a guide to electronic texts
In recent years, there has been an explosion in the amount of electronic primary texts that are available on the Internet. Whilst copyright restrictions prevent this form of publication for many of the latest works, a large proportion of texts written by British women in the Victorian period are now out of copyright and, thanks to the work of various institutions and enthusiasts, have been made freely available.
Whilst only the most fervent supporters of E-Texts would suggest that they will eventually replace printed books or even advocate that students and academics can rely on them to the extent that they need never visit a library, there are certain advantages that E-Texts have over their codex counterparts. Perhaps the most obvious of these is one of accessibility. Once a text is published on the Internet, it is available to anyone with a computer and an Internet connection. There are no opening hours and none of the frustration of finding that someone else got there first! Moreover, some of the texts listed in this bibliography are not widely available in any other format.
However, the main advantage that E-Texts have is that they are searchable. E-Texts are machine readable, which means that they are made up of a series of 0s and 1s that can be read by a computer and displayed on a monitor. Like word processors, all web browsers are capable of performing various kinds of searches in a matter of seconds. The advantages of being able to search a long Victorian novel for a certain phrase or perform stylistic analyses of texts are beginning to be recognised, and computers are increasingly becoming accepted as an invaluable research tool.
Despite their advantages however, using E-Texts can be problematic because of the lack of restrictions that are placed upon the material that is available on the Internet. It is conceivable that anyone could upload a text and suggest that it is authoritative when the reality could be, and often is, very different. Many of the E-Texts that are currently available on the Internet have been digitised by volunteers and it is not uncommon for them to contain errors. Moreover, even those that are error-free can be rendered not viable for academic purposes if the edition that has been used to create the electronic version is not documented. In order to raise standards and provide the highest possible quality of texts, the Text Encoding Initiative was launched in 1987. It produced a set of guidelines that stipulate how texts intended for use in the humanities should be digitised, and there are many reputable sites that adhere to the guidelines that they advocate.
A large proportion of the texts listed in this bibliography are available at one or more of four sites which offer extensive E-Text archives. These sites are evaluated below and there is an explanation of the forms of encoding which are commonly used in creating digital texts.