March 26, 2015
by The Collation

Q & A: Caroline Duroselle-Melish, Curator of Early Modern Books and Prints

carolinedurosellemelishIn January, Caroline Duroselle-Melish joined the Folger as the new Andrew W. Mellon Curator of Early Modern Books and Prints, a position that gives her responsibility over books and prints through 1800. She has worked with a wide range of collections in university and independent rare book libraries, including serving as Rare Book Librarian at the University of Rochester and, most recently, as Assistant Curator at the Houghton Library, Harvard University. Caroline has published on a range of topics associated with early modern printing, including studies of Ulisse Aldrovandi’s library and the trade relations between Frankfurt and Bologna. Her graduate degrees include the French equivalents of an ALA-accredited MILS, an MA in history, and a graduate-level French degree in the History of the Book. We are delighted to have her join the Library and the crew of Collation contributors.

Welcome to the Folger! Have you had a chance to find any favorite items or aspects of the Folger collections?  Continue Reading →

March 24, 2015
by Erin Blake

Taming a tight binding

You know how some old bindings gently let a book stay open on its own, at a comfortable angle? And how other old bindings seem to willfully resist, taunting you by starting to close just as you get the book weights perfectly arranged? This post introduces a simple tool that can help tame those tight bindings: a V-shaped wedge of lightweight plastic.

Plastic wedge holding a book open for reading.

Plastic wedge holding a book open for reading.

The Folger Reading Room has a number of plastic wedges of different sizes, known in-house as “Vivak wedges” thanks to the brand name of the plastic, which can be cut with board shears, and bent by hand. With the wedge in place, the pages stay open at a safe angle for the book, and a reasonable angle for reading. Not great, but reasonable.

Book with tight binding held part-way open with a plastic wedge.

Book with tight binding held part-way open with a plastic wedge.

Vivak wedges are also useful in the Cataloging and Metadata Department, where careful transcriptions of title page text are key. Propping a book open to its title page with a plastic wedge is a space-saving alternative to setting up a book cradle. It’s also much safer for the books when dealing with brittle paperbacks, like this Czech edition of MacbethContinue Reading →

March 17, 2015
by Sarah Hovde

“I see it feelingly”: a raised-type King Lear

For many of the books in our collection, an unassuming cover can turn out to protect a fascinating text block. What makes this one unusual is the discovery, upon opening the cover, that this book is meant to be read not with the eyes, but with the fingertips! (Luckily for my unpracticed digits, it’s also fairly easy to interpret the type visually.)

King Lear title page

the title page of an 1871 raised-type King Lear

This 1871 edition of King Lear (Sh.Col. 268- 146f) was printed in raised type by the Kentucky-based American Publishing House for the Blind (still in operation today). It represents two significant advances in the effort to make books available for blind readers: new forms of type, and new printing presses.  Continue Reading →

March 12, 2015
by Abbie Weinberg

Pi(e) day, represented

March 14th is Pi(e) Day, and this year we get an extra two digits (this year’s date being, in the American style, 3/14/15, taking us through the first 5 digits of pi). While many people (including our culinarily-inclined staff here at the Folger) celebrate this day with sweet (and not-so-sweet) pastries, I wanted to bring the day back to its roots, and explore the mathematical side of Pi Day.

Symbolic algebra is something that most of us take for granted today; it’s how we are taught in school from very early on, and it becomes so ingrained in our language that the symbols (and their attached meanings) have started to move out of the realm of mathematics and into our everyday lives, as anyone who has ever used a character-limited media like Twitter knows well.

Tweets using mathematical symbols in place of words

using = as equal to and != as not equal to

But where did this start? When did the symbol = come to mean “is equal to,” + mean “plus”, and when did the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter get called by the Greek letter pi, and then when did it shift to the actual Greek letter π?

For the answer in English, at least, we have to begin with Robert Recorde. In between being a physician and the administrator of the Bristol mint, Recorde was a mathematician. His first publication, The Grounde of Artes (1543; STC 20797.5), was a basic introduction to arithmetic, written in dialog form, that was enormously popular and was reissued many times, for over a century after his death.  Continue Reading →

March 10, 2015
by Heather Wolfe

Early modern eyebrow interpretation, or what it means to have a unibrow

While showing the Researching the Archive seminar some examples of manuscript receipt books a couple of weeks ago (randomly selected after doing a quick “form/genre” in Hamnet on the genre terms “Medical formularies” and “Cookbooks”), I was tickled to come across a section of Folger MS V.a.438 devoted to physiognomical characteristics; that is, an analysis of physical features of the face and head as they relate to a person’s character. The handwriting and orthography are pretty difficult in this ca. 1570 miscellany, so I’ve provided some transcriptions as well as modernized versions, in case you think you might need to get plucking.

Straight brows

It is generally a good thing to hang around with people with straight eyebrows.

It is generally a good thing to hang around with people with straight eyebrows. (Click this, and the other images in the post, to enlarge.)

The first entry describes someone with “strayghte browes”: “he ys good and wyse trewe in harte worde and deed kepe thow in his companye,” or with modern spelling, “he is good and wise, true in heart, word, and deed. Keep thou in his company.”  Continue Reading →

March 5, 2015
by Guest Author

“This Play I Red” and other marginal notes on reading

A guest post by Claire M. L. Bourne

As a long-term fellow at the Folger Shakespeare Library this year, I have been surveying all the English playbooks in the collection—from 1500 to 1709—in order to understand changing conventions of dramatic typography over the first two centuries of printing plays. This is slow, painstaking work, but it is showing me that early modern typographic experimentation was often keyed to innovations in theatrical performance. I’m interested in how printers, publishers, playwrights, and other agents in the book trade harnessed the capacity of print to account for extra-lexical effects created in the theater by, for example, actors’ voices and bodies, the particularities of stage architecture, the temporality of performance, and new technologies like moveable scenes. In other words, instead of looking to marginalia and readers’ marks to make claims about how plays were read, I am studying how plays were designed to be read.

That said, working systematically through so many plays here has not only yielded vast amounts of data about the typographical arrangements of early modern plays in print; it has also provided access to a corpus of readers’ marks, notes, and emendations, many of which would be difficult to find in a surgical strike on the Folger’s resources given that their presence in these books is not always mentioned in the copy-specific notes in Hamnet, the library’s online catalog.  Continue Reading →

March 3, 2015
by Paul Dingman

EMMO: advancing and expanding

During the last few months, the Early Modern Manuscripts Online (EMMO) project has been gathering strength and reaching farther both inside the Folger Shakespeare Library and outside to individuals and organizations. These actions have translated into the passing of several key milestones, and members of the EMMO team are very excited about what this progress promises for 2015 and beyond.

The Advanced Early Modern English Paleography Workshop, sponsored by EMMO and the Folger Institute in mid-December 2014 was a great success, with 16 early modern scholars from near and far joining together for a whirlwind week of transcribing activity. Heather Wolfe and I carefully considered many of the manuscripts in the Folger’s early modern collection to find works fitting for the participants’ research interests but also sufficiently challenging for everyone involved—in other words, not just secretary hand but hard secretary hand!  Continue Reading →

February 24, 2015
by Erin Blake

Knowing your Adams from your Adams: decoding library catalog citations

Picture, if you will, a 16th-century Continental edition of Ovid, an 18th-century illustrated history of London, and a 19th-century book about the American west. Now picture which one of the three might be “in Adams.” Which one did you pick? Years ago, when I was doing dissertation research at the British Library Map Library, everyone in my circle knew that “Adams” referred to the standard bibliography of London topographical books published between 1604 and 1851. It was disorienting to discover later that people working with Continental 16th-century publications had their own “Adams,” as did people working with Americana.

In other words, it’s trick question: all three could be “in Adams,” and as long as you’re talking with other specialists, everyone would know which Adams you mean by context. Traditionally, library catalogs assume that everyone is a specialist, and that a description needs to fit on a 3 x 5 inch card. That’s how we ended up with online catalog citations like these ones:  Continue Reading →

February 18, 2015
by Abbie Weinberg

Research round-up: February 2015

The theme of this month’s post, which features two questions regarding 19th-century sources, is “We have materials beyond the early modern period!” As our collection development policy states, in addition to seeking primary source material on English and continental civilization in the early modern period, we also collect materials on “English drama in the eighteenth century” and “Shakespeare-related material to the present.” Hmm, perhaps we should add a tag-line—Folger Shakespeare Library: More than the long 16th century. Continue Reading →

February 11, 2015
by Heather Wolfe and Caroline Duroselle-Melish
1 Comment

Unwanted doodles in a Shakespeare quarto

Our new curator of early modern books and prints, Caroline Duroselle-Melish, and I were up in the conservation lab a few days ago, consulting with book conservator Adrienne Bell on the optimal opening for safely digitizing a quarto edition of Henry VI, Part 3 (STC 21006a copy 1) in preparation for our “Wonder of Will” commemoration activities next year at the Folger. While inspecting the book, we noticed that the title leaf and last leaf were much thicker than the other leaves, and entirely blank on their versos. That seemed strange, so we looked at the title page through transmitted daylight to investigate further. This is what we saw (click to enlarge the images in this post):

Verso of title page to 3 Henry VI (London, 1600) viewed through transmitted daylight.

Continue Reading →