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Researching Book History: Literature of the World

Originally created for Professor Michelle Burnham's Cultures & Ideas course.

Examples of Different Editions

Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano - Dublin 1791

Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano - Dublin 1791

Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano - Leeds 1814

Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano - Leeds 1814

Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano - Boston 1837

Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano - Boston 1837

Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano - Belper 1809

Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano - Belper 1809

Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano - Chicago 2004

Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano - Chicago 2004

Step 1: Identify Your Book

By now you've picked a text from the list of options we circulated in class. Good job!

You've got the author and title of the work, but before you get a copy of the book, answer the following questions:

  • What is the original language of the work?
  • How old is the original version of the work?
  • What differences in the text do you expect to find through all the years of it being published?
    • Do you expect children's versions, illustrated versions, fine press versions?
    • How many languages do you think it's been translated into?
      • All these differences equate to the different EDITIONS a book has been published as. We're going to talk about editions a lot.

Example 1: For the example of this class, I picked The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African, Written by Himself by Olaudah Equiano. The book was first published in 1789 and has been republished dozens if not hundreds of times since then, and has been translated into many, many languages. All these discreet versions of the book are called editions. Because of all this, I am going to have to think hard about what edition of the book I am going to pick for the next step of the project.

Step 2: Pick an Edition of the Book as Your Primary Version of the Text

As you start the process of picking your primary edition of the text, ask yourself these questions:

  • Do you want the oldest edition?
  • Do you want the most artistic edition?
  • Do you want the newest edition?
  • Is there a particular scholar or translator you like, that has edited or translated the text?
  • Do you want an edition that has lots of extra information about the text and its significance?

Once you have the answers to some of these questions, it's time to see what's available either here at SCU or at a library we can borrow from.

Start your search with OSCAR, the library catalog, to see what we have at SCU. Consult the sidebar at left for tips on searching.

If you can't find what you are looking for in OSCAR, or want more options, try LINK+ (pronounced "Link Plus"). LINK+ is a consortium of libraries that got together and decided to freely lend books and other media to each other free and fast.

Look for the Search Link Plus button in OSCAR or use the link below to go to the LINK+ catalog.

Note, if you use the LINK+ button directly from OSCAR, it will do the search as a keyword search, not as author or title, regardless of how you did the original search in OSCAR.

Example 2: Regarding my book The Interesting Narrative of Olaudah Equiano, I picked a 2002 edition edited by Angelo Costanzo and published by Broadview Literary Texts in Ontario, Canada. This edition isn't available at SCU in OSCAR or LINK+, but it is in WorldCat: http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/1138613092. I picked this version in part because it has lots of criticism and extra information published with the text that will help me understand the story and the publication history.

Step 3: Learn About the Publication History of Your Text

Now it's time to find out more about how many times your text has been published.

We're going to start with WorldCat for this, although you might have gotten a taste of this in OSCAR and LINK+ already.

WorldCat.org is the biggest library catalog in the world--libraries all over contribute their catalog records to it.

Curious if you can find a version of your text totally digitized online in a digital library? Use the options below to look for that.

Example 3: I used the ISBN of my chosen edition (1551112620) in the advanced search function in WorldCat to get to the record for my book. From there, I clicked the link View all editions... There are 275 editions. The newest edition is 2018. The oldest is the first edition printed in London but there isn't a date, and the next oldest is 1789--I see the format is an ebook and if I click through, it connects me to a digitized copy of the this edition in HathiTrust.

Step 4: Learn About the Historical, Cultural, and/or Literary Contexts of Your Text

Of course we have to read our chosen texts to understand them, but it helps to see what scholars are saying about the work as well. Use the databases below to search for your book or its author as a topic, rather than as the title of a work.

Example #4: In each of these databases I found information about The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano. In Historical Abstracts I was interested in an article called "Equiano Lite" that was originally published in a journal called Eighteen-Century Studies because the journal name indicates it will shed some light on the book's historical position in the 18th Century. After following the "Find it @SCU Libraries" link, I locate the full text of the editorial in JSTOR, another database, and read that it deals with the significance of religious practice in interpreting Equiano's Narrative in the context of 18th century religious practice. This is very interesting to me, so I save the link to the article.