SGML: Announcing the Electronic Archive of Early American Fiction

SGML: Announcing the Electronic Archive of Early American Fiction

From Mon Sep  9 07:20:10 1996
Date: Mon, 9 Sep 1996 08:01:20 -0400
Reply-To: Encoded Archival Description List <>
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From: "David M. Seaman" <dms8f@ETEXT.LIB.VIRGINIA.EDU>
Subject:  Announcing the Electronic Archive of Early American Fiction
Comments: To:


FYI -- this should give us some good full-text TEI items to link in
with our EAD finding aids.

FYI: all text TEI encoded; all images 24-bit colour, circa 400 dpi
tiffs with jpeg derivatives on-line.

       [from cross-posted version on TEI-L, Message-Id:
       Date: Mon, 9 Sep 1996 10:45:23 CDT]


*** Crossposted ***

University News Office
University of Virginia


Aug. 30 -- The economics of electronic versions of rare books is the
subject of a two-year study being undertaken by the University of
Virginia Library. Sponsored by a $400,000 grant from The Andrew W. Mellon
Foundation, the project will compare usage and costs between electronic
texts and original printed editions of rare early American fiction.

As part of the study, 582 first editions of the most important novels
and short stories will be digitized and put on the World Wide Web.
Called the Electronic Archive of Early American Fiction, the online
collection will include books published between 1775 and 1850. The
books chosen for the project range from the earliest American novels,
such as Susanna Rowson's "Charlotte" (1791), through James Fenimore
Cooper's "The Last of the Mohicans," Edgar Allan Poe's "Tales of the
Grotesque and Arabesque," and Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Scarlet Letter."
All the texts will be taken from rare first editions in the Barrett
Collection and other collections in the Library's Special Collections

"This project is an exciting opportunity to investigate how rare
materials can be distributed widely through new computer technology,"
said Karin Wittenborg, University Librarian. "We are delighted that
the Mellon Foundation will provide funding for the project."

Wittenborg added that a major goal of the project will be to determine
if rare research materials can be made available at a reasonable cost
on the Web. "Until now, if you wanted to see the first edition of
Poe's "Tales," you had to travel to one of a few libraries that had
copies, and even then the copies are so fragile that they can't be
handled very much. The copies on the World Wide Web will make it
possible for researchers around the world to see accurate
reproductions and searchable texts of these wonderful records of
American civilization."

Wittenborg said that an important part of the project will be an
evaluation phase in 1998. Teachers and students will be asked to
compare factors like ease of use of original rare books and of the
electronic versions of them.

Two versions of each text will be made available for the project on
the Internet, according to David Seaman, Coordinator of the Electronic
Text Center in the Library. "We plan to have color computer images of each
page of each of the 582 volumes--125,000 pages altogether," he said.

"More importantly, there will be searchable texts. Look up a word like
'liberty,' and you will get a list of quotations showing how authors
in the early Republic were using that word." The E-Text Center will
add these texts to some 15,000 other electronic books that it makes
available on the World Wide Web.

Because most of the books to be used in the project are fragile, the
computer images of each page will be prepared in the Special Collections
Digital Center in the Library. The coordinator of that center, Edward
Gaynor, pointed out that a specially adapted camera is used to take
digital images. The $35,000 camera was purchased through an earlier
grant from the Gwathmey Trust. Gaynor noted that the images produced by
the digital camera result in high quality reproductions of rare book
pages on a computer monitor.

The 582 volumes in the project are taken from two standard bibliographies:
Wright's "American Fiction 1774-1850" and the "Bibliography of American
Literature "(BAL). Included in the selection will be all first editions by
82 authors, including Melville, Hawthorne, Cooper, Poe, Washington Irving,
Longfellow, and William Cullen Bryant.

Michael Winship, Professor of English at the University of Texas and
editor of BAL, commented, "This project will make available for use by
scholars and students the electronic texts of an extensive and
important group of early American novels. Furthermore, it demonstrates
once again the commitment of the U.Va. libraries to preserving and
documenting our literary heritage and to creating and promoting
rigorously prepared electronic editions."

For further information contact: David Seaman,,
(804) 924-3230, or see