Category Archives: History and Future of the Book

Link roundup

Bits and pieces:

A Day of DH 2 – Scheduled for March 27. They’re inviting people to document what they do in DH. More information at their wiki.

Detailed account of the design process for a book about Canadian artist Doug Wright.

Post from the U of M library about the cost of academic journals. The cost of journals is a hot topic, and has been for a while.

So… what are your options if you don’t want to wait for a dead-tree journal to accept your article? Chronicle of Higher Ed on “‘Predatory’ Online Journals (For access with your Wayne ID click here.)

Alternative dissertations: Nick Sousanis at Columbia Teacher’s College has apparently had a comic book project approved for his dissertation. Not a dissertation about comic books, but a dissertation in comic book form. Interview here and blog here. Of note – he mentions the importance of his time in Detroit in his development as an artist.




Leave a comment

Filed under Digital Humanities, History and Future of the Book

Protected: Coding, part 1/?

This content is password protected. To view it please enter your password below:

Enter your password to view comments.

Filed under Academia, Coding, Digital Humanities, History and Future of the Book

Academic publishing

In Planned Obsolescence: Publishing, Technology, and the Future of the Academy Kathleen Fitzpatrick notes about problems of preservation of digital works that “their solutions are not predominantly technical in nature. In fact, the examples presented by the emulators I mention above may help us recognize that what we need to develop in order to ensure the future preservation of our digital texts and artifacts may be less new tools than new socially-organized systems”

Books can be just as fragile and transient as electronic texts depending on social structures. Some medieval manuscripts are known from fragments recovered from being used in bindings for other books. Other manuscripts are palimpsests, older work scraped off and replaced with newer, depending on the needs of the writer and the desires of the audience.

One of the most powerful aspects of Fitzpatrick’s work is her insistance on the importance of people and their social systems to the employment of technology and its long term implications. She does not see technology as a rigid force that mandates a particular path.  Rather, she points out the multiplicity of possible reactions to or uses of technology.

One of the concerns about SOPA is that the MPAA and other organizations which were supporting it were attempting to legislate protection for old models of business and technical organization.  Opponents of SOPA pointed out that things like DVRs and VCRs were also supposed to put the moving picture industry out of business but instead changed the revenue streams. The Oatmeal comic recently commented on the reasons for piracy. Not because people want to pirate, but because the piracy gives users what they want.

One of the problems with the state of academic publishing is that the multiple constituencies not only don’t agree on what they want, but they have conflicting needs and desires as Fitzpatrick points out.  Some of what happened with online video will happen with academic publishing. Academic publishing is already transforming itself with the online discussions and publications.  In the sciences, more than the humanities, preprint online editions of peer-reviewed articles are becoming common. Since the online copies appear under the auspices of the print journal, they are seen as just as valid as when they finally appear in print (hardcopy journals).

Leave a comment

Filed under History and Future of the Book, Technology

Textual Editing – how messy can manuscripts get?

Titus and Vespasian Stemmatics

This is a draft stemmatic analysis of a fourteenth century metrical, rhymed poem about the siege and sack of Jerusalem that I’ve done some work on in the past (click the image to see a larger version). The rectangular boxes along the bottom row represent the three printed editions of the work (as of a couple of years ago, though I’m fairly sure there are no new editions). “Fischer” was published in a journal in 1903 and 1904; “Herbert” in a Roxburgh Club edition in 1905 and “Wilson” is an unpublished 1967 dissertation available through Proquest. Wilson drew on both printed editions for historical information but the bulk of his disseration was editing a particular manuscript that neither of the other two had looked at.  Herbert does not mention Fischer.

The impetus for this diagram was that I was trying to figure out, for a given printed edition of the text or article about it, which manuscript traditions it was drawing on.  One of the big textual questions for this poem is that there are two clearly differerent traditions that are indicated by “short” and “long” on the diagram, different by about 1200 lines.

The scarcity of scholarship on this poem also means that authors who have written about don’t always use the same designations for a given manuscript, so comparing commentary from one to another can be tricky. For example, one manuscript,  designated “R6” on this chart, is referred to as M by Kurvinen,  R by Millar, and as either Pepys 37 or Magdalene College 2014 in bibliographies.

Nineteenth and early twentieth century scholarship took the “long” version as the original and catalogued and referred to “short” versions as “defective.” The “long” versions of the poem include sections on the passion of Christ (800 lines) and a biography of Judas (400 lines) which are omitted in the short versions.  Phyllis Moe in 1963 called the originality of the long version into question in part because the extra material is not integral to the “plot” of the rest of the poem.

While Fischer and Wilson were producing diplomatic editions of particular manuscripts, Herbert’s intention was to produce an authoratative text. He selected one particular manuscript, R1 (indicated with the single line), as the best text and made corrections based on four other manuscripts (dotted lines). Two of those manuscripts actually seem to be older than Herbert’s base text.

This chart shows just how messy tracing the “descent” of manuscripts can be. R12, a relatively late manuscript, appears to draw from both R4 and R5 which are from two different branches of the manuscript tree (see Greetham’s reference to Maas comparing contamination to including female descent in a human family tree (Textual Scholarship 324)). Someone in the late 15th century was also combining two manuscripts when creating an edition of the text.

Another oddity is labelled “Harlech Ms Prose” which is a fifteenth century prose summary  of the poem. It seems to draw primarily from a parent manuscript to R2, R6 and R10 (they have specific features not found in the prose version but also have specific features not found elsewhere that are found in the prose version).  It shows some influence from R1.

Although it’s fun when there are many extant manuscripts of a poem to work from, it also adds potential complexity not found in unique manuscripts when we can more easily say that we just don’t know.

Link to Bibliography


Filed under History and Future of the Book, Middle English

Guthrie’s to do list

It was actually a new year’s resolution list.  This particular link includes an image of what appears to be the original document.  The illustrations are small but amusing, but I’d like to note the annotation at the top: written across both pages, the inscription “MIDDLE OF BOOK.” The stitching runs visibly down between the two pages of items. Now I’m curious – did Guthrie pick the middle pages for the resolutions because they would be easy to find, or had he just happened to reach this section, and was perhaps inspired by the physical turning point of this notebook?

There’s also symmetrical water damage at the top, showing that it happened when the book was closed.




Leave a comment

Filed under History and Future of the Book

Two things make a post

Item one

I saw a couple of interesting papers at the Newberry Graduate Conference this past week. Actually, I saw many interesting papers, but I was only going to mention two of them in this posts. One was about printing in Manila from 1593 through 1800. Controlled by Spanish missionaries some of the earliest works were printed in local vernaculars, as part of their mission. One of the most prevalent publications, however, was accounts of local public festivals that were part of the attempt to spread Spanish culture through the Philippines. The second paper with a history of the book aspect that I wanted to mention focused on 17th century French printed maps (in books and as documents) of the city of Cartagena in what is now Colombia. Cartagena was contested territory between Spain and France at the time and the author suggested that is represented in the maps themselves.

Item two

If you’re interested in typography or early Twentieth century printing, here is an interesting link: Hipster Typefaces of the 20s and 30s

1 Comment

Filed under History and Future of the Book, Typography

Manuscripts and bookbinding

I came across a video on making an illuminated manuscript and binding it into a codex. This video has some interesting closeup action shots of people making vellum, trimming quills, applying gold leaf, sewing sheets together and applying boards to the book.  It’s just over six minutes long.  It looks as though this site has some other interesting videos, apparently at least partly driven by the resources of The Getty Museum.



Filed under Book binding, History and Future of the Book, Illuminating, Physical book construction

Things that were said about what was read

Elizabeth Eisenstein raises some interesting points about scholars having to be careful how they intepret who was using particular books.  She points to a useful distinction between “audience” and “public,” where audience is the documented set of users or purchasers of books and public represents the “hypothetical targets” of the producers of books (241). Eisenstein equates audience with “actual readers”, but I would shade that even farther, since a catalogue or subscription list may prove ownership but not consumption.

Eisenstein further suggests that scholars have made unwarranted assumptions about audience and particularly publics for books such as cooking books, or manuals of etiquette for young ladies. That is to say, while the etiquette might have pertained specifically to the young women, those interested in reading about it might very well include tutors or parents. This difficulty in deducing demographics reminded me of  a current dust-up over Google’s demographic assumptions based on your search interests. A group of self-described women geeks found that Google had uniformly classified them as young men, apparently based on their searches and click through patterns.

Another nuance that Eisenstein raises has to do with questions of literacy versus reading. She rightly points out that being able to read does not mean that one read, and that while Latin literacy might have held high status, that does not mean that those of high status would restrict themselves to Latin, or even prefer Latin over the vernacular.

Eisenstein draws attention to the use and dissemination of illustrations within printed books as significant. Reliable reproduction of those images made developments in science and engineering easier to share.

Although she doesn’t mention them in particular, printed anatomies (books showing anatomical details of human bodies) were an important part of medical education in England in the early modern period, because human dissection was illegal in England until quite late. People had to go to one of the universities on the continent where such things were permitted to see an autopsy. Printed works filled some of the gap, although there were some omissions in those texts as well.

Eisenstein discusses “job” printing, the production of advertising ephemera, official publications and the like as opposed to more speculative printing for general sale. While these are not always studied, they made up a large portion of the print volume for many printers.  It would be interesting to know more about the audience and public for these types of printing. How were they being used? A large chunk of EEBO consists of crown proclamations printed by various printers. How many of them were actually read?

An  article in The Economist in December compares the use of cheap print, including and especially woodcuts by Martin Luther to the use of social media by protest movements today. The author draws attention to the importance of timeliness and interactivity (that is, Luther and his opponents quoting each other and responding to each other quickly) in both cases.


Filed under History and Future of the Book, Reading, Technology

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Digitized works, History and Future of the Book