Monthly Archives: April 2012

seaport towns

[Source-Wikimedia Commons-public domain]

Reading Gary Nash’s Urban Crucible made me think about the importance of urban history–specifically the importance of seaport towns–for understanding demographic and social change in the eighteenth century.  As a lit scholar, I was simply unaware the significance of these towns, until I read this paragraph from the Preface [Abridged Version]:

What I think this book captures is a large-scale social process whose origins can be traced in these little Northern ports (New York, Philadelphia, and Boston), which were admittedly tiny in comparison with the great urban centers of other continents. It is perhaps the size of these North American towns that allows us to recognize a process taking place all over the world.

According to Nash, this transformative process radiates outward to dissolve and recast social structures and relations throughout North America by the time of the American Revolution.  Nash wants to discover the origin of both class consciousness and modern capitalism in these towns and their history. His extraordinary facility with his sources helps him make this argument persuasively, by matching traditional historical sources like pamphlets and newspapers with economic and demographic evidence. (And I’m glad to see that social historians still agree with me on this, even if they’ve been studying the book for a lot longer than I have)

After reading this opening, my first question was whether these kinds of forces were shaping England, or Europe, as well?  What kinds of comparisons could we make between British and colonial seaports?  And how might literary history have been shaped by this particular dimension of urban history?  I can just barely discern it in Equiano’s accounts of London and Philadelphia, but where else might we be able to find it?  Wycherley’s Plain Dealer?  Somewhere in Mandeville?  Defoe? Or is every important town in 18th century writing a seaport, anyway?



ECCO on JISC and Contextual Word Searches

After Dave’s most recent post on keyword searches, a short discussion followed noting the (currently) UK-only ECCO, via JISC, supports conceptual word searches while the US ECCO only supports keyword searches. To be honest, I was unaware the US had not upgraded to the JISC version and was asked (since I’m a student at the University of London) to post some screenshots of the differences and perhaps write a post on it.

I am fortunate enough to have both access to the JISC Beta and the older version of ECCO–my individual school (Royal Holloway) provides JISC while the Uni. of London Library, Senate House, has the version with which most of you are familiar. There are several key differences between the two that result in completely different search results, as you will see throughout this post. NB: I’ll be providing a lot of screenshots here, so I’ve placed them after the jump.

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two more useful follow-up posts to asecs ’12, digital humanities

For those who can’t get enough coverage of ASECS ’12, check out the terrific follow-ups at EMOB (by Lisa Maruca) here, and at the new Stephen H. Gregg blog, digitalhumanistbeginner, here, here, and here.

One of the topics I’m hoping someone will take up will be the issue of conceptual vs. keyword searching brought up by Bill Blake (NYU) at Eleanor Shevlin’s Digital Humanities and the Archive roundtable.  Here’s Gregg’s comment:

Bill Blake (NYU) asked “what makes a good keyword search”, and produced a list of popular search terms (“slavery” coming top). He suggested that many users had an impulse to “retrieve” rather than “search” and that the poorest keyword search terms effectively reproduced what was in the archive (one of the most popular search terms “slavery” was a good example of this). He argued that the best searches operated on a conceptual level. Indeed, that is what I’ve been training my own students to do, many of whose first try at ECCO was using a broad topic-based search term: they discover that the results of such search terms are useless and relatively quickly begin to think about the processes involved in deciding on a better search term . . .

This has implications both for our research and our pedagogy.  Any thoughts?




money quote

“If the Left is going to launch a realistic offensive in the United States, it can only happen, it seems to me, if we start taking this notion of self-creation seriously, and understand that no one is going to look at members of caste-like, self-reproducing elites that try to monopolize the power to determine what’s important in human life, and accept them as genuine agents of human liberation.”–David Graeber, “Preface: Spring 2005” (h/t Zunguzungu’s Tumblr)