WHO: ProQuest, a large publishing company that used to produce a very "vintage" technology called microform for universities, and now owns and licenses access to many databases.
WHAT: Digital facsimile images of nearly 100,000 books in English printed between 1473 and 1700 - virtually every work printed in England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales and British North America, plus works in English printed elsewhere.
Texts range from the first book printed in English by William Caxton through the age of Spenser and Shakespeare and the English Civil War. Included are works by Malory, Bacon, More, Erasmus, Boyle, Newton, Galileo; musical exercises by Henry Purcell; novels by Aphra Behn; prayer books, pamphlets, and proclamations; almanacs, calendars, and many other primary sources.
WHY IS THIS USEFUL: Want to read a book from the 15th to the 17th centuries? (And not just the text, but images of the actual pages of the books) For most people, EEBO is the easiest and fastest way. The site lets you download a PDF of entire books, or a selection of a book.
- 1) ProQuest digitized straight from microform; think 1970s photocopier and you have an idea of the image quality.
- 2) You are looking at images of books that are hundreds of years old. Prior to the late 16th century, nearly all English books were printed in Gothic rather than Roman type. The spelling of English words was not standardized until the mid-17th century, and of course the meanings and usages of words have also changed over time.
- 3) Because the type is unusual, it is difficult to use optical character recognition (OCR) technology to create a machine-readable text.
WHO: A consortium of universities that partner with ProQuest to produce machine-readable texts of early English books on EEBO.
WHAT: A database of machine-readable texts, with 34,963 texts digitized as of 2020. The consortium prioritized digitizing primarily those texts listed in The New Cambridge Bibliography of English Literature.
WHY IS THIS USEFUL: Making the text machine-readable allows you to do a full-text search, among other things. You also don't need to be able to read gothic letters in order to read this.
OBSTACLES: The spelling/orthography of the text is as-is without any editing to modernize the spelling. Words will be spelled significantly differently than they are today. For example:
"Iohan Froyssart [...] Tra[n]slated out of frenche into our maternall englysshe tonge, by Iohan Bourchier knight lorde Berners." (link)