Early Modern Thought Online: The Blog

"Early Modern Thought Online" (EMTO) is a database offering access to about 13.500 digitized source texts from early modern philosophy and related disciplines like history of science and history of theology provided by libraries in Europe and overseas. In the present stage of its development, EMTO presents mainly links to external resources. This blog intends to show how to profit from concepts and methods of the digital humanities. It will give practical advice on how to use digitised sources. We will present digital collections relevant to our field, and discuss their relevance for early modern philosophy and history of ideas. But we want to do philosophy as well: present ongoing research related to sources present in EMTO. We hope that this blog, as well as EMTO as a whole, will be a helpful tool and provide a lively forum for discussion. EMTO is on Twitter, Facebook and Google+. Original content is licensed via the CC by-nc-sa 3.0 license.

Rant: Google Books interface change, or: Why not to press the blue button

Recently, a colleague of mine preparing a draft on early modern neoplatonism asked for help in locating sources. I sent him some links and he reported back that old prints on Google Books do not seem to be readily accessible anymore. Since quite a lot of what we offer in EMTO comes from Google Books, I was quite alarmed. And, yes, when looking at a typical Google Books page, I saw only a “Preview” link (the screenshot is from the German version, naturally):

Clicking on this link still leads you to the customary scrollable view of the whole book. So nothing has changed in that respect. Uninformed users, however, will expect that this “preview” only presents a limited number of pages or even maybe just snippets.

Google designers expect you to click on the blue button on the page:

Pressing this button leads you to a page asking for the login details of your Google account.

I don’t have one, but Google is kind enough to provide an example page. The new interface is neat and clean, nothing to complain about - but it does not provide any “added value” compared to the regular view (mainly because OCR doesn’t really work well with prints between 1500 and 1700). To give you an impression, here is a view of the TOC of the Ficino volume, taken from the new book view:

No - this does not motivate me to surrender what little privacy I have. From my point of view, it suffices that Google is able to tie in my reading of a book with an IP address. I certainly will not allow them to connect this to the personal information contained in a Google account. Dear Google, I promise you: All colleagues of mine asking for guidance in using Google Books for their work will be directed to this rant of mine. Of course, early modern historians of philosophy may be small fry in the eyes of the Behemoth. But maybe we aren’t the only ones feeling duped by this?

Stefan Heßbrüggen-Walter