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Eric Bartheld
IU Libraries

Last modified: Monday, January 28, 2002

Cooperative project makes 19th century American fiction widely available

More than 1,700 works of 19th century American fiction are now online and fully searchable, thanks to a cooperative digitization project of Big Ten university libraries. The project host is Indiana University's Digital Library Program.

Freely available on the Internet at, the project provides a groundbreaking research aid to scholars around the country and the world, who can now search full-text works of American fiction and view images online.

Compiled by Lyle Wright in his landmark 1957 bibliography, American Fiction 1851-1875, the digitized works include novels, novelettes, romances, short stories, tall tales and allegories. The bibliography is part of Wright's three-volume work listing American fiction from 1774 through 1900, which is considered the best bibliography of American adult fiction of the 18th and 19th centuries.

This project gives a full picture of what was published during this period in American history, said project director Perry Willett, assistant director of projects and services at IU's Digital Library Program and adjunct assistant professor of library and information science.

Having at least skimmed all of the novels, Willett noted the quantity of deeply religious material and the repeated use of regional and ethnic dialects. "The authors were trying to capture an American voice," Willett said, chuckling, "but it really messes up the spellchecks."

The project, still under way, involves a complex series of steps including digitizing the microfilm, converting more than 400,000 page images to text, correcting any errors resulting from the optical character recognition software, and creating the search feature.

Wright's bibliography contains nearly 3,000 works, and the project is more than half finished. Authors represented so far are from the first half of the alphabet and include Bret Harte, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Washington Irving.

The nine libraries working on the project are members of the Committee on Institutional Cooperation, an academic consortium of the Big Ten universities and the University of Chicago.

The participating institutions are IU, Michigan State University, Ohio State University, the University of Illinois at Chicago, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the University of Iowa, the University of Michigan, the University of Minnesota and the University of Wisconsin-Madison.