Teaching with Eighteenth Century Collections Online

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│By Julia de Mowbray, Publisher at Gale│

Now Eighteenth Century Collection Online (ECCO) is approaching its eighteenth birthday, and has been significantly upgraded, with a focus on enhancing ECCO’s user-friendliness as a teaching and student-learning resource, it seems an apt time to see what evidence there is for its use in teaching and student learning. Plus, with more of the students’ learning experiences moving online, to platforms such as Zoom for lectures, seminars and tutorials, and to online e-resources for primary and secondary source materials, what can be learned from past use of ECCO as a teaching tool, and how can this be applied in a remote learning environment?

ECCO Projects

Dr Stephen Gregg at Bath Spa University introduced his Eighteenth Century Studies first year students to ECCO through what he called “ECCO projects”. It started as an experiment to see whether ECCO could be useful for students beyond being a virtual library of texts. Dr Gregg was interested to find out whether students could use it for research themselves and whether it would help them learn or even enthuse them in the eighteenth century.

Gregg created a selection of titles using the “Mark List” function on a variety of topics such as: 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 Shipwreck, and The Plague. Gregg guided the students (through example searches) on the use of the “Search this work” and the “eTable of Contents” functions in ECCO to navigate the longer texts and select quotations. He also summarised the main features and significance of the eighteenth-century typography unfamiliar to first year students.

The resulting presentations revealed successful and confident engagement with a range of materials by all students. Gregg summarised the successes: “one presentation focused 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 Daughters. 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: 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.” You can read more about Dr Stephen Gregg’s teaching here.

Left: Savile, George. The lady's new-year's-gift: … 1701. Eighteenth Century Collections Online, https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/CW0117490032/ECCO?u=webdemo&sid=ECCO&xid=3b13ac8b&pg=2
Right: Portrait of the author, frontispiece in Montagu, Mary Wortley, 1689-1762, Letters of the Righ Honourable. Lady M-y W-y M-e: written, during her travels in Europe, Asia, and Africa, …[1764]. Eighteenth Century Collections Online, https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/CB0129116458/ECCO?u=webdemo&sid=ECCO&xid=b7fa8286&pg=1
Left: Savile, George. The lady’s new-year’s-gift: … 1701. Eighteenth Century Collections Online, https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/CW0117490032/ECCO?u=webdemo&sid=ECCO&xid=3b13ac8b&pg=2
Right: Portrait of the author, frontispiece in Montagu, Mary Wortley, 1689-1762, Letters of the Righ Honourable. Lady M-y W-y M-e: written, during her travels in Europe, Asia, and Africa, …[1764]. Eighteenth Century Collections Online, https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/CB0129116458/ECCO?u=webdemo&sid=ECCO&xid=b7fa8286&pg=1

Tackling Eighteenth Century Texts, Typography and Layouts

Dr Nancy Mace at the U.S. Naval Academy used ECCO to introduce her students on her survey course on British and American literature to primary sources. Her aims were to familiarise them with “an original eighteenth-century text with all its idiosyncrasies of typography, spelling, and format; second, to learn a bit about how the meanings of words changed throughout the period; and, third, to explore the search potential of archives like ECCO”. With those aims, she gave the students a list of terms, such as Dissenter, Puritan, Catholic, sensibility, originality, Augustan, epic poetry, patriot, Restoration, libertine, and Jacobite, and the names of a few important writers: Jonathan Swift, John Dryden, William Wycherley, Homer, Virgil, and Horace, asking them to select terms and names, and search on them for results across the time period. The students wrote short papers analysing the usage of the term or reputation of the author, coping or needing help with layout and typography. All succeeded, with some students becoming really enthusiastic about what they were discovering! You can read more about Mace’s teaching here.

Comparing Descriptions and Viewpoints

Dr Eleanor Shevlinat at West Chester University introduced ECCO in several projects with her classes. She already had evidence for its value for demonstrating eighteenth-century textual production and layout, the social and cultural context in which the texts circulated, and the intertextual dialogues. One project involved studying Lady Montagu’s Turkish Embassy Letters, comparing her descriptions of the Levant with those of previous (male) authors. The class discussed its context, how the Levant was represented and how the exercise revealed differing viewpoints, styles, and aims. The students gained a deeper understanding of Montagu’s work in the history of British travel writing about the East.

A second exercise involved searching on “coffee houses” in ECCO and studying the works in the results. They showed that coffee houses had served as inspiration for the plots and settings of plays, provided landmarks to reference, and were used for book auctions and museums.

The third assignment was an essay analysing one of the class texts (Alexander Pope‘s The Rape of the Lock, The Tatler, The Spectator, or Jonathan Swift‘s The Lady‘s Dressing Room). The results indicated a need for more preparatory work, and as Shevlinat commented, “these papers disclosed broader difficulties involving close reading, textual comprehension, notions of canonicity, and aesthetic value”.

All three projects made transparent the learning process of the students and the gaps in their understanding. For her seminar “Material Culture, Publishing History, and the Making of the British Novel”, which she claimed would not been possible without student access to ECCO, Shevlinat created a glossary on the physical aspects of books, as well as a handout on “Why Use ECCO?”. You can read more about Shevlinat’s teaching here.

Eighteenth-Century Personas

Particularly compelling reading for today is Professor Timothy Jenks’ 2018 account1 of transferring his survey course on the long Eighteenth Century to online teaching. For this he created spaces analogous to eighteenth century spaces – the coffee house (class discussion of prescribed pamphlets or newspaper articles), the country house library or the Cambridge common room (seminar and collective readings), and the church and pulpit (pre-recorded lecture). The students were assigned an eighteenth-century persona (a leaseholder renting a farm and house for £8 a year; a shopkeeper in a provincial town, a countess, a curate, a widow occupying her deceased husband’s house, a lieutenant in the Royal Navy, etc) and responded to the texts they were discussing in character.

The source texts were in ECCO or British Newspapers, 1600-1900. A central text was William Paley’s Principles of Moral and Political Philosophy, 1785, based on lectures Paley gave at Christ’s College, 1766-1776, which became Cambridge University’s textbook at that time on how to be a propertied gentleman. Another was Tobias Smollett’s novel Roderick Random (1748). Jenks concluded that, contrary to his expectations, online learning technologies permitted the enhancement of this particular course in the understanding of eighteenth-century spaces, their different inhabitants and social interactions within them.

Smollett, Tobias George, 1721-1771, The adventures of Roderick Random, …. [1748], Eighteenth Century Collections Online, https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/CW0111607323/ECCO?u=webdemo&sid=ECCO&xid=1b247701&pg=1
Smollett, Tobias George, 1721-1771, The adventures of Roderick Random, …. [1748], Eighteenth Century Collections Online, https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/CW0111607323/ECCO?u=webdemo&sid=ECCO&xid=1b247701&pg=1

The examples above show inventive thought and preparation on behalf of the lecturers – each aiming to enhance the students’ learning experiences. Each class was quite different and yet working from the same corpus of works.

Techniques for Teaching with Primary Sources in the Online Classroom

Over the last year, considerably more thought has gone into the practice of teaching history online with lecturers and students all based remotely. The pandemic situation has foregrounded the advantages of access to online primary sources. History UK produced “The Pandemic Pedagogy Handbook”. One section of which, entitled “What happens to primary source work?”, examines the challenges of teaching with primary sources in the online classroom, as well as the opportunities to “disrupt one-way knowledge transfer, to focus on skills development, and to include a wider range of student voices in discussion”. The authors outline the techniques and platforms available, such as discussion boards and annotation tools, to assist this process, support collaborative reading and help develop “critical awareness of source quality and context”. They recommend encouraging active engagement with the texts by requiring the students to raise questions, comments and highlights, as well as adding their own selections of documents to extend the discussion.

Lecturers have said themselves that they have changed the pace of their courses in the enforced transfer online – shorter periods, even just 20 minutes; smaller chunks of material to analyse and discuss; smaller topics are approached, using primary sources in smaller contextual tasks. With its coverage of all titles and subjects printed in the eighteenth century, ECCO offers unlimited options for topics.

Its encyclopaedia and dictionaries provide appropriate terms for searching these eighteenth-century texts, from John Harris, Lexicon Technicum (1704), the first alphabetical encyclopaedia written in English, with plates and inter-text diagrams and illustrations, setting the design for future works, to Chamber’s Cyclopædia: or, an universal dictionary of arts and sciences of 1728, dedicated to King George II, with its diagram and preface on forty-seven divisions of knowledge, to the Encyclopaedia Britannica of 1771. Dictionaries were wide-ranging too, from Nathan Bailey’s An Universal Etymological English Dictionary (1721) and Samuel Johnson’s A Dictionary of the English Language (1755), to builder’s, country affairs, family, gentleman’s, historical, law, mathematics, merchant’s, military, physical, religious, and secretarial dictionaries, to name a few. Each entry in these works can be a springboard into a new topic of study.

The possibilities are endless. Happy birthday ECCO!

Chambers, Ephraim, ca. 1680-1740, Cyclopædia: or, an universal dictionary of arts and sciences, London, [1728], Eighteenth Century Collections Online, https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/CW0106296469/ECCO?u=webdemo&sid=ECCO&xid=f41af463&pg=5
Chambers, Ephraim, ca. 1680-1740, Cyclopædia: or, an universal dictionary of arts and sciences, London, [1728], Eighteenth Century Collections Online, https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/CW0106296469/ECCO?u=webdemo&sid=ECCO&xid=f41af463&pg=5

If you enjoyed reading this piece about teaching with primary sources, you may like Teaching Primary Source Research Skills – Discovering New Points of View about European and Colonised Women Using Gale’s New Archive “Voice and Vision”. If you want to read more about the fascinating primary source material in ECCO, check out ‘I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream for Ice Cream!’ Ice Cream Recipes in Gale’s Eighteenth Century Collections Online. And, of course, you can read about the many developments that have been made to ECCO here.


Blog post cover image citation: Montage of image in Savile, George. The lady’s new-year’s-gift (full citation above) and photo by J. Kelly Brito on Unsplash.com https://unsplash.com/photos/PeUJyoylfe4

About the Author

Julia de Mowbray is Publisher at Gale. She finds her job, working with academics, librarians and colleagues in house to research and define new online archives of primary sources, endlessly interesting. When not at work, she can be found in her garden in the country, weeding, digging, or simply sitting in the sun and reading.

  1. Timothy Jenks, Spatial Identities, Online Strategies, and the Teaching of Britain’s “Long Eighteenth Century”,The History Teacher, Vol. 51, No. 4 (August 2018), pp. 597-610