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Paratext and Metadata: the Interfaces of Eighteenth-Century Collections Online

This post was orginally written for and published by the Eighteenth-Century Paratext Research Network in August 2020. My thanks to Corinna Readioff for permission to re-blog it via Manicule.

Eighteenth-Century Paratext Research Network

by Stephen Gregg (Bath Spa University)

Gérard Genette’s theory of the paratext is usually applied to some form of manuscript or printed material, but why not digital material?[1] In this post I want to explore how we might think about paratextuality in the relation to Eighteenth-Century Collections Online (ECCO). Briefly, ECCO is an online database published by Gale-Cengage. First published in 2003, it gives access via subscribing libraries to 184,536 titlesof material printed between 1700 and 1800, comprising the searchable text and digital page images. It is currently accessible via four different user interfaces (UIs):

  • Gale’s original, standalone, interface (2003)
  • Gale’s two cross-collection platforms, Gale Primary Sources (2016), and Gale Digital Scholar Lab (2019)
  • JISC’s platform Historical Texts (UK only, 2014)

The UI has obvious affinities with Genette’s notion of paratext as a space wherein reader and text interact: ‘a zone not just of transition, but of transaction; the…

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