Category Archives: Digitized works

Bits and Pieces

1609 Shakespeare’s Pericles with corrections It was popular enough that there were 2 editions printed in 1609.

Annotated books online This looks really intriguing, although I haven’t had time to delve into it too deeply. It’s a collaborative academic project based in the Netherlands that will let people work on digital editions of annotated early modern (“first three centuries of print”) works.

And for brand new work:

Prof Hacker’s recent column on tools for creating ebook content  is fairly short but has a few links and notes if you haven’t worked with things like this before.

Here’s a bit of a long read from the New Yorker on the recent commercial plagiarism case involving a spy novel that Random House published that was cobbled together from other spy novels. It includes an account of how the “author” composed and revised it and raises questions about the nature of authorship, editorship, and remix.


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Filed under Digitized works, Manuscripts, Technology, textbooks

Textual Scholarship – background

Well, I now know why the Folger Shakespeare printing facsimile program is called “Impos(i)tor.” That program, if you haven’t seen it, lets you print out a sheet as if it had come from the printer, before being bound.  It uses facsimiles from the Folger and a “standard imposition scheme” but it’s an interesting aid to visualizing book creation. You have to be careful to start at the right page in order to get the sheet right, but it’s interesting to play around with.

I’m intrigued enough by technology to find the details of the development of printing processes interesting. Like frozen pieces of language, some of the features imposed either by limitations of earlier technology (the need for standard widths of type) or by happenstance (the prevalence of 12 point font) still linger in our work today.

I wrestle with my own desire to get at the “original” version of a text. I like to do close readings, but then I doubt myself when I look at alternate versions that suggest that my reading is based on a word that is an editorial, rather than authorial choice.  Then I doubt myself further, asking what it really matters.  Greetham helps provide us with vocabulary to talk about what an “original” text might mean and also illuminates some of the tools that scholars have used to examine specific works.

On page 106, Greetham mentions Caxton’s edition of the Morte Darthur (one of the most famous fifteenth century English literary works) and references the Winchester manuscript. This is one of those battles amongst scholars, like the date of the composition of Beowulf, that can seem almost incomprehensible to those outside of the argument.  For a long time, as Greetham mentions, Caxton’s printing of this work was the earliers version known. All the multiple printings and reworkings of this particular Arthurian tale depended on Caxton’s printed version, so although authorship is attributed by Caxton to Sir John Malory, we knew it as “Caxton’s Malory” .  Then a manuscript was discovered that had some significant differences from Caxton’s version.  Eugene Vinaver (we’ll see more of him later in Greetham) created the dominant scholarly version of the text for the mid to late twentieth century, based on the manuscript rather than the printed edition, suggesting that the printed version was derived at best at second hand from the earlier ms.

A scholar named Lotte Hellinga upended some of the arguments about authorial identity when she proved that the Winchester manuscript (that particular physical copy) had been in Caxton’s workshop a couple of years before he printed the Morte Darthur.

She was able to do this because when she examined the manuscript, she noticed printer’s ink on it (which is greasier than pen ink, as Greetham mentions).  Once she looked more closely, she realized that some pages had faint offsets where a printed page that was not yet completely dry had come in contact with the manuscript. With the help of Scotland Yard’s imaging machinery (the research was done in the 1970s), she was able to identify two specific fonts in the offsets, known as Caxton Type 2 (see Greetham p 239 for an example) and Caxton Type 4. Caxton  used Type 2  heavily until 1482  (not at all after 1483) and he was the only printer who used it.  Since the Morte was printed in 1484, that meant the manuscript had been in Caxton’s workshop before he set up and printed the Morte. Caxton Type 4 only started to be used in 1480, so that gave a fairly specific range, 1480-1483, during which the manuscript was there.

This didn’t end the arguments about authorship and composition but it did refocus them onto Caxton’s choices as printer.  It could no longer be argued that Caxton did not know about the Winchester manuscript and was merely setting up more-or-less exactly what was in his source text.  Hellinga suggested that the Winchester ms. might have been used as  a source text for a revision, copied and amended in the workshop to another manuscript that was then used for setting up the printing formes.

See Lotte Hellinga, “The Malory Manuscript and Caxton,” in Aspects of Malory  (Toshiyuki Takamiya and Derek Brewer, eds. 1981) for more details.

D.C. Greetham, Textual Scholarship. Garland, 1994.

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Filed under Digitized works, History and Future of the Book


I’m sure this isn’t the only article on this story about the University of Michigan making a deal for ebooks for its students, but this is the one that I read today.  It shouldn’t really surprise anyone that the U of M would be interested in electronic forms of books given it’s involvement with other forms of digitization (the HathiTrust, among others).

Some of the comments were more productive than the article, and (as of the point where I was reading), most of them were civil and constructive.  One person argued that the inability to highlight or comment on electronic forms of textbooks would be problematic and someone replied to them pointing out that many digital texts allow for commenting and marking up.

One aspect of ebooks that I think is often ignored in articles like this is that implementation matters. Because an ebook could have annotation features does not mean that it does.  Because it could have bookmarking or split screen viewing dose not mean that it does. One of the comment exchanges pointed out that the pilot program involved “renting” the ebooks for a single semester, rather than owning them permanently or long term.

Unfortunately, better functionality does not always (or even often) win the marketing and distribution battle. Token ring was better technologically than ethernet, but ethernet won the wired networking battle. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t keep trying to identify what it is we want our tech to do and which applications and devices do it for us.

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Filed under Digitized works, Technology, textbooks, Usability

Only for Apple. Sigh.

So.  Amazing looking new digitzed works available from the British Library. With a catch.  You have to use an iPad, iPhone or iPod to view them.

Well, this is annoying.  Because why would I want to be able to look at The Luttrell Psalter, William Tyndale’s New Testament or Sultan Baybar’s Qur’an on the large monitor on my desktop (hooked to a Windows PC) </sarcasm>?

Following the links to the site turns up the following comment from the FAQ:

“Why is this just for Apple devices?
We believe that, for now, the iPad and iBooks combination provides the best way to experience these amazing books. We’re keeping a close eye on both the Kindle, Android and Windows tablet offerings, and when something compelling emerges, we’ll support it.”

On the other hand, the Royal Manuscripts catalog, also from the British Library, is at least available for Android as well as Apple.

Either way, they don’t mention desktops.  And I’m sure that my Windows 7 tablet could, from a hardware point of view, display the works just fine.  But I suspect that it has to do with maintaing control over the images rather than my viewing experience and Apple’s restrictive tendencies work well for that.

The pretty:

Luttrell Psalter

Luttrell Psalter on iPad

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Filed under Apple, British Library, Copyright, Digitized works, Manuscripts

What lasts?

Interesting article about a bookbinder.

There are two aspects to Michael Greer’s work that catch the attention.  The first is his work doing leather bindings/rebindings for books.  The other is a specific book that he created, namely Genesis in “binary.” I wondered when I first read the article, ASCII,  EBCDIC or something else?  Binary is a system for representing numbers, not letters, so you have to have another layer of interpretation.  The comments cleared that up (it’s ASCII).

Greer said, “I liked the irony, but I also liked what it said about the longevity of a book as a repository of information. ”  So really it’s a hardcopy backup of a text, that, given the lack of people who can sight-read binary-encoded ASCII, would have to be scanned (or typed) into a computer system in order to display it as English.

Why not? In some far off time when quantum computers are the only kind around, it could turn into a Rosetta stone that allows the walk between Roman letters and stored bits found in old media archives.  And it’s prettier than punched cards.

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Filed under Digitized works, New again, Usability