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English Poetry Full-Text Database

English Poetry Full-Text Database
English Verse Drama

The University of Minnesota Libraries subscribes and provides access to the English Poetry Full-Text Database (EPFTD), which includes the nondramatic verse of some 1,350 poets who wrote between 600 A.D. and 1900 A.D.—mostly those identified by The New Cambridge Bibliography of English Literature, 5 vols. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1969-1972), supplemented by some materials ignored by the NCBEL.

The entire database, or any section of it, can be searched electronically for any word or phrase. The texts include structural information (volume divisions, stanza divisions, lineation) coded in the Standard Generalized Markup Language (SGML).

Direct internet access to the contents of the database (as mounted on a file server at the University of Michigan) is available to users who have University of Minnesota e-mail accounts; access is password-restricted.

A similar arrangement has been made for the database English Verse Drama, which contains "more than 2,000 works by around 450 named authors [including Shakespeare, in early editions] and approximately 230 anonymous works, from the Shrewsbury Fragments of the late thirteenth century to the end of the nineteenth century."

Published reviews and other accounts of the first and revised editions of English Poetry Full-Text Database include, in chronological order:

  • Potts, R. TLS 30 Apr. 1993: 7. (Not seen.)
  • "Read Only Memory." Poetry Review 83 (1993): 85. — A brief review based on a demonstration disc (abridged). "There are no variant readings and no notes. So although there is much you can do with these files, you can't do everything you might want to do." Objects to "the ballast of dud poets."
  • Roberts, R. L., and R. Franklin. "The English Poetry Full-Text Database." RQ 33 (1994): 543. (Not seen.)
  • Sutherland, John. "When in Rom." London Review of Books 9 June 1994: 7–8. — As a "commercially driven project" the Database has had to cut corners, but it gives value for money. Basing this electronic corpus on "the obsolescent NCBEL (1969–72)" was a pragmatic decision; it would have been better, though more expensive, to draw on the revision of the NCBEL now being prepared. Resorting to uncritical, "out-of-copyright editions" is a dubious practice for canonical authors, but virtually the only option for the many noncanonical authors that are included. Double-keyboarding of the data, with inconsistencies flagged for resolution, "is a system which is far from foolproof." Omitting the twentieth century for copyright reasons slights the most popular period of literary study. Nonetheless, in an economy of scarcity (no institutional funding is available for such work in the U.K.), this commercial project is efficient, financially self-sustaining, and powerfully informative: it is likely to redirect literary scholarship and criticism.
  • "The Lays of Ancient ROM." Economist 27 Aug. 1994, 71–72. — Reviews several large-scale text-database projects; this one is "poised to become an indispensable research tool."
  • Lane, Anthony. "Annals of Software: Byte Verse." New Yorker Feb. 20–27, 1995: 102+. — Chadwyck-Healey's literal keyboarding of old-spelling texts accumulated a variety of spellings that makes it difficult to find a particular passage. The database is especially useful for "random, impromptu excursions into the history of the language." The omission of verse drama, including Shakespeare, is unfortunate; it will be repaired in a later project [i.e., English Verse Drama].The lavish inclusion of so much (bad) noncanonical verse is a backhanded reminder that the canon has its uses. (See also abstract by Mary Mallory, ETEXTCTR Review 2 [1995].)
  • Willett, Perry. The Chadwyck-Healey English Poetry Full-Text Database. Initiatives in Digital Information: A Quarterly Communication from the University of Michigan Oct. 1995. — Brief favorable notice, emphasizing search capability.
  • Reimer, Stephen. "The English Poetry Full-Text Database." Computers and Texts 11 (1996). — Points to various editorial and functional deficiencies, especially in the representation of poetry from the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Prompted a detailed response from Stephen Pocock (Managing Editor and Head of Data Conversion, Chadwyck-Healey, Ltd.), "A Response to Dr Reimer's review of The English Poetry Full-Text Database," Computers and Texts 11 (1996).
  • Baker, Nicholson. The Size of Thoughts: Essays and Other Lumber. New York: Random House; London: Chatto and Windus, 1996. — Includes, in the long essay "Lumber," an account of some weaknesses in the EPFTD, especially the systematic omission of poems written by authors who were classified by the NCBEL as novelists or prose writers (for example, Scott, Thackeray, Newman, Meredith).
  • Korn, Eric. "A Clippings Job." Review of Nicholson Baker, The Size of Thoughts: Essays and Other Lumber. TLS 5 Apr. 1996: 22. — Incidentally criticizes omissions in the EPFTD: "no poems by those classified as prose-writers, hence no Johnson, no Scott, no Charlotte or Anne Brontë"; verses by Francis Newman but nothing by his brother, John Henry Newman.
  • Chadwyck-Healey, Charles. Letter to the editor, TLS 26 Apr. 1996: 19 — Defends omissions in the EPFTD by blaming limitations of the available bibliography, the NCBEL, rather than electronic technology as such (as Korn had suggested); notes that omissions can be made good in later editions of the EPFTD, including even twentieth-century poetry now avoided because of copyright considerations.
  • Jackson, Ian. Letter to the editor, TLS 17 May 1996: 17. — Holds the NCBEL to be innocent of the faults of the EPFTD, claiming rather that Chadwyck-Healey has made "uncritical use of its sources"; objects to the "slave-labour" used to construct the database.

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Michael Hancher
Department of English, University of Minnesota
URL: http://mh.cla.umn.edu/englpodb.html
Comments to: mh@umn.edu
Created 29 April 1995
Last revised 5 July 2002