Eighteenth-Century Digitisation At UCL
By Tabitha Tuckett, on 24 June 2022
This post was written by Caroline Kimbell, UCL Library Services
Allow me to introduce myself and ECCO: I’m Interim Head of Commercial Licensing and Digitisation, which involves working with publishers to identify rare books and archives for online publication, earning royalty income for the libraries, acquiring preservation images, free or discounted access to online resources and, after a suitable contractual period, allowing us to re-use digital content in any way. In a previous career in publishing, I worked on developing “ECCO” – Gale’s Eighteenth-Century Collections Online.
Working out how many books were published in the 18th century, in the English language or in English-speaking countries has been an ambition of the library world since 1977, and the current answer according to the English Short Title Catalogue (ESTC) is 351,689 held across 2,000 libraries.
You may imagine that this epic project was completed years ago, and that everything listed by ESTC would be available in ECCO or elsewhere? Not so.
For a few years now, a “final” tranche of digitisation has been in preparation to supplement ECCO’s current 180,000 titles. The “long list” for this third tranche currently stands at 78,000 titles. UCL is not an 18th century library, and when I arrived, I imagined that we would have little eligible material. I was wrong. We will be contributing about 320 items totalling around 66,000 pages, of which 59 have been accredited by ESTC as brand new entries – in other words, unique, first-time discoveries.
Many of these new finds are in UCL core subjects and include books on the volcanos of Sicily, agricultural enclosure, the structure of human teeth, works by Joseph Priestly and a Compleat History of Drugs from 1737. One among UCL’s thousands of eligible titles, inexplicably absent from Penguin Classics, “Human ordure, botanically considered” (1757), is already on ECCO but surely worth a mention?
Among female authors it is splendid to find An Essay on Combustion 1794 by Mrs Elizabeth Fulhame, “the first solo woman researcher in chemistry”, Mary Wollstonecraft on the French Revolution, the prolific Mary de la Rivière, or even a 4-part Ladies Astronomy from 1738, in which the Sun smiles approachably for female readers (fig.1)
We will also be contributing new-to-ESTC editions by major authors – Swift, Defoe, Pope, Beckford – astonishingly still coming to light in 2022. Our 1787 Mohawk language Book of Common Prayer is already online, but when it comes to travel and the exotic, we have real delights – such as new-to-ESTC, “Four letters concerning the growth of grape vines in the Island of Bermudas” from 1741 (worth a try), and a rare 1746 London edition of sci-fi novel A journey to the world under-ground by Norwegian satirist Ludwig Holberg (as in Grieg’s tribute Suite) for anyone who had ever wondered what a Baroque Dr Who monster might look like (fig.2).Many of the concerns reflected in these works are mundane: parliamentary bills about pot-holes which have slipped all digital nets and a newly discovered Act from 1762 “for preventing annoyances” – still to take effect. Alongside the irritations of urban life, we find pleasures and pastimes – A walk from St. James’s to Convent-Garden from 1717 and proto-Puzzler magazine “The British Oracle” from 1769 (“enigmas, paradoxes, rebusses, queries, epigrams & repartees”) both new to ESTC. Then there’s a 1779 edition of Hoyle’s Games: “whist, quadrille, piquet, chefs, back-gammon, draughts, cricket, tennis, quinze, hazard, lansquenet, and billiards”, or back outdoors “A dissertation on oriental gardening”, books on gunnery and the shoeing of horses along with plays from the Theatres Royal, poems and society gossip.
Unfortunately, data-combing our 18th century holdings against ESTC and the online landscape has revealed a backlog of wrinkles which are being addressed, in part by our wonderful placement student Ollie Nelmes: only 61% of our 18th century holdings were recorded on ESTC, but this project gives us a fantastic opportunity to refresh the collections, improve and enhance their discoverability and step forward as a rich repository of 18th century rare, and in some cases, unique books.