pretty picture penance

It’s been much longer since I’ve written a proper post here than I meant for it to be. In my defense, I’ve been pretty busy over at The Collation, running the show and writing my own contributions. There’s lots of good stuff over there, including a whole world of manuscript exploration that I don’t do here; check out Heather Wolfe’s and Nadia Seiler’s interesting posts if you like that sort of thing (and if you don’t think you do, browse anyway and you’ll learn that you do!). And if you’re looking for advice on using Folger digital resources, like searching Luna and the power of permanent URLs and Mike Poston’s new tool, Impos[i]tor, the tooltips series is for you.

In any case, this post isn’t meant to be an advertisement, but to do a pretty picture penance: sharing some great book images, even if I don’t have the time to talk in any detail about them. So . . .

Voila! This is a lovely blue and red penwork initial letter from an edition of Peter Lombard’s Sententiarum libri IV, printed in Basel in 1482. (Here’s your catalog record; all photos, through cell-phone crapola, can be clicked and embiggened.)

Here’s another initial, where you can see how delicate the penwork is. I love how the details drape down the column of text:

Not all the initials in the text are so fancy. Here’s a nice, albeit plain, red one:

But that’s not the most interesting detail in this photo. Look again. And then look at this one:

And this one:

You know what I’m talking about, right? They’re the impressions left behind by the finding tabs that were once there! If you look again at the three photos, you can see how they line up, each new section marked slightly below the previous one, so that the tabs stick out, all easy to find and to use to jump to the beginning of a section. Here’s a detail from the first tab:

And here’s the verso of that leaf:

You all know how I like it when I see details of physical features of books that are normally hidden:

Because the front board is loose, you can see some of the knots of the sewing structure holding the binding and the book together.

And what else do I love? Details that show something about the printing process:

At first glance, that looks simply like ink bleeding through from the other side of the leaf. But did you notice any bleedthrough on any of the other pages? That’s some heavy-duty paper. No, that isn’t bleedthrough, it’s offset! In the words of John Carter, offset is

The accidental transfer of ink from a printed page or illustration to an adjacent page. This may be caused either from the sheets having been folded, or the book bound, before the ink was properly dry, or from the book being subsequently exposed to damp. Offset from engraved or other plates on to text, and from text on to plates, is commoner, and also much more disfiguring, than offset from text on to text. Text offset occasionally provides valuable bibliographical evidence, since it usually derives from the very earliest stage in the assembly of the printed sheets into a book. And some of the neatest deductions have been made from the offset, not from one page to another of an individual copy, but from the offset on a page of one book from printed sheets belonging to another which happened to be stacked with it at the printer’s.

So there you go, a whole bunch of my favorite things, all in one book!


book history at mla12

Taking inspiration from Mark Sample’s compilation of Digital Humanities sessions at the 2012 Modern Language Association convention, I’ve compiled a list of book history sessions. My method of madness was to skim the session titles and descriptions and note those that seemed to focus on bibliography, print culture, or textual scholarship. I came up with 70 sessions, including my own roundtable. That seemed like too many to be of interest to many of you, so rather than fill your feed, I put together a separate page listing them all. Check out the offerings and let me know if I’ve missed any. You can browse the entire program and, if you’re an MLA member, create your own personalized schedule of sessions you want to visit (it’s a pretty nice set-up, and yet another way in which the MLA does us proud as our scholarly organization).

As a side note, there are not as many jokey and punning titles as there used to be, once upon a time, which I suppose is a good thing. I like a good pun, but enough’s enough. There were, however, entirely too many titles that gave you no idea what a panel was about, not even a general period or theoretical approach. The best title session, without a doubt, is session 29, “Alexander Pope!” Yup. You read that right. “Alexander Pope!” (It also looks like an interesting discussion and format, so kudos to its organizers. If I didn’t have a meeting scheduled for that time, I would definitely go.)

early modern women printers: an Ada Lovelace post

Today is Ada Lovelace Day. Ada Lovelace is often referred to as the first computer programmer, based on her 1842 treatise on Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine; Ada Lovelace Day began in 2009 as a way of increasing the profile of women in Science, Engineering, Technology, and Math (commonly referred to as STEM fields).

I’m not in a STEM field (though I’m the almuna of a college that prides itself on turning out huge numbers of women who are). But you know who we could see as being early STEM pioneers? Printers. Early modern printers were using a new technology that had a radical impact on their world. And you know who we find in printing in early modern London? Women.

Here’s a fun thing to try: search the ESTC‘s publisher field for “widow.” There’s 352 results! Now trying searching for “Elizabeth”: 405 results! Jane? 112!

I do an exercise with my students on using the Stationers’ Register and during the course of tracing one book’s passage through the Register, we come across three different women who printed or published the book. It’s sort of an accident that that’s the book we work with it, but it’s a really effective exercise. My students are always shocked that there are women working as printers in this period. But why is it so shocking?

I suspect that it is, in part, because we have become so used to thinking about the early modern period as being repressive for women. Chaste, silent, and obedient. But that’s an assumption that blinds us to the lives of actual women in early modern England. Women might have been supposed to pass from father’s household to husband’s without ever being subjects in their own right. But if you look at the records, you find women owning property and conducting business. Not just one or two, but handfuls of women. I’m not going to claim that the opposite of “chaste, silent, obedient” is true—women were not by any means empowered or enfranchised—but our blind spots shouldn’t mean that we don’t reconsider our assumptions when we start to see what we’ve been missing. How many of the unnamed printers in imprints are women?

I don’t know very much about the history of women printers in this period, or about female labor, but there’s a book coming out next year that should help me get a better sense of the range of activities: Helen Smith’s “Grossly Material Things”: Women and Book Production in Early Modern England. If you can’t wait that long, you can check out her article in TEXT on the subject. And there are a couple of sites out there to start filling in some gaps: a blog post about the early American printer Dinah Nuthead and an exhibition from the University of Illinois library. The more traces of this history I find, the more I want to learn!

And it matters that we learn these things. It matters that we understand the past as a variegated and nuanced time in part because it enables us to see our own time that way. It matters that we remember Ada Lovelace and Rosalind Crick Franklin and Elizabeth Allde because it matters that they contributed to our knowledge of the world and that we can contribute too.

UPDATE: What a horrible thing to mistype Rosalind Franklin’s name in a post about women pioneers in STEM fields and to give her Francis Crick’s last name instead! I’ve fixed it now. Go read about her and then go read Kate Beaton’s comic in Hark, a vagrant.

today’s post is brought to you by the letters k and e

screensaver from the newest generation Kindle

Do you ever get the feeling that something’s just not quite right, but you’re not sure what it is¿

If you’re curious what the other screensavers are on the new Kindle, scroll through the twenty I snapped. They’ve clearly moved on from the book illustrations and author themes they had in earlier models to writing implements. I’m not sure what larger message I’d want to draw from this, but they’re mostly very pretty. I just wish those turned letters didn’t bother me so much. Is it artsy or just wrong? I’m all for artsiness and playfulness. But I can’t help suspect it’s just wrong, or at least, less about art and more about a fear that people will fail to recognize the “kindle” embedded in the picture.

SQ issue on Shakespeare and performance

I am thrilled to announce that the special issue of Shakespeare Quarterly that I guest edited on Shakespeare and Performance is now finally in print! That issue went through an open peer review at MediaCommons, and I will be writing something more about that process and experience.

But for now, I want to share that there’s some really wonderful, smart, and interesting stuff in the issue and I hope you’ll take a look at it; the issue includes pieces by W.B. Worthen, Ramona Wray, Zeno Ackermann, Mark Thornton Burnett, Daniel L. Keegan, and Todd A. Borlik. Abstracts are online at the Folger and the articles and abstracts will soon (tomorrow!) be are now up at Project Muse for those who have access.

Even more thrillingly, I want to share with you one section to which I have the author’s rights, “Rethinking Academic Reviewing: A Conversation with Michael Dobson, Peter Holland, Katherine Rowe, Christian Billing, and Carolyn Sale.” You can find it linked in this post and in the sidebar on the right.

And, just because I can, here’s my brief introduction to the issue, which I hope will convince you to go check the whole thing out!

Copyright © 2011 Folger Shakespeare Library. This article first appeared in Shakespeare Quarterly, Volume 62, Issue 3, September 2011, pages 307-8.

This special issue of Shakespeare Quarterly presents a wide range of writing on Shakespeare and performance. They look back to early modern understandings of Henry VIII and forward to the growing genre of performances of Shakespeare in prison. They range geographically in interest from South America to Northern Ireland and from Germany to Japan, and they examine performances mediated by print, stage practice, filmic techniques, and modern closed-circuit video surveillance. They consider the ongoing debate about the relationship between literariness and performativity, propose a shift away from hauntings to prophecies, and argue that the act of performance and the recording of performance in our written work shape both our understanding of early modern drama and the relationships we forge with other scholars and communities.

In calling for papers for this special issue we hoped to gauge the present state of the field and announce our intent to make SQ a home for a wider range of writings on Shakespeare and performance. The breadth of responses to that call confirms the continued growth and transformation of  the study of performance and its centrality to the larger world of Shakespeare scholarship. This vitality is further reflected in the depth and intensity of conversation in the comments on our open peer review of submissions.

We are eager to expand beyond the boundaries of what we formerly referred to as “Shakespeare Performed.” This issue’s “Rethinking Academic Reviewing” signals our desire to rethink the subject and practice of reviewing, while the issue as a whole represents other forms of engagement with the issue of Shakespeare and performance that might suggest patterns for future contributions.

A note about the process of putting this issue together: as is now SQ practice, we issued an open call for papers for this special issue. In response to the CFP, we received about twenty-five submissions. Of those we selected the strongest six pieces to put up for an open peer review, held online at MediaCommons. There each piece was commented on by a group of self-selected peer reviewers over a period of six weeks. At the end of the review period, authors revised their essays and resubmitted them to SQ. We are publishing four of those pieces here, along with two other essays that came in to SQ outside of the call for papers and that went through SQ’s usual double-blind review process. We are extremely grateful to Kathleen Fitzpatrick and MediaCommons for being our partners in this. We also want to thank the authors who participated in this open review, which might have felt at times like an overly exposed one. Finally, we wish to acknowledge publicly the readers who took the time to participate and comment in this evaluation. The work of reviewers is often invisible, but in this case, the open nature of the review means that we can thank them by name: Andrew Bonnell, Alex Huang, Anita Hagerman, Carolyn Sale, Thomas Cartelli, Chris Fahrenthold, Christian Billing, Daniel Keegan, Jami Rogers, J.B. Cook, James C. Bulman, Jeremy Lopez, John Gillies, Karl Steel, Katherine Rowe, Linda Charnes, Matt Kozusko, Michael Dobson, Pascale Aebischer, Paul Menzer, Peter Kirwan, Peter Holland, Lois Potter, Romana Wray, Robert Tierney, Todd Borlik, Tom Magill, W. B. Worthen, and Zeno Ackermann.[i]

[i] The essays and comments from the open review are archived at MediaCommons and are able to be viewed at One essay has been taken down since the open review at the author’s behest.