Electronic Enlightenment

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    Developed by University of Oxford faculty and staff under auspices of the Bodleian Libraries and first released in 2008, Electronic Enlightenment is a comprehensive collection of letters and other correspondence with scholarly annotations providing a unique viewpoint of the early modern time period and its residents. Covering Europe, the Americas, and portions of Asia from the 17th through the 19th centuries, the EE project is, in its own words, “reconnecting the first global social network”.

    May 31, 2024 4:27pm
    Collection Content

    Covering Europe, the Americas, and portions of Asia from the 17th through the 19th centuries, Electronic Enlightenment offers access to tens of thousands of letters and other correspondence from leading figures and lesser-known correspondents of the early modern period. The documents are often drawn from critical scholarly editions and have been extensively annotated and linked to related documents and other correspondents, "allowing you to see the complex web of personal relationships in the early modern period and the making of the modern world." The Electronic Elightenment project (a research project of the Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford) is, in its own words, “reconnecting the first global social network.” 

    As of August 2016, the product contained over 70,000 letters and documents (keyed full-text, rather than original images), with more than 8,500 correspondent entries and over 300,000 scholarly annotations. The site also includes detailed information on more than 60,000 manuscripts and 100,000 early edition sources. 

    The "EE Scholarly Edition of Correspondence (EESEC)" presents an "interconnected network of letters drawn from a broad range of sources, edited by an international assortment of scholars." Contents have been drawn from correspondents of 53 nationalities (Europe, Asia & the Americas) and are primarily in English (45%) and French (45%), with other documents in a variety of other European languages. Users may search documents by writer or recipient, date or place. Letters are discovered, accessed and edited by academic projects, providing not only access to the original texts, but also a range of scholary annotation and explanatory notes.

    The "EE Biographical Dictionary" contains extensive information on the correspondents which are continually identified and updated. Biographical notes include title, nationality, occupation, birth or death date & place. Each entry also links to the person's correspondents and their letters, and cross-links to other figures in EE.

    EE's "News-sheet—Autumn 2016" indicates the product has more than 70,000 items of correspondence, and more than 8,500 correspondents listed in the Biographical Dictionary. These figures compared to previous updates suggest a rate of approximately 1,000 new items and 100 new biographical entries per year.

    The Electronic Enlightenment project was first conceived in 1995 and received funding from the Mellon Foundation to develop its business model. The digital publishing platform was intended to expand the scope of content at minimal cost through distributed contributions. As an Ithaka Case Study (2011) noted: “The project leaders have invited the community not only to assist in locating this correspondence in special collections, but also to add scholarly commentary and other born-digital material to it . . . To date, six collections of correspondence have been offered to EE, bypassing traditional publication through an academic press. A review board will be created to assess the material.”1

    EE provides a variety of additional resources for engaging with the material, including lesson plans, maps and charts, and links to additional online sources. EE welcomes submissions for the publication of additional letters (from one letter to thousands of letters), and accepts new and corrected biographical notes and annotations as part of its regular technical and content updates.”2




    Technical platform & interface

    The retooled website, which launched in 2010, includes new tools, such as MARC records and links to WorldCat for secondary sources. Value-added end-user tools include links to Google Earth and an “EE classroom” with curriculum resources.3 

    In 2014, EE added Digital Object Identifiers (DOI) for all letters, documents and people. This enables scholars to link directly to these entities in citations.

    In 2016, EE moved its content to the cloud, employing Rackspace® cloud hosting. As the project explained "This will enable us to use new technologies to improve the way you can search and access the content of the Electronic Enlightenment project."


    The project’s distribution model is based on a partnership between the Bodleian Library and Oxford University Press for marketing and distribution. Currently the product is available on a subscription basis, but despite a 100% renewal rate the underlying effectiveness of subscriptions for cost sustainability is under review. The project and Oxford University Press “are developing plans to offer a perpetual-access licence in addition to renewable subscriptions. This is a priority for OUP because it has noticed that this type of purchasing arrangement is preferred in Germany and the Far East, and is gaining in acceptance in the United States . . . However, as of early 2011, there were still some technology and rights-clearance issues to address in order to implement this model.”7

    Regarding "perpetual acces", OUP defined that in 2015 as follows: 

    "Customer will own the correspondence on the site – the letters between the recipients. As long as the customer continues to purchase the annual updates, they have access to all the additional editorial, blog postings, and other content made available on the site that is not correspondence. The purchase only includes the correspondence.

    If the customer does not purchase the annual upload within 3 months of the annual release of new content (always in June): OUP agrees to deliver via FTP or hard drive, the collection of Electronic Enlightenment's correspondences owned by the customer (one PDF per letter, and one per person), with indexes based on correspondent names sorted (a) alphabetically by surname, (b) alphabetically by occupation; and with letters sorted (a) chronologically by dates and (b) alphabetically by country of writing."


    Center for Research Libraries

    • Carolyn Ciesla, Research Assistant
    • Virginia Kerr, Digital Program Manager
    • James Simon, Vice President, Collections & Services
    Additional Reviews in Other Sources

    1Electronic Enlightenment was featured as one of the Case Studies in Sustainability by Ithaka S + R with funding from the JISC Strategic Content Alliance. An update to the case studies, released in 2011, noted the impact of the economic downturn on the sustainability models of various projects including Electronic Enlightenment. “Electronic Enlightenment: Outreach or Outsource? The Benefits and Challenges of Partnership,” Ithaka S + R (Case Study Update 2011). Accessed October 25, 2011, http://www.ithaka.org/ithaka-s-r/research/case-studies-in-sustainabilit….

    2 Email correspondence, June 27, 2011.

    3 See archive of updates at: http://www.e-enlightenment.com/newssheet/newsarchive.html

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