Friday, November 7, 2014

A Descriptive Bibliography of Edmond Hoyle

Wow, it's been three months since my last post to this blog. One might assume I have been neglecting my Hoyle research. Nothing could be further from the truth!

In my one year anniversary post to this blog, I described my motive for starting it:
My intention is to write a descriptive bibliography of the writings of Edmond Hoyle. I also intend to write more journal articles.
How did I come to start the blog? Unfortunately, the book is years away and journal articles take a surprisingly long time to do well. However, having spent a career in the corporate world, I'm trained to be happiest when I am producing, so I started this blog to give myself a more immediate sense of accomplishment.
The bibliography was "years away" in 2012 and still feels years away. How can I begin to make progress on it? I decided to work on the hardest parts of the bibliography, the technical descriptions of the books, and post them incrementally to my web site. So far, I have managed to get credible drafts of more than 60 book descriptions online. And that effort has engaged me fully since the first of September.

The technical aspects of the project are not without interest. My goal was to create each book description in an environment where it could be both published on the web and inserted into a word processing document. That way, I can publish incrementally on the web while having all the work available for later print publication. I decided to create the descriptions in XML, tightly constrained by an XML schema. The translation for the web is using XSLT, while I have Python scripts feeding Microsoft Word. I also use Python to generate indices both for the web site and the print version. Importantly, each time I create a handful of new descriptions, I run programs to regenerate all the indices and book lists for both versions. Lastly, I have Python scripts to check the internal consistency of the more error-prone aspects of the descriptions.

Hoyle Bibliography Home Page
The home page for the bibliography is here. The books are divided into three major categories: separate works, collections of separately published works in publisher's bindings, and collected editions. These categories will be familiar to readers of this blog.

In addition, there are a number of useful search tools. A chronology lists all books by date (generally the day) of publication. There is an index of games covered, which shows two interesting things: first, when games became sufficiently popular to be included in Hoyle; and second the imitation among editors and publishers. For example, just after James Beaufort introduced Billiards to Hoyle's Games Improved, Charles Jones followed quickly. Holdings shows major institutional and private collections of Hoyle. It's a bit early to keep score, but the Bodleian has the deepest collection and I'm just ahead of the British Library in second place. Other indices show books by printer (when known) and publisher. Finally I list some of the standard reference works on gaming literature (discussed in the essay "Where can I learn more about Hoyle's writing?") and cross reference them to my bibliography. 

This is a truly significant project in the digital humanities. I know of no other such online bibliography, nor of one that used tools that could be reused by another bibliographer. There is much more to do. Proof reading the descriptions is a monumental effort. I have completed a third of the books I need to to bring me to 1800 and plan to carry on into the mid-19th century. Daunting, yes, but there is tangible progress!

Any comments or suggestions are welcome. Have at it!