early modern historian is a genius!

Newly named Macarthur Fellow and early modern historian Jacob Soll talks to Marty Moss-Coane on Radio Times on my old favorite radio station, WHYY in Philadelphia. You should listen to it. Soll talks movingly about struggling as a high school student, what we can learn from studying Renaissance accounting, why the intellectual tradition matters, and what libraries mean to him. Pay attention to the story in the last 15 minutes about his encounter with my friend John Pollack, rare book librarian at Penn!

(There’s also a nice video and brief profile of him on the Macarthur site. I’m almost convinced I should retrain as an accountant.) § continue reading

myriad marginalia

This week in class I showed my students (too briefly) one of my favorite books in the Folger’s collections, a 1483 printing by William Caxton of John Gower’s long poem Confessio amantis, written some hundred years earlier. I do not love this book because of its text—if I confess that I’ve never read the poem, will you hold it against me?—nor because of its author. I think it’s pretty cool that it was printed by Caxton, the man who established printing in England, and of course, there’s always kind of a thrill to any incunabula, but that’s not it either. No, I love this book because of the traces of its later owners, traces that interact with the text, traces that are all about the book but not the text, and traces that seem to have nothing to do with anything.

Here’s one set of marks that are fabulous:

leaf g1r

It’s a little hard to see what’s going on, so here’s a detail:

getting rid of the pope

Do you see what the reader has done? § continue reading

why blog once when you can blog twice or even thrice?

A quick update for those of you who have missed my online promotions: I am now in charge of a new blog at work, The Collation: a gathering of scholarship from the Folger Shakespeare Library. It is what it says it is, a blog authored by staff and scholars at the Folger that shares research and resources at the Library in terms that are accessible to the general public and of interest to scholars. If you’re interested in the early modern aspects of what I write here, you’ll like The Collation, too. But it’s not all early modern! We’ll be touching on aspects of librarianship, digital curation, theatre history, and humanities research.

I wrote the introductory post on the word “collation” as well as a later post about my tweeting the @FolgerResearch #wunderkammer series. There are also posts so far from Steve Galbraith, the recently departed Curator of Books, about the Folger’s official count of 82 First Folios and from Erin Blake, the Curator of Art and Special Collections, on a new acquisition of an artists’ book of The Tempest. § continue reading

the serendipity of the unexpected, or, a copy is not an edition

My last post focused on my frustration with the assumption that digitization is primarily about access to text:

But access is not all that digitization can do for us. Why should we limit ourselves to thinking about digital facsimiles as being akin to photographs? Why should we think about these artifacts in terms only of the texts they transmit? Let’s instead think about digitization as a new tool that can do things for us that we wouldn’t be able to see without it. Let’s use digitization not only to access text but to explore the physical artifact.

I spent the remainder of that post brainstorming some suggestions about what digitization might enable other than access to text, and there were some great comments about the ramifications of textualizing the digital that I’m still mulling over. In this post I want to offer some examples of why we might want to look at books rather than digital surrogates as a way of approaching the relationship between digital and physical from another angle. § continue reading

fetishizing books and textualizing the digital

For some time I’ve been perplexed by the way both pro-digitization and pro-book people talk about digitizing books. A crude characterization of the ways in which the two sides depict the argument as having two sides might look like this:

pro-digitization: Look, I can access all these wonderful old materials without leaving my armchair!

pro-book: Those aren’t books; you can’t feel the paper and breathe in their smell!

pro-digitization: But we can create a universal library!

pro-book: You’re not creating a library, you’re destroying libraries!

pro-digitization: Nyah nyah!

pro-book: Pfft!

And there you go. The digitization folks talk about access and the book folks talk about being in the presence of the object. Neither side tends to present a more nuanced sense of how they might each have something to offer the other, or to recognize that there might be other considerations and uses at stake. § continue reading

SAA 2012 seminar description

(If you’re a seminar member looking for the papers, you can find them here.)

As some of you might have seen in the most recent Shakespeare Association of America Bulletin, Pascale Aebischer and I are directing a seminar on non-Shakespearean Drama and Performance. Both of us have a strong interest in shifting away from early modern performance studies’ dominant interest in Shakespeare to thinking about performance in relationship to drama by other early modern and modern playwrights. Since the Bulletin text is so necessarily brief, we thought it might be helpful to share our longer seminar proposal so that folks interested in participating can get a sense of the questions that are driving our seminar.

If you’re looking for an SAA seminar to participate in next year and you’re interested in these questions, please consider ours. We’d be happy to see position papers alongside seminar papers; review essays surveying the field might also be helpful contributions. § continue reading