Early English Books Online (EEBO) and a Plug for British Official Publications Collaborative Reader Information Service (BOPCRIS)
Reviewed by: Nicola Harwood
Formerly the Law, Official Publications, EDC,
and Statistics Librarian
University of Warwick
Early English Books Online (EEBO) is not strictly a legal resource, but it does provide a wealth of material for the legal historian and is a good example of how technology can be used to enhance access to rare and fragile resources.
EEBO is a ProQuest product and is a digitised version of the microfilm series Early English Books I and II, produced by Chadwyck-Healey (as was) and found in many academic libraries. It includes the full text of the 125,000 titles listed in the following major bibliographies: Pollard & Redgrave's Short-Title Catalogue (1475-1640), Wing's Short-Title Catalogue (1641-1700), and the Thomason Tracts (1640-1661).
The database is fully searchable by author, title, printer, publication, type of illustration and subject headings. It is also browsable by subject, so, for instance, you can look at the complete collection of materials relating to criminal law.
The initial result list includes brief bibliographic citations, and from that list you can move to a more detailed citation, view the scanned microfilm images of the documents, or as separate files, look at pictures (if any) from the texts. Citations can be printed, emailed or downloaded and the scanned images can be downloaded only.
For the legal historian interested in the period 1475-1700 many gems can be found, for instance:
Les reports de Edvvard Coke L'attorney generall le Roigne by Coke, Edward, Sir, 1552-1634;
La graunde abridgement by Fitzherbert, Anthony, Sir, 1470-1538;
De pace Regis et regni by Pulton, Ferdinando, 1536-1618.
?and many lesser known materials, retrieved from collections across the world.
There are some problems with the database. The help screens and search facilities are good, but viewing scanned images on screen is not always easy, and scanned images do not appear to be available as yet for every single record. It would be nice if an OCR view was available in addition to the scanned image, so that you could get the look and feel of the original text as well as something that was easier to read. Also it is a hugely expensive product, understandably so for the wealth of material contained, so it is unlikely to be purchased by a wide range of libraries. However discrete subject collections from the database can be purchased so this may help some institutions .
There is some free featured content, which allows you to get an idea of the scope and content of the database. Subject handouts are also available, but not as yet for Law.
For anyone interested in early legal material, and who does not have access to EEBO, have a look at BOPCRIS if you have not done so.
BOPCRIS is another project which facilitates access to early materials, this time British Official Publications (Parliamentary and non-Parliamentary), and as an RSLP/ British Library Project the database is free.
BOPCRIS indexes and provides full abstracts for key Official Publications 1688-1985, and it now includes an increasing volume of full text, scanned material from these documents. This phase has started from the period 1688-1800, and it is interesting to compare the scanned early texts with those in EEBO.
BOPCRIS provides Tiff and GIF view options in most cases, as well as the OCR text, which is surprisingly error free and makes for much easier reading. BOPCRIS is also full searchable, across the index/ abstracts and full-text and has good browse facilities by date range and subject coverage.
The time is coming when historical researchers may no longer have to roam the country in search of fragile and rare collections. If the library can afford it, EEBO offers an excellent research facility. If not ? do try BOPCRIS.
This is a IT Review published on 16 August 2002.
Citation: Harwood N, 'Early English Books Online (EEBO) and a Plug for British Official Publications Collaborative Reader Information Service (BOPCRIS), IT Review, The Journal of Information, Law and Technology (JILT) 2002 (2) <http://elj.warwick.ac.uk/jilt/02-2/harwood.html>. New citation as at 1/1/04: <http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/soc/elj/jilt/2002_2/harwood/>.