teaching the restoration/eighteenth century survey with ecco?

[caught between two stools?]

Well, after years of discussion, my institution finally acquired both ECCO and the Burney collection this past week.  And I couldn’t be more pleased.

But this has created a new, though quite wonderful problem for me: I’m teaching a graduate Restoration/Eighteenth-Century Survey course this term (in a few days), and am determined to put these resources to good use.

So I would be interested to hear if anyone out there has taught a survey, especially at the grad level, and found some good uses for ECCO and the Burney collection, in terms of readings, assignments, presentations, and so forth.



18 responses to “teaching the restoration/eighteenth century survey with ecco?

  1. This is marvelous news. Congratulations. I give a series of short contextual papers (2-3 pages) early in the semester. The students are asked to pick a topic of interest regarding an assigned work. They then have to use ECCO (and in my case EEBO) to find primary sources that deal with that topic (generally 2-3 sources). If the sources are really long, they are to read about 15-20 pages of each source. Next, they have to do a close reading of the assigned work, using the sources to position the work within its historical context. My students generally really like the assignment, though you do have to go over how to read 18C texts with them before they attempt it. Generally after the first assignment they have questions about how to frame searches effectively using a terminology that is relevant to the time period.

  2. Dave Mazella

    Thanks, Sharon. Do you break it up into stages, or have them do the topic/source selection and essay in the same week? And yes, when I’ve had trials with these kinds of databases, the choice of keywords became a very large issue for my undergrads and grads.

    • Hi Dave, because they are short papers, I have them do it all at once. After they have done 2 or 3 of these short assignments, I then have them show how adept they’ve become in the final research paper in which they weave together secondary source work and primary source work (as well as their own ideas).

  3. Oh, congrats, Dave! Any possibility of me hitting you up sometime for PDFs? Anyway, I’ve done an archive assignment with my students–the basic idea is pretty straightforward, especially since it’s really a course about research rather than 18c. We went to Georgetown and the LoC for their databases. The students were working with Pope’s ROTL, and the essay they wrote is meant to answer the basic question: “What does [this context] help you to understand about Pope’s poem?” I have students browse ECCO (and sometimes EEBO) for items relevant to a key material context featured in the poem–tea, lapdogs, snuff/boxes, billet doux, etc–and compile a collection that they’ll select from to develop their thesis. The overall project has stages, and the archive is a big part of it. Here’s a link to my assignment . If I had to do it again, I’d do a few things differently–making the process of compiling an archive more transparent, clarifying the need for an awareness of chronology, and so on. But I got some wonderful papers, and the students seemed to enjoy the tools! Best of luck–I’ll look forward to hearing more!

  4. Oh, and yes–keywords are really problematic, as is the long s. But it became a teaching moment, too. Some students were interested in conduct manuals, but of course they couldn’t look up “conduct manual” in ECCO and get relevant results! So, that led us to other topics of conversation organized around the nature of research. So much fun!

    • Dave Mazella

      Hey Tonya, I like the idea of students compiling a list of sources around a particular topic, and then developing their thesis out of that. I also agree that the respect for chronology, and the awareness of historical semantic clusters, is something that needs to be taught to students for them to search usefully. [incidentally, the link you mentioned to the assignment did not appear] But it sounds like a terrific way to teach research, and that’s been my plan for the course all along, even if it is a survey.

  5. Eleanor Shevlin

    To echo Sharon, many congratulations! I’ve used various versions of undergradaute assignments that I’ve discussed elsewhere. But I have also found that after early exposure to these databases most grad students turn to these databases for their final seminar papers. The Burney database lends itself to assignments that ask students to assess the types of publications/works being promoted in a given year or decade (sometimes I ask students to select a year and look at the advertisements for publications between November and March and then do the same for a year two or three years later and analyze their findings). ECCO offers a number of opportunities to look at texts in dialogue–the dressing-room poems for instance or the influence of Pamela or Tristram Shandy. Asking students to search for a key word such as “coffee-house” (or its variations) within a given time frame helps illustrate the cultural permeatations of certain concepts or phenomenon.

    I often design assingments around particular texts or to explore generic transformations.

    A former undergraduate student of mine created a video to help students completely unfamiliar for searching in this database. I have plans to encourage students to make a follow-up one for Burney as well as one for ECCO. Narrowing to a category in Burney, for instance, might not be the best idea because there is often such fluiditiy among these categories designated by Cengage-Gale.

  6. Eleanor Shevlin

    Rape of the Lock works well, too, –I’ve had students use it with Rape of the Smock (with more success at the grad level).

  7. Dave Mazella

    Eleanor, the notion of using ECCO for “families” of related works (Pamela, Shamela, Anti-Pamela, etc. etc.) is a really good one, and might be helpful as a way to talk about genre, transmission, and literary and cultural history. I’m thinking that ECCO might help them conceptualize the alternative histories that are always implicit in the histories we do teach.

    The idea of using Burney as a way to teach certain years, or certain tropes, seems excellent, too. But the biggest problem I’ve had in the past, even with grad students, is the sheer randomness of what comes out of many of the searches. It definitely stretches people to work with it, but it’s the kind of work that needs to be delimited for people to find it useful and to refine their own research process.

  8. Eleanor Shevlin

    When I do the year assignment (or, one comparing two years several decades apart), I target the assignment to look at what titles/publications are being promoted during those years (often narrowed by the five months to take advantage of the publication high season and also I have students look at only one or two newspaper titles–often ones I supply from a list). This approach actually helps manage the randomness. And students benefit from the discussion that follows. (I have students do a search, and write a short page of speculation/analysis on their findings; their work becomes the subject for a discussion the next class.) It is especially useful in thinking about canon-formation as well as alternative histories. I think it can be used for other purposes, too, but it depends on one’s goals for the course and/or themes used as a focus.

  9. Laura Rosenthal

    Congratulations! Here is my Research Project Assignment:

    1. Choose one text and one date for your presentation
    2. Find two related primary references to it, discussions of it, or discussions of the same topic. For example, if we are reading an essay on the hoop skirt from The Spectator, find another discussion of the hoop skirt, or of another article of clothing. If we are reading Robinson Crusoe, find a review, something that you think is interesting that is written by the same author, a discussion of the text or an adaptation, continuation, or possible source. The only restriction is that this item should be from one of the databases listed below and should be from before 1800.
    3. Find two recent and substantial critical articles (do not, for example, use a short article from Notes and Queries). Briefly summarize these articles and identify what you think are some of the critical issues that have emerged around your text. (“Recent” means in the last twenty years or so.)
    4. Post your report on the Wiki page. Make sure you use a useful title (ie, the title “Jason’s report” will not help anyone find information). Pictures are great! Also be sure that you include your bibliography for the Wiki page.
    5. Please cite all of your sources using MLA format (see links on syllabus)

    Turn in:
    A brief discussion (3-4 pages) of what these documents tell you about the text; also be prepared to discuss in class. Hand in your report in hard copy. (You don’t need to include any pictures in the print-out). Be sure to include a bibliography. Please save all four documents in your dropbox folder. You don’t need to turn in copies.

    To conduct your research for primary documents: Begin at the library home page; go to “research port”; log in; go to British Periodicals, Early English Books Online, Burney Collection, or Eighteenth-Century Collections Online

  10. Laura Rosenthal

    PS This is for an undergraduate class, but could work for a graduate class as well. Also, I have found the Burney collected harder to work with in class assignments.

    • Eleanor Shevlin

      That I have worked so much with Burney in my own work has perhaps made adapting it a bit easier. I use examples from my own work in itnroducing this database. These examples range from reconstructing a publisher’s editorial policy through advertisements to finding out biographical information or intersections between print publications and other forms of material culture.

      I would also recommend looking at Ashley Marshall and Rob Hume’s “The Joys, Possibilities and Peril’s of the British Library’s Digital Burney Newspaper Collection, PBSA, 104.1 (March 2010): 5-52. For graduate students, I assign the article.

  11. Eleanor Shevlin

    This is an excellent assignment, Laura. Many thanks…I especially appreciate its detailed steps and inclusion of critical articles.

  12. Laura Rosenthal

    Thanks! The students for the most part seem to enjoy it and give lively presentations.

  13. Dave Mazella

    Sharon, Laura, Eleanor, all these suggestions are great. I’m teaching tomorrow, and will let the blog know how everything works. Thanks!

  14. Dave Mazella

    Oh, and thanks, Tonya. The url is working fine now.