Newswise — RIVERSIDE, Calif. – The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has awarded UC Riverside $405,000 to design new software that will allow scholars from around the world to help edit and curate the English Short Title Catalog, a searchable database of every known publication in the English-speaking world from the birth of the printing press in 1473 to 1800.
The foundation previously awarded UCR’s Center for Bibliographical Studies and Research (CBSR) $48,500 to develop a plan to help curate the expanding database and simplify how researchers harvest information from it.
The new grant continues that effort by funding the development of software that will enable scholars to add information about individual publications that could be useful to other researchers, such as the cost of a publication when it was printed or which copies in which libraries in Europe or North America might have notes written in margins, said Brian Geiger, Director of the UC Riverside Center for Bibliographical Studies and Research.
The English Short-Title Catalog (ESTC) lists more than 500,000 items, including books, handbills, fliers, pamphlets and warrants. The catalog is a joint effort of the CBSR, the British Library and the American Antiquarian Society and is widely regarded as the single most authoritative source for the identification of early modern editions. It is freely available for searching at http://estc.bl.uk.
“This is one of the first projects in which people can edit and curate established data in a structured way,” Geiger said of the effort to expand the usefulness of the database. “Part of the digital humanities trend is to allow researchers to interact with data in new ways.”
The new software will be cutting edge for digital humanities research in its ability to link data previously not connected in the English Short Title Catalog, such as authors for whom little information is available in a particular entry, Geiger said. A researcher using the catalog might have information that establishes relationships between other works or people in the catalog, for example.
“This will give us a better sense of the people involved in printing and associated with it before 1800,” he said. “It will help people interested in the history of the printing of literature or understanding daily life in the English-speaking world before 1800.”
For example, a researcher studying popular forms of entertainment in the 1750s would find useful a database that includes how much books cost or which ones exist in greater quantities in libraries today, he said.
Approval from ESTC staff will be required for changes suggested to core catalog data, which must remain intact for use by librarians, Geiger said. The new software will allow additional information provided by researchers to be recorded in different data fields, with safeguards designed to prevent errors.
In a related project, the center has examined metadata for about 50,000 titles in the Google Books digitized archive. CBSR and Eastern Connecticut State University received a $50,000 grant from Google in 2010 to improve descriptions of books published before 1801, including the printer and year of publication, a physical description of the book, where copies of the originals are located, and general notes. Such information is critical for scholars, Geiger said, and is too often missing from the Google Books database.