Gale-Cengage Learning and 18thConnect have joined forces to undertake a major initiative benefitting scholars and improving the digital archive for future generations.
Gale’s ECCO catalog, Eighteenth-Century Collections Online, contains page images for 182,000 texts, some of them as lengthy as Clarissa. Because the process of creating such a set of images has taken decades of work, some of the page images are not readable enough to be transformed into typed texts by computer programs designed for this work. 18thConnect.org is a community of scholars and open-source online finding aid hosted by the University of Virginia. It has received a grant from the Mellon Foundation as well as NEH support from the NCSA and I-CHASS (the National Center for Supercomputer Applications and the Institute for Computing in the Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences at the University of Illinois) in order to develop a new, open-source software program that, after being trained on the ECCO catalog, will itself be available for public use.
Text Creation Partnership
It was precisely the desire to improve for posterity the ECCO collection (Eighteenth-Century Collections Online, owned by Gale Cengage) that motivated the Text Creation Partnership at the University of Michigan to undertake the TCP-ECCO project. The TCP has produced hand-typed page images of texts in the EEBO collection (Early English Books Online, owned by ProQuest) because documents printed before 1700 are generally impossible to type mechanically. “Mechanical typing” requires having an OCR program (Optical Character Recognition Program) run though the page images and “read” them, turning into typed letters the lines of print visible in the image file or pdf. When you use the “find” function to search a pdf file, it is actually a typed version of the image that you are searching, and that version has been generated by OCR. But standard OCR engines will not work on page images of texts that were printed before about 1820, and no OCR engine at all will work on texts before about 1720.