EEBO contains over 100,000 early English book titles, including incunabula, reflected in bibliographies such as the English Short Title Catalogue, Pollard & Redgrave’s Short-Title Catalogue and Wing’s Short-Title Catalogue.
According to librarian Diana Kichuk, EEBO must be considered a highly processed historical artifact. Kichuk writes that EEBO preserves the limitations of microfilm—the cropping, poor registration, and low microfilm image granularity—while adding the strengths and limitations unique to the digital medium—the convenience and added value of digital access as well as the erosion of detail. Similarly, book historian Ian Gadd says that it is necessary to understand the limitations of EEBO. Gadd says that in an EEBO book, the ink can be any color so long as it’s black: there is no red, no gold. An EEBO book usually has no outside; only very rarely are bindings included. EEBO books appear at first to be a uniform size, regardless of the book’s original size. And, that a user of EEBO needs to be conscious of the resource’s history, the limitations of its coverage, the origins of its bibliographical data, and the nature of the relationship between its bibliographical catalogue and the individual copies available.
Because books are digitized in EEBO as images, it is not possible to search their text directly (except for users who have institutional membership of EEBO-TCP). Instead, most searches are performed on the bibliographic information.
About a quarter of the files in EEBO have been converted into searchable text through an initiative called the Text Creation Partnership. EEBO-TCP started in 1999 and aimed at converting a portion of the image files of EEBO books into ASCII text. Phase one resulted in the conversion of 25,000 titles into TEI-compliant, SGML/XML texts. EEBO-TCP is an initiative of Oxford University, ProQuest, and the University of Michigan. Phase two will convert the remaining works. One hundred and fifty member libraries fund the project.
Downloading EEBO files
Books in EEBO can be downloaded in their entirety or one page at a time. However, there may soon be a new way of accessing some of the full-text. The 25,000 texts created by EEBO-TCP are free to the public as of January 2015.
EEBO text has famously variant spellings and formats. Helpfully, EEBO allows users to type in one spelling and check to see if other spellings were used and have those reflected in the search results. The EEBO-TCP N-gram Browser allows a scholar to check the frequency with which terms appear in EEBO using multiple spellings. A graduate student created the EEBO-TCP N-gram Browser to assist in text analysis. Click on the Conversations tab to learn more about this tool.
Date range: 1473-1700
Publisher: Chadwyck-Healey (ProQuest)
Publisher About page: http://eebo.chadwyck.com/marketing/about.htm
Object type: Books
Exportable image: Yes
Facsimile image: Yes
Full text searchable: No, except for users with institutional access to EEBO-TCP who may search a subset of the collection.
Titles list links: Search: http://estc.bl.uk. See also “Original catalog” by clicking on the History/Provenance tab of the EEBO entry in Beyond Citation.
Original catalog: English Short Title Catalogue, Pollard & Redgrave’s Short-Title Catalogue (1475-1640), Wing’s Short-Title Catalogue (1641-1700), Thomason Tracts (1640-1661), Early English Books Tract Supplement.
Digitized from microfilm: some items
History: EEBO has a fascinating history that is interwoven with efforts to preserve and transfer historical resources for scholarship from overseas. In the 1930s, with funds from the Rockefeller Foundation, University Microfilms International (later ProQuest) started microfilming early British books because of concerns that they might be lost to wartime damage. EEBO was created from the digitized microfilm. EEBO’s history has been written about by book historians Bonnie Mak and Ian Gadd among others.
Bonnie Mak. Archaeology of a Digitization. Preprint. (2013).
Ian Gadd. The Use and Misuse of Early English Books Online. Literature Compass 6.3 (2009): 680–692. Paywalled article.
Diana Kichuk. Metamorphosis: Remediation in Early English Books Online (EEBO). Literary and Linguistic Computing 22.3 (2007): 291–303. Paywalled article.
Click on WorldCat to see the library closest to you that has access to this database.
Reduced price access
It is possible to access EEBO for as little as $60/yearly ($35 for students) through the Renaissance Society of America (RSA). Membership is open to scholars outside of the U.S. For more information on free or reduced price access to EEBO through professional associations, see Eleanor Shevlin’s blog post on Early Modern Online Bibliography 2 Jan. 2014. Commercial Databases: Greater Access to JSTOR, EEBO, ECCO, Burney, and More in 2014?
Free access to texts from EEBO in 2015
Access to EEBO requires an institutional log-in. The 25,000 texts created by EEBO-TCP are free to the public as of January 2015. EEBO-TCP is a project that is converting image files from EEBO into searchable text. So, although the images of pages won’t be accessible to people without institutional log-ins, about a quarter of the full-text is scheduled to be made available in 2015. See the Overview tab for information about EEBO-TCP.
Heather Froehlich has created a page of links to access EEBO-TCP which allows limited access to EEBO texts for people without institutional log-ins.
Interlibrary Loan Conditions, from ProQuest’s Terms & Conditions
Interlibrary Loan of materials retrieved from the Products is allowed provided that the loan is not done in a manner or magnitude that would replace the recipient library’s own subscription to either the Products or the purchase of the underlying Work (e.g., newspaper, magazine or book), and that you comply with any special terms imposed by specific content providers or licensors as required under Section 6(c). With respect to our ProQuest® Dissertations & Theses product and other electronic archives such as Early English Books Online, Interlibrary Loan is restricted to one printed copy of the specifically requested dissertation, book or pamphlet loaned out at any one time.
Click for a PDF of international telephone numbers for ProQuest customer support.
How to use EEBO
Book historian Ian Gadd notes that Every search run on EEBO (with some exceptions) relies, in a fundamental sense, on bibliographical information originally supplied by ESTC—but not in the form that one might expect. . .there is no absolute one-to-one correspondence between the pre-1701 entries in ESTC and the materials on EEBO; there are—and will always be—items on ESTC not available on EEBO.
Patrick Williams. Saving and Printing Multiple Pages in EEBO. 30 May 2012. Video.
Text analysis with Ngrams
Anupam Basu, a doctoral student at Washington University in St. Louis, has created a text analysis tool for the “unique conceptual and computational challenges of. . .EEBO-TCP due to the wide range of variation in early modern grammar and orthography.” In a similar fashion to the Google Books Ngram Viewer, to find the frequency with which particular words appear, use Basu’s EEBO-TCP N-gram Browser. The viewer also works with regular expressions (symbols and characters used by computer programs to match patterns.).
Antedating the Oxford English Dictionary
Samuli Kaislaniemi, a doctoral student of Early Modern English, explains how to use search in EEBO-TCP to antedate word etymologies in the Oxford English Dictionary. The Permissive Digital Archive—Copious but Not Compendious. 20 Nov. 2013.
How to cite EEBO
For a discussion of the complexity of citing EEBO, see this blog post from Samuli Kaislaniemi, a doctoral student of Early Modern English. How should you cite a book viewed in EEBO? 27 Feb. 2014.
For general information on citing online and electronic works, MLA style, see the guides at Research and Documentation Online, 5th edition, Diana Hacker.
Citing the digital
While digital resources are ubiquitous, comparatively few scholars cite them, preferring instead to cite the print version. Yet if digital sources are not cited, it is impossible for archives, university libraries, funders and other entities to know whether the collections are useful and should be expanded, or to make evidence-based arguments for future digitization of other materials. Jonathan Blaney of the Humanities Research Institute offers an egregious example of this, saying that 31 million page views of British History Online over a two-year period resulted in only 89 citations in Google Scholar and Scopus combined. Blaney asks scholars to embrace the principle—cite what you used.