The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Ben Jonson (anticipated publication date fall 2010) is a massive, continuing venture whose goal is to create a radically new vision of textuality. Pushing the boundaries of current technologies, the edition is actually three interwoven texts--a traditional, modernized, "eclectic" text, an original-spelling version with press variants encoded into the text (rather than listed in a separate apparatus), and high-quality image facsimiles of all the early textual witnesses. These core writings are then interlaced with a rich cultural context of primary and secondary documents concerning Jonson's world. As the Electronic Editor for this edition, I am responsible for directing all digital aspects of this ambitious international project and share a portion of a five-year, £500,000 Arts and Humanities Research Board grant awarded in 1999.
We have long recognized the revolutionary impact of mechanized printing on human society. The slow yet inexorable shift from manuscript to print culture that began in the mid-15th century, with its explosive proliferation of books and ideas, fueled radical transformations across the spectrum of life that still resonate today. Yet the changes triggered by the coming together of press, paper, and type did not grow in isolation but instead developed within the maelstrom of competing economic and social forces that was early modern Europe. The printers, publishers, and booksellers who first selected one text over another, who created trade standards for book design, who built circulation networks, and who struggled with guild and ecclesiastical control, were deciding how people would read in the centuries that followed. Probing the motives behind their decisions helps us appreciate those texts in new ways. Existing scholarship provides us with some clues; we know for the most part what books were published and something about the public lives of the men and women who worked in the printing houses and bookshops. However, we know very little about the measurable physical and material circumstances of the trade itself. As a result, we lack an essential key to understanding one of the fundamental forces that shaped the legal, economic, political, scientific, religious, and cultural growth of the modern English-speaking world.
The Early English Booktrade Database (EEBD) is conceived as the first networked electronic resource devoted to the organization and dissemination of detailed and quantified bibliographical evidence. The EEBD's goal is to collect and describe material evidence related to English printing and publishing 1475-1640 (also known as the STC period, after the Pollard and Redgrave Short-Title Catalogue of Books Printed in England, Scotland & Ireland 1475-1640). In a very real sense, the information compiled by the EEBD will form an archeology of the book, a rich collection of physical data extracted from the actual products of the printing and publishing trade, i.e. the books themselves, and out of which we can reconstruct the business practices, the labor relations, the material accounting procedures, and other heretofore obscured details of early printing houses and bookshops. This archeological data will in turn enable us for the first time to carry out large-scale empirical analyses of all aspects of early modern print culture.
At the heart of the project is a set of digital files constructed using XML and accompanied by a suite of analytical and data-representation tools. EEBD will also function interactively with resources as diverse as the electronic English Short-Title Catalogue (ESTC), British Book Trade Index (BBTI), and the Text Analysis Portal for Research (TAPoR). Using the methods of quantitative history, often called cliometrics, scholars will be able to explore the nuances of the English book trade at a level never before possible. For example: an historian interested in the early modern shift from an oral to a written culture will be able to chart in detail the disappearance of black letter printing and its replacement with the simpler roman typeface during the reign of Elizabeth; a divinity scholar will have the evidence needed to investigate the dynamic business in printed sermons and its interaction with popular religious beliefs; an economics student will employ market data to investigate how the growth of books on trade and industry paralleled England's rise to prominence in the 17th century; and a political scientist will correlate the publishers of legal documents, law books, political tracts, and newsbooks to chart the book trade's role in the English Reformation and subsequent secular upheavals. When completed in 2009, EEBD will provide new and exciting opportunities for curious teachers, students, and scholars from many countries and disciplines.
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