studying American literature, but for the study of Early American literature, EEBO proves to be an invaluable resource. Many texts from early colonial America can be found on EEBO including tracts, sermons, pamphlets, and narratives written by English settlers in the New World. While classified as “English”, these texts provide first hand details of the origin stories of the United States. The roots of American identity are found on this site and conveniently replicated for perusal via a quick .pdf download. While perhaps not as inspiring as having the original copies of these works in hand, just seeing some of their original, handwritten covers is enough to give a researcher a sense of historical significance.
Similar to EEBO, Eighteenth Century Collections Online or, ECCO, is another valuable database for those interested in the study of early American literature. ECCO picks up right where EEBO leaves off and features works starting in 1700. Again, this site predominately features books published in England in the eighteenth century, however, unlike EEBO, ECCO also includes thousands of works from other places on the globe. For example, many of Benjamin Franklin’s works, published and printed in the United States are made available on ECCO. Like EEBO, the site prevents people from downloading full .pdf files, but does allow single page downloads. So if someone has plenty of time and energy, this person can theoretically sit down and download individually all 745 pages of the original three volumes of Edgar Huntly by Charles Brockden Brown. Obviously, this task might prove quite tedious for some, but the option is available for those with the stomach for it. For everyone else, each work is fully available and explorable online as a digital copy.
While EEBO and ECCO are both excellent resources, they might prove troublesome for some researchers. People researching at home might run into an issue due to the fact that EEBO and ECCO are not readily available to those without a subscription. Most college campuses will grant their students access to these databases, but those who are not able to connect to a network with those subscriptions are not going to be able to access the materials. Both EEBO and ECCO are not normally available for individual subscription trials, but those interested in accessing the sites may be able to have their public library request a free trial of EEBO and ECCO.
For those without the ability to connect to EENO or ECCO, the Internet Archive is a great resource for searching Early American literature texts. The Internet Archive is free and open and features a wider variety of materials than EEBO or ECCO as well, including text messages, Internet pages, and other, more contemporary writings that may deal with the eighteenth or nineteenth century topics. The mission of the Internet Archive is to offer “historical collections that exist in digital format.” This non-profit organization was “founded to build an Internet library” and succeeds insofar as the range of materials is concerned.
The Internet Archive is an excellent resource for anyone with an interest in the digital humanities or digital technology in general. Unlike Early English Books Online and Eighteenth Century Collections Online, the Internet Archive may include several different copies of one work. For example, when searching for Romeo and Juliet on Internet Archive, the search results will include copies of Shakespeare’s text digitized by Project Gutenberg, Google, and Open Library. In addition, researchers might find Librivox recordings of the play, orchestral arrangements inspired by the play, and YouTube videos of recorded high school performances of Romeo and Juliet. If a scholar is looking for more than simply the source material, Internet Archives would prove much more useful than Early English Books Online and Eighteenth Century Collections Online. The downside, of course, is that much material available, searching on the site can become difficult when looking for a very specific text or author. Most of the time this problem can be avoided by simply using the “Advanced Search” option, but not always. If a reader is interested in looking up a general or vague topic, they should be prepared to sift through thousands of results before finding something relevant. At times the site can feel a bit bloated.
Each of the databases discussed in this post have their benefits and drawbacks. Not everyone will find these sites useful, available, or user friendly. However, those interested in studying early American literature, with a little time and effort, will find these sites to be incredible resources, especially in their pursuit of scholarship and primary texts.
Early English Books Online, ProQuest. Web. 20 July, 2013.
Eighteenth Century Collections Online, Gale. Web. 20 July, 2013.
Internet Archive, The Internet Archive. Web. 21, July 2013.