I’ve been thinking about the social ties that connect us to our scholarship.
Last week I was at the annual Shakespeare Association of America meeting (or #shakeass13, as it was lovingly hashtagged), a conference that I’ve been going to every single year since (have mercy on me) 1994. It’s a great conference, in part because it is organized around seminars: the bulk of the work of the meeting happens in seminars in which participants circulate papers in advance; there are also paper panels, with only two or three happening concurrently. The result is a conference with a lot of room for active participation and common conversations. It’s invigorating, and that’s one of the reasons I keep returning.
Another reason is that I have a huge number of friends and colleagues that I only ever see at SAA. I’ve been going for a long time, I keep meeting more and more people, and while I’m lucky to work at a place that has a lot of Shakespeareans passing through, most of my friends I only see at conferences. § continue reading →
My last post focused on my frustration with the assumption that digitization is primarily about access to text:
But access is not all that digitization can do for us. Why should we limit ourselves to thinking about digital facsimiles as being akin to photographs? Why should we think about these artifacts in terms only of the texts they transmit? Let’s instead think about digitization as a new tool that can do things for us that we wouldn’t be able to see without it. Let’s use digitization not only to access text but to explore the physical artifact.
I spent the remainder of that post brainstorming some suggestions about what digitization might enable other than access to text, and there were some great comments about the ramifications of textualizing the digital that I’m still mulling over. In this post I want to offer some examples of why we might want to look at books rather than digital surrogates as a way of approaching the relationship between digital and physical from another angle. § continue reading →
When Barack Obama is sworn in as the 44th President of the United States, he will be using the same Bible that Abraham Lincoln used at his first inauguration in 1861. Much has been made of the symbolism of the moment, and of the many connections between the two men from Illinois, the one who freed the slaves and the one who will be our first African-American President.
The physical presence of Lincoln’s Bible is key to making that connection explicit. It’s not a physically imposing bible, as you can see from pictures. It’s easily held, bound in burgundy velvet with gilt edges.
What I find the most interesting about it is that although it holds a great deal of significance to us, it did not for Lincoln. Lincoln’s own family Bible was still en route to Washington with the rest of his belongings, so Supreme Court Clerk William Thomas Carroll purchased this Bible for the swearing-in ceremony. § continue reading →
A friend shared a recent article with me from Der Spiegel that touches directly on the subject of books and owners and their emotional and historical connections. The piece, “Retracing the Nazi Book Theft,” examines the legacy of the Holocaust for German libraries: thousands of books that were stolen from Jewish owners and that remain in the collections of German libraries.
This photo (from the article) is of Detlaf Bockenkamm, a curator at Berlin’s Central and State Library who been tracing the former owners of books stolen by the Nazis. Here he is standing with some of those books, part of the Accession J section, consisting of more than 1000 books acquired by the Nazis “from the private libraries of evacuated Jews” and then integrated into the Library’s collection.
Just as paintings were systematically taken and claimed by the Nazis, so too were books and other cultural and valuable items. § continue reading →
My recent posts have been focusing on books that have been handed down from one generation to the next, books that allow us to see evidence of the social transactions of books and the links they forge between family members. But we wouldn’t be able to see that evidence if the books themselves weren’t in such good shape to begin with.
The photo above is of one of my favorite books, and I mean that in a very material sense, not a textual sense: I love this particular book because it was my father’s when he was a boy. I remember it sitting on his bookshelves in our house, and him telling me how fond he was of Robert Louis Stevenson. I’ve never actually read Kidnapped. And I’m not going to be able to read this copy. It’s so fragile that the front cover came right off as I removed it from my bookshelf this afternoon. § continue reading →
I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the social lives of books and how they take on meaning through our uses of them. That’s come in part from the moving Yom Kippur service I was at and the use of a rescued Lithuanian Torah scroll. More on that, and how it has been making me think about the lives of books and readers, in a future post.
But for this post, a much smaller look at a book from our period and the social and emotional life it suggests. So: Emanuel Ford’s The famous historie of Mountelyon, Knight of the Oracle, and sonne to the renowned Presicles King of Assyria
. The Folger’s copy
of this book is, unsurprisingly given my recent theme, one that was owned by Frances Wolfreston, and it has her characteristic inscription on leaf A3r: “Frances Wolfreston her bowk.”
What I like about this particular book is that she seems to have given it to her son Francis, who also carefully inscribed it on the first leaf: “Francis Wolferston his Booke.” (You can see bleed-through from the other side, on which a later Wolferstan decendant has inscribed his name and has repeated the title of the book.)
In 1652, the year that Francis has dated his inscription, he would have been fourteen years old.
§ continue reading →