Monthly Archives: May 2012

researching without regular access to ecco?

This post got its inspirations from two places: first of all, from an intriguing exchange between Laura Rosenthal and Eleanor Shevlin on EMOB about the benefits (and perils) of “getting lost in the archives,” whether these were digital or paper-bound; the second bit of inspiration was from some emails I exchanged with CB, who is currently spending the summer at a research library with access to both special collections and ECCO items, with the knowledge that her home institution will provide neither when she returns from her research trip.

So what should the ECCO-less scholar do with the limited time and budget we all face when pursuing our research and writing projects?

Here are the suggestions I made to CB from my own experience, though I’d be interested to hear others speak about how they balanced the tradeoffs between print/manuscript and database time, especially when they were traveling off-site for access to both. I should also say that I always struggle with time management, but have found that when I follow these strategies I have the most success.

What follows is probably stunningly obvious to most people who have a lot of research experience, but I think there’s some value to making it explicit, to see if others find it useful (or wrongheaded), and to help me follow this advice more consistently.

  1. Before you go anywhere, start deciding your project parameters (chronologically, generically, authors, etc.) as far in advance as possible, so that you know what’s inside and outside your inquiry. If you’re not sure, decide it arbitrarily, to accumulate as complete a picture as you can, then make a conscious decision to revise on the basis of your results.
  2. When allotting your time to the databases, remember that ECCO keyword searches, when done broadly, produces lots of results that you can’t necessarily process during your limited library time. Save that time for the searches most directly relevant to your topic, and if necessary divide up the searching (chronologically, generically, by keyword, etc.) so that you are able to complete each segment and have your results in hand when done by the end of your visit. You can also send yourself results via email, which you can save and archive and analyze later, even if you cannot search remotely. Try to save everything to a key drive or email or both, then spend an hour or two afterwards every day sorting through the results to find patterns and plan the next day’s searches and potential items for closer analysis.
  3. Whenever I visit a research library, I always bring my laptop, and maintain internet connection so that I can access Googlebooks, the various catalogs, and my existing Zotero libraries. I have been using Zotero for some time to archive everything possible, whether primary or secondary texts, while I read and take notes in Zotero.
  4. When you are done with your trip, budget additional time to sift and sort the accumulated results to reflect on how they might direct further inquiries.
  5. When your traveling time is over, remember that there are tons of free web resources that will give you access or at least leads to appropriate primary texts: ESTC can allow you to keyword search titles and authors within chronological ranges; a good research library catalog will allow you to do the same with their ECCO holdings or Special Collections; Ben Pauley’s 18c Book Tracker, when coupled with Googlebooks, Internet Archive, and the Hathi trust, will allow some degree of full-text searching across and within texts, though searches there can be problematic, unpredictable, or both; finally, don’t discount the possibility of “reverse searching” full-texts of JSTOR, MUSE or other scholarly article databases for your keywords and seeing which primary texts turn up in discussion.
  6. Be alert to patterns as they emerge, and welcome serendipity.


In many ways, the ECCO database can lead you to believe that its results are comprehensive, but as Sayre Greenfield pointed out at the last ASECS Digital Archive panel, we need to be quite cautious in our interpretation of negative results, since negative results need to be confirmed across multiple searches and databases.

In other words, you’re always better off doing a variety of more limited searches within and across a variety of sources, even if some of these are available on the open web.  Similarly, don’t discount the power of Google for turning up stuff in random library catalogs, rare bookseller sites, or scholarly documents. If you are careful with your keyword selection, you can pick up these kinds of things pretty easily.

Finally, here are some questions you could ask yourself:

  • So what is the chronological, geographic, and generic scope of the project?
  • Are there particular literary and non-literary discourses that need to be reflected in your sources?
  • What kinds of sources would be best for answering your questions?
  • Which masterworks could serve as key illustrations of your theme?
  • Do you have a shortlist of authors who will be particularly important for your argument?

And so forth.

So lay out your boundaries, propose to yourself a workable segmentation of the topic for whatever time you have available, and don’t worry about not catching everything in a single search. Having a good reflective research process is much more important than having continuous access to ECCO, since your time will be broken up anyway, and you need to refine the topic and treatment as you go along.




John Locke on Gay Marriage

In 1988, Carole Pateman discussed the strange misalignment between modern contract theory, as conceived by John Locke and others, and the special case of the marriage contract: “unlike other contracts, the marriage contract cannot be entered into by any two (or more) sane adults, but is restricted to two parties, one of whom must be a man and the other a woman” (167).  One would think that in a true contract society, this restriction on marriage contracts would be a contradiction because the status of the two parties should not be a factor.  But for Pateman, there is no contradiction but instead a misunderstanding of contract: the “attack on sexual difference [by those advocating for individual equality] . . . suffers from an insuperable problem: the ‘individual’ is a patriarchal category” (168)

Her argument was that the sex-designation of the marriage contract has not resulted from the failure to overcome this last remnant of status difference (as others have argued), but rather has deeper roots.  While Locke “remarked that marital society established through the marriage contract, ‘consists chiefly in the spouses’ ‘Communion and Right in one another Bodies,’” Pateman argues that it is actually based on “male sex-right” rather than an agreement for mutual access.  Locke, she argues, did not advocate an egalitarian contractarianism over a Filmerian patriarchy, but rather located political authority in one sphere and domestic authority in another.  Thus, “Locke agrees with Filmer that there is a natural foundation for a wife’s subjection.”  The original husband in Locke “must have exercised conjugal right over his wife before he became a father” (93) and was able to exercise political authority.  So Locke, Pateman argues, assumes that the the non-political authority of the male in the natural (“non-political”) sphere comes first and is not negotiated (or negotiable—no matter what goes on between Mirabell and Millamant). 


 The husband’s dominance is instead founded on the assumption of male sex-right.  This is the hidden contract behind the contract; it is the reason why the marriage contract can, contradictorily and unlike in any other contract, designate in advance the sex of each party.  The sex-designation of marriage reveals for Pateman not so much the limits of contract theory, but the patriarchal assumption behind the very category of the individual.  The individual of “individualism” is a Lockean, political subject who has already exerted natural (non-political) rights over a woman to place him in the public sphere as the representative of a family.

Maybe it’s way too early to say “until now.”  But what does it mean for the sexual contract that a US President can defend marriage equality?  Many will say that this is not a feminist issue or a contract theory issue at all, but rather an issue of the relative authority of religion.  But the way religion makes its way into policy has always been highly selective.  Dante placed sodomites and usurers in the same circle of hell (number 7!). 


I have yet to meet a Christian who eschews usury out of conscience or fear of hell, nor can I think of a government policy designed to eradicate it.  On the contrary, it seems to be encouraged. 

At its most radical, Pateman’s Sexual Contract suggests that individualism and contractarianism do not represent progress; on the contrary, they are impediments to feminism because they are designed to assume a particular, hidden hierarchy.  The category of the “individual” will never include everyone, and the best evidence for this was the (contradictory) sex-designation of the marriage contract.

What does Obama’s declaration do to this argument?  Does it suggest that the category of the “individual” is expandable after all?  Was “male sex-right” actually a residual hold-over, as the theorists to whom Pateman objected had claimed, rather than an inherent aspect of contract?   

  Liberals argue that gay marriage does not change the definition of marriage.  But if Pateman offers any insight into Locke and early concepts of individualism, then gay marriage does redefine the marriage contract. And maybe that’s the best part.

Works Cited

Carole Pateman, The Sexual Contract.  Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1988.


the philosopher and the cat

[image from

Yesterday I spent an hour or so in a dissertation defense. That discussion has stayed with me, probably because the topic was dogs in Victorian fiction.  The theoretical contexts and the social history were new to me, but I haven’t paid a lot of attention to animal studies over the last few years. I was never that interested in these critics’ take on sentimentality, for example, but I will have to spend some more time thinking about this issue. And I have always had my own ideas about how children and animals coexist in the same household as part of a common community–it’s just that some members speak, and other do not.

One of the things I learned yesterday was the fact that late in life Jacques Derrida had published some writings about his cat–specifically, about Derrida’s (slightly abashed) embarrassment at being seen naked by his cat:

There is something wonderful about Derrida deploying his usual grave style to discuss “my pussycat,” but of course because it’s Derrida he must weave together his usual allusive genealogy of pussycats in literary and philosophical history, including the adorable pussycats of Montaigne and Lewis Carroll, while he conducts these lectures on the “autobiographical animal” at Cerisy.  There is some element of self-mockery here (I think), but also some sense of how Derrida characteristically philosophized from his own unease.

The term that has stayed with me longest from yesterday’s discussion–and I learned its provenance from looking it up in the Derrida afterwards–was silence. This silence is not just a matter of animals’ lack of speech, but our capacity to project intelligible feelings like pain or pleasure onto them.

We can step on slugs or dine on veal in perfect ignorance of what they felt at that moment, but every ethicist knows that our willingness to allow for non-human feelings is conditional and limited by our circumstances and our imaginations.  And the ethical value of the animal rights movement and its critique of anthropocentricism is perhaps to show us how our willingness to be moved by non-human pain extends to our awareness of human pain and suffering, too. (If this is not too anthropocentric a reason to register the feelings of animals)

When we think about how animals present an ethical challenge to us, whether domesticated or not, the challenge stems from the fact that they cannot tell us when we do them wrong, or how we have wronged them.  And yet the obligation remains for us to imagine their sufferings, and how we might prevent or mitigate them.

Sterne wrote about the poor ass of Lyons in Tristram Shandy (Vol. IV, xiii):

Now, [the ass] ’tis an animal (be in what hurry I may) I cannot bear to strike — there is a patient endurance of sufferings, wrote so unaffectedly in his looks and carriage, which pleads so mightily for him, that it always disarms me; and to that degree, that I do not like to speak unkindly to him: on the contrary, meet him where I will — whether in town or country — in cart or under panniers — whether in liberty or bondage — I have ever something civil to say to him on my part; and as one word begets another (if he has as little to do as I)— I generally fall into conversation with him; and surely never is my imagination so busy as in framing his responses from the etchings of his countenance — and where those carry me not deep enough — in flying from my own heart into his, and seeing what is natural for an ass to think — as well as a man, upon the occasion. In truth, it is the only creature of all the classes of beings below me, with whom I can do this: for parrots, jackdaws, &c.— I never exchange a word with them — nor with the apes, &c. for pretty near the same reason; they act by rote, as the others speak by it, and equally make me silent: nay my dog and my cat, though I value them both —(and for my dog he would speak if he could)— yet somehow or other, they neither of them possess the talents for conversation — I can make nothing of a discourse with them, beyond the proposition, the reply, and rejoinder, which terminated my father’s and my mother’s conversations, in his beds of justice — and those utter’d — there’s an end of the dialogue —

— But with an ass, I can commune for ever.