Up to this point, the RECIRC team have been gathering data; recording evidence of the reception of female authors and their works, whether books listed in early modern library catalogues, translation and commentary in convent archives, compilation in manuscript miscellanies, or circulation within correspondence networks. We’ve been storing this data in an online database, a version of which we hope to make publicly accessible when the project finishes. In the coming year, we’ll be turning to analysis, looking at ways of processing the information via quantitative methods such as network analysis. A basic question we’ll be asking of the material is: what are the connections between people, texts, genres?
With this in mind, we’re hoping to learn from online innovations such as the new interface produced by the Archaeology of Reading in Early Modern Europe project, which will be going live this September.
I’ve been lucky enough to access the beta-test version, which has been running this past month. This resource pioneers new possibilities for comparison and analysis of early modern reading practices. Inspired by the late Lisa Jardine and Anthony Grafton’s seminal study of how Gabriel Harvey annotated and read his copy of Livy’s history of Rome, the project aims to create a corpus of texts that were annotated in the early modern period, with searchable transcriptions and translations of all manuscript annotations. The many kinds of annotation are categorized in order to facilitate a deeper level of analysis.
The current corpus is focused on printed books that were annotated by Gabriel Harvey and John Dee (the beta-test version has 13 books). Each page of each book is digitized, and that’s where the fun starts. These are heavily annotated books, with scribbles running up and around the pages, in multiple languages—old-fashioned mark-up. A text visualization tab allows us to view an individual page with the annotations transcribed (and translated, if necessary) alongside. An alternative tab allows the viewer to search, either the particular book currently viewed or the entire collection. The Advanced Search function uses a taxonomy of marginalia—the different kinds of symbol, or mark, for example—as well as people, place, language (and marginalia language), cross references, and more. The level of detail that has been captured is testament to the rigorous critical research that underpins the project.
The search function seems well geared toward comparison; for example, one could search the entire collection for annotations in Italian. Most importantly, the elegance and efficiency of the interface is incredible: click on a link to the same category of marginalia in another book, and it comes up almost instantly, even on the waning office desktop I’m running into the ground. (There are no screenshots here primarily because it’s not mine to show, but also because any such poor reproduction would do the designers a great injustice.) Thumbnails are also available to allow for scanning visually in search of pages rich in marginalia.
It seems to me that, in supplying such a detailed taxonomy of marginalia and annotation, as well as the multi-functional viewing and search options, Archaeology of Reading is setting standards that will inform new history-of-reading projects and, more importantly, enable interoperability between projects. The platform could be used as a design for structured data relevant to other kinds of primary material (and my sense is that the partners intend to expand the corpus). That might allow us to ask questions on a much larger scale, e.g. what kinds of annotation are most common? How do different kinds of readers engage with different kinds of texts? Free-text searches are also possible, meaning we could find out about commonly (or rarely) used words of readerly engagement. Last, but nowhere near least, is the pedagogical value of the multi-screen functionality; the presentation of digital surrogates of individual pages together onscreen opens up all kinds of possibilities for comparison of hands, paleography and book history classes, not to mention ongoing practice. Look out for the site going live from 31st August.
We’re delighted to be hosting Earle Havens, Principal Investigator (Johns Hopkins University), here at NUI Galway this September. He will be giving us a demo of the newly launched interface, entitled ‘Falling Down the Rabbit Hole: Reading Renaissance Marginalia in a Digital Research Environment’ on Monday 5th at 4.30pm, and a research seminar (‘Papist Patronesses: Reconstructing Networks of Gentry Catholic Women and Recusant Scribal Activity in Elizabethan England’) at the same time on Tuesday 6th. All welcome!
Lisa Jardine and Anthony Grafton, ‘ “Studied for Action”: How Gabriel Harvey Read His Livy’, Past and Present, 129 (1990): 30-78.