Welcome to Carnivalesque 103! Carnivalesque is, in its own words, “an interdisciplinary blog carnival dedicated to pre-modern history (to c. 1800 C.E.)” and I’m delighted to play host for this issue.
If you’ve spent any time doing research into the past, you know the frustrations of not being able to find what you’re looking for. If you’re lucky, you’re as smart and interesting as Alun Withey and you can use that experience to strengthen your sense of possibilities. In “The Agony and the Ecstasy: Hunting for 17th-century medics with few sources!” (a post on his eponymous blog), Withey tells us about the difficulties in tracking down early modern Welsh medics. For many reasons, as he explains, it’s hard to pin down specific practitioners, even though he’s quite sure they must have existed. The question, he writes, is “how far the deficiencies of the sources are masking what could well have been a vibrant medical culture. How do you locate people whose work was, by its nature, ephemeral?” Luckily, he rises to the challenge of absent sources: “In a strange way, however, it can also be a liberating experience. I have long found that an open mind works best, followed by a willingness to take any information—however small—and see where it can lead.”
Goran Proot finds similar frustration and opportunity in his efforts to work out what types of books had long publication histories. Given the resources of the Short-Title Catalogue, Netherlands (STCN), it would seem to be an easy matter of searching edition statements to find the works that exist in more than a couple editions. But as Proot explores in a post for the Folger Shakespeare Library’s The Collation, “Steady Sellers,” such a search raises more questions than it answers, starting from the fact that edition statements aren’t always recorded in books and that it’s not always clear that the stated ones are accurate. Why do some books include edition statements and some don’t? What could we learn about genres and publications if we knew more about how steady sellers were marketed?
Sometimes it’s the absence of tools that foils our research. In “Did English spelling variation end in the 1630s?” Samuli Kaislaniemi plays around with a tool from Washington University—Early Modern Print: Text Mining Early Printed English—and notices a huge switch in the usage of i/j and u/v between 1620 and 1640. Wondering why the 1630s was the decade in which those orthographic features became modern, he spends some time exploring the Corpus of Early English Correspondence to see if he can suss out whether this characteristic of print spelling held true in manuscripts as well. Alas, his conclusion is that we’re not ready yet to make any conclusions, at least not without a corpora of accurately transcribed early manuscripts exists. (Fortunately, such a corpora is in the works—EMMO (Early Modern Manuscripts Online) is a project in progress at the Folger that should provide exactly the tools needed to balance EEBO with a manuscript equivalent.)
And sometimes it’s the seeming absence of information that is exactly what we should be looking at. In “Anonymus,” Sjoerd Levelt writes about the function of anonymity in early Dutch works. Building on other work done on author function and anonymous writers, Levelt makes the compelling point that we need to look what is unknown and ask how it can operate both as an indicator of absence and of presence.
If sometimes you can’t find things you’re looking for, sometimes you find things you didn’t know you were looking for. Textile experts might have known that parchment manuscripts were used as linings in dresses, but if you’re like me, this might be news. Nora Wilkinson’s post for the Bodleian’s The Conveyor, “‘Texts and Textiles': Finding Manuscripts in Unusual Places,” is a lovely introduction to the topic, with references for further reading and pictures to show you glimpses of hidden texts.
Researching the past isn’t only about working with the unknown, of course. Sometimes it’s about seeing the surprisingly familiar. Julie Somers’s post on “Listening to the Text: The Medieval Speech Bubble” for Medieval Fragments looks at the use of banderoles to represent speech. There are some lovely examples from 12th-century manuscripts and a great 15th-century printed image with blank bubbles curling around the speakers. And Erik Kwakkel writes about a gorgeous 1692 Dutch book on how to make watercolor paints. “A colourful book” got picked up (as is not unusual for Erik’s posts) by a number of websites attracted to it as a sort of early modern Pantone color guide, showing not only the usefulness of social media but also an apt metaphor.
Nick Poyntz, in “Read a first time,” uses the occasion of some recent bills being read in Parliament to consider the performance of reading a bill and its history. Benjamin Breen, writing for the Paris Review‘s blog, connects a decidedly modern Californian wizard to John Dee and the search for the Northwest Passage in “Wizards of the Coast.” And Rachel Moss, in “Babysitters and Breadwinners: Constructing the Social Role of Fatherhood” on Meny Snoweballes, links medieval representations of caring and invested fathers to today’s debates about parenthood to remind us that there is nothing natural or inevitable about distant dads.
These last posts don’t quite fit into my theme of the unknown and the known, but they’re great reads. In “Fellow’s Find: Annotations in early editions of “Canterbury Tales” show how readers connected with Chaucer’s text” on the Ransom Center’s Cultural Compass, Hope Johnston writes about her research into readers’ marks in the Center’s collection of 36 copies of early printed Chaucer. Shannon Supple, writing for the Clark’s The Clog, tells us that “Sometimes, Books Lie (Part One: Title Pages)” and takes us through a look at John Milton’s Pro populo Anglicano defensio, printed not in London by William Dugud, as the title page states, but in Amsterdam by Louis Elzevier. Her post serves as inspiration for Mitch Fraas at Unique at Penn; “Pittsburgh (i.e. Milan)” looks at an Italian text that claims it was printed in Pittsburgh in 1761.
Finally, it would be impossible to close this edition of Carnivalesque without some mention of the big hoopla when two booksellers announced on April 23rd that they had found a dictionary owned and annotated by William Shakespeare himself. First off the bat is the response from the Folger’s Mike Witmore and Heather Wolfe, who write in The Collation‘s “Buzz or Honey: Shakespeare’s Beehive raises questions” about their skepticism and about the research that would need to be done to verify the booksellers’ claims. Aaron Pratt, in “An Alvearie of Wishful Thinking,” criticizes one specific annotation as an illustration of the dangers of wishful thinking. Andrew Keener provides a bit of context about early dictionaries in “Not Shakespeare’s Beehive? Doesn’t Really Matter“; for more on a different copy of an annotated dictionary, Heather Wolfe points out some great glosses in “Click-clack and crocodile tears: an annotated Elizabethan dictionary“. And Adam Hooks looks at Richard Field and considers what stationers might have to do with it in “Shakespeare’s Beehive and Shakespeare’s Printer.”
That’s it from me. A big thank-you to everyone who sent in submissions. And an extra big thank-you to Sharon Howard, who runs Carnivalesque to all of our benefit. If you enjoy reading these posts, do her and us a favor and consider hosting. It’s fun and informative and the least we can do for all Sharon does for us!