Monthly Archives: March 2012

The present and future of digitisation projects: an interview with George Williams and Seth Denbo

I was very lucky to have the chance to talk to two of the leading voices on digital humanities when they very kindly agreed to take part in a filmed discussion at ASECS annual meeting, in San Antonio, March 2012. George Williams is an associate professor of English (specialising in the 18thC) at the University of South Carolina and will be familiar to many from the ProfHacker pieces in The Chronicle of Higher Education; Seth Denbo is a historian of eighteenth-century England and involved with MITH, Project Bamboo, the IHR Seminar in Digital History and is on the faculty of the Maryland Institue for Technology in the Humanities. (Using iMovie to film the discussion in my hotel room was a bit of an experiment – which is by way of an apology for any impairment in sound and /or visual quality. The interview is split into two parts).

Best Practices in Digital Pedagogy ASECS panel 2012

“This is the future. Oops – that’s now!” Lisa Maruca’s phrase that emphasised the immediacy – necessity, even – of our students’ engagement with digital technology made the point well. The panelists – Tonya-Marie Howe (Marymount), Kate Parker (Bucknell), David Slade (Berry) and Lisa Maruca (Wayne State) – presented their experiences of using digital technology in their teaching. Actually ‘teaching’ is perhaps the wrong word, since the key-note of the panel was ‘research’ – digital technology in the service of student-led research, either as individuals or collaboratively.

Tonya-Marie Howe, in ‘Student-created web archives and the practice of public scholarship’, detailed her experiences using Omeka. As an open-source software designed with archives in mind, Tonya argued that it was particularly useful to enable students to create collaborative (and, indeed, impressive-looking) digital archives, focused on the digitisation of around 200 pages of an eighteenth-century text. The course involved collaboration with other faculty members and support for digitisation and an essay (to be incorporated into the final archive) that reflected on the processes and creation of the archives. Kate Parker, in ‘Reconstructing literary ephemera in the classroom’, asked what it would be like to teach a course formed solely around digital texts and detailed her experiences of leading a module on eighteenth-century ephemera, what she termed the “literary dregs” of eighteenth-century literary history. Ephemera, Kate argued, posed especially productive challenges and questions regarding literary value. Getting students to engage with digital resources such as ECCO, EBBO and English Broadside Ballads was the first step in a collaborative production of an online anthology of ephemera. David Slade’s paper on ‘Teaching and building the digital archive in eighteenth-century Spanish-American studies’, examined his students’ engagement with the varied – and it seemed, neglected – digital archives of Spanish-American history including those from Columbia, Guatemala, Spain and Mexico. His aim as for students to create their own critical editions, thesis-driven archives, lists and compilations. Lisa Maruca, in ‘Re-thinking Web 1.0, or, low-skillz digital humanities for Newbies’, directly addressed the myth of the so-called ‘digital native’ by encouraging students to use easy to manipulate software such as Weebly to create their projects. Students were required to write a rationale for their resource and all projects were peer reviewed  – arguably very appropriate for the openess at the heart of online resources.

Significantly, all the papers underlined that the engagement with, and creation of, digital resources means that students are, as David Slade pointed out, “participants in the production of knowledge”. But all the panelists also agreed that one of the most important aspects of such courses was that they, as Tonya Howe said, make the processes of the production of knowledge visible. This, I think, was the most impressive potential in these courses. Even in the traditional written dissertation, for example, we hope that students are self-conscious about the decisions they make; yet the creation of original archives of various sorts involves a much more conscious set of decisions in which students become, in effect, curators, editors and scholars.

ECCO in teaching 2012

What happened after 2007? Well, the move to using ECCO just for presentations worked better with the exploratory aim of this strand of the module, but the module itself ceased to exist shortly after a wide-ranging re-organisation of Bath Spa’s undergraduate degree system.

I ended up devising a second-year module on Gender and Eighteenth-Century Fiction and -surprise, surprise – I wanted to embed the use of ECCO within that. This was a very different proposition to the introductory level module within which I first experimented using ECCO. This was a more demanding module and more focused topic and resulted in some successes and partial set-backs

On the one hand it enabled me to still use ECCO ‘Mark lists’: this time I had list-titles such as ‘Early Feminisms’, ‘Femininity and Sexuality’, Femininity and Manners’, ‘Gentlemanliness’, ‘Unmanly behaviours’ and ‘Sensibility and Sentiment’. These links, usually containing 4-6 titles, included poems, conduct essays, tracts and sermons. The aim was to give students the materials to historicize their readings of the novels on the course (Fantomina, Roxana, Joseph Andrews, A Sentimental Journey, Evelina, The Wrongs of Woman). And, as in my first-year module, aware that some of the texts were very long, I advised that judicious use of the search function and the ‘e table of contents’ might help navigation.

The problems with that was, given the course’s primary object of study had to be the novels, any use of ECCO was necessarily subordinated to the understanding of the modules themes of gender and 18thC fiction. Related to this, students’ use and understanding of this material had to be more than a rather fun exploration of 18thC culture (as was the case in the 2007 first-year module): students at this level and for this type of thematic module would have to demonstrate an ability relate the novels to this historical material in a meaningful way. What this meant in practice was that the use of ECCO material had to be restricted to the one written assessment large enough to enable students to produce that kind of historicized reading (a 2,500 word essay – and even then I think that may be too small). Secondly, I had to allow seminars in the course to be set aside for students to look specifically at this 18thc contextual material, but not too many so as to take time away from the study of the novels.

On the whole, using ECCO in this way has again enabled students to see with their own eyes (‘long s’ and all – although one student has recently claimed to stop noticing it!) what the eighteenth century was thinking and writing about male and female behaviour. In seminars there is quite a lot of goggling at the attitudes towards women, some lovely critical comparisons between 18thC feminisms and 21st feminisms; and some initial surprise that male behaviour had its own policing too. In their written work, those students who took some time over selecting their contextual material produced more sophisticated essays; those students who relied rather too much on key-word searching tended to drop in unsuccessful or uncontextualised quotations.

At this stage, I have a nagging feeling that there’s a better way of embedding ECCO. Watch this space.

The Defoe Society Panel @ ASECS 2012

I attended the panel sponsored by The Defoe Society at this year’s annual meeting of the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies in San Antonio, Texas, and was pleased to find that all the panelists this year were addressing Defoe’s 1724 novel The Fortunate Mistress (more commonly known as Roxana).

Laura All’s (Virginia U) paper ‘Trade Names: Shifting Economics and Changing Identities in The Fortunate Mistress’ started in by drawing on Ashley Marshall’s paper questioning the attribution of this novel to Defoe, vigorously steer us away from interpretations of the novel that depended upon assumptions of Defoe’s concerns evidenced in other works, although carefully acknowledging that there plenty of reasons to believe that Moll Flanders and Roxana were by the same author – even if this is not Defoe. The idea of thinking about ‘trade names’ connected, in a new way for this novel, the discourses of economics and identity. Trade names in the predominantly male world of trade, function to make identity legible, or creditable: in Roxana, the figures of the Landlord, Brewer, Jeweller, Merchant – even the Prince – all sustain a legible relationship between who they are and their economic status. For women, however, their name, like their economic status, is highly mediated via the legibility of the patronym. Laura All’s discussion of Susan’s (Roxana’s real name) lack of patronym and her subsequent manipulation of her identity (especially that of ‘Roxana’) reveals a fundamental instability in legibility. By taking Defoe-as-author out of the picture, the paper enabled Laura to connect the novel to the wider and insistent debates about the movability of property and status fluidity in early eighteenth-century England and to women’s precarious position in relation to those debates. That Susan/Roxana is forced to come face-to-face with her self at the end of the novel is evidence of the precarious dangers posed by such female self-fashioning: as Laura concludes, “prying self away from self is an infernal process.”

Batya Unger-Sargon’s paper (U of California, Berkeley) ‘Any vs. Susan; Or, How Not to Read Roxana’ addressed the way in which previous criticism of this novel have had to deal with Roxana’s two “foils” – her daughter Susan and her maid Amy – separately and incommensurate methodological approaches. Susan is described as attempting to piece together the “broken fragments” of her mother’s story. When she comes face-to-face with her mother, her obsession with the few circumstantial details of her mother’s dress and the dance, rather than the actual women reveals, for Unger-Sargon, how Defoe is offering a critique of empiricism. In a striking turn of phrase, she argues it is an example of “fiction’s death drive.” Such a threat to “narrative pleasure” is also revealed by Amy. Unger-Sargon argues that Amy’s absorption into the fantasy of the romance narrative of Roxana’s life is in tension with, and even undermines, Roxana’s narrative which attempts to deal with facts. Both Susan and Amy, then, function to break the contract between reader and fiction. Only later am I reminded of J. M. Coetzee’s essay on Defoe where he contrasts the taken-for-granted contract in nineteenth-century realist fiction with the self-consciousness of Defoe’s writings.[1]

Sarah Rasher’s paper (U of Connecticut), ‘“She had never been a bride in her life”: the marriage of Amy and Roxana in Defoe’s Roxana’ started from what seemed an unlikely premise: that Amy and Roxana “act very much like a married couple” and closely follows Defoe’s debates on marriage. While there some generalisations about our own personal experiences of marriage, the strongest line of argument proceeded from Sarah’s point that, in a novel with so many poor marriages (Roxana’s “fool” of a husband; the landlord’s; the Prince’s; the Dutch merchants previous marriages), Amy and Roxana connect at many points with Defoe’s ideas on ideal marriages in Conjugal Lewdness. Amy, in this reading, is Roxana’s wife and becomes more so as the novel progresses. Sarah acknowledges that the aspect of ‘marriage’ as a divinely sanctioned state is crucial in Defoe’s thought and that in this respect Amy and Roxana do not fit this paradigm. I’m not sure this can be overlooked. But the paper offered some intriguing ideas. At an early point in the novel Roxana implores ladies to marry anyone rather than a “fool” – given this, Sarah concludes, Amy and Roxana are “ironically more like a legally sanctioned marriage.”

Whether fortunate or by design, the fact that we had a panel devoted entirely to Roxana, or, The Fortunate Mistress enabled a set of papers that spoke to each other in intriguing ways and provoked a lively Q&A that took us right up to the end of our time. A varied assortment of issues were raised: class, the choice of context (what happens if we use The Family Instructor, instead of Conjugal Lewdness?); and the uses of anonymity. One of the most interesting lines concerned the relationship between economics and affection and all panellists agreed that this was deeply marked by gender – an especially significant feature was how frequently female bonds of affection crumbled in the face of economic success. The debate on how we interpret these works was also subject to some discussion and the extent to which we can assign or detect a Defeovian hand to this novel’s ethical stance (and, indeed, whether we can even propose a stable ethical stance). It’s striking that this novel in particular still provokes and frustrates in equal measure: as the novel draws to a close, the uncanny figure of Susan, the ambiguity surrounding Amy’s actions and Roxana’s sudden fall unnerve the critic looking for closure or moral stability. G. A Starr, a while ago, drew on the tradition of casuistry to explain Defoe’s novels’ ability debate several different positions simultaneously: all three papers offered different twists to that interpretative position. In all, a thoughtful session that drew everyone in to the complexity of Roxana and yet also threw us out to issues of methodology and approach. It seemed entirely appropriate that this novel should be simultaneously alluring and yet strangely resistant.

[1] J. M. Coetzee, Stranger Shores: Literary Essays 1986-1999 (Vintage, 1999).

Using ECCO in teaching

This is a case study from 2007 outlining something I tried out using ECCO in an assessment on a first-year undergraduate module on 18thC literature and culture. It was also published on the English Subject Center website: it can be found here alongside other e-learning projects  (the centre is now unfortunately defunct). A follow-up post will detail my current thinking about embedding ECCO into undergraduate modules.

Using Eighteenth-Century Collections Online as a learning and teaching resource


This reports on my experience in building the Eighteenth-Century Collections Online (ECCO) database into a first-year undergraduate module. The aim was to enable students to experience directing their own research using eighteenth-century editions. The report also considers how the problems of assessment and the nature of a very large database of diverse texts from an unfamiliar period were addressed.

Background / Context

My university having recently invested in ECCO, I was keen to look into its potential as a teaching resource (being already familiar with it as a research tool):

Could it be something other than merely a download-type resource to supply a module with a ‘set’ text?

Could students begin to use it as a research tool for themselves?

Could it provide a unique (and scholarly) learning experience for students?

Could it be a way of building an interest in the eighteenth century that might be sustained throughout their undergraduate (and postgraduate) experience?

Activities / Practices

My first opportunity was a first-year eighteenth-century survey module called ‘Eighteenth-Century Studies’. This twelve week module included a non-assessed presentation so this was used an opportunity for students to use ECCO material. Aware that non-assessed assignments – especially with something new and unfamiliar – do not always attract full participation, the presentation was tied to an assessment: it would be a formative ‘dry run’ for an essay which would be a more focussed and written-up version of the presentation. It was made clear that the object of this project was not to present an academically rigorous paper of literary analysis, but rather an opportunity for students to dip their toes into a diverse range of eighteenth-century topics, explore what might intrigue them, and begin to widen their knowledge of this period. The presentations were described in the module handbook as ‘a talk (of 5–10 minutes ) which successfully engages the interest of our group: a mixture of informing and – hopefully! – entertaining the class.’ One of the problems was going to be how to convert this into an essay: the danger was the potential for students to treat the essay as a project of description rather than analysis. To this end, students were advised to write an essay title/question in consultation with me that would help them organise their analysis when it come to writing their essays.

One of the other main problems was in guiding students in their use of this massive database of thousands of titles: the sheer breadth of material on ECCO would pose a challenge to a first year student’s understandably limited search techniques and their lack of familiarity with the eighteenth century. This problem was solved using ECCO’s ‘Marked List’ function. Rather than merely let the students loose on this huge database, the scope of the project was given some boundaries by my compiling lists of texts (approximately 6-12) under a variety of topics (which were: Bath; How to be a (Gentle)man; How to be a Lady; Slavers and Abolitionists; Slave voices; Women poets; Feminisms; The South Seas; Voyagers and Shipwrecks; The Plague). After I had compiled each Marked List, the URL for the list was cut and pasted into the module’s Virtual Learning Environment  (Blackboard VLE). Students were then able to access individual texts from ECCO under each topic list on or off campus. The use of these directed lists enabled students to still direct their own learning and research: they were free to choose their topics and had to search and organise the material themselves.

Guidance on the use of ECCO was given in weeks three and six (presentations were to be given in weeks ten and eleven). The nature of the actual texts varied enormously: from collections of poems, short prose pieces, plays, sermons, to very large narratives of voyages, historical surveys, and political tracts. Given this, students were not expected to read everything under each topic, or even, if it was a particularly long text, all of a single text. To this end, they were guided (through example searches) on the use of the ‘Search this work’ and the ‘eTable of Contents’ functions to navigate the longer texts and select quotations.  I was also aware that students would be presented with texts that actually looked strange – to this end I summarised the main features and significance (or lack of) eighteenth-century typography. The ‘ECCO projects’, as they came to be called, were worked on over the Easter break (a lucky chance of timetabling, otherwise extra time would have had to found, possibly by replacing seminars set aside for ‘set’ texts).

The results of the ECCO projects were encouraging. The presentations, allowing for differences in presentational skills, revealed that the material had piqued students’ curiosity. While the best ones demonstrated an ability to range confidently across a breadth of material from their chosen topic, even the less assured students engaged reasonably well with their chosen texts; again, this was encouraging given the unfamiliar terrain they were asked to explore.

Some examples of the texts examined: one presentation focussed on the contrasting shipwreck narratives of Woodes Rogers (on Selkirk), and the ‘Nottingham’ disaster. A number of students were interested in women: some looked at ‘Feminisms’ and quoted usefully from Mary Astell’s Serious Proposal, Mary Hays’ Appeal to the Men of Great Britain, Mary Robinson’s Thoughts on the Condition of Woman, and Mary Wollstonecraft’s Thoughts on the Education of Daughters; others were intrigued by the conduct manuals for women, quoting liberally from Halifax’s The Lady’s New-year Gift and John Gregory’s A Father’s Legacy to his Daughter. One presentation displayed an impressive breadth of reading by illustrating the different styles of masculinity on show in texts as varied as John Brown’s Estimate of the Manners and Times, Chesterfield’s Letters, Nathaniel  Lancaster’s The Pretty Gentleman, and Timothy Greated’s An Essay on Friendship. The other main area that generated interest was slavery (understandably, given the bi-centenary of the abolition of the slave trade): one student discussed ‘Slavers and Abolitionists’ quoting usefully from Antony Benezet, James Ramsay, Ottobah Cuguano, and John Newton, while a number chose to examine slave voices and centred their discussions on the narratives of Ukawsaw Gronnisaw, Olaudah Equiano and Ottobah Cuguano.

The quality of the resulting essays, however, was rather varied and not only reflected individual ability but also the extent to which they had consulted with me: the most successful ones had a focussed title/ question and demonstrated an ability organise their material into an argument; weaker essays tended to be less focussed, overly descriptive and lacking in analysis.


At the end of the module I handed out a questionnaire (11 respondents out of 17) focussing on the ECCO projects, divided into three sections: ‘Using ECCO’, ‘The Material’, ‘Assessment’. Everyone found it easy to use ECCO, and felt the guidance offered was helpful. About half preferred to use the ‘Search this work’ function, suggesting that they could locate their material precisely this way.  The other half (approximately) preferred to use the ‘eTable of Contents’ as their main way of searching, especially for navigating long texts and where chapter headings clearly announced their topics (although it was pointed out that this varied hugely with some texts having no chapter headings at all). A small few used both functions in parallel.

On the material, everyone found something to interest them, either because it followed up an existing interest (e.g. the role of women or black voices) or because it revealed the otherness of this period’s ideas. A number commented on the otherness of the texts themselves,  finding that reading a text in the ‘original format’ in itself interesting. Some felt that so much material (even with these lists) was ‘quite daunting’, but even then felt this to be a positive aspect. Most respondents felt there were enough topics, though a few felt that there might have been more (suggestions included ‘the American War of Independence’, ‘Hanoverian rule’, ‘Satire’).

On the assessment, a number agreed that it was appropriately assessed. On the presentation opinion was mixed: a few remarked on how the presentation was a useful preparation for the essay, and a number felt it was useful for oral delivery skills. However, a large number of respondents felt that the presentation should have attracted an assessment weighting to reflect the effort spent on them.

Reflecting on this survey and the essay results, in future the ECCO topics will be assessed purely by presentation. The essay format does not easily lend itself to the diversity of material and the modest aims of the ECCO project (the essay will be used to assess other aims of the module). Indeed, in the context of a first-year module introducing the eighteenth century the presentation is potentially a far more suitable and sensitive mode of assessment.

Overall, I was encouraged by this experiment and the willingness of students to jump in and engage with what is for most of us still a resource for academic research. By using ECCO at first year level, I hope to plant the seeds of a scholarly attitude towards research – and the eighteenth century – that students can then develop in subsequent years.

Moving Parts

For a paper I was giving about Defoe and emotion, I began thinking  about the roots of the word ‘emotion’. So I was genuinely intrigued when I re-read a passage in Robinson Crusoe which seemed to draw a very mechanistic picture of ‘emotion’. It’s the moment when, after witnessing a shipwreck with all hands lost, Robinson Crusoe reflects on his ‘strange longing ‘ for a ‘fellow creature’.

There are some secret moving Springs in the Affections, which when they are set a going by some Object in View, or be it some Object, tho’ not in View, yet render’d present to the Mind by the Power of Imagination, that Motion carries out the Soul by its Impetuosity to such violent eager Embracings of the Object, that the Absence of it is insupportable.

Such were these earnest Wishings, That but one Man had been sav’d! O that it had been but One! I believe I repeated the Words O that it had been but One! A thousand Times; and the Desires were so mov’d by it, that when I spoke the Words, my Hands would clinch together, and my Fingers press the Palms of my Hands, that if I had had any soft Thing in my Hand, it wou’d have crusht it involuntarily; and my Teeth in my Head wou’d strike together, and set against one another so strong, that for some time I cou’d not part them again.

Let the Naturalists explain these Things, and the Reason and Manner of them; all I can say to them, is, to describe the Fact, which was even surprizing to me when I found it, though I knew not from what it should proceed; it was doubtless the effect of ardent Wishes, and of strong Ideas form’d in my Mind, realizing the Comfort, which the Conversation of one of my Fellow-Christians would have been to me.[1]

I’ll come back to this passage later, but you’ll have noticed Defoe doesn’t use the word ’emotion’ but there is plenty of ‘motion’. In this short paper I want to briefly emphasise this language of physical movement.

When we say that we are ‘moved’, we fail to recognise a link which is now largely forgotten. For Defoe (and his contemporaries) emotion as physical movement was part of the language used to imagine the workings of the mind, body and soul. The etymology root of ‘emotion’ is ‘motion’ and the OED documents the (now obsolete) inter-changeability of motion and emotion:

2. A moving, stirring, agitation, perturbation (in physical sense). Obs.

4. a. fig. Any agitation or disturbance of mind, feeling, passion; any vehement or excited mental state.

A good example of how ‘emotion’ encompasses and crosses between physical and figurative senses can be found in John Locke, Some Thoughts Concerning Education (1693/ 1705) when he describes the advantages of cold baths during summer for a boy, except ‘when Exercise has at all warm’d him, or left any Emotion in his Blood or Pulse.’ Here, Locke evokes a mechanistic image of the body. Later, when he describes how to best to wean a child off ‘vain terrors’, using the example of a boy’s fear of a frog, he advises that the parent accustom him to it until he can ‘see it leap without Emotion’.[2] Clearly, Locke saw little confusion arising from this use: it implies an overlap between somatic and mental processes.

Certainly the old theory of the humours and ‘animal spirits’ allowed for this cross-over between emotion and motion. In Defoe’s Mere Nature Delineated, Defoe’s satirical debate on Peter the ‘wild’ boy of Germany, Defoe discusses Peter’s understanding as it relates to hearing: ‘like a Horse, or any Fellow Brute, his Ear could convey no Notions to his Understanding, of the Things he heard, … When a Battalion of Soldiers, exercising in the Park, fired their Volleys, the Horses, the Dogs, the Deer, all discovered an Emotion, but he none at all’. Defoe is describing a physical or physiological [somatic] reaction.[3] But it becomes clear that Defoe’s use of the term ‘Emotion’ as it relates to human animals should be intertwined with an imaginative sensibility, a sensibility that Peter lacks, for he is equally indifferent to all noises: ‘the spiriting chearful Trumpet rouzes him no more than the croaking of Frogs … or the Houling [sic] of a Dog foreboding Death’. However, the word gains an addition layer of meaning when Defoe concludes ‘Thus, without the least Emotion of his Spirit, suppose he received  all these differing Applications of Nature; so, in a Word, I do not find but his Ears are of very little Use to him’.[4]

What we see here is an attempt to represent the operations of the mind using a language that conjures images of physical movement. It certainly leads to the question about the seat of human spirit and plugs straight into the debate between the relationship between the body and the soul. ‘Spirit’  bridges both somatic and mental senses in the way that the Galenic conception of ‘animal spirits’ did: ‘superfine fluids which shuttled between the mind and the vitals, conveying messages and motion’ in Roy Porter’s succinct definition.[5] Moreover, for Defoe, Peter’s motionless ‘Spirit’ also indicates a lack of a soul (the point of this tract). This is doubly resonant since for Defoe the human soul and spirit conversed with the immaterial spirits of the Angelic world: ‘Now by what Agency must it be that we have Direction’, he asks ‘if some intelligent Being … had not caused the Emotion which alarms the Soul?’[6]

So far, this exemplifies Geoffrey Sill’s general argument about Defoe in The Cure of the Passions and the Origins of the English Novel – a substantial part of which was devoted to a discussion of Defoe’s works in relation to Christian and Galenic-humoural strands of thinking and Defoe’s perception of the relation between the passions, the soul and the body (although he does not examine Mere Nature Delineated).  Sill conceptualised Defoe’s world-view in physiological terms. But to what extent is Defoe indebted to the ‘new science’ of the body? Sill mobilises late 17thC physicians Thomas Sydenham and Giorgio Baglivi to argue that their diagnoses of hypochondria pointed to an emotional rather than a somatic cause, and so to support his claim for Defoe’s interest in the documenting the progress of human passions as the primary cause or origin.[7] But causes and symptoms were still hopelessly confused in the theories of nervous illness (and more than Sill has given credit for). Sir Richard Blackmore, in Treatise of the Spleen (1725), says that both body and mind are both cause and symptom of hypochondria. But in describing the commotion and ferment in a body’s defective nerves and juices, concludes that ‘this immoderate Emotion, Disturbance and Dissipation of Spirits will account for all Hypochondriacal Complaints, they will no less explain the Symptoms belonging to the Exercise of the intellectual Faculties.’ The interdependent and internal action of mind and body is clear here; but a later use of the word ‘emotion’ in relation to hysteria describes external motion:

These Persons are likewise by violent Convulsions, caused by the disorderly and unruly Motions of the Spirits, frequently afflicted with great Pains though all the Muscular Parts of the Body, involuntary Catchings up of the Limbs, and a sudden striking or stretching them out, ungovernable Agitations of the Arms,  tossing of the Head, and sometimes a stiff and rigid Posture of the Body, in which they continue a while inflexible; and at other times they strive and struggle with extraordinary Emotion.[8]

It’s at this point I want to return to my passage from Robinson Crusoe, and to point out the parallel between Blackmore’s description of hysteria and Crusoe’s state of mind (with my emphases):

There are some secret moving Springs in the Affections, which when they are set a going by some Object in View, or be it some Object, tho’ not in View, yet render’d present to the Mind by the Power of Imagination, that Motion carries out the Soul by its Impetuosity to such violent eager Embracings of the Object, that the Absence of it is insupportable.

Such were these earnest Wishings, That but one Man had been sav’d! O that it had been but One! I believe I repeated the Words O that it had been but One! A thousand Times; and the Desires were so mov’d by it, that when I spoke the Words, my Hands would clinch together, and my Fingers press the Palms of my Hands, that if I had had any soft Thing in my Hand, it wou’d have crusht it involuntarily; and my Teeth in my Head wou’d strike together, and set against one another so strong, that for some time I cou’d not part them again.

Let the Naturalists explain these Things, and the Reason and Manner of them; all I can say to them, is, to describe the Fact, which was even surprizing to me when I found it, though I knew not from what it should proceed; it was doubtless the effect of ardent Wishes, and of strong Ideas form’d in my Mind, realizing the Comfort, which the Conversation of one of my Fellow-Christians would have been to me.

The use of ‘Motion’ is intriguing. What precisely is it describing? The ‘that’ or ‘the’ refers the ‘Motion’ in this sentence to the ‘Springs in the Affection’ that have been ‘set a going’ by the ‘Imagination’. Clearly this use confuses physical, physiological and psychological connotations. While Defoe has Crusoe give up on a philosophical or medical explanation (‘let the Naturalists explain’), the parallel drawn between the workings of a clock or watch and the human mind is a strikingly mechanistic or materialist explanation for Defoe.

Intriguingly, the passage is altered in an abridged edition of 1719 (again, my emphases):

There are some secret Springs in the Affections which, when they are set a going by something in View, or not in View, yet render’d immediate to the Mind by the Force of Imagination, the Motion hurries out the Soul by its Impetuosity to such violent eager Embracings of the Object, that the Loss of it is insupportable.

And thus were these eager Desires, That but one Man had been sav’d! O that it had been but One! I believe I repeated the Words, O that it had been but One! a thousand Times; and my Affections were so mov’d by it, that when I exprest the Words, my Hands would clinch together with a violent Emotion, and the Teeth in my Head strike together, and so strongly that I could not part them again easily.

Nor can I account for the Mystery of these Things; let the Naturalists explain them if they are able.[9]

The editor’s process of abridgment only partially accounts for the insertion of ‘Emotion’. It partly stands in as a short-hand to describe the emphasis in the original on the violent and involuntary movement of Crusoe’s hands. What is intriguing syntactically is that hands can have an emotion at all. Clearly the connotation  of emotion here includes physical motion (its etymological origin), but what else does the word connote? The insertion of the word ‘emotion’ draws upon the word’s other meanings that makes Crusoe’s violently perturbed state of mind more explicit than in the original.

Thinking about the images of physical movement in relation to emotion or the passions can be useful for Defoe studies, not because I want to undermine Defoe’s profound sense of the immaterial world, but rather because it gives us a deeper and more complex view of how and in what discourses Defoe envisioned the workings of the human mind.

[1] First edition. London: printed for W. Taylor at the Ship in Pater-Noster-Row, 1719, pp.222-23 (ESTC T072268, in the BL)

[2] John Locke, Some Thoughts Concerning Education, ed. by James L. Axtell (CUP, 1968) [from 1705 edition], pp. 12, 204. Thomas Dyche’s Dictionary (1732) under ‘Emotion’ has this definition: ‘a violent struggle of the Mind, a stirring or endeavour to go forth’. For ‘Motion’ one of the definitions is this: ‘Impulse or strong Inclination excited in the Mind’.

[3] See also Locke, Essay on Human Understanding, Book, II, Ch. I, § 23.

[4] Daniel Defoe, Mere Nature Delineated (London, 1726), pp.34, 35. See also The Family Instructor in Two Parts (1718) vol. 2, p.164.

[5] Roy Porter, Flesh in the Age of Reason (London: Allen Lane, 2003), p.47.

[6] He adds, ‘thus there is a Converse of Spirits … between our Spirits embodied and cased up in Flesh, and the Spirits unembodied’. Daniel Defoe, An Essay on the History and Reality of Apparitions, ed. G.A Starr; in Satire, Fantasy and Writings on the Supernatural, eds, Furbank and Owens (Pickering and Chatto, 2005), 8: 45.

[7] Sill, Cure of the Passions, p.75.

[8] Sir Richard Blackmore, Treatise of the Spleen, pp.34-35, 137.

[9] Subtitled ‘now faithfully abridg’d’. London: printed for T. Cox at the Amsterdam Coffee-House near the Royal Exchange, 1719,  p.166 (ESTC T072298, in the BL).

Improving ECCO part 2

Part of the excitement is the further option to create – and be credited as editor of – an entire text from your corrected OCR text. Gale’s release of the texts though 18thConnect to be corrected by TypeWright aims to have those texts re-imported in Gale’s database. But it seems Gale is also offering the chance for those corrected texts to be published either (possibly via 18thConnect or at least peer-reviewed by them) as digital editions or via Gale as a print text.

Now this is the odd point – what does Gale get out of releasing into the wilds of the open-access world its texts? ECCO isn’t cheap and a number of universities have spent a considerable amount of money for it; even JISC’s one-stop interface for both EEBO and ECCO isn’t much cheaper. Gale’s income would presumably suffer. One might be tempted to think that both of those moves to wider access suggest Gale’s anxiety over the continuing authority of ECCO (with its old OCR software, its reliance on microfilmed texts and small images) and the sustainability of this kind of database publishing model. One need only look at databases such as London Lives, or the William Godwin’s Diaries or the Digital Miscellenies Index to see where digital resources are going. It looks as if Gale is trying to maintain ECCO’s relevance by opening it up to wider access, paradoxically undermining potential income. Perhaps they figure that the market for ECCO is saturated and that there is nothing more to loose: they would reap the kudos from keeping up with the general thrust of more recent digital resources towards open access (there’s probably a buzzier-sounding phrase than that, I’m sure). As for those texts that would be released for publication outside of ECCO, they might figure that this would amount to only selected areas or authors and that the vast majority of texts on ECCO (non-canonical and found only through specialist searching) would be unaffected and so would continue to be the USP of ECCO.

Interesting times.

Improving ECCO

I’m quite excited by a recent development that aims to improve the OCR-generated texts of ECCO.

As my colleague Ian Gadd pointed out (in an as yet unpublished note) searching ECCO is a hit and miss affair, especially since the orginal OCR-generated text often failed to read the ‘long s’ correctly. The weakness of ECCO’s OCR text was also, inadvertantly, revealed by JISC’s latest project ‘Historic Books’. This is a single interface for both EEBO and ECCO (and soon some 19thC collections) and can give users direct acces to the OCR text of ECCO – and it’s easy to see that this is often in poor shape. Sayre Greenfield has helpfully noted some shortcuts to help get around this in a piece for Early Modern Online Bibliographies here.

More radically, Gale have teamed up with the good people of 18thConnect to offer users the chance to use TypeWright software to correct the orginal OCR text line-by-line. I’m a heavy user of ECCO and always try to get my students to use it as much as possible too. I have an un-researched hunch that searching is of increasing importance as readers – in parallel with or in some cases replacing ‘normal’ linear reading – navigate and research etexts with key terms, looking for images, tropes, themes, specific turns of phrase or peculiarities of languge. So I’m quite excited by the possibility that searching on ECCO may eventually be much more reliable.