disembodying the past to preserve it

What follows is a keynote I gave at the Digital Preservation 2013 conference on July 23, 2013. If you’re curious, there’s a video up of the talk and the Q & A as well and a pdf of the slides I showed (some of which vary from what I’ve shown here).

“Disembodying the past to preserve it”

I am, as you’ve heard, not someone who focuses on issues of digital preservation. I’m a book historian and performance scholar who works at a cultural heritage organization that is focused on the preservation and exploration of centuries-old objects. I think about the digital and preservation from the perspective of someone who studies the past and seeks new ways to make it accessible to scholars and the public.

So since I spend a lot of time thinking about the history of books and since so many people see the rise of the digital heralding the end of print, I thought I would start off by looking back at the earliest surviving instances of moveable type in the West.  § continue reading

multivalent print, or, learning to love ambiguity in three easy lessons

Below are the slides for and the approximate text of a talk I gave at the 2013 MLA convention as part of a panel on “Convergent Histories of the Book: From Manuscript to Digital” organized by Alex Mueller and Mike Johnston. I spoke ex tempore, so my text here won’t precisely line up with what I said at the MLA, but the gist should be the same. I’ve indicated where the slide changes are and after each change have inserted a footnote linking to source and, where available, a link to the image. I’ve also indicated my indebtedness to other scholars, particularly Jeffrey Todd Knight and Adam Smyth, in the notes.

I want to talk today about how early print complicates any trajectory from manuscript to digital, focusing on some common mistaken assumptions that are made about early print. The first assumption we make is that print replaced manuscript, that once the printing press was invented, writing by hand withered away. § continue reading


june catch-up

Hi, all. Some online book-history-related tidbits you might be interested in: 1) The Folger Bindings Image Collection is now up and running and is gorgeous and full of tasty metadata to help you find what you’re looking for! 2) Jen Howard asked a great question about looking for readings about reading and the results are now being collected in a Zotero library. Please add your suggestions. 3) The talk that I posted here led to a great conversation with Glenn Fleishman, who wrote it up for The Economist’s Babbage blog! (a bit of horn self-tooting there, sorry, but it was pretty exciting in what has otherwise been a glum stretch of time)

And this is a heads’ up and a plea: I’m hosting the next early modern edition of Carnivalesque at the end of the month, so I’m eager for your recommendations for great blog posts. There’s a handy web form for you to use and I welcome your own moments of self-promotion, so there’s no reason not to recommend away. § continue reading

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. § continue reading

an armorial binding mystery

Another book from my students’ projects, this one with a curious binding:

At first glance, what you might see is an armorial binding: a binding in which an owner has stamped his arms in gold tooling. No big deal, really; there are plenty of books like those in libraries. But this one is more complicated: there are TWO coats of arms, one stamped on top of the other. Here’s a close-up of the center of the binding, where the arms are:

And here’s the picture again with one of the two arms outlined:
A close-up of the top portion, in which you can see that there are two crowns juxtaposed and the heads of two faintly visible supporters:
Looked at in raking light, you can see that the supporter on the right looks like an antlered stag:

And the supporter on the left looks like a horse:

I can’t make out the details of the arms themselves, but you can see the motto on which the supporters are standing:

My student deciphered it as “fidei coticula crux” and that looks right to me. § continue reading

O rare!

I’ve been looking at another book that a student was working on. It’s unprepossessing on the outside, just a small, worn brown leather binding, with the remains of ties that have long since disappeared. But the book is much more interesting on the inside. Take a gander at some of the photos I snapped (I did these with my cell phone, so they’re not super high quality, but they’re not too bad either):

The whole book is like this, covered with marginalia. There are manicules, trefoils, asterisks, notes more and less extensive. It’s a seriously used book.

And do you know who used this book so seriously? He inscribed his name right there on the title page:

O rare Ben Jonson! And while Jonson’s book when he used it might seem unprepossessing, later owners certainly valued it for its association and house it accordingly, in its own locked box.
There’s much more to be said about Jonson and his books but I wanted to get these pictures up before they burned a hole in my pocket. § continue reading