24 April 2014
Do you use Hamnet, the Folger’s online catalog? Do you want to help make it better? Of course you do! This is the first in what I hope will be an ongoing series of conversations designed to keep me from playing around with the display settings in whatever way strikes my fancy just because I happen to know the master password. First up, “Variant Title(s).” Continue Reading →
21 April 2014
Michael Witmore and Heather Wolfe
Shakespeare’s birthday week begins with a bang: two New York booksellers, George Koppelman and Daniel Wechsler, announced that they have found Shakespeare’s dictionary. In their new book, Shakespeare’s Beehive, Koppelman and Wechsler present their reasons for believing that William Shakespeare is the annotator of their copy of John Baret’s Alvearie, a 1580 dictionary that scholars have linked to Shakespeare’s plays and poems. Because Koppelman and Wechsler are claiming to have discovered something new about Shakespeare, their ideas will receive significant attention in the popular press. Adam Gopnik’s recent story in the New Yorker, “The Poet’s Hand,” provides eloquent testimony to the ongoing interest in discoveries about Shakespeare, an interest that led our founders, Henry and Emily Folger, to establish the Folger Shakespeare Library here in Washington.
Title page of Koppelman and Wechsler’s copy of Baret’s Alvearie. Used with permission of George Koppelman.
Even the most skeptical scholar would be thrilled to find a new piece of documentary evidence about William Shakespeare. Scholars, however, will only support the identification of Shakespeare as annotator if they feel it would be unreasonable to doubt that identification. This is a fairly high evidentiary standard, since it requires one to treat skeptically the idea that this handwriting is Shakespeare’s and to seek out counterexamples that might prove it false.
As the library of record for Shakespeare and the leading documentary source for his works, the Folger will be one of the places where Koppelman and Wechsler’s claims are evaluated by scholars. Those unfamiliar with early modern books and manuscripts will be curious about the techniques that scholars at the Folger and elsewhere hope to use to explore the identity of the Alvearie annotator.
At this point, we as individual scholars feel that it is premature to join Koppelman and Wechsler in what they have described as their “leap of faith.” Having ourselves worked extensively with collection materials and digital corpora, we have written this blog post in order to highlight research methods that we expect will be used to evaluate Koppelman and Wechsler’s claims. Regardless of the identity of the annotator, the book that Koppelman and Wechsler (hereafter K&W) have turned up is fascinating. The person who annotated this copy of Baret was clearly interested in the poetic and associative possibilities of English, French, and other languages, an interest that reflects the more widespread humanist practice of “commonplacing” one’s reading. (Commonplacing refers to the practice of recording words or phrases that a reader feels can be saved for later use in composition.) The marks in this copy of the Alvearie are consistent with this collecting or “commonplacing” impulse; they could also be the marks of someone revising for another edition, adding words and cross-references to make the book more up-to-date and user-friendly. Continue Reading →
17 April 2014
As all three commenters worked out, this month’s crocodile image is of printer’s waste used as endleaves. You can see the end of the book on the left side of the opening below (note the “finis” marking the end of the text) and the quarto imposition of the scrap paper used as part of the binding on the right side (note the brown-stained holes near the right edge, left by the clasps that were once there):
The last page of Asser’s Aelfredi regis res gestae (on the left) and the recto of the back endleaves of printer’s waste from the 1580 Accession Day liturgy.
The rear endleaves, showing more of the printer’s waste.
Printer’s waste is not an unusual thing to see in bindings from this period. Paper was needed to create the binding structure, leftover paper from printing books is available, and voilà! Waste not, want not. Why was there so often scrap paper from the printing process? One reason has to do with the practice of printing by sheets, which are then assembled into gatherings and into the final book: if you want 500 copies of a book, you’ll use 500 sheets of each gathering. But in the printing process, you’d typically print more than the exact number of sheets needed, accounting for errors and overage and the general vagaries of human behavior. So what do you do with those extra sheets? You repurpose them. Continue Reading →
10 April 2014
In 1629 Agostino Mascardi’s Italian story about the conspiracy of Count Giovanni Luigi de Fieschi was published—according to a statement on the engraved title page only suggesting an imprint—in an unspecified Antwerp printing shop. Because of that, the edition is entered into the Short Title Catalogue Flanders, but in reality it is probably not a Flemish imprint at all. In this blog post, I will not go into detail about the printing history of this text, which appeared in the same year as well in Milan and Venice, but I will limit myself to a discussion of the layout elements suggesting a non-Flemish origin.
Engraved title page (fol. +1 recto) of the so-called Antwerp edition (Folger 197208)
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2 April 2014
My residency project at the Folger focuses on digital stewardship and preservation practices at the Library. This has, to my delight, involved getting my hands dirty with the Folger web collections and also allowed me to interact with a variety of digital assets being created by the Folger. Now that we’ve reviewed the basics of web archiving, I’d like to talk a little bit more about digital stewardship and digital assets.
Digital stewardship, digital preservation, digital asset… what’s it all mean? The concepts are simpler than you might think. I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: digital information is sensitive. To remain accessible and usable for current and future users, digital information needs to be carefully managed through digital stewardship practices. Digital stewardship encompasses all activities related to the care and management of digital objects over time. Proper digital stewardship addresses all phases of the digital object lifecycle: from digital asset conception, creation, appraisal, description, and preservation, to accessibility, reuse, and beyond. This includes everything from choosing a well-documented and widely accepted file format when creating a new object to choosing the right metadata schema to describe the object properly, not to mention storing multiple copies of the digital object file in a variety of locations to combat threats of data loss or corruption. These latter steps, taken after the object is created and described, generally fall under the category of digital preservation. Digital preservation involves processes related to the protection and technical stabilization of digital assets to facilitate continued and future access and usability. Continue Reading →
27 March 2014
We’re a few days before the beginning of April still, but who doesn’t want to push this season ahead and get on with spring already? So here is our new crocodile mystery. Some of you will recognize immediately what category of object this is, and if that’s true for you, feel free to push on to try to work out the specifics. Click on the image to enlarge it, share your thoughts in the comments, and come back next week (in April!) to see the answer.
24 March 2014
You know the saying, “the great thing about standards is that there are so many to choose from?” You know Sarah’s post about the transcription practices used in The Collation, and Goran’s posts about V and U in titles and imprints of 17th-century Flemish books in the STCV? Welcome to the Anglo-American cataloging rules for transcription in early modern texts, which differ from both.
One of the frustrating things about traditional library cataloging rules is that they require converting uppercase and lowercase letters in titles to “sentence case.” That’s simple with modern publications, where “V” becomes “v” and “U” becomes “u”, but what about books published in the era when the uppercase letterform “V” could be a “u” or “v” depending on its placement in the word, and “U” didn’t exist at all? Take this engraving from the late 16th century, for instance:
Jan van der Straet, (1523-1605). Ser, siue, Sericus vermis. Antwerp: Philippe Galle, ca. 1591. Folger Shakespeare Library ART Vol. f81 no.8.
The title appears on this engraving as “SER, SIVE SERICVS VERMIS” (in English, “SILK, OR THE SILK WORM”). Because “V” was the only uppercase letterform at the time for what can appear as “u” or “v” in lowercase, what do you do with the “V”s when converting the all-caps title to sentence case? Continue Reading →
21 March 2014
Poor Walter Bagot (1557-1622). A busy county official in Staffordshire and head of a large extended family with typically complicated financial arrangements, he was on the receiving end of a constant flow of requests, complaints, and excuses. Occasionally, these letters inspired him to reach for his commonplace book and inscribe an appropriate aphorism on them, or else to compose his own proverbs in order to express his growing frustration.
Detail from Folger MS L.a.570, Letter from Anthony Kinnersley to Walter Bagot, May 11, 1613. Click on this image and all other images to see the full letters.
At first I thought these aphorisms were random jottings unrelated to the content of the letters on which they were written. After all, there are other notes on many of the letters, including calculations, lists, and handwriting practice. Some letters in the collection contain proper endorsements in the same italic hand, such as “My sister Lane,” “My sister Trew.” But after reading the letters, the connection between the aphorisms and the content that triggered them was easy to spot. Continue Reading →
19 March 2014
This is the story of how a tweet can grow into an amazing scholarly resource. (And it ends with a plea for you to help!)
Just over a year ago, in January 2013, I was looking through the Folger’s collection of Greek texts so that I could find works for a course assignment on describing books. (My intent was to drum into them the necessity of looking at books as an activity that is separate from reading them—and what better way to do that than to ensure that they’re in a language they cannot read?) As part of that browsing, I pulled up a 1517 Aldine edition of Homer’s works, and was blown away by the abundance of annotations in the first part of the book. And so I did what I often do when I see something exciting in the reading room, thanks to the Folger’s policy permitting reader photography: I snapped a picture and tweeted it out.
a heavily annotated opening from the Folger’s 1517 Aldine Homer
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13 March 2014
A guest post by Daniel Shore
Working in the Folger Shakespeare Library over the past eight months, I’ve felt some dissonance between the rich physical resources of the Library and the digital focus of my book project, Cyberformalism, which explores the capacity of full-text searchable archives like Early English Books Online to expand the domain of philological inquiry to new objects of knowledge. Advanced search tools, I argue, allow us to uncover the history not just of words but of linguistic forms: phrases, formulas, moods, syntactic constructions, etc. Though the philological stories I tell stretch over hundreds or even thousands of years, their main events take place primarily in my period of expertise, the seventeenth century.
Yet at the Folger I have often felt peculiarly distant from the early modern books that I’ve been writing about. Day in and day out, I’ve spent more time in front of a screen than a printed page, most often with Early English Books Online-Text Creation Partnership (EEBO-TCP) texts, which are keyed versions of scans of microfilm reproductions of books and pamphlets that, in many cases, sit on shelves a few floors below the desk where I work. Rather than reading all the sentences in any individual book from first to last, I’ve more often read through hundreds or thousands of isolated sentences plucked from texts in the EEBO-TCP archive, sometimes wondering if “reading” is the right word for this activity. Other researchers at the Library have confided to me that they, too, have occasionally felt the dissonance of working primarily with digital texts even as the printed book sits waiting nearby. But the demands of my digital project have intensified my sense of shamefully neglecting the Folger’s real treasures.
While the primary goal of Cyberformalism is to explore the methods of philological inquiry opened up by digital texts and search engines, it also aims to situate search in a longer history of textual finding tools. To understand this history, my first port of call has been the scholarship of book historians like Anne Blair, Anthony Grafton, William Sherman, and Richard and Mary Rouse, but I’ve also leapt at the occasional opportunity to take off my digital mittens and attend to the book as a textured, three-dimensional thing, structured for use and bearing the marks of its users. One book in particular, a work of Latin philology written by the humanist Niccolò Perotti and first published in 1489 (and often reprinted—the Folger’s copy is of a 1494 edition), has prompted me to rethink my basic assumptions about the nature of search engines and finding tools more generally. Continue Reading →