Colin  
 
  database

HOME PAGE

WELCOME TO READERS

CONTENTS OF THE DATABASE

A STATISTICAL OVERVIEW

ON TRADITION AND INNOVATION

A HISTORY OF THE PROJECT

NAVIGATING THE DATABASE
BROWSING  •
SEARCH PATHS  •
KEYWORD SEARCHING  •
 

Navigating the Database.

In addition to finding documents, this database is designed to find or make links between documents, links that locate documents in their historical context, and links that treat the reception of documents over time. Some links are ready-formed, like those joining text to author records, and author records to criticism, biography, and other author records. Other links are selected by using the indexes in the process of conducting a search. Users can also pursue links of their own design by doing keyword searches. The navigation system is designed to combine searching with browsing: having selected a series of records, one can branch off the path by browsing other links and then return from a remote record by selecting "Found records" from the Navigate menu.

Browsing.

It is not necessary to start from a search page (discussed below). To familiarize yourself with how links are used to map the tradition, you might begin by pulling up the record for a familiar writer, say Oliver Goldsmith. Pull down the Navigate menu (found on all the pages), select "Names D-G," scroll to Goldsmith on the alphabetical list that appears, and select the link to Goldsmith's author record. This record displays a thumbnail sketch of the life, a list of the author's published works, and links to other text records for Goldsmith (not many in this case, since Goldsmith was no great admirer of Spenser and Milton).

But there are links to many other documents: author records are hubs linking to the other files (this is a relational database containing more than one file). To see an example of a text record, click on the link to The Deserted Village. In addition to the text of the poem, the text record contains commentary and links to other records. Return to Goldsmith's author record by selecting "Author" from the Navigate menu or by clicking on "Oliver Goldsmith" at the top of the record.

Author and text records have menu bars running across the top of the record that display additional links and information. "Profile" displays demographic information about the poet (this is used as an index field) and a list of associates, some, like "Edmund Burke," linking to other author records. "Commentary" displays links to discussions of Goldsmith in the commentary file; for an example, select "Thersites" on the Deserted Village. Goldsmith dished out criticism in return; to see what Goldsmith had to say about other writers select "Author as Critic" from the menu bar; notice that Goldsmith also figures as the biographer of fellow Irishman Thomas Parnell. "Biography" presents links to biography records for Goldsmith; since Pratt, Aiken, Campbell, Cary, and Howitt have author records one can follow the links from the biography record to read biographies of the biographers.

These are the four files in this relational database: authors, texts, commentary, and biography. Browse some of the links leading from an author record and you will grasp the structure of the files and their links in less time than it takes to describe them.

Search Paths.

There is a search page used for each of the four files; one selects records by specifying items to be matched against their fields (greater or fewer in number depending on the file). Since this is a relational database, one can also select records in the text, commentary, and biography files by matching items in the author file. For example, in seeking out contextual records for Goldsmith's Deserted Village, one might search the topics index in the texts file for poems about "humble life," limiting the search by matching "Irish" in the profile field of the authors file. Or one could specify matches with "Goldsmith" in the "associates" field of the authors file to get a sense of what poets in Goldsmith's and Johnson's coterie had to say on the subject. Commentary and biography records can be searched by specifying criteria for either the subject or the commentator or biographer.

Since the texts file has the most fields, it has the most elaborate search page. Use the menu bar on the top of the page to select matches by genre, verse forms, topic, profile, and bibliographical criteria; these selections will be combined into one search string when you click the "submit" button. You can search for text using this page (for example, "Deserted Village" in the document field), though simple text searches are handled more easily using the Keyword search described below.

A results page displays a chronological list of links to the found records. The SQL search command displayed at the top of the results page is sometimes useful for making sense of unexpected results. To modify a search, use the "back" button on the browser to make changes, or start over again by generating a new search page from the Navigate menu. For the texts file the results page has an option on the menu bar that displays results in a statistical table, broken out by decade and place of publication (this is not a good indication of writers' nationality; like a number of other Irish poets, Goldsmith published in London).

Found records are displayed in groups of 25: select from the first group, leap to a later found set, or redo the search with a narrower set of criteria. Having selected a record in the found set, notice that its place in the sequence is displayed at the top with forward and back arrows for navigating through the series. If you divagate into a different file, or off the search path in the present file, the forward and back arrows disappear. To return to the search path use the "back" button on your browser or select "Found set" from the Navigate menu, which returns you to the results page for the original search.

If you are looking for a particular document, use the alphabetical list to navigate to the author record, or search for it by title in the texts, commentary, or biography files. In the texts file, look for titles of poems or essays in the title field, and titles of books, collections, and journals in the work field. For commentary and biography search for either in the citation line field.

The search pages, however, are primarily designed for finding chronological series of related works: commentary on a work or writer, works in a genre, works about a particular topic, authors who attended a school or who worked in a national tradition. One uses the indexes on the search pages to specify a relationship; the sequence of found records, or search path, indicates how that relationship evolved over time, and commentary on the records or on related illustrates why the relationship persisted or why it changed.

For example, one might begin look at one of the built-in search paths: imitations of Goldsmith's Deserted Village. From the texts search page select: Imitations: "Goldsmith's Deserted Village." As series of imitations go, this is neither very large nor very small. The statistical table on the results page shows how they are distributed across time and space. Proceeding through the series of found records one notices its diversity: some imitations imitate Goldsmith's poem as a whole; others only in part, and of these, many imitate Goldsmith's character sketch of a village clergyman (creating, as is not uncommon, a series within a series). A look at the imitators' biographies suggests that the writers, as one might expect, are a fairly conservative lot both as poets and political creatures, but also that rural verse and "country" politics could have a radical edge.

To investigate such matters further one might generate some related search paths, narrowing the scope by looking at imitations of Goldsmith by Irish or American poets, or broadening out to look at other series of poems that would include the Deserted Village. This is always a good idea: so far as the database is concerned, a poem either is an imitation of Goldsmith or it isn't. But there will be closely-related poems not classified as imitations. To find them, look at the qualities and topics fields on the text record for the Deserted Village and then use these for other searches: poems in "heroic couplets" concerned with "humble life," for example. Since we know that several of the imitations singled out Goldsmith's characters, similar things might be found by searching for "verse character" and "humble life." Or might match records with "descriptive poem" and "heroic couplets" in the qualities field, a search that would turn up a series related to the Deserted Village: poems imitating Samuel Rogers's Pleasures of Memory and Thomas Campbell's Pleasures of Hope.

In generating search paths it is useful to think in terms of three layers of specificity. At the highest level there are genres such as "descriptive poetry" that embrace several modes and many topics. At the middle level are modes or particular schools of poetry that favor one verse form over another. For example, descriptive poems divide between those in blank verse and those in couplets, with those in Spenserian stanzas a distinct minority (they are over-represented here of course). As readers often remarked, there was a School of Milton and a School of Pope, each with different ideological resonances. At the third and most specific level, there are imitations of particular poems like the Deserted Village. At this level one encounters still further modal variations that tell us something about how the source poem was being read. Crabbe's The Village is a familiar response to the Deserted Village, but it was neither the first nor the only response: Crabbe joined a conversation that began with Anthony King's The Frequented Village and John Robinson's The Village Oppress'd. Using search paths one can follow this conversation down to John Clare and beyond.

If there were conversations going on within series, there were also conversations going on among series: the Goldsmith imitations, for example, were written in dialogue a related series (actually several related series) of pastoral poems also treating the theme of humble life. The database collects Goldsmith material not because it was part of the Spenserian-Miltonic tradition but because it was opposed to it. To understand developments in romantic pastoral it helps to follow both sides of this conversation, looking at The Deserted Village (or for that matter Lyrical Ballads) in terms of the pastorals and pastoral ballads that were a vital part of their contemporary context. Doing various searches on "humble life" turns up series related to a long-running, many-sided, and contentious debate about country politics originating in the sixteenth century.

Keyword Searching.

The results page for a keyword search displays the search word or phrase in the context in which it appears in the document. Since there is one keyword search page for all the files in the database one begins by specifying the file to search using the radio buttons to the left of the page.

The text file has two places to search: choose "document" for the texts of poems and essays or "comments" for the commentary appended to documents in the texts file. Commentary includes the headnote containing a brief description of the work (genre, verse form), pseudonymous names ("Malvina, Brooklyn, May 22" etc.) and topics (look here for items not indexed) and sometimes comparisons to other works (search for titles and authors; "Deserted Village" occurs frequently). In addition to the headnote, the comments field contains remarks about the work drawn from contemporary reviews, correspondence and diaries, headnotes by other editors, philological essays, and literary histories.

The other choices are documents in the commentary and biographies files. The commentary file contains more than ten thousand records, including many short poems not found the texts file, but also material drawn from reviews, correspondence, diaries, and scholarly works. Documents in the biography file consist of brief lives of various kinds: obituaries, memoirs from collected works, entries from biographical dictionaries, and biographical notes drawn from poetry anthologies. Some longer biographies print additional poems. The commentary and biography files some contain material from works published after 1830.

Use a keyword search to pursue topics not indexed in the text and author records. It is a good place to look for names, critical terminology, and poetical diction. Since the results are displayed in chronological sequence, a keyword search can be very illuminating about changes in usage for terms like "fancy" and "imagination." One can also use a keyword search to see when and how terms like "Spenserian" and "Miltonic" first entered the critical lexicon, or to track fluctuations in poetic diction by looking for peculiar words ("watchet" and "griding" are scarce enough to indicate who was reading whom).

The bane of keyword searching is spelling, which could be wildly inconsistent before the middle of the eighteenth century. Since keyword searches do not take wildcards or truncated words it is necessary to duplicate the search for spelling variations ("Spenser," "Spencer"; "Jonson," "Johnson"). In the case of author names there is some recourse by searching the text records using the topics index: there Spenser is always "Spenser" and Jonson "Jonson." Keep in mind that in printed verse it was the norm to use apostrophes for unsounded vowels ("raised" becomes "rais'd," "heaven becomes "heav'n"). Keyword searches are not case-sensitive.

There are three ways to limit keyword searches. One can limit found records by specifying a range of dates (dates for commentary and biography records extend to 1925, though coverage is very slim after 1850). A still finer selection can by made by specifying a demographic criteria (note that this eliminates all text records by anonymous writers). In the case of commentary and biography records demographic specifications apply to the subject, not the commentator or biographer. A third way to limit a search is by specifying a second word or phrase to appear in close proximity to the first. For example, if one is interested in the relationship between the terms "imagination" and "fancy," looking for both terms in proximity reduces the number of records to be examined from two thousand to forty. The proximity search is also useful for exploring relationships by looking for combinations of names ("Spenser" and "Milton," "Wordsworth" and "Coleridge"). It is more efficient to search for the less frequent phrase and let the script match the more common one.