Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Archives Offer Adventures in Time and Cyberspace

Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Archives Offer Adventures in Time and Cyberspace

Article excerpt

Cengage's plans to digitise the 19th century could open up a whole new world, finds Matthew Reisz.

Described by its provider as "the most ambitious scholarly digitisation and publication programme ever undertaken", Nineteenth Century Collections Online (NCCO) was launched last week.

Created by educational resources provider Cengage Learning, the project builds on the success of its ECCO (Eighteenth Century Collections Online) programme.

Abigail Williams, Lord White fellow and tutor in English at St Peter's College, Oxford, believes that ECCO has "transformed 18th-century studies across the world ... It has been exciting and liberating in opening up the arcane, the ephemeral and the neglected, and allowing us to read way beyond the confines of the canon. The searchability of the text enables us to retrieve words and references from among millions of pages in a few seconds."

The only key downside of ECCO, adds Dr Williams, is its creation of "a two-tier system among universities", since "no serious 18th-century scholar would now think they could do research without it, yet not every institution can afford it".

Now that the first two parts of NCCO have been launched, Cengage has plans to release four separate archives per year over the next three years. Ray Abruzzi, the company's associate publisher for digital collections, accepts that even the eventual 36 to 40 million pages of material will be "at best provisionally comprehensive". However, he hopes they will fit together as "a mosaic of themes and regions, to tell the stories of empire, nationalism, growing literacy, science and the governed - to align closely with the way people are studying the 19th century". …

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