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Project Write-up: A New Edition of Genuine Copies

6 min read

Throughout the summer, the two things I relished the most about cataloging were: 1. Feeling and imagining the accumulated histories of the books as I paged through them; and, 2. Discovering bits of these histories as came upon inscriptions, marginalia, doodles, and scraps of fabric in each book. It was delightful and honestly a little magical to flip the last page of back free end paper in a book and find it covered in somebody’s original poem. Or to see somebody’s childish handwriting (incorrectly) subtract 1792, the year of a book’s publication, from a year in the 1800s, with which they inscribed the book. Seeing this, I immediately subtracted both 1792 and the 1800s date from 2017 on my phone, just to feel those temporal differences.

For my personal project, I wanted to consider the timeline of the books we catalog. How have they been read, used, interpreted, and handled - and how will they be in the future? How does a book act as a record of its own history, and how does it communicate this history in paratextual ways? My objective was to build on these questions and create a physical object that captures the multiple, intersecting existences of a novel as a text, as a book, and as a specific object, or copy of that book—when we catalog a specific copy we interact with not only the authors, publishers, and editors of the text, but also all of the people who have previously read, owned, borrowed, or cataloged that book. In this way, the book exists not only as a container for the novel’s text, and its story, but also as an object in itself. The specific copy that we catalog has its own history, and its addition to the END dataset adds to that timeline. If every pencil underline or aspect of design in a book is intended to inform future readers of how that particular publisher or owner has interpreted it, then our END code adds another layer. We write our own interpretations into the catalog. And, as time passes, the book begins to exist in multiple planes: physically, in the library; digitally, as code and as a digitized edition; in memory, as a book meant for popular enjoyment; in academia, as an object of study; in END, as a multifaceted point in a dataset.

The book that I chose to work with was Genuine copies of all the love letters and cards which passed between an illustrious personage and a noble lady during the course of a late amour, a juicy epistolary novel dated around 1770 by the actual scandalous lawsuit between Henry Frederick, Duke of Cumberland, and Henriette, Countess Grosvenor. This book had been recently scanned into END’s Digital Collection and read with Optical Character Recognition. This summer, I used my laptop to correct the .txt file generated by the OCR. As I corrected each of the numerous misspellings involving the letter “s,” I saw the novel’s timeline as a series of changing media: written, printed, and digital. Thus, for my project, I initially planned separate editions of Genuine copies, designed to represent the differences between the media they encapsulated.

However, I soon found myself reconsidering the validity of these divisions. Print, written, and digital media cannot exist independently; the ways we produce and consume various kinds of media are actually inseparable from each other. Digital facsimiles of printed text rely on print media and print form, and print media is designed to contain the medium of the written word. Computer-read OCR text must be hand-corrected by rearranging print, and digital files are often printed out, so that they can be written on by hand. The media timeline does not move forwards, in a line, but rather back and forth, to include all the media that have been worked with before. The digitization of a book like Genuine Copies also makes easier the book’s reprinting. Reprinting, in turn, gives rise to more of the written inscriptions that we at END so enthusiastically document.

Thus, for my new edition of Genuine Copies, I aimed to reflect on the movements back and forth, or between, various kinds of media, rather than the clean-cut differences that mark written, print, and digital texts. Instead of a fully easy-to-read text, the result is, in a way, a documentation of END’s cataloging process. To put together the pieces of the story, one has to page through the text of another book, The Matter of My Book: Montaigne’s Essais as the Book of the Self, which I conveniently obtained from the Kislak Center’s free book cart. As the series of letters and cards shows the royal affair building up and then falling apart, the text’s presentation also changes. It moves from the fictional/factual handwritten letter, to a print, to a scan, and then a reprinting, layered with metadata and paratexts about how the novel exists on copy-specific, personal, or library planes.

The book is messy, containing many printed screenshots, useless and casual marginalia, inscriptions by all of the 2017 END students, a leaf from the garden of Mark’s Café in Van Pelt Library, post-it notes from my secondary reading, cut-outs from old Sotheby’s catalogs (also from the Kislak cart, potentially representing the book as an object) and 1.5 sticks of washable school glue in its pages. It can be interpreted as a new edition, a timeline, a scrapbook collage, or merely a destruction of a perfectly fine copy of Richard L. Regosin’s 1977 book, The Matter of My Book. Either way, what I hope to have captured in the book is the fun and magic of cataloging: the excitement of finding evidence that someone did the same thing as you long ago, and the excitement of knowing someone might do the same in the future. Books embody and record human interactions, not only through what they communicate but how—in design, in paratextual additions, in the creation of rich catalogs like END. Part of this must explain the importance and interest of not only cataloging, but also books and reading as a whole.

Works Consulted

Genette, Gérard. Paratexts: thresholds of interpretation. Cambridge: Cambridge U Press, 2001. Print.

Gitelman, Lisa. Always already new: media, history and the data of culture. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2008. Print.

Mak, Bonnie. How the Page Matters. Toronto: U of Toronto Press, 2014. Print.

McLuhan, Marshall, and Quentin Fiore. The medium is the massage. London: Penguin,2008. Print.

Price, Leah. How to do things with books in Victorian Britain. Princeton, N.J: Princeton U Press, 2012. Print.

Personal project write-up 7/14

4 min read

The articles that I spent my time reading this week were incredibly relevant to my project and very useful for articulating the argument that I am attempting to make through my remediation project. I began with the introduction to Leah Price’s book, How to Do Things With Books, building on her idea that the ways people interact with books—by reading, handling, and circulating—always overlap. Although many attempt to separate out the text from the book through value judgments, Price argues that the book has a “Janus-faced potential,” because it is bounded to its medium, and yet “credited with the power to free its users” through their interactions with the text (5). As texts move towards the digital, Price insists that the idealization of digital texts as printed texts “flattens the range of uses to which the book was put before digital media came along to compete with it”—the uses of handling and circulating (7). The book object links us not only to the author of the text, but also all of the people who have touched the book before us. This concept is echoed by both Gitelman in Media as Historical Subjects and Marshall McLuhan in The Medium is the Message. Gitelman points out that old media remains meaningful even when new media emerges, offering people an opportunity to encounter the past that created the media representation (5). Quoting, McLuhan, Gitelman agrees that “each new medium represents its predecessors” (4); in The Medium is the Message, McLuhan illustrates how the content of each medium is always another medium, with speech comprising writing and writing comprising print (1).

These ideas really helped me conceptualize my awe of the 18th century novels that we handle every day, which is really what inspired me to pursue this project. So much goes into creating code for each book; and yet so much more has already happened with its creation, design, ownership, and distribution. What I want more than anything is to understand, in an organized and distinct way, the individual processes that have shaped this one book. And yet, that’s impossible: the text, book, object, medium are not only inseparable, but also form relationships that demand a historical perspective and a social understanding to identify. Even after basing my project’s argument on the fact that one cannot examine a book/text/object with clearly separated categories, I could not even sort the potential categories that I wanted to illustrate and then disprove in my remediation. The text is a book that is an object which contains the text, and the medium of the text can be digital or manuscript or print, but the medium of this book (that is an object) is print, although it also contains manuscript and has been digitized (is that an object?) into a text that is not a book but is an object???

Despite my immense headache, the introduction and first chapter of Bonnie Mak’s How the Page Matters totally nailed (with devastating, even terrifying, accuracy) the point that I am trying to get at—that the page itself (isolated from my confusion regarding the book/text/object) embodies its own ideas, through “simultaneous, overlapping, mutually responsive, complementary, contradictory” strategies, not tied exclusively to one platform or mode of production (5). As an interface between designer and reader, anyone who writes, revises, or configures a page leaves “clues about how the pages matters to them and how they wish it to matter to others” (5). The page is evidence about it’s own history, with the meanings formed by readers based upon the materiality of each page. In Mak’s words, the page is “an interface, standing at center of complicated dynamic of intention and reception;” it is the material manifestation of an ongoing conversation through time (21).

With Mak’s conception of the page in mind, I am currently mapping out what each page of my edition of the text will look like. I plan to label each letter in stages of hand, print, and code, with the intention of eventually letting the complexity of the categorization overwhelm the text itself. I hope the process and the development of the material product will call into question the role of readers, designers, and catalogers in influencing the text, as well as how the text itself exists in various, changing forms of media.

Plan for the week:
- make a list of all the things that ideally would be represented in the book, map how they relate to each other + what needs emphasis
- determine sizing and spacing; find notebook or scrapbook with appropriate size/page count
- decide on glue method
- start planning pages: there are 30 letters, with additional cards
- transfer important notes/ info from readings onto plans for book; incorporate reading into documentary process
- maybe read the book in the rare book room
- be documenting things (go back and record things already finished! --> developing idea, choosing text, OCR correction, current organization)
- where to put documentary process? website? --> organize notebook + keep notebook organized
- by the end of the week: loose outline of the progression of the book, and how each development of the book is distributed through the text

Final project proposal

3 min read

How are changing methods of producing, consuming, and interpreting novels reflected in the novel’s existence as a fictional text, a book, and an object? What do books, as material objects, communicate to their readers, and how exactly is this communication achieved? The process of collecting rich, detailed data for the END project—as well as the process of learning how to work with this data—has made evident the exciting analytical possibilities that exist for studying books, for tracing the changes and commonalities within an increasingly larger and more comprehensive corpus of works. However, I am also curious about what new meanings that these individual novels take on in this process. If the novels in the END database first began their lives when they were printed, are they necessarily reborn when they are scanned and digitized? What potential for entertainment and education from the 18th century is carried forward into the present, and what opportunities for scholarship manifest in the horizon, especially in the realm of the digital?

I would like to pursue these questions first through historical research, and then through the creative experimentation of remediating a text. I plan to draw from the theoretical and conceptual frameworks set forth in Leah Price’s How to Do Things with Books in Victorian Britain (for example, the relationships between reader and author; between successive and simultaneous readers; between unity and division; commonality and distinction; etc.) as well as texts in media studies regarding history and remediation, such as Bolter and Grusin’s Remediation: Understanding New Media and Gitelman’s discussion of media as historical objects. I hope to interweave a growing understanding of current media and material scholarship with research into literary and book history, especially regarding the emergence of the novel and 18th century print culture; in this aspect, I also plan to look into Catherine Gallagher on the rise of fictionality.

Following my interest in the future lives of the books in the Early Novels Database, I hope to present my research on book history and text materiality by creating a dramatically different (but meticulously designed) new version of one of the novels—my current top candidate is Love-letters between a certain late nobleman and the famous Mr. Wilson, due to its epistolary form and its short length. I am interested in epistolary novels because of how their form and fiction depend on their location in time and space. Accordingly, for the creative component of my project, I plan to create a scrapbook-like edition of Love-letters that maps and categorizes the text and paratext of the story, the text, the book copy, and the book object through both real and fictional time and space. My hope is that the decisions made in this creative process will not only mirror the value judgments we make daily as cataloguers, but will also illuminate the subjectivity of those judgments and the immense, irreducible complexity of the relationships between reader, object, truth, and fiction. By closely examining a primary source while also considering its materiality in design and its historical context moving into the present, I hope to be able to explore not only specific social and technological moments, but also larger questions of meaning in literary and cultural understanding.

Project outline

2 min read

  1. Question: How are changing methods of producing, consuming, and interpreting novels reflected in the novel’s existence as a fictional text, a book, and an object?

  2. Tentative argument: The novel’s form and fiction is intertwined with its increasingly complex history. As newer, digital methods of approaching texts emerge, the same texts continue to be rewritten in different ways.

  3. A book - currently tentatively “Love-letters between a certain late nobleman and the famous Mr. Wilson : discovering the true history of the rise and surprising grandeur of that celebrated beau.”

  4. Book and literary history, combined with making

  5. Materiality of books; paratexts; media studies—Gerard Genette – Paratexts: thresholds of interpretation (full text); Catherine Gallagher - Rise of Fictionality ;Janine Barchas – Graphic Design, Print Culture, and the Eighteenth Century Novel; Leah Price – How to Do Things with Books in Victorian Britain; Bolter and Grusin - Remediation: Understanding New Media

  6. I’m hoping that my project will both respond to and complicate questions such as: Why do we collect END data, and what is it actually about—the book, the text, or the copy of the book? Where does the line blur between fiction, the book, and the object? Can literary understanding be removed from history? How do we change books by holding, distributing, and reading them, versus leaving them on shelves?

Draft - final project proposal

5 min read

What do books, as material objects, communicate to their readers, and how exactly is this communication achieved? The process of collecting rich, detailed data for the END project—as well as the process of learning how to work with this data—has made evident the exciting analytical possibilities that exist for studying books, for tracing the changes and commonalities within an increasingly larger and more comprehensive corpus of works. However, I am also curious about what new meanings that these individual novels take on in this process. If the novels in the END database first began their lives when they were printed, are they necessarily reborn when they are scanned and digitized? How were these novels sold and distributed in the 1790s, and what questions of accessibility are raised today, in libraries and online? What potential for entertainment and education from the 18th century is carried forward into the present, and what opportunities for scholarship manifest in the horizon, especially in the realm of the digital? The central goal of my project is to gain a general understanding of the changing position of the novel within the interconnecting facets of a) cultural context, and b) methods of production, consumption, and interpretation—both how novels are created and received through time, as well as how they are perceived by different scholarly and public audiences within those times.

I would like to pursue these questions first through historical research, and then through digital and material experimentation. For research, I plan to first study secondary texts in order to form a basis from which I will be able to approach specific primary works. To begin building this foundational understanding, I have drawn from the numerous readings in the END readings Dropbox as starting points; this project was greatly inspired by the readings we completed for week 2 this summer, namely Janine Barchas’ discussion of graphic design and print culture, as well as the various tensions described by Leah Price in How to Do Things with Books in Victorian Britain—for example, the relationships between reader and author; between successive and simultaneous readers; between unity and division; commonality and distinction; etc. I anticipate that Phillip Gaskell’s new introduction to bibliography will also be immensely helpful in preparation for digging deeper into material texts, the history of reading, and precisely what the digital entails as media.

Although my research questions appear to rapidly expand outwards, I would like to center my reading on the material and digital aspects of the novel that are captured in the END database (in this aspect, I also plan to work closely with Genette Gerard’s work on paratexts). These aspects will dictate the experimental stage of my project. Following my interest in the future lives of the books in the Early Novels Database, I hope to present my research on book history and text materiality by creating a dramatically different (but meticulously designed) new version of one of the novels. At this moment, I am entirely unsure whether my research will be better represented materially or digitally; it seems that books today cannot be categorized as purely one or the other, as the process of creating either kind of book inevitably also involves material and digital work. I also do not know what will happen with a book that is self-conscious of its journey through time and its present location in culture and history—or if that is even possible to create while modifying only paratexts and design, rather than text.

Although failure is likely and a more focused approach almost certainly expected after the research phase of my project, I nevertheless plan to OCR, correct, and read the 1784 novel Laura and Augustus, an authentic story: in a series of letters alongside my research into secondary sources. Beyond criteria for length, I selected Laura and Augustus because of its epistolary form and its apparent complexity. I am interested in the epistolary form because current modes of communication have dated hand written letters; furthermore, Laura and Augustus interestingly incorporates letters between characters in Great Britain and the West Indies, adding another cultural dimension (also, it was apparently parodied by Jane Austen when she was 14). By closely examining a primary source while also considering its materiality in design and its historical context moving into the present, I hope to be able to explore not only specific social and technological moments, but also larger questions of meaning in literary and cultural understanding.

Secondary sources: Gerard Genette – Paratexts: thresholds of interpretation (full text) Robert Darnton – First Steps Toward a History of Reading Peter Stallybrass – Books and Scrolls Janine Barchas – Graphic Design, Print Culture, and the Eighteenth Century Novel Philip Gaskell – A New Introduction to Bibliography Leah Price – How to Do Things with Books in Victorian Britain John Smith - The Printer’s Grammar

Project Proposal 2

2 min read

In my project, I plan to explore the ways that books communicate through pretext and design, hopefully illuminating the interpretive and expressive possibilities of END’s rich data. After selecting a novel from the 1790s with Mary Kate to scan and OCR, I will design multiple physical editions of the book, manipulating the paratext, appearance, and formatting of the text in different ways to appeal to different audiences, methods, or reasons for reading. Looking forwards, I plan to research publishing, bookbinding, and aspects of book design such as marketing, typography, and history, in order to gain a better understanding of why books are designed the way that they are. I anticipate that learning about the processes behind designing books will also raise important interpretive questions about literature, such as the necessity of historicization, depending on audience, and the way that marketing affects what we read and how we read it. I also hope that this research will help me locate the role of the book, and the novel, within current popular culture. On the practical side, I will need to learn about typesetting programs, photoshop, and Adobe InDesign in order to create these books and their accompanying paratexts. Furthermore, I plan to create physical copies of these designs, whether in the form of a stapled zine or a handbound book. How do paratexts interact with readers differently when held physically, versus when scrolled through digitally? I hope that going through the actual processes of creating these books will both answer such questions as well as raise further ones. Due to limitations on time and resources, I anticipate that I will not be able to create more than four or five different editions, including the one I will design with Mary Kate for her outreach project. Even so, my goal is to communicate the many possibilities of paratextual expression through the physical copies of the books themselves.