Wednesday, December 23, 2009

UPDATE: commenting problems FIXED!

UPDATE: w00t! I think I've now solved the commenting glitch by returning to the hideous pop-out comments as opposed to embedded comments. The important thing is not the beauty of the design but that you can share your wisdom with me! So please do!

You can ignore what follows, except that if you find you are having problems, please email me at the address given below so that I can try to fix it!

I think the blogging powers that be are angry with me for being a once-a-month poster! But whatever the reason, there's some sort of bug affecting the ability for some of you to sign in and leave comments. Of course this happens when I've specifically asked for your feedback! I'm working on solving the problem--if any of you bloggers have had this happen to you, I'd be happen to hear your thoughts on how to fix it.

I'm reluctant to open up comments to all and sundry anonymous folks, but I do want to know what you want to add to the top ten list. So, please feel free to email me at wynken DOT blog AT gmail DOT com with your suggestions or tweet them to @wynkenhimself.

In the meantime, I'll make some sacrifices to the blogging powers (old mice? flash drives? the aroma of freshly minted e-books?) and will let you know when everything is up and running again!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

the most influential book history tools of the decade

It's that time of year again. Indeed, it's that time of decade. That's right, everywhere you look, top ten lists abound. I'm not sure why we need to list ten of things we find remarkable. But it's made me start thinking: what would be on my top ten list of notable early modern book history events or tools of the decade?

Right up there at the top would have to be digitization, from EEBO to Google Books to The Shakespeare Quartos Archive. The ability to access facsimiles of works without having to travel thousands of miles, potentially saving time and money and carbon emissions and wear and tear on the books, has fundamentally changed how we conduct and teach early modern books and book history. EEBO and Google Books have been mostly about access, but Shakespeare Quarto Archive is not only about access but about developing digital tools for studying texts. (Read my posts on digitization to see some of the pros and cons I see with this development, since it's too complicated of a subject to rehearse here. Again.)

I'd say, too, that book history and early modern blogs have seen remarkable growth over the past ten years. Blogs have enabled a conversation between far-flung scholars and devotees of early books that wouldn't be otherwise possible. I've learned a lot from Mercurius Politicus and diapsalmata, as well as Early Modern Online Bibliography and Bavardess (I've learned from many others, too, and have links to them on my blog--this is just a ruthless short list of a handful that I go to the most often). They've done good things for libraries, too, opening up interest in collections and, I like to imagine, the use of our materials, across levels of scale and resources. The Beinecke has a great bunch of blogs (early modern, paleography), and I enjoy reading "Notes for Bibliophiles" from the Special Collections at the Providence Public Library. I've pleaded before for more early modern literature blogs, but I've really enjoyed what is out there, literature or not, early modern or post modern. Especially as someone who only came to this field a few years ago, I've learned a lot from reading your blogs and have been grateful for being part of this community.

This one is a bit more idiosyncratic, but watching my kids learning to read has given me a new appreciation for reading in general and for the emotional ties we have to books. Over the past ten years I've seen both my kids start reading and start loving books; I've actually also gotten to see both of them start learning Hebrew as well, which brings home the whole weirdness of written languages and learning to recognize letters as making up words and those words as having recognizable (and deployable) meanings. I continue to find the transition from gobbledygook to spoken language amazing, and the movement from spoken to written language is equally fascinating. I have one child who refused to read on his own until he had it mastered; the first book he read was The Borrowers, which is crazy ridiculous for a first-time book. My other child insisted on figuring out the reading thing before he'd even started school and made tons of mistakes along the way; those rhyming books like "Pat sat on the cat" were a key exercise for him, if a bit tedious for me. Watching them learning to read in their own ways provided insight into literacy in a way that I otherwise wouldn't have appreciated. What does it mean to be literate? Does it mean to haltingly read rhyming books? To understand the metaphorical implications of Bilbo's fight against Smaug? To pronounce written characters in words whose meaning you cannot understand? (For something of the emotional resonance of reading with children, see this post.)

This might also be myopic, but I think a growing interest in the pedagogy of book history and bibliography has been another development. In my discipline of English literature, at least, bibliography and textual studies had a marked decline in graduate programs--when I was in grad school in the early 1990s, in a program that is now characterized by a strong interest in the history of the book, there were not only no requirements for mastering descriptive bibliography or editing, there were few opportunities to learn those subjects. My sense, without having conducted formal studies of the subject, is that this was characteristic of the field in those years. Once upon a time, PhD students were required to have a knowledge of bibliography and editing; those requirements fell by the wayside, and an interest in those subjects has only recently reemerged and trickled down into graduate and undergraduate programs. As someone who runs a program teaching these subjects to undergraduates, I might easily be accused of myopia here, but I do think that an increased interest in teaching these subjects is not characteristic only of the Folger but of many programs. (I've blogged some examples of the work my students have done in my courses.)

Back to technology, here's another one that people didn't necessarily see coming: audiobooks. That's right, the rise of the iPod has led not only to the rise of iExcess, but to an increase in audiobooks. Remember when we used to listen to books on tape? Remember how awkward they were, how limited the selection was? I used to go to my public library (the fab Philadelphia Free Library) to try to find books on tape to get me through the ten-hour drive home to Michigan. It wasn't so easy to do. But now, thanks in part to Audible's large library, there are a slew of options out there. And listening on your iPod is so much easier than flipping tapes over. Neil Gaiman had a nice piece on NPR last month pointing out the unexpected rise in audiobooks. I love me a good audiobook. But I love, too, the way this reminds us that technology doesn't always have the effect we expect it to. Audiobooks were on their way out, and the decline of the cassette tape seemed only to confirm that fade. But then came along MP3s, and the rebirth of audiobooks.  

I am, alas, only up to five, which is well short of the ten that make up most lists. So I turn to you, dear readers, to help flesh this out. What would you point to as developments over the past decade that have shaped our understanding of early modern books and book history? Twitter? Amazon? The recovery of Durham's stolen First Folio? Kindle? The pdf of the Stationers' Register? Don't let my perspective dictate yours--I'd be thrilled to expand my horizons with your help!

And with my advance thanks for your thoughts on this subject, please add my best wishes for a happy new year!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


I don't know where all the time has gone! One minute it was the start of the semester, and now it's Thanksgiving. I'm particularly sad that I dropped the ball after my last post on e-books. I'd really meant to pick up the conversation but, unsurprisingly now that I look back at it, it was hard to pull my thoughts together.

One of the things that has struck me the most is the weird way in which conversations about e-books tend to rocket between two polar positions: "I love books and e-books are an abomination!" and "I love my e-book and print is dead!" Both seem ridiculous to me in their totalizing insistence--surely the rise of electronic books aren't going to fully eclipse books. Did radio wipe out television? Did cinema destroy theater? I don't even think that the codex eliminated the value of tablets and scrolls. So to imagine that the future is bookless seems silly.

Robert Darnton's recent conversation with Diane Rehm on her radio show exemplified this push-pull polarization. Despite his best efforts to make subtle these distinctions and to work with the sort of nuance that makes his scholarship so interesting, many of the host and caller comments kept coming back to this fear of the death of the book, as if it is impossible to love reading and to love books and to also embrace the possibilities of digitization. (If you haven't yet read Darnton's new book, you can access many of its constituent parts in their earlier versions via the handy list at Early Modern Online Bibliography. I should pause, too, to say that there are lost of good conversations happening at that blog about these concerns.)

For some other subtle thoughts about how book historians might respond to e-books and digitization, I highly recommend a bunch of Whitney's posts at diapsalmata: the first builds on my last post and encourages a material approach to the work of digitizing, subsequent posts think about why the future isn't here yet and the relationship between the digital and the archive.

Whitney's most recent post raises these questions again in light of the new Shakespeare Quartos Archive, something that I'll be looking at and blogging on soon. In the meantime, though, you might be wondering what a photograph of Pollard and Redgrave's Short-Title Catalogue is doing illustrating this post. Here's the answer: I am the proud new owner of all three volumes. Why would I shell out the big bucks for something that is now freely available online? Because even though it has been turned into an electronic database, the printed catalogue provides information that isn't carried over to the online one, and it can be used in ways that I sometimes find harder to navigate online. I wouldn't want to get rid of the ESTC by any stretch of the imagination. It's a great thing that it is now available to all and sundry. But it doesn't mean that we're throwing away our printed ones, either.

On that note, happy Thanksgiving to my American readers and happy reading to you all!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

to e-book or not to e-book

There's been a slew of stories over the last few months about electronic books, primarily of the Kindle variety, but some of them touch on general issues pertaining to the availability, use, and desirability of e-books. I've been trying to compose a post in response to them, but I keep getting overwhelmed. What to say in response to a prep school that replaces its library with a cappuccino machine and 18 e-readers? *head-desk* (The School Library Journal has a more articulate response.) What about the summer's too-perfect-to-be-true news that Amazon deleted copies of Orwell's works from the Kindles without informing owners? Make that another big #amazonfail moment after their first, horrendous mistake last spring when changes in their ranking system made thousands of gay and lesbian titles disappear from searches. Ooops. In further e-stories, there's the non-release as e-books of two of the Fall's big titles: Teddy Kennedy's posthumous True Compass and Sarah Palin's Going Rogue. What will those Cushing Academy students do when researching papers about the Obama election? I guess rely on Wikipedia. (For insight into why the memoirs aren't Kindled, see Daniel Gross's Moneybox column for Slate, in which he explains why the economics of publishing doesn't make sense for them as e-reads.) Oh, and speaking of students and e-readers, what do Princeton students have to say about using Kindles as part of a pilot program to replace textbooks with Kindles? According to one student quoted in the Daily Princetonian, "this technology is a poor excuse of an academic tool." Finally, last week there was the New York Times piece worrying that books might be the next to be "Napsterized." (Remember Napster? Some of you young 'uns might not recall the world before digital music files, but let me tell you, it put the fear of Someone into the music industry when people started sharing their music online.) Joshua Kim's response on Inside Higher Ed brings those Napster concerns into a conversation with universities and libraries.

About a year ago, I posted about my perplexed response to a newspaper column that touted the joy of Kindle as being "almost like a book"--why read something that's almost as good as a book when you could read a book? I still stand by that point, but not because I'm a luddite. In that particular piece, I was reacting against a perception that e-reading had to be good because it was new. But I also don't think it has to be bad because it's new. My husband got a Kindle last spring and it's been great. For him, the joy of the machine is that it holds so much. Given his preference for texts that come in big, heavy books--military history, science fiction, jurisprudence--the fact that he can take his Kindle on trips means that he needn't break his back or run out of reading material. I still don't use it, and not only because he's the alpha gadgeteer in our household. My way of reading for work and research is to cover the page in notes, so paper copies work best for me. And most of my pleasure reading I do in a way that isolates me as much as possible from the world: glasses off, dark room, book light. We all have our own ways of reading and different technologies that meet those needs.

But much of what I'm seeing written in the popular press about e-book readers isn't, I don't think, taking into account the full picture. Some of the stories I mentioned above hint at the problem of Amazon's essential monopoly over the current e-field. I know Sony has an e-reader, but given Amazon's vertical integration, they hold an incredible portion of the e-market in their tight e-fist. (E-sorry. It's hard to stop the e-jokes.) If there was some competition in that market, the problems of pricing and availability and Big Brother would be different.

More to this blog's point, what does the current state of e-readers and discussion have to do with book history and book historians? So much of what we're considering today with Kindles focuses on books that were written to be distributed in print and then are transferred into an e-format. (Daniel Gross's book Dumb Money actually did this transference the other direction: he wrote it as an e-book for Free Press and it sold well enough that it's now available in print--see the Washington Post profile of him for more on that.) But what happens when we get to the day that works are created for and intended to be experienced as e-books? How will that change the experience of using books? And how will we ensure the survival of those books? As anyone who has been working with computers over the last few decades knows, technology becomes obsolete and earlier formats don't always carry over into new ones.

Similarly, how might the availability of new digital formats affect the process of creating works? According to Scott Karambis, for some creative artists, the availability of the digital world has changed how and what they write: author Justin Cronin relied on the ease of researching online to push his knowledge into new arenas when composing his newest novel, insisting that it made him become a different sort of writer. Karambis's blog post focuses more on the effect of technology on the process of creation and less on the impact of digital creations themselves (the blog is geared towards other folks in marketing, rather than, say, writers or book historians). Rachel Toor, writing in the Chronicle of Higher Education, is more focused on the economic impact of e-books. Even though she loves reading e-books on her Kindle, she has decidedly more mixed feelings about being an e-writer. Might e-publishing save university publishers by bringing down costs and therefore recovering the economic viability of those scholarly monographs with small audiences? And the speed of electronic publishing is wonderful for timely subjects and for the responsiveness it generates for readers. But will people stumble across e-books the way they do physical books on bookshelves? Will writers be able to live off the advances from their e-books the way that some are able to today?

Toor and Cronin don't ask this in their reflections on writing and new technology, but I will: will we still have e-books to read if they aren't backed up on paper? Will we still be able to lend books to each other if they're tied to our e-readers? Will we still be able to talk back to our books, modify them, resist them?

I often, when teaching early modern book history, say to my students, "It's all about money!" And it often is. But it's also about creativity and interactivity and longevity. And we're still taking baby steps towards what it all might mean.

Friday, September 25, 2009

updates and welcomes

I've been swamped recently, so just a quick post with some updates and links:

First, thanks to Lorem Ipsum's suggestion on my last post about the catalogue entry for James's Essayes of a prentise, the Folger's record has now been updated! The author is, of course, James I, as that is the standard form of his name, but the note has been clarified to read "By James VI of Scotland and (later) James I of England, whose name (Jacobus Sextus) is given in an acrostic on A1r." So thanks to Lorem Ipsum and to Deborah Leslie!

As for the binding, which I suggested might be a presentation copy from James to Burghley, my friend Adam points out that Burghley's library was rebound in the early 18th century, so surviving presentation copies to either Burghley or his son Robert Cecil, are quite rare. My student had conjectured that this book was not part of Burghley's library past the mid 1600s since it doesn't appear in the 1687 Bibliotheca Illustris, which record the contents of the Burghley library put up for sale. (I have to say that I haven't actually looked myself to verify whether this book is included or not, so if this is a mistake, feel free to let me know!)

That's it for the updates. The image accompanying this post is a timely one: it's a 1331 mahzor, or High Holiday prayer book, that has just been placed on exhibit at the Israel Museum. It's from the Jewish community in Nuremberg, and amazingly survived not only the 1499 expulsion of Jews from Nuremberg, but the Holocaust and the ravages of the twentieth century. You can read more about it at Tablet magazine. Shanah tovah to those of you celebrating the new year!

And a special shout-out to my fellow blogger, Mercurius Politicus, who has finished his dissertation and welcomed his new son!

Here's to new starts of all sorts--and to--maybe!--more timely blogging in the future.

UPDATE: Ooops! I forgot to issue congrats to bookn3rd, who has also finished dissertating and has joined the ranks of working stiffs. Welcome!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

essayes of a prentise

Another example of a student project today, this time at the intersection of politics and poetry as well as of England and Scotland: King James's The Essayes of a prentise, in the divine art of poesie. This book is a collection of poems and translations by James, as well as "A treatise on the airt of Scottis Poesie." Published in 1584 in Edinburgh, James was then King James VI of Scotland, and net yet King James I of England, a title he didn't take until 1603, although the book is cataloged by the STC as authored by James I. (The STC record is the source of the Folger's catalogue entry for the book; there are standardized rules for all cataloging, of course, but it seems to me misleading to think of this work as being by the King of England, rather than an aspirant to that title.)

There are some great things about this book, including the fact that it's written in a Scots dialect. Are you surprised that James would write a treatise on poetry? He addresses that very surprise in his preface:
"ze may marvell paraventure, quhairfore I sould have writtin in that mater, sen sa mony learnit men, baith of auld and of late hes already written thairof in dyvers and sindry languages: I answer, That nochtwithstanding, I have lykewayis writtin of it, for twa caussis."
If you want to know the two causes, you'll have to read the essay yourself. (By the way, I've regularized the u/v usage, as I typically do in transcriptions for this blog, and I've reproduced the long "s" form as our modern "s", but you'll have to provide your own accent to make sense of the rest of it.)

As you might imagine, part of James's aim is to argue for the particularity of Scottish learning: the rules for English versification are not and should not be the same as those for Scottish. Just as poesie is also politics in the treatise, so it is throughout the book, which proceeds wtihin a network of Protestant politics, from the Huguenot who printed it while in exile in Edinburgh to the substance of the works.

The book itself has a wonderful sense of presence, including lots of white space and even blank pages (a sure sign of luxuriousness, given the cost of paper). The layout of these poems is a lovely example of early shape poetry:

One of the most interesting aspects of the book isn't what is in it, but what binds it:

That's a beautiful, and unusual, orange vellum binding, with tooling, including the name of its owner, W. Lord Burghley. According to research done for a Folger exhibition, this binding is nearly exact that of another copy of this book, one which is tooled with the name "W. Lord Hunsden". The existence of the two bindings, plus the face that this binding does not resemble the bindings of other books Burghley owned, suggests that it could be a presentation copy by James VI to Burghley--bringing us back to the intersection of poesie and politics.

It was the binding that brought my student to this book--Michael came across it by browsing through Hamnet for "tooling" and "ties". But, as we've seen before, when you start looking at a book from one point of view, others open up, so that he moved from physical object, to text, to social and networks--none of which, of course, are separate from each other.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

the primer in englishe and latine

Last year, at the start of each semester, I gave you something from a school book to celebrate the return of classes: in the fall it was Lily's Latin grammar; in the spring, Comenius's picture book. This semester, I think I'll give you something slightly different to celebrate the return of students: a look at some of the books my students worked with last spring.

First up, this 1557 English book of hours:

The student who was working on this book was a theology major and chose it, I think, to have a chance to think about Catholic liturgy and print. There's a lot to be learned about liturgy in studying it. The title of the book signals some of the basic issues at play: The primer in Englishe and Latine, set out along, after the use of Sa[rum]: with many godlie and devoute praiers: as it apeareth in the table. A brief history of primers in encapsulated in that title. There's the reference to "Sarum use", specifying this book of hours as following the Salisbury rite, the form that dominated England Catholic liturgy. Most notable is the identification that this includes a translation of the Latin prayers into English, an increasingly popular approach to the prayers after the Reformation, and one that was strictly regulated. That this is in both Latin and English links it to a specific historical moment. It wasn't until after Henry VIII's split with the Catholic Church that books of hours in English (usually referred to as "primers") began to be published in England--and Henry, after 1545, promulgated his Royal Primer. With Mary's reign, the Sarum rite again became the sanctioned form of the primer, though the popularity of English translations continued. The imprint of this book hints at the Sarum primer's popularity: "Imprinted at London, by Jhon Kyngston, and Henry Sutton. 1557. Cum privilegio ad imprimendum solum." You could assume correctly from the "cum privilegio" that printing primers was a lucrative business that was awarded to a specific printer. You could correctly assume, too, that we would see a rise of English Sarum primers printed during Mary's reign.

That's a brief outline of some of what we can learn from the title page--a sort of cultural/political/religious history that can be gathered from studying this book. But we can do something fun, too, with the mise-en-page of this book:

This opening is mostly fairly typical: there's the English translation in the large columns closest to the gutter in a nice blackletter font, and the Latin text in the outer columns in a smaller font. The decorated initials are printed woodcuts (that is, not hand-rubricated or illuminated). And the running titles and other directive texts are printed in red ink to guide the reader. All of these details can lead you into a study of how this book was designed to be used.

But there's something else we can learn from this book, too. Here's a close-up showing the text in more detail, including my favorite moment:

Did you notice it? Take a look again.

What is the title given to this prayer, which begins "Rejoyce O virgine Christes mother deare"? Is it "Of the five corporall joyes of our Ladie."? But why is "Ladie" printed in black? Look underneath--it was first printed "of our lorde." Ooops. Well, anyone can make a mistake, right? At least they corrected it. And that's what I love about this page. Here's the thing--printers did not typically print red and black ink at the same time. Think about it--it would be pretty hard to dab black ink only on the black bits and red ink on the red bits. You wouldn't be able to do it with your standard ink balls.

Instead, you'd follow a much more complicated series of steps. First, you'd set the type for the whole form (that is, not just one single page, but all the pages on that side of the sheet). Then you'd determine which words were to be printed in red, take those letters out and replace them with blanks. You'd ink the whole thing with black, using those ink balls that have been keeping nice and moist by soaking in urine, and run it through the press once with black ink. After you'd run through the entire run's worth of copies of that form, it would be time to do the red ink. You'd cut a new frisket (the protective sheet that covers over what you don't want to get inked) that would have holes for the red text but keep the black text covered. You'd replace the blanks with the red text, which has been raised slightly above the black text so that when you pull the press, only the raised type will print. And then you would run the entire set of sheets through the press again. If you've done it all right, the red text will print in the holes that were left behind after the black ink run. As you can see from this book, sometimes the red and black ink printed a bit more askew. (You can find a tidier example of two-color printing at this earlier blog post.)

So here's where I really love this: the printers, after making this mistake, recognize it, and want, understandably, to fix it--which means running the entire thing through the press for a third time! Oh, the labor of it all!

That's what I'm going to think of at the start of the fall: sometimes learning and teaching doesn't happen on the first try, or even the second. But that's no reason to stop working! This is also a good reminder of how much of what we do is serendipitous--looking up this book in the catalogue, there was no sign of this cool printing tidbit. It was only because Caitlin looked through every single page in this book with her eyes wide open that she found it. What a nice reward for her curiosity! And that feels like another excellent piece of advice for all of us: don't forget to be curious along the way and to be open to discovering something new.

Happy learning!

(Want to read about printing with red ink in more detail? Joseph Moxon's Mechanick Exercises, as always, is your not-to-be-beat source about early printing; for the section on two-color printing, see pages 328-30. This lovely primer can be found in our catalogue here; a set of zoomable images from it are here.)

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Why I blog, or, Why you should blog

Not only have I not posted in nearly a month (sorry!), I've missed my own blogiversary! That's right, Wynken de Worde has been up and running for over a year now, which in blog years might mean we've hit cranky adolescence. Because this is a celebration, I'll try to keep the crankiness to a minimum, although some of it is to my point.

I started this blog largely because I wanted to be able to direct students toward an example of what studying "early modern book history" might entail. In order to get students into my courses, I have to reach out to them and get them excited enough that they want to apply for it. I can't always rely on their teachers conveying what it is that they might get out of the experience of studying rare books, but I can get some of that across by sending them to a blog. (This is where the generation gap starts to come in, with some colleagues saying "hunh?" and some students already, I suspect, wondering if blogs are already been-there-done-that.) I really hadn't thought through what my intentions or much else beyond that.

Here are some of the things that I've discovered as I've figured this thing out:

1) Whoo-hoo this is fun! One of the best compliments I've gotten about this blog is when a early modern professor friend told me that he liked it in part because it really sounded like I was enjoying myself. The funness aspect has in part to do with the genre (I would never say "funness" in my other forms of academic writing!). It has something, too, to do with the fact that I blog about a subject that is still relatively new to me. One of the great joys of starting a new field years after researching another field is that there's really not a lot of pressure to make big discoveries or to formulate big theories or arguments. I don't mean to say that I don't make arguments about books, or reading, or editing, or any of those other things. But trust me, if this was a blog about writing about Shakespeare and performance, I'd feel much less permission to do a post that says, essentially, "Isn't this neat?" Remember those embroidered bindings and the Folger and BL versions of the same pattern of David and Goliath? How cool was that?! Or those pointing fingers? Those were pretty neat, right? It's not that there is more funness with books than with performance, just that I'm more aware of it since my intended audience is not other people with books on this subject, but those who think it's cool.

2) People read this thing! I realize this sounds obvious, but it's true. I hadn't really thought much about the blogging community or about who might be reading the blog aside from the potential students who would be coming this way. As it turns out, potential students do read this thing, if only to coach themselves for their application essay. But so do people I've never met. Some of you are other book historians, some of you are book collectors, some of you are librarians. Some of you are friends of mine, which skews you towards being former grad students, if not current faculty of something at somewhere. Some of you are people who have blogs that I now read. The vast majority of you are utterly unknown to me, and I'm especially grateful for your comments and links and attention. You're not reading this because you have to, or because you know me, but because there is something in this subject matter of books and/or early modern culture that speaks to you. And that thrills both the nerd and the educator in me.

3) (Warning: this is where I start to get both cranky and ultra-earnest, a truly adolescent combination.) There are some great early modern blogs out there. But there are not nearly enough! You can see my sidebar for some of my favorite early modern and bookish blogs. I love the ones that teach me something new, or that make me care about something it might not have cared about before. There are some great blogs out there, on all sorts of subjects, that do exactly these things. But when I hosted the early modern Carnivalesque a few months back, and was trolling through the blogosphere looking for posts to include, I began to realize what I had previously been reluctant to conclude: blogs on early modern literature that meet these criteria seem to be few and far between. I came across a bunch of history blogs, and lots of medieval blogs, and oh-so-many blogs about academic life. But where was the blogger writing about teaching Paradise Lost? The excitement of Jacobean revenge tragedies? The struggle to recover early modern women's writing? The costs of the pressure to study Shakespeare over almost all other early modern English writers?

I'm just coming up with topics off the top of my head--almost anything could make a compelling post about early modern literature. The problem isn't that the subject matter doesn't lend itself to a post, it's a larger failure to understand what we have to gain from blogging about it.

Over the years there's been a fair amount of conversation about the worthiness of blogging. Some disparage it as a bad move professionally, especially for job seekers; some defend it. Outside of academia, it has been seen as the redemption of journalism (Andrew Sullivan's post on Why I Blog is a nice example of someone touting the power of an immediate connection to readers in a way that print can't replicate). There are countless stories about how blogging can be your key to fame and fortune (the New York Times's recent story on the disillusionment of blogging serves as counter-example).

All of those stories are beside the point for my purposes. You will not become rich and famous blogging about early modern books. You will not save journalism from its current state of disrepair. You will not get yourself an exciting new job.

But you can do something important: you can help people understand why it matters. Why do we read these old books? Why do we study old things? What can we learn from events that happened nearly half a millennium ago? Why should we care about lives that are long long over? I have answers to these questions. And I bet you do, too. If you didn't, you wouldn't be studying what you study, teaching what you teach, doing what you do. Show me a librarian who doesn't care about books and information and I'll show you a pig flying over the moon.

Here's my point: Early modern stuff matters. Books matter. The humanities matter. In a time when money is scarce and stupid ideas about universities and the humanities are flying about like nobody's business, we should be speaking up and making the case for the value of reading and teaching and thinking. You can do this in a blog. See my points above--it's fun, and not only will people read what you write, they will be people with whom you might not otherwise get to converse. (Seriously. I've gotten more feedback on this blog than I have on the last article I wrote.)

Forget writing about the horrors of your graduate exams or complaining about your colleagues and administrators. Don't write about your research in terms that only other specialists can understand. Push your boundaries beyond pictures of your pets and garden and latest vacation. Tell me about the research and teaching that excites you. Tell me about the latest book that you read. Tell me something that will teach me something new and make me think about something differently. Please. I don't know that I really achieve these grandiose aims in my posts. But I try to. That's why I blog. And that's why I'd like to see you blog, too.

Thanks for sharing my blogiversary, folks! And many, many thanks for reading. I'll be back soon, with pictures and words on early modern books, and lots of funness, I promise.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

plays begetting books

I'm in the midst of my working vacation, and have been slogging through--I mean, thoroughly enjoying--lots of As You Like It promptbooks. It's not not fun, it's just that there are so many productions, and at the moment I'm only looking at the Royal Shakespeare Company ones! Starting with Vanessa Redgrave as Rosalind in 1961 through Katy Stephens in the production I saw the other night, there are thirteen different RSC productions. It's being staged every 4 years! And that doesn't even count the transfers to London or Newcastle.

Aside from being struck by the huge popularity of this play (at least, a popularity with the audience; the reviewers tend to range from blase to a despairing animosity toward the play), I've been struck by the staggering number of books that these productions generate. And I don't mean books like the sort I'm writing, books that are about the productions or about the play. I mean books that come into being through the process of putting together a production. There's the published text that is the basis of the production, the rehearsal promptbook(s) in which the blocking and cuts are worked out, the production promptbook recording the final versions of those blocks and cuts, the stage manager's script with cues for entrances, lighting, and sound. There are of course the individual actors' scripts (which don't tend to be kept in production archives), notebooks that the director or other theatre artists keep during the rehearsal process, the musical score, the stage manager's reports, the costume bible.

After my last post on printed drama, in which I insisted that plays aren't books, a friend wondered whether I wasn't being overly simplistic--can't plays sometimes be books as well as performances? I'm still reluctant to think of printed books as plays rather than as, say, drama, or playbooks, or some other category that is subtly different. But I am struck doing this research how many books come into being during the process of creating a performance.

The picture at the top of this post is from the very tidy promptbook of the 1930 Othello starring Paul Robeson at the Savoy Theatre in London. You can see that it's a workbook made with the cuttings of a printed text, reassembled with diagrams and cues and other performance details. The picture below is from an earlier promptbook, David Garrick's working out of his 1773 Drury Lane production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. There's lots of cutting and rearranging going on. A better example of Garrick's working method can be found online as part of the Folger's past exhibition about Garrick, in the section "What is a promptbook." There you can see his working book for his 1773 Hamlet, full of tipped-in sheets, and folded down pages. It's really remarkable, and a great example of how books are adapted by their readers for their own purposes as well as of how playbooks are remade into performances.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

being a reader in rare book libraries

I've been thinking recently about what it means to be a reader in a rare books library, a place like the Folger, or the British Library, or the Beinecke, for instance. That is, the sort of place where the lucky among us get to do research and routinely handle rare materials.

I think about this topic often while I am teaching my undergraduate course on book history. Undergraduates are not typically allowed into rare book libraries--I've heard stories that even some university special collections don't like to let students handle their materials, an attitude which is sorely misguided and shameful and not, I hope, actually common. But because undergrads are only a recent, and quite small, presence in the Folger reading rooms, I worry that they might be looked at askance by other readers. And because it is a wonderful thing that the Folger lets my students have full access to the collections, I am especially careful to train them on how to be good library citizens.

I tend to think of being a good library citizen as common sense: there are the usual rare materials guidelines (no bags, no food or drink, no pens) and the usual library protocal (cell phones off, voices quiet, don't turn up your ipod so loud that others can hear it--actually, that last one comes from my own private distate of ipods in libraries, a quirk that might be mine alone).

What needs to be taught more explicitly, of course, is how to handle rare materials: use foam supports and book weights, don't force the binding to open further than it wants to, turn the pages carefully, wash your hands frequently. In my experience, students take to this instruction quite well. They are thrilled with the privilege of having access to these books, and they want to treat them with care and respect. And they really get it, especially once you explain the principle behind proper usage: the oils on your skin will leave marks on the page; if you force the binding it will break; if you flip through the pages, the edges will tear. If you can show them the structure of a binding--how the boards are attached, how the gatherings are stitched together--then it makes even more sense. The basic point of such handling techniques is obvious, especially to students of book history. Use the books with respect so that others can learn from them in the future.

But what I've been thinking about recently is not how to handle rare materials, but how to handle rare materials users. This is something that librarians are always conscious of, along with the need to balance access to materials with preservation of those materials. Go too much to either extreme, and nothing makes sense anymore. Too much access, and the materials will disintegrate. Not enough access, and what's the point of keeping them? I kvetch about digital surrogates sometimes, and how much information is lost when you are looking at an image of something rather than the thing itself. But one thing that facsimiles do is to protect materials. The first round of information that a reader is looking to gather can often be found through looking at a facsimile or other surrogate; some will need eventual access to the original, but even if the number of uses is reduced by only a third, it's still a reduction.

More tricky is the need to balance attracting readers into your collection with protecting the collection. The British Library's recent installation of hand sanitizers during the swine flu scare is a perfect example of this. They installed the sanitizers to make their visitors and readers feel more secure in coming to the Library, but then they had to remind readers that the sanitizer could damage Library materials if it wasn't used properly (let it dry, people!). In her post on this, bookn3rd saw this as "as a tug-of-war between our society’s panic over disease and the continuous, low-level panic of managing library collections" (her parenthetical insert in the previous sentence would have been the even more sensible injunction, "just wash your hands, people!").

But I want to think about the question of what it means to be a reader in a rare book library not from the perspective of a librarian (since I'm not a librarian) or of an institution (since I'm not an institution, either). What does it mean to us, as readers in libraries, to be a reader of rare materials? What are our responsibilities to those materials, to the library, and to the other readers?

Since I assume that you, my lovely readers, either know how to handle rare books or would teach yourselves how to do that before you start handling them (more on that in a minute), one of our collective responsibilities is to help other readers handle their materials safely. That might mean intervening yourself, or it might mean getting a librarian to come to the rescue. I certainly realize that it's not as easy to do as that. We tend to come from a world that punishes snitches and whistle-blowers rather than the wrong-doers. And most of the time we come to libraries to do our research, not be on the look-out for what other people are doing. (Well, I hear stories about rampant flirting in libraries, but you know what I mean.) I can think of instances when I saw something in a reading room and I thought "what?!" and let that be the end of the situation. In my defense, the most recent time, I was stunned that someone would try to staunch their bloody nose while sitting in the reading room rather than in the privacy of a bathroom--and the books on the table weren't from a restricted collection but from the modern stacks. But still, I wish I had said something. Blood on a rare book is bad, but blood on a modern book isn't good either.

The problem with my reticence, and the reticence that I know many of us feel in the face of poor library behavior, is that we too often rely on librarians to be the caretakers of rare materials, rather than seeing it as a collective scholarly responsibility.

Over the next couple of weeks I'll be visiting a number of libraries (including the fabulous British Library), looking at promptbooks and other rare materials. I'll wash my hands thoroughly and let them dry completely, I promise! I'll be careful with the materials. And I'll try to speak up if I see someone who needs help. Or at least I'll go find someone who can speak up.


For those of you who would like some instruction on how to safely handle rare materials: The best way to learn what to do is to ask a librarian; she or he will be able to inform you about general practices and show what the policies are of that specific library. You can also find some information online, including written guides from the libraries at Univerisity of British Columbia and University of Southern California, and videos demonstrating handling practices for a wide range of materials from the BL.

One last word: The photo heading this post is of a highly responsible reader in the Folger's Old Reading Room, a reader who happens to be one of my former students. And check out the use she's making of surrogate materials: she's comparing two copies of a book, one held in our collection (nicely supported on foam) and one from EEBO. Just makes you want to come for a visit, doesn't it?

Sunday, June 7, 2009

plays aren't books

This is getting a bit far afield from early modern books, but since I posted on the subject recently and since it is near and dear to my non-book research interests, here goes...

Today's featured New York Times contribution to idiocy comes not from the Style section (although see the blather on Plan B careers for matter for someone else's blog) but from the front page. There, just beneath the fold, you can read a piece by Dwight Garner on "Submitting to a Play's Spell, Without the Stage." The premise is that, on the eve of the Tonys, Garner is going to read the playbooks for the four nominees for best play. And so he does.

Why would he do this? Because he hadn't seen any of the productions and he hadn't read a play in a while. And what does he discover? Lo and behold, they're not bad plays!
Reading this small pile of plays turned out to be a joy. If none are blinding classics destined to be heavily revived 10 or 50 years hence, the best are as sharp and thrilling and concentrated as first-rate short stories. Even the weaker ones are jangly and distinctive, and I’m not sorry to have made their acquaintance. They linger in the memory the way novels often do not.
The best ones are as good as short stories! They could be even better than novels! Aargh! There's something about the book form that has thrown this whole thing askew--reading a book, regardless of genre, invokes a set of reading conventions that, without examination, shifts immediately to prose, and not poetry or drama.

But, oh, it gets even better. Here's my favorite part, just two paragraphs later:
Theater is a social and collaborative art form, and a playwright’s work is no doubt most fully realized on the stage. But to encounter plays on paper is to encounter them in their platonic form. You’re glued to the playwright’s words, not sitting in Row K jostling for an armrest while gawking at, say, Jane Fonda (who stars in “33 Variations”), wondering if all her years of aerobics paid off. While reading, you can submit more perfectly to the author’s spell and, what’s more, you are your own casting director.
Where even to begin with this? How about the fact that although the collaborative process of theatre is the means by which plays come to life, the ideal form of a play is in the platonic union between playwright's words and reader's armchair? Then there's the weird digression about Jane Fonda's body--can a woman in her 70s possibly still be attractive?--and the horribly present bodies of other viewers.

I'll stick to the book/reading thing, since that's closer to my blog's subject, and will list my objections to this rather than throw up my hands in disgust:

Objection #1: Garner assumes that the imagined performance he creates in his head is an equivalent for watching the play in a theatrical performance. But given that plays are created always through a collaborative process--between playwrights, actors, directors, audience, scenographers, just to name the obvious agents--an encounter that bypasses that process does not result in a play, but something akin to closet drama.

Preface to Objection #2: Garner is particularly interested in playbooks, not playscripts, for this piece. He starts off by noting that people used to read playbooks more regularly than they do now, and that published books of plays are readily available through Amazon and other sources. One of the reasons that published plays sold well was that not everyone could get to New York to see the latest hot thing, but that there was a cultural imperative to be familiar with it. A trip to your local bookseller, and there you go! Edward Albee, even in East Lansing.

Objection #2: Given Garner's interest in playbooks, not playscripts, it seems particularly foolish to imagine that those books give you access to the playwright's words without all that collaborative claptrap. What it gives you access to is a whole different set of collaborative claptrap--an encounter between playwright, print conventions, and often the stage manager's and scenographer's early staging. There's nothing transparent about the relationship between text and form. Ever. And I know you all know that.

There is something interesting to be said about the experience of reading plays rather than watching them, especially when it comes to contemporary plays, and not those that we've been taught to think of as "classics." And I certainly don't want to argue against reading contemporary drama, for fun or for edification. But this piece--on the front page!--simplified both the theatrical experience and the print one.

Thanks for indulging me on this. My next post will be completely about early modern books, I promise, and I'll try to work in a nice picture or two. So stay tuned! And enjoy the Tonys!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

what do Daily Show correspondents read?

This is not my usual style of post, but since my last topic was that of reading, I cannot resist this timely contribution on the subject from The Daily Show's correspondents:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartM - Th 11p / 10c
Ask a Correspondent - Books
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Economic CrisisPolitical Humor

Sunday, May 31, 2009

reading and re-reading

A couple of stories have been making the rounds this week, reminding me how deep and powerful reading can be.

Top at the list is Sonia Sotomayor and her love of Nancy Drew, a biographical detail that features in the White House's official press release about her nomination and has been repeated in countless stories. Today's Sunday New York Times expands the significance of Nancy Drew and the Supreme Court: it's not only Sotomayor who read her as a girl, but Sandra Day O'Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsberg. Part of the article focuses on the appeal a "nice" girl like Nancy holds for women challenging male professions. Nancy Drew gets to rule her own life, be as smart as she wants to me, have adventures, and still be loved and respected. But the article also includes a second observation from Melanie Rehak, author of Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her:
A charge “rightly leveled” against the early books, Ms. Rehak says, “is that they were racist — all the villains were ‘foreign’ or ‘swarthy,’ and all the African-Americans were portrayed as second class in terms of intelligence, profession, etc.” She said that “one of the things I find so interesting about Sotomayor’s citing of Nancy is that even she, as a Puerto Rican child, just looked past all of that and took away with her the essence of Nancy.”
I would take a slightly different observation from this. Rather than seeing Sotomayor as someone who looked past what was troubling, I see her reading of Nancy Drew as an instance of resistant reading--she reshaped the narrative and its characters to be what she needed them to be. I'm not sure she was resisting in the subversive way that Judith Fetterly explored, turning the assumptions of a text against themselves, but I would certainly guess that Sotomayor's affection for Nancy Drew included a thoughtful response to the entire text.

Although I haven't seen it reflected in the stories about her, I wonder whether Sotomayor has gone back and reread Nancy Drew and what she makes of them now. If Nancy was the reason she wanted to become a lawyer, what does she think of her now that she is a judge? That kind of rereading and revisiting is the subject of Verlyn Klinkenborg's latest Editorial Observer, a feature of the NYT that I usually find goofy, with lots of reminscing about farmers and rural life that seems overly nostalgic to me. But this piece, "Some Thoughts on the Pleasures of Being a Re-Reader," was a sweet tribute to the joys of reading again and again.

Perhaps it spoke to me because I am in the middle of rereading, as always. Rereading is the nature of my scholarship, of course. I can't begin to count the number of times I have now read King Lear (and read resistingly), and I know that I'll be rereading As You Like It more times than I really care to consider. But it's a big part of my pleasure reading, too. There's the rereading I do with my children (Charlotte's Web, as I've blogged about, and Richard Scarry, too). But there are also the books I come back to on my own, over and over. This time I find myself working through Pride and Prejudice for the umpteenth time at the incredibly slow pace of a couple of pages a month, reading a heavily and entertainingly annotated edition.

As Klinkenborg writes, rereading is something of a misnomer:
The real secret of re-reading is simply this: It is impossible. The characters remain the same, and the words never change, but the reader always does. Pip is always there to be revisited, but you, the reader, are a little like the convict who surprises him in the graveyard — always a stranger.
And that, of course, is the reason to reread. I am sometimes horrified to read something I once loved, only to discover I can't stand it, or I can't stand who I was that I loved it. Sometimes subsequent rereadings change the book. Wide Sargasso Sea forever shifted Jane Eyre for me, in ways that make Charlotte Bronte's book a richer experience. Villette changed Jane Eyre for me, too, and I continue to reread and love both of those books. (I'm actually also reading Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, which I just couldn't resist when I found a deeply discounted copy. I fear that book might have peaked with its opening sentence--"It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains."--but maybe I'll be lucky and love the whole thing. I'm not sure it will change Jane Austen for me, though.)

The other story that has been going around is Kanye West's dismissal of reading and books. I don't really want to engage with that other than to point you to Cake Wrecks' wonderful antidote: a series of pictures of book-related cakes, all of which pay tribute to the joys of reading and to the yumminess of cakes. (h/t bookn3rd via her tweet)

Happy reading to you all!

Friday, May 15, 2009

tweets not sheets

Looking for pithy thoughts about early modern printing? Wynken de Worde is now on Twitter! You can follow wynkenhimself or just scroll down to the bottom of the right sidebar to see his feed. And it's not procrastination. It's the expansion of his unerring instincts for cross-referencing and promotion that made him the great printer that he was. Um, I mean, is. (Keeping track of the time-period switching and the gender-changing is trickier that you might guess.)

And so that you can more fully appreciate the joke in the title: the sheets in question are of course not sheets on your bed, but the sheets of paper that are the basic unit of measurement for early modern printers, who thought of books--and the cost of books--in terms of the number of sheets it took to print them. Funny, right? That Wynken, he's got a sense of humor.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Is Othello a sad book?

Some time ago, you might recall, I had a bit of a fascination with Frances Wolfreston. (I know, and I totally agree: what's not to be fascinated by?) From those posts came a lovely missive out of the blue--a colleague at Penn sent an email telling me that they also have one of her books:

Right there at the top of the first page of the text is that familiar inscription, "frances wolfreston her bouk," but added onto this, in the same hand but a now fainter ink, is something even better: "a sad one." The book in question is Othello (in this case, the 1655 edition, otherwise known as Q3, or the third quarto). I love the personalization of the inscription--we've seen Wolfreston inscribe her name in other books, but it's not as often that we come across her commentary. And as commentary goes, this note was a productive one for me. The story of Othello is certainly a sad one. But is it a sad book?

Back when I used to teach plays to undergraduates, they would often refer to "the book" as in, "My favorite moment in this book was when the Duchess thought she was holding Ferdinand's chopped-off hand!" My response was always to insist that the play isn't a book! and that to conceive of that moment as happening in a book instead of on stage was to fundamentally misunderstand what was happening and how it was made it happen. My perspective then was as a performance scholar: books are objects that you read and they work differently than plays. We might read plays--and with some plays, such as early modern drama, we read them obsessively and too often never watch them nor imagine them performatively--but plays work differently on stage and any good play draws on techniques that make meaning only in performance.

In that sense, Othello is not a book. It's a play. On the other hand, we do often use the word "book" to refer not to a specific book but to mean a more general story. When I ask my friends, "Have you read any good books recently?" very rarely am I interested in whether or not they have a specific physical object in mind; usually I'm wondering whether or not they have a story to recommend to me (and too often, they don't!). In this fashion, describing Othello as a sad book is entirely accurate. It is sad. (And infuriating.)

But Wolfreston's inscription makes me wonder (again) about the ways in which the physical form of books affect how we read plays. How does a playbook differ from a play performance? And how might a playbook represent performance through its mise-en-page?

One obvious place to start thinking about this question is stage directions, a particularly glaring occasion when stage action meets the printed page. I don't think we always pay a lot of attention to stage directions other than to sometimes mock them for what editors are suggesting or to criticize them for their incompleteness (indicating entrances but no exits, for instance, are a common feature of early modern English playbooks). But while the content of stage directions certainly matter, so does the way in which they are presented on the page.

Consider this stage direction from the 1623 Folio Titus Andronicus:

It looks, I think, pretty familiar (zoomable image). The text is centered and italicized (thus differentiating it--as the speech prefixes are also set off--from the spoken text). This is a pretty detailed direction, indicating the main characters in the action (that "with others" is entirely typical) and, unusually, indicating the precise location through which the characters should be entering: one door and the other door. You might want to note that this direction mixes terms: characters are referred to as within the fiction of the story (the direction uses character names, not actor names) but the location refers to theatrical location (the upstage doors to the tiring house). But that, too, isn't unusual--it's no different than the directions for characters to appear "aloft" or for sounds to happen "within."

So that's a typical stage direction. But consider how this moment is represented in the 1594 quarto edition of the play:

It's the same text (zoomable). But here the layout is noticeably atypical, with the two entrances represented on the page akin to how the blocking would have been on stage: one group on one side, the other group on the other side, the face-off of the brothers indicated with the face-off of the brackets. We don't usually see stage directions like this. Jonathan Bate's 1995 edition for the Arden3 series does reproduce the layout of the quarto direction, but most editions do not. And why not? I would assume both that it does not seem important to the editor and that its atypicalness makes editors wary. Familiarity might breed contempt, but usually it breeds comfort. A stage direction that we can read over without dwelling on allows readers to focus on the dialogue--the part of the play that scholars (and general readers) usually prioritize.

My point in comparing these two examples is to highlight the ways in which our habitual sense of what a stage direction looks like obscures other possibilities for how we might think of the printed playbook as conveying--or being capable of conveying--performance practices. If this sort of opposing entrances could be represented in this way, what other possibilities are out there, ignored by modern editors and scholars?

There's a lot more to be said on the issues I've raised here, including the history of the 1594 Titus (the sole existing copy of which is at the Folger; see the catalogue record for more details) and more thoughts on how we read printed plays. I'll follow up this most with some more along these lines. But in the meantime, if you know of any examples of early printed drama--or, heck, even later printed drama--that seems to you to be doing something different with the interface between print and performance, I would love to hear about it!

And last, some very necessary additional credits and information:

Thanks to Peter Stallybrass for taking and sending on the photo of Wolfreston's Othello to me. You can see this book at the University of Pennsylvania's Rare Book and Manuscript Library's Furness Collection (shelfmark EC Sh155 622oc). If you haven't encountered it before, Penn has a lovely rare books library with lovely librarians (and I don't just say this because of all the hours I spent in the air-conditioned sanctuary of Furness). They have a nice online image collection that you can browse as well as a digital text and image collection that has some great teaching tools.

As for the plays I've mentioned, I have to confess that very rarely did my students identify Ferdinand's severed hand as their favorite moment. If you have no idea what I'm talking about, get thee to Duchess of Malfi immediately! It's only now that I'm realizing that I chose a theme of lopped-off body parts to connect my examples in this post (okay, not so much Othello, but still...). And if you don't know what that refers to, get thee to Titus Andronicus immediately! If you've downloaded the software for the Folger's digital collection (as opposed to using it through a browser), you can pull up the entire quarto of the play as a digital book (do a shelfmark search for STC 22328). You can also do the same for the complete folio (shelfmark STC 22273 Fo.1 no.05), though you can also access the digital book through the Hamnet catalogue entry. Then you can read and zoom the entire play to your heart's content!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

David and Goliath, redux

I know what you're thinking. Gee, this looks familiar:

And it ought to. Compare it to this:

The first is a Book of Psalms from the British Library's collection, with an embroidered binding depicting David and his slingshot on the front panel and David with Goliath's head on the back. The second is our friend from my last posting, a Book of Psalms from the Folger, with an embroidered binding depicting David with Goliath's head and, yes, David and his slingshot.

I'll wait while you compare the two (clicking on each image should bring you to an enlargeable picture).

That's right--they're the same! Of course, they're not exactly the same. The BL binding reveals that what I took as a cheesy grin from Goliath is actually a mustache, the Folger David holding Goliath's head has a unibrow that the BL David does not, and the Folger binding has a much more soothing color scheme of blues. And I like that the BL copy reverses what was, to my sense, a weirdly backwards chronology of encountering the beheaded Goliath before you meet David with his slingshot. Those tiny differences aside, these are two bindings obviously done from the same pattern for two different psalters.

I stumbled across the BL book when I was scouting out a response to a comment on my last post. Lycimnius wondered about the date of the binding because he was struck by the approaching date of Charles I's beheading. The Folger's catalogue identifies the binding as approximately 1639, a date obviously taken from the publication of the text. The BL book is a 1640 copy, which makes me suspect that the embroidery was done closer to the publication date than 10 years on.

In any case, I was browsing through the British Library's database of bookbindings looking to see what examples of embroidered books they had, when lo and behold, there was my David! There are lots of other examples in their database (do a quick search for "embroidered" to see for yourself). For those of you wanting to learn more about embroidered bindings, there's a brief research guide provided by the BL's Philippa Marks, Curator of Bookbindings, Early Printed Collections. The key points to know are that such bindings were typically done by professionals, often from pattern books or other sources. Religious works, such as the Books of Psalms that I've been using as examples, are the most frequent texts bound this way. Embroidered bindings reached their height of popularity during the seventeenth century, and largely disappeared after the Civil War.

I don't have any answer for Lycimnius about the relative popularity or lack thereof for depicting the slaying of Goliath on psalters--images of David are popular, of course, given his status as author of the Psalms, but they tend to depict him with his harp (see this or this as examples). But I was pretty thrilled to find another example of the same pattern, thus answering a question I hadn't even realized I was asking.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

David and Goliath

It has been nearly a month since I last posted, for which I can only apologize. Although that might be an eternity in blog-days, in real-life days, the time has just flown by, what with the excitement of college basketball and grading and Passover and the annual Shakespeare Association of America conference. Oddly, there were very few obvious points in common among those events, but there I was, nonetheless.

I can, I think, actually find a common thread among some of them with this picture:

What is this, you ask? It's The whole booke of Psalmes: collected into English meter by Tho. Sternhold, Jo. Hopkins, W. Whittingham, and others, conferred with the Hebrew, with apt notes to sing them withall. Newly set forth, and allowed to bee sung in all churches, of course, printed in 1639 and here with a stunningly gorgeous embroidered binding. And who is that on the binding, you wonder? David and Goliath! To be more precise, that's David and his slingshot on the left (aka the back cover) and David with Goliath's head on the right (the front cover). To me, it looks like David is in the act calling out, "Hey, you great big lug, over here!" and like Goliath is still stupidly smiling even after his head has been cut off. But that might be my take on the story. Regardless of your take, it's a fabulous binding. (catalog entry/zoomable image)

And so how does that connect to the big events that have kept me preoccupied? The religious connection to the recent holidays should be obvious. And my students have been writing papers on the individual histories of their books, including what the bindings might signal about a book's use and provenance. The Shakespeare link is more tenuous, but I've been doing a lot of thinking recently about Shakespeare's plays as books and how their appearance as such shapes our use of them (more on that in future posts).

And college basketball? Let's just say that in the championship, I was rooting for the David that almost slew Goliath but instead never got the slingshot ready to go. A crushing defeat for those of us who are State fans, but there are always books as consolation!

Here, for your perusal, are some more psalters in our collection with embroidered bindings. Make sure you look at this lovely dos-a-dos combination of New Testament and Book of Psalms, a great testament to the ways in which we adopt books to our uses. And I'll be back up to speed and my regular slow pace of posting soon--thanks for sticking around!

UPDATE: I've fixed the broken links for the zoomable images, so they should now work--but don't forget that you need to have your browser set to allow pop-up images!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Carnivalesque 48

Welcome, one and all, to Carnivalesque 48, the early modern edition!

As should come as no surprise, some of the most interesting posts on early modern studies in the last few months have come from two sources. Both Mercurius Politicus (written by Nick Poyntz) and diapsalmata (Whitney Anne Trettien) routinely have fabulous posts; I'll single out a couple here, but really, their blogs are worth reading regularly. Mercurius's Killing Noe Murder discusses Edward Sexby's 1648 pamphlet justifying the murder of Cromwell; part of Nick's concern is the production and distribution of the pamphlet, a theme he takes up in a broader examination of the rise of newsbooks in The Great Game.

There is some more material book history over at diapsalmata, where Whitney has been looking at the practice of cut-ups in a series of posts. The first draws connections between early modern commonplacing, Dada cut-ups, and digital poetry--a great synthesis of material reading and writing practices across the centuries. There are also recent posts on the Little Gidding "harmonies" and the function of manicules in early printed books that are beautifully illustrated and elucidatory.

I'm not done with book history yet: bookn3rd looks at the history of anatomy illustrations and BibliOdyssey reproduces some illustrations of early machine technology from Heinrich Zeising's 1612 Theatri Machinarum--read through the post comments for further information on Zeising, and notice the illustration of the printing press.

The Scriblerus Memoirs writes about reading Paradise Lost while thinking about Google, and comes up with some observations about searching and knowledge, and angels and algorithms. At Early Modern Whale, Roy Booth has been thinking about murder and comes up with The awful plot again Curate Trat. Over at Parezco y digo, Chad Black's thoughts about etymology and sodomy lead to a thoughtful exploration of gender and sexuality and its linguistic markers in eighteenth-century Latin America.

A few libraries have started blogs to highlight their collections, and there's been some great stuff showing up. The Wellcome Library's post on "The Tribulations of Father Bernardo" is a great discussion of the seventeenth century Genoese painter Bernardo Strozzi. Yale's Beinecke Library has a blog devoted to our period; many times those posts simply feature images of works, but this one not only shows but discusses a mid-seventeenth century commonplace book including Donne poems. The Beinecke is also behind this word-a-day blog of Dr Johnson's Dictionary--not only will you expand your vocabulary, you'll see Johnson's annotations to the first edition as he prepared for the fourth edition. Never has encyclopedia seemed more fitting. Yale is also home to the Yale Law Library, which has its own blog that features, on occasion, early modern materials; here is a series of posts about their collection of early Italian statutes.

There's been some great blogging around book reviews in the last month or so, too. At In the Middle, a group blog for medieval studies, Karl Steel reviews James Simpson's early modern focused Burning to Read: English Fundamentalism and its Reformation Opponents, succeeding not only in a thoughtful response to Simpson's book but in starting a smart discussion in the post's comments.

Judith Bennett's History Matters: Feminism and the Challenge of the Patriarchy is the subject of a roundtable discussion by a series of feminist historians, with each post touching on some important questions about what it means to be a historian, what it means to be a feminist, and what it means for the two to intersect. The first discussion is hosted by Notorious PhD; the second by Historiann (don't miss her follow-up in which she expounds on why "Lawrence Stone is a tool"); and the third discussion is hosted by Tenured Radical. Part 4 will appear at Another Damned Medievalist on March 23, and the final part will feature Bennett herself at Notorious PhD.

I realize, by the way, that this is a medieval-heavy cast of characters, but the discussion is certainly relevant for our period, too. If you're aching for some meta-discussion about the implications of history and labels by someone based in the early modern period, check out the thoughts of Chronologi Cogitationes on what it means to do "maritime history."

But let's leave things on a lighter, more popular note. Some of you might have noticed some talk about a discovery of a painting of someone. But who? Shakespeare? Overbury? Stanley Wells says it's Shakespeare, but he's almost the only one. Mr Shakespeare's blog gives an overview (and lots of links, including the huge discussion at the New York Times blog, The Lede) but withholds judgment; Adam Gopnik, blogging for the New Yorker, is thoroughly unconvinced.

Many thanks to all of you who submitted nominations, and particular thanks to these great bloggers who made doing this so much fun. Happy reading!

Update: Mr Shakespeare's blog posted this latest yesterday, with greater skepticism about the portrait, summarizing and linking to articles recounting the doubts of National Portrait Gallery curator Tarnya Cooper about the portrait as being of Shakespeare and providing some insight into why we should be happy to have a newly discovered portrait of Thomas Overbury.