eReviews: Nineteenth Century Collections Online, June 1, 2012

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Nineteenth Century Collections Online (NCCO) is a multiple-year digitization and publishing project that will culminate in an enormous number of primary-source materials from the long, long 19th century (mainly 1789 to 1914 but with some content stretching beyond that period) arranged in cross-searchable online collections by topics or themes.

Material in the file comes from libraries, archives, special collections, and repositories around the world and includes books and monographs, broadsides, diaries, financial accounts (including receipts), hand-written sheet music, manuscripts, maps, newspapers, pamphlets, periodicals, personal letters, photographs, poetry, statistics, and more. Material is in Western and non-Western languages, and the collections will be released over a period of years.

The collections currently available (and upon which this review is based) are British Politics and Society (1.7 million pages) and European Literature, 1790‚ 1840: The Corvey Collection (5.2 million pages of material in English, French, and German). Upcoming collections, to be released during spring and summer 2012, are Asia and the West: Diplomacy and Cultural Exchange (two million pages) and British Theatre, Music, and Literature: High and Popular Culture (1.5 million pages).

Gale plans to release four archives per year in 2013 and 2014. The system is Zotero-compatible and includes textual analysis tools and an image viewer (to manipulate and view images in full-screen mode).

Usability Uncluttered and easy to navigate, the NCCO home page has as its most prominent feature a simple search box with a left-hand dropdown that lets users select archives to explore. Beneath the simple-search area is a link to an advanced search option, which allows queries by keyword, document title, subject, place name, and related access points. Users may also limit searches to documents with illustrations and by content type, language, source library, and other criteria.

Above the search box is a toolbar with buttons leading to the home page and Explore Collections. Here is also a graphing tool that offers the option to View your search results over a selected period of time by entering a word or phrase. Below the search box are large buttons for each of the archives to which the user’s library subscribes.

Clicking the large button for British Politics and Society leads to an overview of the collection that contains a seven-page essay about the social and political contexts behind the archive’s documents. This is followed by a brief bibliography and a hyperlinked listing of the archive’s 13 collections, which range from British Cabinet Papers, 1880‚ 1916 to Rare Radical and Labour Periodicals of Great Britain.

I clicked into British Cabinet Papers, 1880‚ 1916 and found a set of collection facts (date range: 1880‚ 1916; extent: 157 manuscripts/35,080 pages; language: English; source institution: the National Archives at Kew, England; and the British Library). Below these is an image carousel displaying the 157 documents on offer. The digital scans are crisp and clear, and while viewing each page it is possible to search within the image using a search box at screen right. Associated illustrations are also accessible; in this case, they consisted of a map and a series of tables.

It can take a few seconds for images to load in fully viewable resolution onscreen. Given the size and scope of this file, that’s more a quibble than a criticism.

Using the Explore Collections button on the home page toolbar, I clicked on Sedition in the subject limit box. The result was an image linking to the Discontent and Authority 1820‚ 1840 collection, which led, as previously, to an overview and collection of facts, as well as to a carousel of the page-scan images (which were, again, high quality and very readable). A search box is omnipresent at screen right.

A simple search for material on Irish writer Maria Edgeworth returned 26 results, including a number of full-length books about the author, advertisements for her own works, and a play. The database also offers period book reviews. It took only seconds to locate the full images and display them onscreen, and all were easily readable.

Material on World War I British nurse Edith Cavell is found in Volumes 154 and 156 of the British Cabinet Papers, 1880‚ 1916, as well as in two newspaper articles from 1917 and 1928. Since Cavell was executed for treason in 1915, the results of the latter search illustrate the publishers’ inclusion of materials from beyond the traditional long nineteenth century limit of 1914.

The Relevant Pages links included in results lead to related material in which search words are highlighted. The system automatically highlights search terms in the original hits, all making the material easy to access and read.

In further exploration, I searched for material on French poet and playwright Alfred de Vigny and found nine full-length manuscripts from the Corvey Collection. A subsequent, related search for Buddhism ‚ a religion in which de Vigny developed a serious interest‚ uncovered a full-length manuscript and nine newspaper articles on the subject. The ranges of sources of all this material boggled my mind. Yes, some of it is from mainstream publications, but so much of it was from rare, hard-to-find sources that I gained an appreciation for the time and effort it’s taken to assemble these vast digitized collections.

PRICING The NCCO archive collections are sold both individually and in bundles (Gale Digital Collections are onetime purchases with annual hosting fees). Archive prices vary based on the size of the archive being purchased and the size of the purchasing institution, with the smallest archives for the smallest institutions starting at approximately $3500.

VERDICT My review of the publisher’s ECCO (LJ 5/15/04) said, The contents, scope, and accessibility of the Eighteenth Century Collections Online are astonishing. Enthusiastically recommended for all academic, public, and research libraries serving serious literary scholarship.

Gale is happily guilty of having another such paragon in the works. The rare material, the powerful yet uncomplicated search mechanism, and the added-value subject indexing stand out here.

As the modules are released, all academic, public, and research libraries serving serious literary, historical, and interdisciplinary scholars should consider acquiring these archives.

Cheryl LaGuardia About Cheryl LaGuardia

Cheryl LaGuardia always wanted to be a librarian, and has been one for more years than she's going to admit. She cracked open her first CPU to install a CD-ROM card in the mid-1980's, pioneered e-resource reviewing for Library Journal in the early 90's (picture calico bonnets and prairie schooners on the web...), won the Louis Shores / Oryx Press Award for Professional Reviewing, and has been working for truth, justice, and better electronic library resources ever since. Reach her at, where she's a Research Librarian at Harvard University.