my syllabus is a quarto

As some of you know, I am the queen of folding exercises. It’s the only way to understand early modern book formats, and I like puttering around coming up with better ways to demonstrate this to my students and even to my blog readers (see here and, most recently, here). Because it’s that time of year when I get my syllabus in order and because, thanks to my week at Rare Book School’s Introduction to the Principles of Bibliographical Description, I have format on my brain, it suddenly dawned on me that instead of just handing out my one-sheet syllabus (the bulk of my syllabus is online), I could hand it out as a folding exercise!

And so, after much fiddling with Word (which really isn’t the right tool for this sort of thing), I have at long last produced my syllabus in quarto format!

I’m pretty crazily excited about this. I didn’t number the pages of the syllabus, because that would be giving the game away, but I did try to include lots of hints to figure out what order the pages go in: there are signature marks on the second and third leaves, lots of numbered sequences, and a clear title page. I’ll let you know how it goes in class. I had fun, if nothing else, but I think it might help us start a semester-long conversation about the physical properties of texts.

If you want to examine it more closely, a pdf of it is here; just print as double-sided to try it out yourself. And if you want to make your own quarto syllabus (or quarto text), I made up a Word template that will make it a bit easier for you. Take it, use it, and have fun folding!


link catchup

Hi all—I’ve been so busy writing elsewhere that I haven’t kept up here. *sorry* But some links to some of that book history goodness in case you missed out:

At The Collation I wrote a whole lot of posts, but there are two recent ones that are exactly the sort of thing I would have written about here if I wasn’t trying to shore up content over there. The first is “Learning from mistakes,” about how much I love finding printer’s errors in early books and what we can learn from their mistakes. Check out the comments, please, to help me understand what’s going on in the 1641 pamphlet that I end the post with and why Wing drives me nuts! The second post, just up a few hours ago, is “Correcting mistakes,” and it picks up from the previous post to consider how early modern printers tried to fix their errors and how readers didn’t always heed their corrections. Don’t tell those Collation people (especially that cranky editor SW) but I think there’s going to be a third in the series looking more closely at how readers respond to errors in books.

I also put together a course site for my Folger seminar on “Books and Early Modern Culture.” The syllabus is there, including the assignment descriptions. Only class members can access the readings themselves, but there’s also a page listing a whole lot of open-access resources for studying early modern book history. I even put together a list of all the books my students have studied over the years, and wrote about that collection at The Collation as well as a post about the experience of two students working with different copies of the same book.

DIY newsbook

No, I don’t mean it’s time to write your own news sheet newsbook. It’s time to fold your ownnewsbook! Why would you want to do this? Well, for one thing, it’s a handy way to understand and demonstrate to others the general principle of early modern format: multiple pages are printed onto a single sheet in the correct order so that when folded, they appear sequentially. It’s like magic! Or, um, folding.

Above is a numbered example of the same newsbook that I used as an image in my last post. The red numbers are page numbers: folded in the right way, you’d get an 8-page booklet in the order indicated. But if you look closely, you’ll see that the actual news sheet doesn’t have page numbers. Instead, there are signatures: at the bottom of the first page is a tiny, blotted “L”; at the bottom of the 5th page is a tiny “L3″ (the “L2″ has been cut off at some point when the page was trimmed). These are signature marks that count off by leaves. What’s a leaf, you ask? It’s a physical unit of paper: when you turn the page in a book, you are actually turning a leaf of paper. Early modern printers would have thought in terms of sheets and leaves, not pages, when they were figuring out how to print a work. Depending on the imposition (how the text is laid out on the sheet), you could end up with different numbers of leaves: 1, 2, 4, 8, 12, 16, 24. A quarto imposition results in a sheet of paper being turned into 4 leaves; there are 2 pages to each leaf (a recto side and a verso side), so there are 8 pages in all. The blue letters and numbers show the signatures. One thing that throws off beginners is understanding how recto and verso relate to each other. They do not mean right and left but front and back. When this pamphlet is open so that the 5th page is on the right-hand side of the opening, and the 4th page is on the left-hand side, the 5th page is the recto side of the third leaf in this gathering (L5r, for short), and the 4th page is the verso side of the second leaf in this gathering (L4v). Gatherings are numbered (well, lettered) in order so that the printed sheets of paper can be assembled in the right order in the final book. This is the “L” gathering, and it would be preceded by the “K” gathering and followed by the “M.” Once you start thinking in terms of leaves and gatherings, which are the units that are most helpful for printers, rather than pages, which are primarily useful for readers, it’s pretty easy to keep it all straight.

You can follow this link and print off the two images as a single sheet of paper (or print separately, of course, and then run them through a copier to make it two-sided) and practice folding it as a quarto yourself. When you’re done, you can try folding it into a tiny little pressman’s cap, following the instructions that appear in this lovely piece, “The Newspaper Man is Defunct,” from The Cape Cod today.

By the way, my syllabus is now done(ish) and can be found online in pdf form.

Correction: The spelling of recto has been changed to reflect its actual spelling. Oops.
Correction 2: I have corrected my usage of “news sheet” to reflect the more accurate term “newsbook” throughout the post. See the comments below for an explanation of the difference between the two!

building a syallabus for early modern book history

I’ve spent a good portion of my summer thinking about how to revise my syllabus for the early modern book history seminar I teach. This fall will be the sixth time I’ve taught this course, and while it’s been working well, it’s also time to shake it up a bit. Too much familiarity with the material doesn’t breed contempt, but it can lead to a complacency. I’ve been browsing in the stacks, reading new finds, and thinking about what I want students to learn and how best to achieve that.

There are some key factors that shape how I approach teaching this course. First, it’s a multi-disciplinary course, drawing students from different majors, primarily English and History, but also French, Art History, Theology, and Music. Because it’s important that all these students feel welcome in and learn from this course, it cannot be too oriented toward any single subject. On the other hand, it is a course at the Folger Shakespeare Library and one that draws on the strengths of the Library’s collections; that means that the focus of the course is explicitly early modern, concentrating on the last fifteenth century through the end of the seventeenth. The last major consideration in shaping this course is that its purpose is to provide students an opportunity to do hands-on research with rare materials.

Rather than moving through the period chronologically, or through some haphazard thematic pile-up, I decided from the course’s first incarnation to foreground the methodological differences in thinking about books and their histories. The syllabus is organized in three units: the first considers books as physical objects, the second studies the relationships between books and culture, and the third explores books as vehicle for texts. (Actually, because it appeals to my corny sense of humor, the syllabus isn’t divided into units but volumes, along with a preface and an introduction; there are actually also some interludes, but I really need to find a book-centric metaphor for those.) In many ways, these approaches sync up with disciplinary interests: analytical bibliography, history, and textual studies. Leslie Howsam’s great book on Old Books and New Histories: An Orientation to Studies in Book and Print Culture is tremendously useful in thinking through the disciplinary orientations of the field which is, after all, a big mash-up of approaches and histories. To a large degree these separate frameworks are fictional: you can’t think about books and culture without knowing something about the process of making a book, nor the other way around. But dividing the syllabus this way keeps the issue of how we think about books front and center, an especially useful tactic when we are also trying to think about how we are not thinking about books.

That tactic is only useful if students are aware of it, so we begin the course with a session that explicitly asks, “What is the history of books?” It features Robert Darnton’s classic essay, of course, along with some D.F. McKenzie and Roger Chartier, with the three selections bearing the burden of tracing the different ways in which we might approach the field. The next session on incunabula gives students a way to start thinking about the approaches in larger terms before we get down to the nitty gritty of how books were made. We only spend a couple of weeks on this, focusing mostly on the big points: different formats and impositions, the practice of casting off and setting type, recognizing chain lines and watermarks, and differentiating between woodcuts and engravings. (Those of you in the field will recognize the quarto imposition in the image at the top of this post.) I’m not always sure how much time to devote to this. Some semesters it feels like we’re spending too long (or at least, too long reading Gaskell, which is a bit of a slog and is often overkill, but is still the best thing for what I want them to learn). Other semesters it feels like we’re racing through this section too fast. But if we spend longer on the physical book, that cuts into the time we have to think about books in other ways; if we spend less time, they don’t know enough about the process of making books in order to ask important questions later on.

The second volume of the class moves from the physical making of books to the book trade and intersectionsbetween books, printing, culture, and economics. I structure it roughly around the roles of makers and users: we look at the role of printers and the Stationers Company, think about the creation and deployment of authors, and the use of books by readers and libraries. This has been the trickiest part of the syllabus to set–so many possibilities, so little time! This year I’m really looking forward to using Andrew Pettegree’s new book, The Book in the Renaissance, which talks about books in exactly the right sort of blended approach and complexity for my purposes. I’m really loving this book, and it’s been getting some great reviews: it’s both smart and accessible and even if you’re not a student in a book history course, it’s well worth reading. Also, look at that beautiful cover! Other key readings come from Zachary Lesser’s Renaissance Drama and the Politics of Publication, Bill Sherman’s Used Books, and Ann Blair (I’m really looking forward to the arrival this fall of her new book, Too Much to Know, which, like Pettegree’s book, is coming out from Yale and, also like his, is priced at a reasonable $45 for a hardcover). There’s also some more Chartier and Darnton, mixed in with a small dose of Foucault and de Certeau, of course. The real payoff of this section, however, comes in the interplay of the readings with the students’ research projects: the readings model different ways of thinking about the questions being raised, but the work is in making those questions and approaches useful when working with the book in hand.

The course wraps up with a couple of weeks thinking about how the material forms of books affect the transmission and reception of textual meaning. We go back to questions of printing, but this is really the textual scholarship showdown: what does an editor do? I like Robert Hume’s piece on “The Aims and Uses of ‘Textual Studies'” (PBSA June 2005) to start students thinking about what makes a ‘good’ edition, and I’m very fond of Random Clod’s “Information upon Information” (TEXT 1991), which is smart and funny and outrageous. We combine those readings with a lot of looking at different examples of editing, from the more typical to the more crazy (the Middleton Collected Works is chock full of different and provocative editorial practices–and there’s now a paperback edition for only $40!).

After having spent the summer thinking about how to shake up the syllabus, I’ve come right back to where I started: the structure of the course is still the best way to go about doing what I want to do. I’ve tweaked some of the readings, and I’m looking for a different set of rare materials to bring into the classroom to help us put the readings into action. But I’m actually pretty happy with how we’re going about things.

There is one place that I would like to make changes, and that’s in the interludes or case studies. In the second half of the course, we have a couple of sessions devoted to single topics that let us bring together all three legs of our book study triangle. In the past, we’ve had one class devoted to Bibles and one class devoted to Shakespeare. Both work really well for thinking about how the materiality of books shape the reception and use of texts and interact with the cultural forces at play and being generated. Plus, both give me a chance to bring some lovely books into the classroom. (And, given my training as a Shakespearean and as a performance scholar, it’s fun to have a class to talk about those books and about the interplay between performance and print.) The downside, as I see it, is that both draw on ideas of The Book in ways that don’t displace what is already a tendency in the class and in the field: to think in terms of books rather than other printed objects. I try to talk about this in class frequently: books are just one of the things that made up the printed output in the early modern period. Broadsheets, indulgences, and almanacks, for instance, are just some of the things that were as important as books–as Peter Stallybrass and others have pointed out, it’s the printing of these ephemera that sustained early printers, not the big books that we now value. I could do a class on newssheets, and am considering that, although given my comparative unfamiliarity with that world, it does make me a bit nervous. I’m also considering focusing on some more utilitarian books instead, like school books, perhaps.

There are two other qualifications for this syllabus, which I recognize, but they remain. The first is that this really is a print-centered course. It doesn’t reflect my own sense of the ways in which manuscript and print coexisted in the period and influenced each other. Part of my reluctance to bring manuscripts in has to do with teaching students paleography; as it is, I spend an hour or so doing a quick-and-dirty introduction to basic secretary hand and mixed italic. (Okay, it’s not dirty; we read a letter from Henry Cavendish to his mother, Bess of Hardwick.) I also don’t want to open up the focus of the class too far, or to start worrying about handling manuscripts. I do try to bring in ideas of manuscript culture in other ways, but it isn’t a regular feature of the course.

The other qualification is how England-centric the class is. One of the reasons I’m pleased about having Pettegree’s book to work with is that it really encompasses a much wider range of print practices. But the fact is, most of my students are working on English literature or history, and so many of the resources that we have available to us (the STC and the Stationers’ Register, just to name the two biggest ones) are focused on England, thanks to scholars’ long-standing fascination with Shakespeare. I’m not super happy with an England-, or even more accurately, a London-myopia but that’s going to take me a while longer to change.

I’m going to continue tinkering with my syllabus, but since class starts at the end of next week, it will soon have to be done, and then you’ll find it online at the Folger Undergraduate Program‘s homepage. I haven’t talked about what sort of assignments students do, or the kinds of research they’ve done in the past, but there are some posts describing some of those projects, and you’ll find the assignments detailed on the syllabus once it’s up.

In the meantime, a quick word about the image at the top of this post: It’s the front and back of an issue of a 1648 newspaper, The Moderate. If you download the images (follow this link) and print them on the front and back of a regular-sized sheet of paper, you’ll have your very own small-scale newspaper and folding exercise. Have fun!

owning your words

In a Chronicle of Higher Education column, Jennifer Sinor writes about having one of her course syllabi used by a colleague at a different institution, posing the question “Is it plagiarism when a colleague borrows your syllabus and then uses it in its entirety for his own course?” It’s an interesting question. When do you own your words and when are they up for grabs by everyone else? Sinor’s experience suggests to her that although she feels she owns her syllabus, and its appropriation by someone else was plagiarism, the others she talks to are less certain. Her department chair’s response, interestingly, is that she doesn’t own her syllabus: the university does.

As Sinor’s column goes on to discuss, the question of what aspects of a professor’s output are property of their employer and what are their own intellectual property are not entirely straightforward these days. But I’d like to focus not on the specifics of syllabi but on the recognition that we have different types of relationships to the words we use and the writings we create. I’ve commented before on the ways that blogs recycle other blogs as a type of commonplacing–in those cases, a particular writer’s words (and ideas) become akin to common property. It’s usually pretty easy to trace those words back to their source (one of the beautifully simple things about hyperlinks), so I wouldn’t argue that such instances are plagiarism. But they do operate under a different type of ownership than the system by which scholars quote from each other in their articles and books. Are there other types of word ownership circulating today? One other system is that of technical manuals: who is the author of the guides that come with your new cell phone or laptop? It’s certainly not an individual, but the corporation that produced the product. If writer A leaves company X to go work for company Z, A couldn’t reproduce those manuals she wrote at X for Z. (Of course, she wouldn’t want to do that anyway, since Z’s product is certainly not the same as A’s–the written word is so closely tied to the product that it serves more as an extension of that product than as a product in and of itself.)

Some of these other models of word ownership are helpful in thinking about the ways writers did and did not own their words in early modern England. Although there were recognizable writers who had audiences–John Skelton was a name that his audience would associate with a certain type of poetry, for instance–published books were owned by their publisher, not their author. (Even that sentence isn’t quite right, since there were not “publishers” and “authors” in the same way that there are today. More on that in a future post.) When a publisher wanted to print and sell a book, he or she would go down to the Stationer’s Hall and enter that book in the Stationer’s Register. If the rights to print that book did not already belong to another stationer, and if the book wasn’t similar enough to another book that it would impede the other book’s potential to sell, then he could claim the right to print that book himself. The author didn’t figure into the matter.

I haven’t talked at all yet about early modern authors or early modern stationers in this blog. It’s a big and fascinating subject, and one that will come up in future weeks. But for now, I’ll leave you with a few more examples of the myriad questions about authorship and ownership that come up in today’s world.

Sinor, in her column, links to a blog post by Chris Cagle in which he discussed the question of syllabi and plagiarism; he responds to her column by noting that he feels his views were misrepresented by Sinor. The comments to his response raise the issue of whether or not other writers and journalists are responsible for contacting a blog author before citing them: are the blog comments public record?

Sinor also references Malcolm Gladwell’s piece for the New Yorker magazine about plagiarism, “Something Borrowed” in the November 25, 2004 issue. It’s a great piece, taking as its starting point the controversy around Bryony Lavery’s play “Frozen” and accusations that she had lifted the dialogue for its psychiatrist character from a real psychiatrist’s writings. The piece raises another question that I haven’t brought up here: in artistic creations, do the rules about plagiarism work in the same way? You can read Gladwell’s piece through the New Yorker archive. You can also read the piece through Gladwell’s own archive on his website. Does it make a difference where you read it? Is it a different experience reading it as part of a collection of work that is owned by the New Yorker or reading it as a collection of work owned by Gladwell? Does the manner of publication suggest something different about who owns it? Does it change how we read it?

Incidentally, if you are curious about syllabi, you can find the syllabus for my Fall 2007 Folger seminar on “Books and Early Modern Culture” through the navigation links on the Undergraduate Program’s homepage. The Fall 2008 syllabus will soon be posted there as well. And in light of this discussion: the syllabus is something that I designed myself, although elements of its assignments and organization are drawn from the large collection of book history syllabi that circulate via SHARPweb and through friends. I do feel like I own this syllabus. But one of the Folger’s hopes for this new program is that it can serve as a model for other collaborations between research libraries and undergraduate institutions and as a model for teaching book history and research skills to undergrads. It would be hard to be a model–for this program or for any teaching endeavor–if we didn’t share our efforts with our colleagues. Should you use it, please credit my work and the Folger Shakespeare Library.