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Early Novels Database Intern 2017
Williams College '19

Accessing the Community of Readers

15 min read

Levi Pawling was born in 1773, admitted to the bar in Norristown, Pennsylvania in 1795 and married in 1804 to Elizabeth Hiester. He was a career lawyer, and though his local government was largely run by Democrats, he also served as a one term senator as a Federalist from March 4, 1817 to March 3, 1819. Pawling wore many hats over the course of his life, from congressman to burgess of Norristown to president of the board of directors of the Bank of Montgomery County to father. Over the course of his marriage to Hiester, Pawling fathered seven children: Elizabeth, Ellen, Rebecca, Mary, Joseph H., James M., and Henry DeWitt (Wiley 419). Ellen, born in 1816, married another Pennsylvania lawyer from Norristown, Henry Freedley, in June of 1845, just before her father’s death in September of that year. After Ellen’s own death in 1850, her sister Rebecca, born in 1815, married her widower. The marriage of Rebecca and Henry Freedley was even shorter than that of Ellen and Freedley, however, as Rebecca died in November of 1851, only eight months after her wedding (Bull 54). Though Freedley lived a much longer life, surviving until 1894, he, Rebecca, Ellen, and Levi are all buried in the churchyard of the parish that Levi founded and presided over as church warden, St. Johns Episcopal Church in Norristown, PA. Levi’s other daughter, Mary, born 1819, married yet another Pennsylvania lawyer, Sylvester Norton Rich in 1846. Their marriage lasted much longer than either of her sisters’, continuing until Rich’s death in 1893. Rich and Mary were both buried in the Odd Fellows Cemetery in Philadelphia.

But between that, between all of the marriages and politics and birth and death, Levi Pawling owned an edition of The Works of Laurence Sterne (1790), an eight volume collection of Sterne’s novels, letters, sermons, and various bits and pieces he had written for other publications. Levi signed his name in several of the volumes, with his name first appearing in volume three. The inscription reads: “Levi Pawling’s Oct. 1st 1800.” His daughter Rebecca’s name is in six of the eight volumes, sometimes written more than once. On a half title page at the start of volume one, Rebecca followed a similar inscription pattern to her father, writing: “Rebecca Pawling, January 6th 1836.” Her eventual husband’s name, Henry Freedley appears on the full title page in every volume in the exact same spot, as “Henry Freedley C.E.” is inked in between the words “COMPLETE IN EIGHT VOLUMES” and “CONTAINING.” Mary Pawling’s name appears only once, at the top of page 173 in volume eight, containing Sterne’s sermons. But whether these family members inscribed their names once or a hundred times, the inscriptions allowed them to generate a community of readers. As the lovers in John Donne’s “The Canonization” are immortalized and interred in the poem which acts as their urn, so are the Pawlings contained in these volumes, together and interacting for as long as the books continue to exist. Mary and her husband may have been buried in a different cemetery from the rest of the members of the family whose names are inscribed in this book, but in these pages they reside together, and the inscriptions help to create a narrative out of their relationships. Levi had the book first, obviously, as none of the others were born yet in 1800, the date of the first inscription. After that, perhaps, it passed to Rebecca, who would have been twenty one when she put her own name in the volumes. Or maybe Mary went through them first, reading and marking up the passages that mattered to her, and then passed it onto her sister. From Rebecca, they might have passed to Henry.

In light, feathery pencil, someone has written “January 1832” on page 144 of volume seven. A similar light and feathery pencil has used the book as a sketch pad, doodling myriad birds and flowers in the margins, and sketching various ladies and gentlemen in many of the blank spaces left at the end of chapters. Someone has even taken the trouble to illustrate a scene from A Sentimental Journey in which a character named Maria sits with a dog in her lap under a tree. In this case, there was not enough blank space to accommodate the artist, who instead composed her illustration on a small sheet of paper and attached it to the page with an actual pin, similar to the type of pin used for hemming clothing. All of the margin notes are also in pencil, though there is no telling whether the same hand made them all. It is possible that Levi Pawling, Rebecca Pawling, and Henry Freedley signed their names in ink at the start in order to make bolder and more permanent claims of ownership, while they made margins notes in pencil so as not to overwhelm the text. However, it is also possible that the pencil marks, the words written in the margins, and the sketches that might have been a product of the artistic component of the education of young ladies in the nineteenth century might have all been produced by Mary Pawling, whose name also appears in pencil and in the middle of a text, as if in the midst of reading she suddenly felt the urge to put herself in these pages and test out a signature. The placement of Mary Pawling’s name is more suggestive of usage than ownership.

On these details, I can only speculate, though that speculation itself results in more detail being added to the web of this family’s pattern of association as their names are brought into contact again and again in varying ways and orders. In fact, the speculation greatly expands the web, for now, I can add my own name to the web. Now I have had contact with Levi and Rebecca and Mary and Henry, similar to the way they had contact with each other. The community of readers has expanded, but both includes me and does not include me.

Reading is sometimes viewed as an act of consumption. Writers produce and readers consume. However, reading is more complicated than that. Readers must produce in the same way that writers do, absorbing the words and building the framework around them, picturing scenes and bringing characters to life. The problem with that is that there is no physical trace of that. When one writes, one makes something that other people can see. When one reads, one makes something that only they can see. Marginalia provides a middle ground between those two acts; marginalia is the physical result of reading, and the physicality of it allows for continued community building.

Books in the Early Novels Database’s corpus such as these volumes of Sterne might contain hundreds of years of readers and reader reactions, with eighteenth, nineteenth, and maybe even twentieth century marginalia. The community far outlasts the people who are a part of it, but it also grants them a sort of immortality, similar to the kind that we are so keen to grant to writers. Men like William Shakespeare, for example, or the aforementioned John Donne, are sometimes thought to have beaten death, living eternally through their works so that as long as their works are still read, they still exist in this world. When we write literary criticism of these authors, we use the present tense, “Shakespeare writes” or “Donne chooses” as if they are still here with us, in an eternal present. In some sense, they get to live forever. Marginalia allows for a similar life to be given to readers. Henry Freedley, and Levi, Rebecca, and Mary Pawling are still part of a community because the volume containing their names has survived beyond them.

While cataloging these volumes, I attempted to authorize their identities in VIAF (Virtual International Authority File) and WorldCat, but could not, because such databases only keep track of writers and those involved in printing and publishing. When I search WorldCat for the names of the men who printed these books, when I search “P. Wogan,” I not only find Patrick Wogan, I find links to people whose names appeared in print often in conjunction with him. WorldCat suggests the record for Patrick Byrne, John Rice, James Moore, and Arthur Grueber among others. Their community is solidified in print and proliferated in the thousands of copies of books that they worked on professionally. But most of the men and women who formed these communities of readers were not professional readers, and as such, official sources like WorldCat usually will not have any record of their interaction with these texts. They owe their continued existence as communities and as living people to their marginalia, for that is how, 200 years in the future, some random teenage girl was able to touch them. When I searched one name at a time-- just Levi Pawling or just Henry Freedley--- I was unable to match a person to the name. It was not until I began searching all of the names together that I was able to find them. It is only their presence in each other’s company in the pages of these Sterne volumes that allowed me to touch them.

Yes, I touched them, but I could not join them, for the existence of these books in the rare books library at the University of Pennsylvania means that they might be looked at, but not used, not in the same way that Mary Pawling used them. For reasons that are seemingly obvious, rare books libraries do not allow their patrons to go around marking up the books in their collections. Eighteenth century marginalia is valuable to them, but anything added now might be considered vandalism. The libraries preserve these books, but in preserving them, do not allow them to be really read, and there appears to be no way around this. If the books are to be preserved, it seems we must be shut off from the community of readers.

But, trapped in this apparent paradox, we must ask ourselves why the books must be preserved. Presumably, our urge to preserve comes from a sense of the historical value of the books. From the perspective of a historian, they ought to be frozen in time, preserved exactly as they are in order to allow us to see, relatively unobscured, what the original readers were like. But in a purely literary sense, this might be an incorrect approach. Assuming these books are meant to persist is a big assumption. Perhaps books are meant to be used and used and used until they disintegrate into nothingness. We cannot possibly hold onto everything, after all. Perhaps books are like that couch that exists in many a mother’s parlor room-- no one is ever allowed to sit on it, making you wonder why she bought it at all. Perhaps there is more value in building the community of readers and allowing it to grow to include modern readers than in perfectly preserving the past. History is all a matter of representation anyway. What we know about the past may be no less fictional than what we know about Narnia. Why prioritize history over literature?

The ephemerality of artwork is a concept to which we are already accustomed. In an article for African Arts, Allyson Purpura explores this tension between what she views as a Western desire to preserve things and the temporary nature of some forms of artwork, asking readers to consider that whenever they see an art installation that was tailor made for one particular space, they are viewing ephemeral artwork. When the next exhibit is ready to be put in, the old one is taken out and can never again exist as it did. Other forms of artwork rely upon that ephemerality, existing because of it, not in spite of it, such as the rice flour paintings of Hindu women in India that are washed away by rain or smudged by passers by who step on them. Purpura claims that the purpose of this artwork is not a product, but the act of producing something (12). The continued process is the goal in itself, not any preservable piece of artwork. These women’s paintings in particular felt relevant to the case of the ephemerality of the eighteenth century novel, as the preface of Each Sex in their Humour, published in 1764, jumped to mind, which, though it frames the text as a found manuscript, includes a note from the author, who writes, “This was begun at a Time when I had nothing better to do, and carried on at Intervals of Leisure…” (ii). Though this is only a conceit, the novel similarly suggests that it was written for the sake of writing it, not necessarily of finishing it. At a time in which the author had nothing else to do, she took up writing to stave off boredom in her “voluntary exile,” just as Stephen Huyler, whom Purpura quotes in her discussion of the rice flour paintings, claims that those Hindu women are painting as “a means of coping with the present.” They are not for the future and they are not about preserving the past. They are about occupying the present.

Occupying the present is all that we can ever really do, and all these objects can do, even the ones that are historically significant. As Michèle Valerie Cloonan argues in an article concerning the future of archiving, these objects can never be entirely abstracted from the modern context in which they now exist (235). The object in front of us now is not quite the same object that was in front of a reader in 1817. Context strongly affects the way we perceive objects’ meaning and the way we construct narratives around them. Even when we attempt to place ourselves in the mindset of someone from 1817, part of that process involves imagining their mindset, and we imagine their mindset differently now than we did even ten years ago because we are constantly acquiring new information and writing and rewriting narratives. Furthermore, as Cloonan aptly points out, putting these books away in a rare books library does not actually stop them from aging. Simply the fact that time passes is enough to change these books, even if it may be in a small way. Pigments fade and oxidize, ink fades and bleeds, and pages become brittle. No matter how well we take care of these books, they still age, and as such, still have an expiration date of sorts, even if it is long deferred.

That expiration date may not be a bad thing, however. As Purpura alleges, “The ephemeral amplifies the present by giving it a temporal frame” (14). It is the limited nature of the objects and concepts that exist in the ephemeral present that makes them more valuable to us. Knowing that something is temporary forces us to pay attention to it while it is there; the good that it does is concentrated. Instead of small, steady goodness, the ephemeral object displays an intense flash of goodness. Linking this back to marginalia, it suggests to me that though these books may not survive their own usage, they might have a more significant impact on their readers if we allow them to be ephemeral objects. Instead of many people having brief encounters with these books, fewer people might have passionate affairs with them. The communities that exist within them might not be immortal, but they will be strong and complex. If we were to allow special collections books to continue collecting marginalia, to allow twenty first century readers to access the historical community of readers, we would lose these books, but we would truly use them first.

Works Cited:

Bull, James H., Commodore. Record of the Descendants of John and Elizabeth Bull: Early Settlers in Pennsylvania. The Shannon-Conmy Company, 1919.

Cloonan, Michèle Valerie. “W(H)ITHER Preservation?” The Library Quarterly: Information, Community, Policy, vol. 71, no. 2, 2001, pp. 231–242. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/4309507.

Each Sex in their Humour: or, the Histories of the Families of Brightley, Finch, Fortescue, Shelburne, and Stevens. Printed for the Editor, 1764.

“The History of St. John’s.” St. John’s Episcopal Church. http://www.stjohnsnorristown.org/history.html. Accessed 23 June 2017.

“Pawling, Levi, (1773-1885).” Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, http://bioguide.congress.gov/scripts/biodisplay.pl?index=P000147. Accessed 23 June 2017.

Purpura, Allyson. “Framing the Ephemeral.” African Arts, vol. 42, no. 3, 2009, pp. 11–15. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/20627005.

Sterne, Laurence. The Works of Laurence Sterne: Complete in Eight Volumes. Printed for the Proprietors, 1790. Currently housed in the University of Pennsylvania’s Kislak Center.

Wiley, Samuel T. Biographical and Portrait Cyclopedia of Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, Containing Biographical Sketches of Prominent and Representative Citizens of the County, Together with an Introductory Historical Sketch. Biographical Publishing Company, 1895.

On the Physical Presence of Books

6 min read

It is easy to forget the physicality of a modern trade paperback. You throw it in your bag to take to the beach. You put your drink on it when you don’t have a coaster, confident you can wipe the condensation off of its glossy cover. You smush it between other books in your backpack, bending the edges a bit so you can get the bag to zipper because you know that if you press it flat later under the weight of your textbooks, it will resume its shape. You don’t have to be delicate with it, so it is easy to forget that the book has a physical presence as well as a psychological one.

Working with the books in END’s corpus requires a completely different approach, and thus allots your attention to completely different aspects of the experience of each book. When I gently slide a book out of a box or open it carefully, cradling it in my palm like I’m supporting the neck of a newborn, I am hyper aware that this book is an object, that it is held together with glue and leather and thread and that it could easily come apart.

But I am also aware that if a book can come apart, it can be put together. Someone put these books together. The 260 fields in our MarcXML scheme are designated for publisher’s information, and there is really a shocking amount of such information in comparison to today’s paperbacks. These books don’t simply list a publishing house and a copyright year. They are rarely shrouded under the umbrella claim of a publishing company, leaving their origins vaguely traceable but also largely abstract. Our 260 fields are full of names. They reveal the people behind these books and the communities they formed.

In the novels from the 1790s with which we work daily, we discover who the books were printed by, who they were printed for, who engraved the frontispieces, who sold them and often where they sold them. The publication information given by these books makes visible a lot of the care work that is involved in the publishing industry that is hidden labor today. The people listed on these title pages are all guardians of these books in some way, seeing them through some phase of their maturation until they became the books I know today. Novels in this period were often detached from their authors, from their “parents,” but not from the publishers serving in loco parentis as their guardians.

Seeing names appear together again and again only contributes to this idea that these people “raised” these books together, that it takes a village to put together a book just as it does to raise a child. The group that we END cataloguers have fondly nicknamed “The Dublin Boys” consists of P. Wogan, P. Byrne, J. Rice, J. Moore, W. Jones, and J. Jones, occasionally featuring J. Halpen, R. M’allister, and A. Grueber. Each name almost always appears in conjunction with several of the others in that list, and they appear often in the novels we have that were printed in Dublin in the 1790s. The close association creates the sense that these men were all working together somehow, even if in reality they were likely competitors. They competed as far as sales and production went, perhaps, but worked together to popularize and disperse these books. Even if their immediate goal was to make money, they also contributed to the dissemination of the novel in Ireland as a result of that competition between men.

Conceptualizing the way that humans were involved in the production of eighteenth century texts allows us to better conceptualize the book as an item to be owned and held as well as read. Humans, unlike companies, are flesh and blood. There is physical substance there. Books are the same way. Stories can be abstract in the same way that companies are, but books are paper and glue.

When Alice McGrath gave us a preliminary presentation on her research regarding prefaces, I was struck by the fact that in each preface she gave to us as an example, the human body was featured in some way. The preface to Each Sex (1764) admits that the story it precedes bears the mark of a “Female Hand.” The advertisement in the front of The Maiden Aunt (1776) claims that it is “with a heart anxiously trembling” that the authoress submits her work to the “public eye.” The third novel, The Denoument: or, the History of Lady Louisa Wingrove (1781) begins its preface with a saucy antagonism of the reader who might doubt the quality of the work thanks to its by line: “By a Lady!-- what again!-- another pen in petticoats?” In this final example, the human body is not explicitly evoked, but its dressings are. The description of the petticoats conjures the image of a woman wearing them in our minds, but this example replaces that female body with a pen, suggesting that there is something analogous between humans and their writings, and this similarity might be attributed to the twofold nature of our being.

Part of the human experience is our physical presence in our bodies and part of it is a result of synapses firing in our brains to create a less tangible existence. Books are the same way. Part of the experience is a result of our brains finding meaning in the words on a page, but another part of it is a result of having this physical book in our hands, and as such, books can create communities two different ways. One community consists of people who have read the story, who have their own copies or borrowed one from a library or heard it told by a friend. They share a common intellectual experience. The second community, however, is formed by the people who have possessed one specific copy as the physical transfer of ownership connects its readers. Whether or not these people read the book is somewhat irrelevant. They possessed it, and thus they are linked. The physicality of these books, or any books, therefore cannot be ignored or forgotten about, for to do so is to ignore a whole community created by them.

Keystone DH Reflection: Historic Houses and Literature as a Physical Space

3 min read

Funnily enough, both conferences that I went to wound up discussing historic house museums. In the morning, I attend the Digital Studies panel, where Chelsea Gunn gave a presentation about archiving born digital materials and the technology on which they were created, discussing the challenges involved in archiving something like Susan Sontag’s personal computer. On the one hand, archivists want to preserve as much of the original experience as possible for users when they interact with the machine via a model or interface, but on the other, modern users have different wants and needs. Gunn noted that often, the models will have authentically slow processing speeds, which both adds to the experience and makes doing whatever research you are trying to do much harder and more time consuming. But part of what researchers or just casual and curious patrons might be interested in involves the machine on which the documents are stored. It is not just about accessing Susan Sontag’s emails, it is about using her computer to do so. That computer is not valuable because it is the only one left in that make and model-- it isn’t. It is valuable because she lived in it and used it.

My afternoon session was about temporality, but of course, when discussing temporality, we also wound up discussing space. Jim McGrath discussed using augmented reality to create a house tour of a historic house that is part of the University of Brown’s campus, explaining the ways that visitors and tourists can interact with objects in the house virtually while also interacting with them physically. The very existence of that house struck a chord with me in relation to my marginalia project, as it is both museum-like, with self-guided tours available on this Neatline program, and also a working office space. It is observed and appreciated but also used. McGrath made a throw away comment at the beginning about how when he first started working in his office in that building, he was afraid to touch anything, with the implication being that now he has gotten used to it and treats it like any other office. Thinking about that in the context of the rare books in Kislak is strange and interesting, for on the one hand, these books can also be used, functioning as both literary history artifacts and pieces of literature (outside of time). But on the other hand, they can’t REALLY be used. They can only be looked at. Presumably, McGrath does at his desk what he would do at any desk. If a pen explodes, it gets ink on it. If he spills a cup of coffee, it might get wet. He uses his desk. He doesn’t just look at it.

But what really struck me about McGrath’s presentation was a series of photos he included at the end, collages made by a student which melded twenty first century photos with black and white photos of the building’s past inhabitants. One in particular depicted a family standing in the parlor taking a wedding photo. It seemed almost ghostly, having them in the middle of the full color photograph, like they have left traces of themselves behind. But it reminded me of the way that I view marginalia. Marginalia, too, is almost ghostly: a physical trace of a person’s existence. When the body is gone, what is left? Some might say ghosts. Others, marginalia.

Marginalia and the Pawling Family (MKG: 7/14/17)

6 min read

Levi Pawling was born in 1773, admitted to the bar in Norristown, Pennsylvania in 1795 and married in 1804 to Elizabeth Hiester. He was a career lawyer, and though his local government was largely run by Democrats, he also served as a one term senator as a Federalist from March 4, 1817 to March 3, 1819. Pawling wore many hats over the course of his life, from congressman to burgess of Norristown to president of the board of directors of the Bank of Montgomery County to father. Over the course of his marriage to Hiester, Pawling fathered seven children: Elizabeth, Ellen, Rebecca, Mary, Joseph H., James M., and Henry DeWitt. Ellen, born in 1816, married another Pennsylvania lawyer from Norristown, Henry Freedley, in June of 1845, just before her father’s death in September of that year. After Ellen’s own death in 1850, her sister Rebecca, born in 1815, married her widower. The marriage of Rebecca and Henry Freedley was even shorter than that of Ellen and Freedley, however, as Rebecca died in November of 1851, only eight months after her wedding. Though Freedley lived a much longer life, surviving until 1894, he, Rebecca, Ellen, and Levi are all buried in the churchyard of the parish that Levi founded and presided over as church warden, St. Johns Episcopal Church in Norristown, PA. Levi’s other daughter, Mary, born 1819, married yet another Pennsylvania lawyer, Sylvester Norton Rich in 1846. Their marriage lasted much longer than either of her sisters’, continuing until Rich’s death in 1893. Rich and Mary were both buried in the Odd Fellows Cemetery in Philadelphia.

But between that, between all of the marriages and politics and birth and death, Levi Pawling owned an edition of The Works of Laurence Sterne (1791), an eight volume collection of Sterne’s novels, letters, sermons, and various bits and pieces he had written for other publications. Levi signed his name in several of the volumes, with his name first appearing in volume three. The inscription reads: “Levi Pawling’s Oct. 1st 1800.” His daughter Rebecca’s name is in six of the eight volumes, sometimes written more than once. On a half title page at the start of volume one, Rebecca followed a similar inscription pattern to her father, writing: “Rebecca Pawling, January 6th 1836.” Her eventual husband’s name, Henry Freedley appears on the full title page in every volume in the exact same spot, as “Henry Freedley C.E.” is inked in between the words “COMPLETE IN EIGHT VOLUMES” and “CONTAINING.” Mary Pawling’s name appears only once, at the top of page 173 in volume eight, containing Sterne’s sermons. But whether these family members inscribed their names once or a hundred times, the inscriptions allowed them to generate a community of readers. As the lovers in John Donne’s “The Canonization” are immortalized and interred in the poem which acts as their urn, so are the Pawlings contained in these volumes, together and interacting for as long as the books continue to exist. Mary and her husband may have been buried in a different cemetery from the rest of the members of the family whose names are inscribed in this book, but in these pages they reside together, and the inscriptions help to create a narrative out of their relationships. Levi had the book first, obviously, as none of the others were born yet in 1800, the date of the first inscription. After that, perhaps, it passed to Rebecca, who would have been twenty one when she put her own name in the volumes. Or maybe Mary went through them first, reading and marking up the passages that mattered to her, and then passed it onto her sister. From Rebecca, they might have passed to Henry. (Could I construct a chart? A visualization/web of their relationships?)

In light, feathery pencil, someone has written “January 1832” on page 144 of volume seven. A similar light and feathery pencil has used the book as a sketch pad, doodling myriad birds and flowers in the margins, and sketching various ladies and gentlemen in many of the blank spaces left at the end of chapters. Someone has even taken the trouble to illustrate a scene from A Sentimental Journey in which a character name Maria sits with a dog in her lap under a tree. In this case, there not enough blank space to accommodate the artist, who instead composed her illustration on a small sheet of paper and attached it to the page with an actual pin, similar to the type of pin used for hemming clothing. All of the margin notes are also in pencil, though there is no telling whether the same hand made them all. It is possible that Levi Pawling, Rebecca Pawling, and Henry Freedley signed their names in ink at the start in order to make bolder and more permanent claims of ownership, while they made margins notes in pencil so as not to overwhelm the text. However, it is also possible that the pencil marks, the words written in the margins, and the sketches that might have been a product of the artistic component of the education of young ladies in the nineteenth century might have all been produced by Mary Pawling, whose name also appears in pencil and in the middle of a text, as if in the midst of reading she suddenly felt the urge to put herself in these pages and test out a signature. The placement of Mary Pawling’s name is more suggestive of usage than ownership.

On these details, I can only speculate, though that speculation itself results in more detail being added to the web of this family’s pattern of association as their names are brought into contact again and again in varying ways and orders. In fact, the speculation greatly expands the web, for now, I can add my own name to the web. Now I have had contact with Levi and Rebecca and Mary and Henry, similar to the way they had contact with each other. The community of readers has expanded, but both includes me and does not include me.

MKG's To Do List (7/10/17)

1 min read

-Sort through END's data about marginalia and figure out which books to call up so I can look at them in person

-Do I want to sort the marginalia into "types"? Like, inscriptions, lots of writing, a little bit, full sentences, fragments, drawings, etc.? (Think about this)

-Watch Totem Pole documentary (https://www.nfb.ca/film/totem_the_return_of_the_gpsgolox_pole/) and look into museum ethics

-Finish Jackson reading and look at Sherman

-Secondary Sources from the Slack

-Look into online annotation services? Should I use hypothesis.io?

-How to present? Should I use Scalar? Or Omeka? What is the difference? What form will this take? Which platform is best for lots of text? Is there a way you can annotate pictures?

Project Proposal III: MKG

5 min read

Reading is sometimes conceptualized as an act of consumption. Writers produce, and readers consume. However, reading is its own form of production in some ways. The text is inanimate until a reader brings it to life in his or her mind, and from the text, the reader is often creating new ideas and answering new questions, set off by something in the work. The difference, then, between reading and writing is that writing leaves a physical trace-- writing produces an object that can be touched. The matter produced by reading is thought, which, for most of us in our daily lives, we cannot display.

Marginalia gets around the problem of these invisible results. Marginalia is a physical representation of the reader’s participation in the production of the work at hand, whether it includes brackets around a section of text the reader felt was important, notes in the margin recording a reaction to the text, or something completely unrelated like a shopping list written inside the cover. These marks serve as proof that this book was owned and used. We often conceptualize writing as a path to immortality, as authors seem to transcend their own times and live now in our present just as they did in the past, but that sort of immortality is accessible to readers as well through their marginalia. A physical trace of the reader carries forward in time, creating a sort of endless community of readers. An eighteenth century reader, a nineteenth century reader, and a twentieth century reader might all live in the pages of one of the books in END’s corpus. But the twenty first century reader has been denied access to that community due to the nature of rare books libraries.

For reasons that are seemingly obvious, rare books libraries do not allow their patrons to go around marking up the books in their collections. Eighteenth century marginalia is valuable to them, but anything added now might be considered vandalism. The libraries preserve these books, but in preserving them, do not allow them to be really read. The books can be looked at, examined, and studied, but not read in the way that they were once read. There appears to be no way around this. If the books are to be preserved, it seems we must be shut off from the community of readers. But why must the books be preserved? Our urge to preserve comes from a sense of the historical value of the books. From the perspective of a historian, they ought to be frozen in time, preserved exactly as they are in order to allow us to see, relatively unobscured, what the original readers were like. But in a purely literary sense, this might be an incorrect approach. Assuming these books are meant to persist is a big assumption. Perhaps books are meant to be used and used and used until they disintegrate into nothingness. We cannot possibly hold onto everything, after all. Perhaps books are like that couch that exists in many a mother’s parlor room-- no one is ever allowed to sit on it, making you wonder why she bought it at all. Perhaps there is more value in building the community of readers and allowing it to grow to include modern readers than in perfectly preserving the past. History is all a matter of representation anyway. What we know about the past may be no less fictional than what we know about Narnia. Why prioritize history over literature?

In this project, I would like to both explore the value of marginalia from both a literary and a historical perspective through an engagement with H.J. Jackson’s arguments in his book Marginalia: Readers Writing in Books, and experiment with different ways for readers to interact with eighteenth century texts. I would like to produce five physical copies of the 1791 novella The History of Laura and the Handsome Hermit and send them out to modern readers with instructions for them to mark up the text, take it with them on their daily travels, and generally live with it… I would also like to produce an electronic copy and have five readers annotate that with a tool such as hypothesis.io, and have five people (probably the END team, if they are willing) read the original in the Reading Room at Kislak and make our notes on separate sheets of paper, marginalia detached from the text. Using these examples of marginalia as case studies, and referring to the END corpus and its records of marginalia present in the books in our collection, I would like to examine and consider the various methods of producing marginalia and the what is lost and gained in each of them, while also considering why some marginalia is treated as a valuable addition to the book and other marginalia is viewed essentially as graffiti.

(Very Rough) Project Outline

2 min read

Question: Does our preservation of these books (and our subsequent granting of immortality to those early readers/marginalia writers) necessarily exclude the possibility for us to join that immortal community of readers? If we preserve them, we can’t really read them. If we read them, we can’t really preserve them… How might we join that immortal community? What is the life span of a book? Are we supposed to preserve it?

Tentative Argument: Compiling marginalia might allow us to join that community-- abstracting marginalia from the page… But does that rob the marginalia of some of its meaning? Its placement is important, I think. And over time, we might accumulate too much marginalia to read. Different people’s marginalia will obscure each other’s writing until it just all looks like smudges on the side of the page. But marginalia has meaning for THAT COPY. It says something about the specific object in which it was found. Marginalia is not necessarily about the text, but it about the book. You can’t pin something into a webpage. BUT you can annotate with a link outwards to something else...

Object of Study/Scope: Marginalia recorded in END metadata, marginalia collected by me-- The History of Laura and the Handsome Hermit… Can I find a copy with marginalia?

Method: Book history/materiality of texts, literary history, literary theory, close reading of marginalia? Is that possible?

Theoretical Framework: Marginalia: Readers Writing in Books by H.J. Jackson, Used Books: Marking Readers in Renaissance England by William Sherman

Stakes: The operational practices of special collections/rare books libraries, the lifespan of books

MKG Project Proposal III

4 min read

The project I propose here has several parts, and thus, several goals. The first goal is the one that has guided my entire process so far: I want people to read these eighteenth century books. These books were not necessarily designed to be studied intensively by people writing dissertations about them, though some were written with moral instruction in mind. Mostly, however, I suspect that they were written to be enjoyed, to entertain, and to teach you a little something about being of good character according to these eighteenth century writers. They were written to be read, and as such, I am torn with regard to my feelings about their preservation in rare books libraries such as Kislak. On one hand, it is thanks to these libraries that the books are preserved and accessible at all. Without such collections, these books might have been lost to history or boxed away in the private collection of someone who owns so many books, they don’t even know what they own. I have Kislak to thank for my interaction with these books. And yet, the fact that they are not in the circulating library stacks means that fewer people might see them. One cannot browse these rare books. You must know what you want to look at in order to call it up and have the person paging retrieve it. They are less accessible to readers than researchers. In a small effort to ameliorate this reservation I have, I will be sending out twenty copies of The History of Laura and the Handsome Hermit to contemporary readers. In order to do this, I will be working with the images uploaded by Alice McGrath and OCR-ing the text in order to create a clean copy that I can manipulate on the computer to change its presentation to a more modern format. After using Abbyy Finereader to OCR the text, I will use Adobe InDesign to reformat it. Once it is formatted, I will print it and create twenty chapbooks to send out to the readers. The second part of the project comes from my readers. When I mail out the chapbooks, I will include instructions to the readers to mark up these books, to live with them, to carry the books around with them for a week and take pictures of any place interesting that they take them. Once they have finished with the book-- ideally this will be a week long bonding experience between the reader and the text-- I will ask them to take pictures of any marginalia they have written into the book and send them to me. With these, I will use Adobe Photoshop to overlay the marginalia and create one master copy full of all of the writings. A small nagging voice still asks me, Why bother? I am physically going to be doing the job of the internet. I could just as easily do this all online, couldn’t I? I could send the readers PDF files and have them download a program that allows you to annotate freely on your screen. I could even make a chain email, with a subject heading full of FWD:FWD:FWD:FWD. Why do I bother with the chapbooks? Why bother with the physicality? I bother with physicality for the sake of the marginalia. Having typed annotations does not allow you to feel the presence of another reader in the way that handwriting does. Handwriting is messy and specific, undoubtedly human. Text on a screen can be written by bots. The readers are the most important part of this project, and as such, it is important that they and their individuality can be felt in the final project.

-Should I send the chapbooks out in batches? -Do I want to make a map? -Should I have them send me a pic/location AND do the marginalia? Is that asking too much? -Should I do something with an email chain to compare it against the physical marginalia? Or is that too complicated?

Project Proposal II: MKG

2 min read

END helps make these eighteenth century novels accessible to researchers, but they are still not necessarily accessible to readers. My primary goal in this project is to essentially “rerelease” an eighteenth century novel in a format familiar to today’s readers-- not the facsimiles found in Hathi trust or the originals themselves cooped up in the library. To accomplish this, in a partnership with Aly, I will select one of the novels in our catalogue, scan, and OCR it and reformat the text so that it resembles a modern novel-- attempting to retain the idiosyncracies of the eighteenth century while accounting for the idiosyncracies of the twenty first. The goal is to put together at least twenty copies of one of these novels and disseminate them, ideally to people from whom we can receive feedback on their reading experience/opinions, allowing the twenty first century audience to participate in the community of readers begun by the eighteenth century audience.

After scanning and OCR-ing the text, we will finish correcting it by hand and then use Adobe InDesign to format our book. We will most likely use photoshop to design a cover, a spine, and back cover. Once we have successfully done that, we will save all of that as a PDF in order to print it on an espresso book machine. With the books printed, I will send them out to 20 readers with the request that they read the book and send me a short review when they have finished it. I will then use those reviews to help cultivate an internet presence for the book by posting them to my website, creating a goodreads record for the book, and potentially engaging in the internet’s fanfiction communities. Essentially this is to be an outreach campaign designed to pique public interest in eighteenth century novels as readable stories, not simply relics of the past.

Project Proposal: MKG

3 min read

Although the Reading Room at the Kislak Center may be one of the more liberal rare books libraries as far as allowing its patrons access and freedom to handle the books, it is undeniably an extremely controlled setting, a fact that immediately raised the issue of accessibility in my mind. Because of the way the system is designed, one cannot really browse the rare books collection. One must go in with a title in mind, often for research purposes. Yet, these books were not truly written for researchers. Many of these works suffer from such low self esteem that they apologize profusely for their own existence before they will even let a reader near the plot. Despite this, however, they were written, and thus one can assume they were written to be read. But sitting in the stacks of the rare books library, hidden away from patrons, who is reading them now? We, with END, are certainly not reading most of them.

Upon having this realization, I grew slightly distressed at the idea that we might be preventing the book from doing its job. These books aren’t reaching their audiences anymore, and as such, for my personal project, I would like to try to make at least one of the books do just that by essentially doing a very limited re-release. Along with Aly, I would like to select a text from these eighteenth century works that is not necessarily academically valuable or skillfully written, but entertaining all the same-- an eighteenth century guilty pleasure book-- and construct it for a modern audience. In the process, Aly and I will scan, upload, and OCR the pages of this book in order to allow us to format them as we wish with a modern audience in mind and add modern paratexts where they are necessary, though I would hesitate to remove any of the eighteenth century paratexts. This project is about adding and building, about participating, not about rewriting or removing. Having formatted the books as we desire, we will construct physical copies. After constructing roughly twenty of them, I will send them out to readers who are not part of a research project such as END, potentially requesting that they read the book and then send me a short review or reflection on the text. If I am able to do that, I will collect the responses and attempt to build up an internet presence for the book, beginning with a Goodreads entry. I would also be very interested in analyzing the responses in a program such as Voyant in order to get a better sense of the contemporary readers’ participation in the community created by the eighteenth century novels.