Vim, Ph.D.
5 min readJan 8, 2022

Little EEBO Rant

Proquest? more like Amateur Hour amirite?

I know I’m going to regret complaining about EEBO as it exists now via ProQuest, not least because I am still extremely lucky to have access to it and because I still rely on it every single day as I work on this book. Having EEBO is great. EEBO itself is still––despite all the things we know went into its development that was not great for libraries––great. I really love EEBO.

I was going to be in an SAA seminar on EEBO, in fact, until I decided I couldn’t go to Florida and felt like I also needed to focus on my book instead of a paper about EEBO back in December.

Now, of course, I’m writing about EEBO, informally, which is probably for the best, though part of me thinks it would be better this rant could also be a CV line that translates into institutional brownie points for going to a conference. (That part of me is not correct, I know).

Since EEBO got a new face a couple years back, I’ve been somewhat grouchy about it, because I often feel like the more I know about a particular text I’m looking for, the more impossible it is for me to find it in an EEBO search. Some of it I know is my fault for not typing in search terms according to the way it wants me to. But it’s also super annoying to find its understanding of relevance is dumb like a computer’s, and not less dumb like a scholar’s. I don’t think like a bibliographer or Book historian, so ESTC numbers or EEBO numbers aren’t stored in my head. But titles tend to be and lately I feel like those titles no longer come up with the ease they once did.

Say I want to find a text that’s called A Solemn Engagement of the Army. There are several texts with this title and similar titles, including one written from City radicals to counter the Army text. I typed in the three words that are most important in the equation, and I get over 4000 results, which is kind of untenable. I organized my results by what EEBO calls “Relevance,” and I did in fact find two documents that fit what I wanted to revisit. But notice they are the 6th and 7th result rather than the first and second. And the first and second results weren’t at all what I wanted and somehow didn’t have these words in the title either. Huh.

If you (admittedly stupidly) include a word like “of” in your search terms, you will get a whole bunch of results that just contain the word “of” regularly, even though it is not highlighted in what it says are included in my search.

2307 results for Parliament of Women search

Putting the title in quotation marks cuts down on the results, but too much so.

with quotation marks, thousands of results are reduced to three. And not the ones I wanted.

I eventually found the things I wanted — it was spelled “Parlament” in one case, and of course several of these texts are “parliament of ladies” or “laydes.”

In most cases, I’m the problem, searching the wrong way for things after being habituated to searching that way before EEBO’s engine was revamped and before so many EEBO texts were transcribed, which has radically changed the searching capacity and one of the reasons that the results lists are so huge. The early modern period is one in which everybody is aping the prose style of everyone else, especially an issue in the 1640s, when there is suddenly more print than ever, and more stuff that is building on earlier stuff by using the same phrasing and titles.

So yeah, it’s me, and the conditions of the 1640s that really make this stuff tedious in most instances. And to its credit, some of the things my limited search terms missed were still not too hard to find once some of the “related items” that came up eventually showed the additional things I wanted.

But, something that I can not take responsibility for nor dump it on the period, is that EEBO also recommends articles from what are clearly other databases run by the same company. Like this example below, in which they are recommending an article on school shootings to me while I’m reading three speeches from 1643. This article from 2015 from an American Journal is NOT A RELATED ITEM to mine, speeches delivered in London, even if gunpowder existed by then.

An image of a thumbnail view of a 1643 political text, with a side bar of “related items,” recommending a 2015 article on american education.

Really, no thank you.

Still worse, occasionally it has also recommended VIDEOS to me. Do you know what I do not want when I’m looking for documents printed before 1900? A goddamn video. Or anything made after 1900. Not even a secondary source on the primary texts i’m looking at.

I’m glad that they don’t stick neatly to the “English” part — really I am. But the “Early…Books Online” part is why I’m in this database.

Ok, rant over.

Please don’t tell me how to search on EEBO, ok? I am not asking for advice. I am ranting. Thank you.

Vim, Ph.D.

Early Modernist, Associate Prof, college hoops fan, crazy cat lady. Tweeting out of conviction or exhaustion or both. Views my own. My head hurts.