Leiden University Library acquires well over 150,000 e-books

The purchase of the database Eighteenth Century Collection Online (ECCO) will provide the academic world with revolutionarily innovative research opportunities. This collection will allow researchers to compete with colleagues from well-established universities like Cambridge, Manchester and Toronto. The availability of ECCO at the University of Leiden is moreover not only unique for the Netherlands itself, but for the Benelux as a whole. 

What is ECCO?
ECCO is the largest and most comprehensive historical database of its kind. For the first time in one easily accessible comprehensive resource, this archive makes available online more than 150,000 printed books, including reprints, published in the eighteenth century within the United Kingdom. In collaboration with the NWO-financed VICI-project The Codifiers and the English Language (project leader Professor Ingrid Tieken-Boon van Ostade), the Leiden University Library has recently purchased ECCO. The availability of this collection will radically change the manner in which research has been conducted so far: while previously scholars had to visit the British Library for their research, the arrival of ECCO enables them to get answers to their questions directly and at all times. But most importantly, ECCO provides research opportunities which were previously unthinkable.

ECCO offers full-text searching of nearly 26 million scanned pages. The search term “Lowth,” for instance, author of one of the eighteenth century’s most important English grammars, will display information about which grammars – and other works – could have been influenced by him; the term “subjunctive”, a construction which was disappearing at the time, will produce a results list that consists of books – along with its pages – where this grammatical term was still discussed. Due to ECCO it will no longer be necessary to go through several books in order to get answers to important questions like these. Eighteenth Century Collections Online is presented in seven subject areas (History and Geography, Social Sciences and Fine Arts, Medicine, Science and Technology, Literature and Language, Religion and Philosophy, Law and General Reference) and can therefore function as an enormous text-corpus.

ECCO’s intended users
ECCO is not exclusively meant for researchers of English, nor even just for scholars as such. Although the database consists primarily of English texts, it also lists works in French, German, Italian, Latin, Spanish, Welsh and even Dutch. The collection is furthermore of interest to scholars who focus on the history of their particular field of research, as in Medicine, Fine Arts, Pedagogy and Musicology. Thus, the database contains the first western grammar of Chinese in English. ECCO will allow users to access, search and retrieve works as they appeared in their original printed editions. Students can, for example, find out how many times the novel Tristram Shandy was printed during its author Laurence Sterne’s lifetime. They can also study the ways in which Henry Fielding corrected the language of his sister Sarah in order to make her first novel, The Adventures of David Simple, worthy of the name of Fielding. Although it is well known that he did so, it has not been possible to analyse the full range and extent of his changes. ECCO allows students and teachers not only to make use of secondary resources but also of the originals, thus enabling them to study the eighteenth century in fresh, new ways.

Some case studies
Last semester, during the trial period in which the University of Leiden could access ECCO, a student of English wrote her bachelor thesis on the disappearance of the relative pronoun wherewith in eighteenth-century English. The database will also allow a PhD-student of the Faculty of Creative and Performing Arts, who is conducting research on the menuet in the eighteenth century, to study original printed editions directly without first having to travel to English archives. In December last year the first workshop of the VICI-project, entitled Grammars, Grammarians and Grammar Writers, was organised. The contributions of the Leiden participants were of an outstanding quality and will hopefully result in groundbreaking publications, but this all would have been impossible without the temporary access to ECCO preceding the workshop.

ECCO and the Leiden University Library
The purchase of ECCO is a very important step for the University Library. Its collection of books, especially e-books, will not only be significantly expanded, but the library can now also explore its service with respect to the research and teaching opportunities that accompany comprehensive corpora like ECCO.

Within the next few months, the University Library will incorporate the bibliographical records of these 150,000 e-books into their catalogue, and this will enable users to search the Eighteenth Century Collection Online by title and author. The digital infrastructure of the university library will allow students and staff to access this wealth of material worldwide. Researchers and students from other universities will be able to work with this text-corpus from within the University Library of Leiden itself. 

For further information, please contact:
Ingrid Tieken-Boon van Ostade, VICI-project The Codifiers and the English Language, English Department/Leiden University Centre for Linguistics (LUCL), The Faculty of Arts, University Leiden,

Kurt De Belder, Head of Leiden University Library , tel. (0)71 527 2831, k.f.k.de.belder@library.leidenuniv.nl.

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