I shot an arrow in the air. She fell to earth in Berkeley Square

January 2, 2014 § Leave a comment


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. But print is not the opposite of manuscript. Indeed, we might understand print as having spurred on an increase in handwriting…

Our notion of what is important, of the difference between print and manuscript, of what readers do with texts, has been shaped by the assumptions and practices of collectors and curators in the nineteenth century. The questions that I asked about whether we consider a specific work print or manuscript are not questions without important implications for researchers. In most libraries, print and manuscript are cataloged separately, often with different curators in charge and with different policies and grants in place. Early modern readers might not have differentiated between print and manuscript, but nineteenth-century caretakers of those books did, and often remade them according to their notions of what was appropriate, assumptions that continue to govern how we treat and encounter early books.  read more

PHOTOGRAPH: Saoirse Wall

We work really hard on our setlist and our act. It’s not a horrible mistake that I’m not singing any songs. I’m the bass player. It’s like everybody has all of a sudden turned into my mother

September 10, 2013 § Leave a comment


When looking at medieval manuscripts, some easily gravitate to the ornamented and heavily illuminated pages for their spectacular visual quality. There is no question that the most well-known and widely reproduced images from the most famous manuscripts are usually the “pretty” pages. Serious scholarship provides important refinements to our understanding of these visual elements. Others capably focus on the text–sometimes a unique exemplar–that is inscribed on the pages. Where possible, they study the variations between different copies, comparing word for word. Still others are drawn to examine features of the codex or the paleography in all the minute details of composition and structure. These view the manuscript as an artifact capable of revealing much of its own history along with connections to other manuscripts or associated cultural phenomena.

In the course of my own explorations of medieval manuscripts (both hands-on and digitally), I have struggled to find an approach that allows for an overall appreciation of the entire object–to get a sense somehow for the whole thing. Already, the experience of hefting one of these historic volumes offers unique if vague satisfaction to the senses, even before opening it. One becomes aware of the weight, the dimensions, the wear and discoloration of the cover, the smell, and even the sounds it makes when the clasps are opened. The binding groans while the parchment crackles in response to the most careful gestures to leaf through it.

The Manuscript Average
Today, images of many thousands of manuscripts are available through digital repositories to casual and serious viewers. Without the physical presence of the actual volume between our hands, is there a way for us to take in some aspect of it all at once? For instance, what if we took all the pages of a given manuscript and overlaid them as if they were transparent?  read more


Ghoulish, but not now, no, I have the man’s voice still, the shake in it that was not there before, the sippings, the pauses, long sighs, I remember so clearly, have played it enough times, his voice, or the last vestiges of it, it’s not that clear, a new slur, too, but his voice, his voice I still have, yes, and what he said, what he was

February 1, 2013 § Leave a comment


Remember when my students broke Shakespeare? If you recall, during a class session in special collections, my students broke off the front board of the binding of our most important Shakespeare book, a copy of the Second Folio (1632), a moment which I reveled in, since it allowed me to teach a few valuable lessons about the Shakespeare folio — which is commonly called the most important book ever in the history of the English language ever and even the most important book ever in the whole entire history of the world ever. (Except maybe the bible; and I’m not exaggerating as much as you might think). That moment of minor vandalism took the folio down a few notches, at least for my students, for a few reasons: 1) it’s not even a copy of the First Folio, it’s “just” a Second Folio; 2) part of the preliminary matter, including the title-page, are later facsimiles inserted to make up a complete copy; and 3) it showed, with great immediacy, that a folio — any Shakespeare folio, and by extension any important symbol of literary or cultural value — is a material object made up of many different physical elements, a fact which calls into question not only its status as a literary icon, but as an actual bounded and complete book. That is, it asks two central questions: what is (our idea of) Shakespeare? And what, exactly, is a book?  read more

ART: miximoto

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