Evolution of the English Short Title Catalogue

Monday, March 21, 12:00-1:15 pm
Williams 454 (4th floor, turn R off the elevators)

“More than a science”: Evolution of the English Short Title Catalogue

With almost 500,000 items, the English Short Title Catalogue (ESTC) straddles the line between bibliography and database. Under (the late) former director Henry L. Snyder, its function expanded from recording 18th century English imprints to organizing records for letterpress items in any language from the middle 15th century through 1800, published mostly in the British Isles and North America. Records such as Samuel Edwards’ “Abstract of English Grammar, Including Rhetoric,” John Kersey’s treatise on elementary algebra, and Hannah Glasse’s “The Art of Cookery” indicate the vast range of topics currently reflected within the metadata of the ESTC; yet topical range is not the ESTC’s most notable trait. Unbound by a single criterion such as genre, chronology, or geography, the ESTC embodies several characteristics of a 21st century research tool, including crowd-sourced contributions and linked open data.

Digital Scholars is pleased to welcome Dr. David Gants to provide an insider’s look at the ESTC’s evolution, from its original three volumes compiled without the aid of a computer to its present imaginative logics based on “silent testimonies of fact” (Alston, “Computers and Bibliography,” 1981). The recipient of a 2011 Planning Grant from the Mellon Foundation, the ESTC makes an optimal case study for bibliographic and non-bibliographic tools that have outgrown their first trajectories. Dr. Gants will focus on six years of the project’s history (2011–2016), inviting us to reflect on its sustainable traits and to consider the problems and questions that arose as the ESTC attempted to move from its 30-year-old legacy platform to a more modern platform: What are the administrative steps involved in moving from bibliographic inquiry to digital preparation? How do we define a digital “record”? Who are (or who become) the new users of such a tool? What becomes its public impact on non-specialist communities and audiences? How can such a tool fulfill research agendas that are simultaneously nationalist and transnational in scope?

Participants are invited to read some of the following in advance of our meeting:

and to browse the following resources for background:

This session will be interactive; participants are encouraged to bring tablets or laptops. Dr. Gants has offered to share some of the ESTC Board’s internal documents in advance of the meeting. Please contact Tarez Graban with an RSVP so that she can provide you with a link for accessing them.

We hope you can join us,



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