"The New Machine": Discovering the Limits of ECCO


This essay explores some of the difficulties faced by eighteenth-century scholars when conducting research using scanned text-bases, particularly Eighteenth Century Collections Online (ECCO). It begins with an explanation of some of the general problems that face the users of all scanned text-bases. These problems are illustrated in an account of research undertaken into the history of the condom and its representation in eighteenth-century texts. The failure of ECCO searches to produce meaningful results brings these problems into sharp focus, but also suggests novel ways in which they may be overcome.