Celebrating 20 Years of ECCO: Gale-ASECS Fellows Forge New Paths in Eighteenth-Century Studies with Digital Humanities

December 7, 2023
five professors' headshots for news story

As the Eighteenth Century Collections Online (ECCO) celebrates 20 years of powering higher ed research, Gale, part of Cengage Group, and the American Society of Eighteenth Century Studies (ASECS) are releasing the impact report findings of how the five scholars of the Gale-ASECS Non-Residential Fellowship program used ECCO and Gale Digital Scholar Lab (the Lab) to advance their research.

Last year, each fellow received $2,500 from Gale and were given access to the Lab, a cloud-based digital humanities (DH) tool and ECCO for a period of six months. At the end of their access period, each scholar submitted a report on how they used the resources to advance their work.

The goal of the fellowships is to help scholars expand the field of eighteenth-century studies for research or teaching, using DH methods to conduct their research.

The impact reports examine the DH journeys of the fellows’ research that sheds new light on a wide range of issues, from fainting as a defense mechanism, to the stigmatization of stuttering, to legal issues about dueling and more.


Here are some of the ingenious approaches and breakthrough discoveries the fellows uncovered in their research using DH tools:

Dr. Heather Heckman-McKenna, instructor of English, associate editor, The Eighteenth Century: Theory and Interpretation, University of Missouri

Project: Eighteenth-Century Sensibility and the Subversive Female Body

Heckman-McKenna’s research argues that bodily actions of sensibility (feminized actions such as sighing, trembling, and fainting) were used by some women writers of the eighteenth century to create a disruptive effect. Heckman-McKenna was able to take advantage of text- and data-mining tools in the Lab to get a “far more complete picture of how women authors wrote about the sentimental body,” she said. “Having so many data points per text available for download allows me a wide range of productive inquiries and helps me look both broadly and at the minutiae of how bodily sensibility was written about.” This allows Heckman-McKenna a new way to chart women's agency over time and map new aspects of the pre-history of modern feminism.

Dr. Adam Kozaczka, assistant professor of English, Texas A&M International University

Project: The History of Dueling in Eighteenth-Century Britain

Dr. Kozaczka examined a subset of trials and legal issues involving dueling, which was relatively common during the eighteenth-century but would become extinct in Britain relatively early in the nineteenth century. Through a digital humanities intervention, Dr. Kozaczka sought to resolve the eighteenth-century legal disputes through the weight of data. “The much wider reach of my content set [from ECCO and the Lab] meant that I could immediately see the disparity between the two sides that has remained unacknowledged in scholarship until today,” he said, noting that the work “will continue to influence my pedagogy and scholarship for some time to come…Many of the results I have gleaned during the project will make their way into a chapter in a law and literature monograph that I am currently working on.”

Jared Richman, associate professor of English, Colorado College

Project: Voicing Disability in Eighteenth-Century Print Culture

Richman’s research sought to understand how the eighteenth century represented and politicized speech and communication disorders. Richman called the Lab “a boon to my work,” explaining that, “What has been so fascinating for me is tracking the appearance and use of particular terms related to my research project over the [eighteenth] century…I’m still working through ways to interpret this print phenomenon, but it seems likely that increased cultural attention to vocal correctness coincides with concerns over incorrect or ‘defective’ speech, i.e., disability in the second half of the century.”

Daniel Watkins, assistant professor of history, Baylor University

Project: Tracking the Lettres Édifiantes et Curieuses in Eighteenth-Century Britain

Watkins traced the transmission of a particularly influential set of published missionary letters to provide a better understanding of how missionary accounts influenced European descriptions of societies and cultures in Africa, Asia, the Americas, and beyond. “Asking a question as big as ‘How did missionary letters influence European conceptions of the rest of the world?’ demands a methodology that is expansive,” Watkins said. “This kind of question is perfectly suited for research using digital tools.” However, he added, “The tools themselves don’t have to provide final conclusions – they can help historians process information. For example, the Ngram analysis tool helped me to determine additional stop words to add to cleaning protocols so that the topic modeling and document clustering analysis produced better results…I hadn’t considered this method before using digital humanities tools.”

Sarah Weston, assistant professor of English, Washington University in St. Louis

Project: The Shape of Numbers, 1701-1800

Weston examined eighteenth-century poetry and art through the lens of mathematics. The dissertation also offers a new way to speak about the movement from the Enlightenment to Romanticism and the change of sensibilities that took place across the end of the eighteenth century. “Beyond merely helping me create a better, larger data set, the Lab helped me organize, sift through, and make sense of the material I was working with,” said Weston. “It was really staggering how quickly everything could be done.” Her work with ECCO helped “ratify my initial assessment/hypothesis–that the imagery of piles and heaps and tortured masses, the anxious feeling about multiplicity and numerousness when discussing the slave trade, was a sentiment unique to the late eighteenth century, emerging during the period of abolition, as a new attitude arose toward quantity and numbers: a new reckoning with the sheer magnitude of people affected by the slave trade.”

This year marks the 20th anniversary of ECCO, the world’s largest and most comprehensive online historical archive of its kind that supports advanced study of the eighteenth century. It contains every significant English-language and foreign-language title printed in the United Kingdom between the years 1701 and 1800. Watkins called ECCO “an invaluable resource because of its sheer breadth. There is perhaps no better digital resource with which to assess the whole of British print culture in the eighteenth century.”

For more information on Gale-ASECS Non-Residential Fellowships, visit its webpage.

To learn more about ECCO, visit its webpage or view its 20-year anniversary video that features scholars thoughts on the impact the collection has had on the transformation of research.


About Cengage Group and Gale

Cengage Group, an education technology company serving millions of learners in 165 countries, advances the way students learn through quality, digital experiences. The company currently serves the K-12, higher education, professional, library, English language teaching and workforce training markets worldwide. Gale, part of Cengage Group, provides libraries with original and curated content, as well as the modern research tools and technology that are crucial in connecting libraries to learning, and learners to libraries. For more than 65 years, Gale has partnered with libraries around the world to empower the discovery of knowledge and insights – where, when, and how people need it. Gale has 500 employees globally with its main operations in Farmington Hills, Michigan. For more information, please visit www.gale.com.