Tuesday, March 24, 2015

When I edited the Eighteenth Century

One of the more peculiar job titles I've ever had, long before I was a professor, was "Editor of the Eighteenth Century." This was my task back in the mid-1980's when I worked for Connecticut-based Research Publications (now Primary Source Media), a company that had the contract for the Eighteenth Century microfilm project, which aimed -- ambitiously, it seemed then -- to film every unique work published in English between 1700 and 1800, based on what was then the ESTC (Eighteenth-century Short Title Catalogue -- now simply the English STC and extended to the birth of print), a database that was, long before Google Books, the key to every such work in any collection around the world.

This letter -- somewhat quaintly addressed to me as "Russell Potter, Esq., Editor, the 18th Century" -- concerned the quest to avoid duplicate titles -- the ESTC had been assembled to catalog everything and a number of duplicates or near-duplicates was inevitable -- because, at that time, it seemed unwise to spend the resources to film such things. With Google Books, though, the aim grew wider -- scan them all, let researchers sort 'em out -- and this, despite the best-laid schemes of the 1980's, turned out to be the way of the future.

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