Swift, Journal to Stella

Blair, Rhetoric

Gay, Present State of Wit

The Spectator Project: A Hypermedia Research Archive of Eighteenth-Century Periodicals


The limits imposed on the study of periodicals through reprint editions and even through primary documents are extensive. Reprint editions, including the definitive edition of the Spectator (ed., D.F. Bond, 5 volumes (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1965)), are generally hardcover, multi-volume series, and are often out-of-print, so they are rarely owned by scholars. (Versions of the Tatler and the Spectator currently in print are selected editions, and thus include small portions of the entire series.) Consequently, simply making these periodicals accessible in their entirety provides a useful resource. The obstacles to scholarly study of the eighteenth-century periodical in book form, however, extend far beyond their availability. Book editions of periodicals are limited in precisely those ways that inhibit the most innovative aspects of the scholarly work that is currently being done on them. Since very few are facsimile editions, they do not reproduce the periodicals' format or typography, and they exclude elements of the originals (such as advertisements) regarded as extra-textual.

Most importantly, the kind of editorial apparatus that is possible in a book cannot demonstrate the level of imitation and appropriation that takes place between the periodicals of Addison and Steele and those periodicals that follow. Scholars studying original documents or microfilms of eighteenth-century periodicals (and particularly those working in languages other than English) may not be aware, for example, that a given passage imitates and alters a passage from the Spectator, and, of course, will not have the guidance of an editorial apparatus. This last point is particularly important, as the reprinting of periodical essays in modern editions lags far behind scholarly interest in the periodical. Even in scholarly editions, footnotes are limited in their capacity to document the passages imitating Addison and Steele beyond reproducing a few lines of the Tatler or the Spectator.


The Spectator Project is an interactive hypermedia environment for the study of the Tatler (1709-1711), the Spectator (1711-14), and the eighteenth-century periodical in general.

While the project is still in the early stages of development, the site already allows users to access and manipulate texts of periodicals in English, French, and German. Users can conduct complex structured searches of this large corpus. Researchers working on topics ranging from the history of aesthetics to the consumption of snuff and caffeine in the Augustan era can search hundreds of issues of the Spectator in a matter of seconds, producing a ranked survey of every mention of their topic of study. Students can consult Bailey’s eighteenth-century dictionary to look up unfamiliar terms or to consider the special significance of given words in the eighteenth century.

For tech changes, see the Technical Notes.


The most innovative feature of the project developed out of the object of study itself. The format, style, and even the content of the Tatler and the Spectator were immediately and closely imitated in hundreds of periodicals in Europe and the Americas. The Spectator Project will allow users to compare imitated and imitating formats and passages of text through the means of hyperlinks. A footnote will appear, for example, in the text of Marivaux's Le Spectateur français or Eliza Haywood's The Female Spectator, and the user will click on it to bring up the passage in the Spectator that it derives from. While there are editions of eighteenth-century periodicals on-line and in CD-ROM format, none have linked multiple periodicals together for the purpose of studying their complex interrelation. While many scholarly web projects simply make their material more widely available—in itself, a laudable goal--this feature will make our project an interpretive editorial apparatus, and one which is based on the special capabilities of the digital environment.

Soon, we will mount images of the original periodicals and early bound editions. We are also expanding the database of periodicals, as well as the ancillary materials and editorial apparatus.