Review of EE in Booklist Online, February 2009

Electronic Enlightenment

Allowing the user to "explore the original web of correspondence . . . between the founders of the modern world and their friends and families," Electronic Enlightenment is a wonderful primary resource covering the so-called long 18th century. At its foundation is full-text correspondence drawn from 32 source editions. These include Descartes’ The Correspondence (Cambridge, 1991); The Letters of Daniel Defoe (Oxford, 1955); The Correspondence of John Locke (Oxford, 1976–); Correspondance complète de Jean Jacques Rousseau (Voltaire Foundation, 1965–98); and Voltaire’s Correspondence and Related Documents (Voltaire Foundation, 1968–). A research project of the Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford, Electronic Enlightenment currently provides access to more than 53,000 letters from nearly 6,000 correspondents as well as links to Blackwood’s Magazine, Cambridge Companions Online, Dictionnaire de l’Académie francaise, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, and numerous other resources.

Retrieval is easy and help always available via a Help tab with context-sensitive page tips and listing of all page tips plus general advice. The various search screens also have brief tips on the screen. The most powerful search (Full Search) allows searches by keyword and by author of the correspondence as well as by recipient, date, and place of origin and destination. Given the inexact information on many of the original documents, the user is also encouraged to use the browse searches by correspondent’s last name as well as by decade. A language limitation would be a useful addition, since letters are available in their original languages (currently, English and French, with Italian and German to be added).

The way retrieved documents are handled could be a template that publishers of similar works would be wise to follow. Clicking on a document link from search results brings one to a screen that displays the full text along with a Meta bar on the left that includes, in addition to the writer, the recipient, and the source, links to textual and editorial notes (such as footnotes in the original or footnotes added for this electronic version) and a View Citation link, which provides two formats: the so-called EE style and MLA. At the top of the document page are tabs that are enabled when necessary: Document (the default), Enclosures, Related Docs, Versions, and Parent Docs. If there is a translation, for example, the Versions tab will be enabled, with a link to the document in the database that is translated. Documents are in markup language as opposed to PDF, which provides quicker retrieval. Any illustrations are included with the text, though in at least one case they were not aligned properly on the page and appeared in front of the text. One minor complaint: footnotes (which are clickable and open in a separate window) are not reproduced in the "printer-friendly" layout. Instead, one must click the Editorial Notes hyperlink on the left to open a separate window for the text of all the notes.

To support the letters, the site provides some background and context. For each letter writer, there is a page with biographical information (sometimes very brief, depending on how much is known). Tabs on the page lead to a hyperlinked list of the person’s correspondents as well as to links to relevant letters on the site.

Though clearly only of use to academic and large public libraries that cater to researchers in this discipline, this is a landmark work at a reasonable price (starting at $1,595). Currently, with the exception of the University of Toronto Press, all publishers are based in the UK: Cambridge, Edinburgh University Press, Voltaire Foundation, and, of course, OUP. However, a page detailing new content being prepared for inclusion lists several additional publishers, including some American university presses. Oxford is attempting to get other publishers on board and has wisely opted to have cooperating publishers enter into nonexclusive agreements with the project to encourage involvement. Oxford is also inviting the user community to contribute whenever possible (see Reference on the Web: Community of Enlightenment). A good project with a wonderful publication model that, we hope, will work. Certainly, the future of any similar projects to come can be based on the outstanding model Oxford has provided. (Last accessed November 19, 2008.)

— Ken Black
© 2009 by American Library Association

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