Module 1 - Introduction to online resources for eighteenth-century literary culture


A quick internet search on any aspect of the eighteenth century reveals a vast amount of material—you can study voting rights, find out how to make a pair of stays, trace the progress of European diplomacy, or compare copyright first edition literary texts with pirated versions.

You can also access thousands of original documents and publications online, in the digitized holdings of national libraries and archives, or on websites hosted or funded by educational bodies. You can read eighteenth-century letters and books as simple text, or look at them in their original format and layout. Details like a letter-writer’s strikethroughs and superscriptions, or the publication imprint of a book, can tell you a lot about the contexts in which these items were produced and read. Scholarly articles in online journals are also becoming widely available to general readers, and library cards and university alumni cards can be used to access institutional subscriptions from home.

However, while the digitization of manuscripts and printed texts is increasing, thousands more items remain in the care of national, local, and institutional archives. Letters, accounts, military records, diaries, sermons, club minutes and broadsheets, as well as books now forgotten but familiar to eighteenth-century readers, can all be discovered via the web pages of national collections. Local and institutional archives may have only a basic web presence, but they often hold material of national as well as regional importance, and their curators can give information and advice by e-mail.

Confident navigation of these varied resources is essential for anyone who wants to gain a better understanding of the eighteenth-century literary and publishing world. Reading an eighteenth-century novel or letter in isolation tells us little beyond what we can deduce from the text itself. But if we read, for example, Samuel Richardson’s novel Pamela alongside letters from his female fans, contemporary reviews, and correspondence with his publisher Andrew Millar, we are introduced into the overlapping social circles of eighteenth-century authors, publishers, and readers. Reading scholarly analyses of these texts and networks adds another level to our understanding.

Colophon from Andrew Millar publication

Module aims and objectives

This module will introduce you to the most useful websites for starting your research. It will demonstrate how to use the sites, and how to evaluate their content. Whether you’re a student or an interested general reader, these skills will enrich your understanding and appreciation of the material presented elsewhere on the Andrew Millar project website.

Our thanks to the Bodleian Library for the use of the image in our banner: "William Green Jr. (fl. 1732–1752), Scene at an Oxford Book Auction, oil on canvas, 1747; Bodleian Library. Portrait LP.701, 1F.”