Carnivalesque 103

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.” Continue reading

carnivalesque 86

Hello, and welcome to Carnivalesque 86, the early modern edition! Step right up for a look at things small and large in the world of early modern blogs.

I’ve been puzzling through the relationship between the fairly new field of big data in the humanities and what might be its opposite, small data, and so many of the posts that caught my attention are ones that are navigating between individual objects and networks of data. One of the objections that I have to big data is that I’m drawn to the ephemeral and the hard-to-measure. In “Early printed book contains rare evidence of medieval spectacles,” The Harry Ransom Center’s Cultural Compass blog takes a look at that trickiest of ephemera, not the object itself but the traces it left behind. The medieval manuscript used as the endpapers to a 1568 printed work show the outline of a pair of medieval glasses. The post, by Micah Erwin, provides a quick history of eyeglasses and some context for how unusual it is to come across such traces. What should we learn from such traces? I’m not sure, but that doesn’t mean it’s not useful.

Sometimes the traces left behind are not of things, but of people and institutions. In “Pew-hopping in St Margaret’s Church,” from the Folger Shakespeare Library’s The Collation, Heather Wolfe (Curator of Manuscripts) and Kathleen Lynch (Executive Director of the Folger Institute) look at a pew chart from around 1600. The chart shows the names of the people who occupied specific pews, including successive holders, with later names written over and obscuring earlier names. With the help of some multi-spectral imaging, some names that hadn’t been visible were revealed. Working with some account books, they begin to suggest some of the stories that lie behind this document, small pieces of data that point to a larger story about societal structure.

You never know what you’re going to find when you’re working with early modern documents. Early Modern John has a lovely post about the bits and bobs he’s come across in his research, things that aren’t going to make it into his thesis but that are nonetheless compelling moments. In “Mountebanks and mounted priests: An International Archives Day post,” EMJ describes finding references to a mountebank and his son selling wares on the Pont Neuf and reflects on the power of that image: “the image of man and boy hard at work on the lord’s day, hanging their crocodile skins, setting out their jars, and preparing to dazzle a crowd – of believers, sceptics, hecklers, passers-by – has stayed with me all week.” The impact that image has on us today is one of the things I find most compelling in small data research: the glimpses of past lives, the daily minutiae of days gone by. I know there’s a big picture out there, but I care about that big picture because of these small moments.

If you’ve been a reader of my blog, you’ll know that one of my favorite places of these small glimpses is in the text and margins of books. We interact with books in such personal ways, and books can travel far and wide across place and time. Alun Withey’s post on “The mystery of ‘Sansom Jones’ – the phantom Welsh doctor” (at the eponymous Dr Alun Withey) tells the story of exploring an early modern manuscript and its authorship and provenance. A twentieth-century annotation describes the book as having belonged to a Sansom Jones, but Withey hasn’t had success in tracking down this person, nor in tracking down any of the sources for the material in the manuscript. It’s a book of medical remedies that appears to date to the early seventeenth century, but who are the people whose names appear in the book? (If you’re looking for confirmation that the past is a different country, by the way, Lisa Smith’s post at Wonders and Marvels on “The Puppy Water and Other Early Modern Canine Recipes” will tell you more than you probably wanted to know about the use of puppies in health remedies.)

But if books are great examples of traces of individual histories, they are undoubtedly equally part of a large network: if texts didn’t circulate, if there weren’t important intersections of commerce and culture, books wouldn’t end up in anyone’s hands. Early Modern News Networks has been sharing some information from a fairly new research project on methods of studying transnational circulation of news and newspapers. In “Rennes and some thoughts about mapping communication networks,” Joad Raymond explores some of the challenges the group is facing in thinking about how to visualize these networks. What are the limitations of maps for these purposes? On the one hand, their man-made features aren’t consistent from one period to the next (country boundaries are notoriously unstable), but using geographical features to locate the networks misrepresents the factors that shaped the circulation of news. This gets at one of the trickiest aspect of thinking in big data terms: how do we determine what differentiates one set of data from another, and how do the tools we choose to explore the data affect what questions we can ask? I know that we face similar challenges in thinking about small data, and I know that adept researchers are aware of the limitations of sets and tools, but this post nicely illustrates some of the problems in thinking about how we represent and work with print networks. (Not connected to my network theme here, but related to the question of circulation and commerce, is “Hans Peter from Langendorf,” a lovely post at The Renaissance Mathematicus about some early Nürnberg printers.)

There are networks of booksellers and buyers in the early modern period; there are networks of booksellers and buyers in the modern period, too. Brooke Palmieri (who blogs at 8vo) and Daryl Green (from St Andrews’ blog, Echoes from the Vault) co-wrote a compelling piece about the benefits of blogging about rare books. In “Bloggers of the World Unite: Rare Book Bloggers and the Links They Build” (cross-posted at their two homes) they write about the benefits of writing public-facing posts about what might seem an esoteric subject (I know you, faithful readers, need no convincing on this part!) and the community that is created through such work. It is, again, a vision of a world of people and things that moves between near and distant, small and large.

Next up, a post that looks at how we teach the next generation of scholars: Michael Ullyot’s “Teaching Hamlet in the Humanities Lab” (at another eponymous blog) describes a course he taught that had undergraduates explore Hamlet with various text mining tools that allow fairly easy explorations of networked information. The post is from a talk he gave at the Renaissance Society of America conference and it gives a good overview of some of the big data work that is being played with out there. If you’re curious about how these tools might be used to help us understand early modern drama, you’ll find lots of leads here. I would love to see a follow-up post that reflects on what sort of work the students ending up doing and how they responded to the tasks set them. Maybe if we ask nicely . . .?

Ullyot actually describes the course as “an introduction to digital methods of reading Shakespeare’s Hamlet — or rather, to the digital methods of provoking, testing, and tweaking their hypotheses about the text.” And I guess I could accept that reading Hamlet meaning working with its text. But Hamlet is more than that: it is its physical incarnation, in the many forms in which it has circulated, from early printed book through post-modern theatrical performance. And digital methods is more than focusing on textual analysis. I’ve written before about some of my hesitations about digital tools and what they aren’t yet offering the study of early modern books. I haven’t yet worked through what I imagine an explicitly small-data approach to humanities might offer us, but that articulates some of where I’m coming from.

I’m going to going to give Adam Hooks the last word, since he’ll bring us back to small data and what it tells us about the larger world. In his most recent post at Anchora, “Breaking Shakespeare Apart,” he writes compelling about the value of thinking about Shakespeare in terms of bits and pieces. How much is Shakespeare actually Shakespeare when the great book that we fetishize is made up of bits and pieces that come apart and get put back together again?

Thanks to all of the great writers whose posts are featured here; I learned a great deal from each of them, and from the many other wonderful early modern posts that I didn’t include here. It’s a privilege to be part of this network, large and small!


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. Upcoming posts will introduce some of the Library’s digital resources, feature key staff members, highlight items in our collections, and focus on academic programs at the Library. I am, of course, not neutral about this, since it was my brainchild and I’m now spearheading the effort. But if this sounds like the sort of thing that might tickle your fancy, I hope you’ll check The Collation out. There will be posts twice a week and we’ll do our best to entertain and educate you!

I hope that this won’t slow me down more on the slow schedule I’m already posting over here. Some of what I might write here will end up over at The Collation. (There’ll be a post in the next few weeks on a mid-sixteenth-century printer’s specimen sheet, for instance.) But I’ll continue to blog here, too, especially because I have greater flexibility to indulge in my sassiness when I’m not at work and because there’s so much more that I need to spout off about than early modern books!

In the meantime, if you can’t get enough of my craziness, I’m also writing over at The Idler, doing a column on Netflix Instant with Tim Carmody and Sarah Pavis and a rotating cast of other characters. I’m up once a month, on Wednesdays–I think I’m the third Wednesday of the month. It’s got nothing to do with books or libraries and it’s good fun. My first piece was on why Paul Newman is hot. I’m not sure why that’s a question anyone would ask–who cares WHY he’s hot, he’s Paul  Newman!!–but it gave me an excuse to catch up on some of his early movies I’d missed. Tim definitely brings the smart to “In the Queue” and Sarah brings the funny. I haven’t figured out my niche yet, but I like to think of myself as the one who connived to get everyone else to provide movie recommendations for my enjoyment.

More soon from me here. I’m thinking about starting an iPad app review series focused on early modern and library stuff, so stay tuned!

UPDATE: commenting problems FIXED!

UPDATE: w00t! I think I’ve now solved the commenting glitch by returning to the hideous pop-out comments as opposed to embedded comments. The important thing is not the beauty of the design but that you can share your wisdom with me! So please do!

You can ignore what follows, except that if you find you are having problems, please email me at the address given below so that I can try to fix it!

I think the blogging powers that be are angry with me for being a once-a-month poster! But whatever the reason, there’s some sort of bug affecting the ability for some of you to sign in and leave comments. Of course this happens when I’ve specifically asked for your feedback! I’m working on solving the problem–if any of you bloggers have had this happen to you, I’d be happen to hear your thoughts on how to fix it.

I’m reluctant to open up comments to all and sundry anonymous folks, but I do want to know what you want to add to the top ten list. So, please feel free to email me at wynken DOT blog AT gmail DOT com with your suggestions or tweet them to @wynkenhimself.

In the meantime, I’ll make some sacrifices to the blogging powers (old mice? flash drives? the aroma of freshly minted e-books?) and will let you know when everything is up and running again!

Why I blog, or, Why you should blog

Not only have I not posted in nearly a month (sorry!), I’ve missed my own blogiversary! That’s right, Wynken de Worde has been up and running for over a year now, which in blog years might mean we’ve hit cranky adolescence. Because this is a celebration, I’ll try to keep the crankiness to a minimum, although some of it is to my point.

I started this blog largely because I wanted to be able to direct students toward an example of what studying “early modern book history” might entail. In order to get students into my courses, I have to reach out to them and get them excited enough that they want to apply for it. I can’t always rely on their teachers conveying what it is that they might get out of the experience of studying rare books, but I can get some of that across by sending them to a blog. (This is where the generation gap starts to come in, with some colleagues saying “hunh?” and some students already, I suspect, wondering if blogs are already been-there-done-that.) I really hadn’t thought through what my intentions or much else beyond that.

Here are some of the things that I’ve discovered as I’ve figured this thing out:

1) Whoo-hoo this is fun! One of the best compliments I’ve gotten about this blog is when a early modern professor friend told me that he liked it in part because it really sounded like I was enjoying myself. The funness aspect has in part to do with the genre (I would never say “funness” in my other forms of academic writing!). It has something, too, to do with the fact that I blog about a subject that is still relatively new to me. One of the great joys of starting a new field years after researching another field is that there’s really not a lot of pressure to make big discoveries or to formulate big theories or arguments. I don’t mean to say that I don’t make arguments about books, or reading, or editing, or any of those other things. But trust me, if this was a blog about writing about Shakespeare and performance, I’d feel much less permission to do a post that says, essentially, “Isn’t this neat?” Remember those embroidered bindings and the Folger and BL versions of the same pattern of David and Goliath? How cool was that?! Or those pointing fingers? Those were pretty neat, right? It’s not that there is more funness with books than with performance, just that I’m more aware of it since my intended audience is not other people with books on this subject, but those who think it’s cool.

2) People read this thing! I realize this sounds obvious, but it’s true. I hadn’t really thought much about the blogging community or about who might be reading the blog aside from the potential students who would be coming this way. As it turns out, potential students do read this thing, if only to coach themselves for their application essay. But so do people I’ve never met. Some of you are other book historians, some of you are book collectors, some of you are librarians. Some of you are friends of mine, which skews you towards being former grad students, if not current faculty of something at somewhere. Some of you are people who have blogs that I now read. The vast majority of you are utterly unknown to me, and I’m especially grateful for your comments and links and attention. You’re not reading this because you have to, or because you know me, but because there is something in this subject matter of books and/or early modern culture that speaks to you. And that thrills both the nerd and the educator in me.

3) (Warning: this is where I start to get both cranky and ultra-earnest, a truly adolescent combination.) There are some great early modern blogs out there. But there are not nearly enough! You can see my sidebar for some of my favorite early modern and bookish blogs. I love the ones that teach me something new, or that make me care about something it might not have cared about before. There are some great blogs out there, on all sorts of subjects, that do exactly these things. But when I hosted the early modern Carnivalesque a few months back, and was trolling through the blogosphere looking for posts to include, I began to realize what I had previously been reluctant to conclude: blogs on early modern literature that meet these criteria seem to be few and far between. I came across a bunch of history blogs, and lots of medieval blogs, and oh-so-many blogs about academic life. But where was the blogger writing about teaching Paradise Lost? The excitement of Jacobean revenge tragedies? The struggle to recover early modern women’s writing? The costs of the pressure to study Shakespeare over almost all other early modern English writers?

I’m just coming up with topics off the top of my head–almost anything could make a compelling post about early modern literature. The problem isn’t that the subject matter doesn’t lend itself to a post, it’s a larger failure to understand what we have to gain from blogging about it.

Over the years there’s been a fair amount of conversation about the worthiness of blogging. Some disparage it as a bad move professionally, especially for job seekers; some defend it. Outside of academia, it has been seen as the redemption of journalism (Andrew Sullivan’s post on Why I Blog is a nice example of someone touting the power of an immediate connection to readers in a way that print can’t replicate). There are countless stories about how blogging can be your key to fame and fortune (the New York Times’s recent story on the disillusionment of blogging serves as counter-example).

All of those stories are beside the point for my purposes. You will not become rich and famous blogging about early modern books. You will not save journalism from its current state of disrepair. You will not get yourself an exciting new job.

But you can do something important: you can help people understand why it matters. Why do we read these old books? Why do we study old things? What can we learn from events that happened nearly half a millennium ago? Why should we care about lives that are long long over? I have answers to these questions. And I bet you do, too. If you didn’t, you wouldn’t be studying what you study, teaching what you teach, doing what you do. Show me a librarian who doesn’t care about books and information and I’ll show you a pig flying over the moon.

Here’s my point: Early modern stuff matters. Books matter. The humanities matter. In a time when money is scarce and stupid ideas about universities and the humanities are flying about like nobody’s business, we should be speaking up and making the case for the value of reading and teaching and thinking. You can do this in a blog. See my points above–it’s fun, and not only will people read what you write, they will be people with whom you might not otherwise get to converse. (Seriously. I’ve gotten more feedback on this blog than I have on the last article I wrote.)

Forget writing about the horrors of your graduate exams or complaining about your colleagues and administrators. Don’t write about your research in terms that only other specialists can understand. Push your boundaries beyond pictures of your pets and garden and latest vacation. Tell me about the research and teaching that excites you. Tell me about the latest book that you read. Tell me something that will teach me something new and make me think about something differently. Please. I don’t know that I really achieve these grandiose aims in my posts. But I try to. That’s why I blog. And that’s why I’d like to see you blog, too.

Thanks for sharing my blogiversary, folks! And many, many thanks for reading. I’ll be back soon, with pictures and words on early modern books, and lots of funness, I promise.

Carnivalesque 48

Welcome, one and all, to Carnivalesque 48, the early modern edition!

As should come as no surprise, some of the most interesting posts on early modern studies in the last few months have come from two sources. Both Mercurius Politicus (written by Nick Poyntz) and diapsalmata (Whitney Anne Trettien) routinely have fabulous posts; I’ll single out a couple here, but really, their blogs are worth reading regularly. Mercurius’s Killing Noe Murder discusses Edward Sexby’s 1648 pamphlet justifying the murder of Cromwell; part of Nick’s concern is the production and distribution of the pamphlet, a theme he takes up in a broader examination of the rise of newsbooks in The Great Game.

There is some more material book history over at diapsalmata, where Whitney has been looking at the practice of cut-ups in a series of posts. The first draws connections between early modern commonplacing, Dada cut-ups, and digital poetry–a great synthesis of material reading and writing practices across the centuries. There are also recent posts on the Little Gidding “harmonies” and the function of manicules in early printed books that are beautifully illustrated and elucidatory.

I’m not done with book history yet: bookn3rd looks at the history of anatomy illustrations and BibliOdyssey reproduces some illustrations of early machine technology from Heinrich Zeising’s 1612 Theatri Machinarum–read through the post comments for further information on Zeising, and notice the illustration of the printing press.

The Scriblerus Memoirs writes about reading Paradise Lost while thinking about Google, and comes up with some observations about searching and knowledge, and angels and algorithms. At Early Modern Whale, Roy Booth has been thinking about murder and comes up with The awful plot again Curate Trat. Over at Parezco y digo, Chad Black’s thoughts about etymology and sodomy lead to a thoughtful exploration of gender and sexuality and its linguistic markers in eighteenth-century Latin America.

A few libraries have started blogs to highlight their collections, and there’s been some great stuff showing up. The Wellcome Library’s post on “The Tribulations of Father Bernardo” is a great discussion of the seventeenth century Genoese painter Bernardo Strozzi. Yale’s Beinecke Library has a blog devoted to our period; many times those posts simply feature images of works, but this one not only shows but discusses a mid-seventeenth century commonplace book including Donne poems. The Beinecke is also behind this word-a-day blog of Dr Johnson’s Dictionary–not only will you expand your vocabulary, you’ll see Johnson’s annotations to the first edition as he prepared for the fourth edition. Never has encyclopedia seemed more fitting. Yale is also home to the Yale Law Library, which has its own blog that features, on occasion, early modern materials; here is a series of posts about their collection of early Italian statutes.

There’s been some great blogging around book reviews in the last month or so, too. At In the Middle, a group blog for medieval studies, Karl Steel reviews James Simpson’s early modern focused Burning to Read: English Fundamentalism and its Reformation Opponents, succeeding not only in a thoughtful response to Simpson’s book but in starting a smart discussion in the post’s comments.

Judith Bennett’s History Matters: Feminism and the Challenge of the Patriarchy is the subject of a roundtable discussion by a series of feminist historians, with each post touching on some important questions about what it means to be a historian, what it means to be a feminist, and what it means for the two to intersect. The first discussion is hosted by Notorious PhD; the second by Historiann (don’t miss her follow-up in which she expounds on why “Lawrence Stone is a tool”); and the third discussion is hosted by Tenured Radical. Part 4 will appear at Another Damned Medievalist on March 23, and the final part will feature Bennett herself at Notorious PhD.

I realize, by the way, that this is a medieval-heavy cast of characters, but the discussion is certainly relevant for our period, too. If you’re aching for some meta-discussion about the implications of history and labels by someone based in the early modern period, check out the thoughts of Chronologi Cogitationes on what it means to do “maritime history.”

But let’s leave things on a lighter, more popular note. Some of you might have noticed some talk about a discovery of a painting of someone. But who? Shakespeare? Overbury? Stanley Wells says it’s Shakespeare, but he’s almost the only one. Mr Shakespeare’s blog gives an overview (and lots of links, including the huge discussion at the New York Times blog, The Lede) but withholds judgment; Adam Gopnik, blogging for the New Yorker, is thoroughly unconvinced.

Many thanks to all of you who submitted nominations, and particular thanks to these great bloggers who made doing this so much fun. Happy reading!

Update: Mr Shakespeare’s blog posted this latest yesterday, with greater skepticism about the portrait, summarizing and linking to articles recounting the doubts of National Portrait Gallery curator Tarnya Cooper about the portrait as being of Shakespeare and providing some insight into why we should be happy to have a newly discovered portrait of Thomas Overbury.