Author Archive

Exhibit: Bibliothecaphilia MASS MoCA (9/29/15 – 1/1/16)

September 28, 2015

Readers in New England may be interested in this announcement about MASS MoCA’s exhibit “Bibliothecaphilia” reposted from Book History at Harvard.  Anyone who has seen this exhibit and wishes to report back is invited to do so.  “Bibliothecaphilia’s” exhibit page can be found hereThe Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art in North Adams, MA, is always worth a visit.

For centuries, libraries have exerted a quiet sort of gravity, pulling us in with the promise that for a while, in the hushed, book-filled corridors, we can exceed ourselves. But, in this age of eBooks and library apps, does the physical and philosophical space of the library remain relevant? And what qualities define a library? Can libraries exist digitally, or be constituted of things other than books? The six artists in Bibliothecaphilia, explore the medium and ethos of libraries: institutions straddling the public and private spheres, the escapism that libraries offer, libraries’ status as storehouses for physical books — and thus for experiences and knowledge — and the way that these objects circulate and are re-used. Participating artists include Clayton Cubitt, Jonathan Gitelson, Susan Hefuna, Meg Hitchcock, Dan Peterman, and Jena Priebe.

The exhibition coincides with a year-long initiative at Williams College (including the Williams College Museum of Art and Clark Art Institute) dedicated to books, libraries, and information. It focuses on exploring the diverse ways in which people preserve and convey ideas, creative works, data, and other forms of information. The project features a wide array of public presentations, performances, courses, and exhibitions (including at the Williams College Museum of Art and Clark Art Institute) that imagine the theme from many perspectives.

This exhibition is made possible by the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in support of MASS MoCA and the Williams College Graduate Program in the History of Art.

Bibliothecaphilia is curated by Allie Foradas.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015 – 09:00 to Friday, January 1, 2016 – 17:00


1040 MASS MoCA Way

01247 North Adams, MA

United States

Harvard edX MOOC: Robert Darnton’s The History of the Book

September 22, 2015

I have never been in favor of pushing online teaching in the humanities, but the Harvard edX series makes the most of blending digital technology and humanities teaching.

Readers may be particularly interested in Robert Darnton’s course, which begins this week, “The History of the Book in 17th- and 18th-Century Europe.”

Gregory Nagy’s “The Greek Hero in 24 Hours” is superb, despite the requirement that epics be read in specific translations available only electronically. (A cumbersome 900-page print-out option only inspires desire for separate printed texts).  That said, Nagy’s course is fantastic, and Robert Darnton’s course looks equally valuable.

The Harvard/MIT Edx platform for free online courses rolled out in 2012, not without controversy. as this and other articles suggest.  The courses are making me think–both about their subject matter and about online teaching.

Students, Reading, and Ebooks

September 20, 2015

E-book: an electronic version of a printed book which can be read on a personal computer or dedicated handheld device.

–Oxford English Reference Dictionary

A 2012 study at the University of Ulster by Sarah Smyth and Andrew P. Carlin provides mixed messages regarding students’ attitudes toward ebooks and their actual use of them. Students claimed to prefer printed texts, objecting to ebooks because of difficulties in navigation and the distractions of the internet.  Yet they also used ebooks “heavily during peak study times prior to exams and assessment deadlines” (Smyth and Carlin, 195).

A “sizeable chunk of respondents,” however, did not engage with electronic texts at all, suggesting that reading competencies or digital competencies (or both) may be splitting into those who can use etexts comfortably and those who won’t or can’t.

Most students in this study accessed ebooks through “a laptop or PC (68%), followed by smartphone (21%), ebook reader (9%), and tablet computer (1%)” (188).  Reading a novel or an epic on a smartphone seems dispiriting–and bad for one’s eyes.

Students found ebooks helpful for making copies, and they appreciated their remote access, searchability, and cost, but they overwhelmingly preferred print (71.4% and 61.6%) for “pleasure of reading and ease of reading” (189).  They tended to use ebooks for research (66%), with only 18% reading ebooks for pleasure and 12% for lecture preparation (186).

The table below lists the most popular kinds of ebooks:

Texbooks                               56%

Fiction                                    19%

Research monographs           18%

Encyclopedias & Dictionaries  7%

This study unearths a utilitarian approach to reading–unsurprising, given that most reading by students will be homework.  But it also hints tantalizingly at students’ desire for the pleasure of printed texts.   At what  point do we begin to consider whether we are encouraging students to enjoy reading? Are the digital texts we make available conducive to the pleasure of reading?  Is it time to acknowledge that printed texts offer a more functional, concentrated, and pleasurable reading experience than ebooks, something we want to share with students?  Do we need to consider the cult of the printed book and the pleasure of reading as parts of a successful teaching formula that ought not be erased by the prevalence and fashion of ebooks?

Works Cited

Sarah Smyth and Andrew P. Carlin, “Use and Perception of Ebooks in the University of Ulster: A Case Study,” New Review of    Academic Librarianship, 18:176-205, 2012.

The Library Beyond the Book (…and Beyond the Human)

August 9, 2015

Jeffrey T. Schnapp and Matthew Battles’s The Library Beyond the Book (Harvard University Press, 2014) is a multimedia publishing experiment that moves beyond slapping a CD of music onto a book’s inner front flap or uploading music onto a related web site.  This book’s material is interlocked to material on a slew of media: a dedicated web site, a 24-minute documentary, relevant digital reviews about the film and Harvard’s MetaLAB in Harvard Magazine, and even a playable deck of cards (more on this later).

This gothic disassembly and reassembly of the book’s traditional parts is intentionally disquieting–more Frankenstein’s monster than utopian order.

Like Shelley’s monster, the volume questions its own narrative.  It opens with a steampunk cartoon in which Melvil Dewey time travels from past to future, gleefully outlining the history of libraries and insisting on the library’s facilitation of dialogue between the living and the dead.  The cartoon’s closing tableau reveals the domed reading room of the future library holding no books at all. Instead, an announcement from a loudspeaker informs Mr. Dewey that his volumes are “ready for download.”  The Victorian Mr. Dewey is triumphant.  The library of the future is here.

Four sections of subsequent text question this cartoon’s playful certainty, replacing Dewey’s confidence with provisional speculation.  The volume’s first line announces that the title “The Library Beyond the Book

is a provocation, not a description. It gestures toward a threshold being traversed at the time of writing, not toward an era when books will vanish and bookshelves will be seen only in virtual versions, brimming over only with e-books.

The threshold being traversed involves dismantling the linear momentum of the book.  The volume’s typographical design disrupts forward progress, in part through red-inked epigrammatic meditations on the future library that run down the right margin of each spread, forcing one to turn the volume 90˚ in order to read them. These future scenarios are deliberately whimsical, and reviewers have complained about the book’s abstractions.  Though such complaints mistake theory for pragmatism, they are understandable given the legitimate anxiety about the future of libraries.

Perhaps most whimsical is the companion deck of playing cards available for purchase upon request, on which the red-inked “provocations” are recorded.  But here too the whimsy is richly informed.  The deck recalls the organization of the first card catalog, designed by the historian Edward Gibbon on the backs of playing cards. Assumptions that these provocations matter, that they should be saved for posterity, that they should be the stuff of meditation are made frivolous by the medium of playing cards, even as we recall that playing cards are not only sometimes preserved in archives but also valuable for the insight they provide into the past.  Gibbon’s card catalog provides one example; the famous playing cards narrating the fictional Popish Plot provides another.  If items as apparently frivolous as playing cards should be collected and stored in libraries, where does the collecting end?

The limitations of storing is the topic of the project’s highlight, the brilliant 24-minute documentary, Cold Storage, which is an improvisational tribute to Alain Resnais’ Toute la memoire du monde (1956).  Toute la memoire du monde documented the organization of France’s beautiful Bibliothèque nationale; Cold Storage examines Harvard Library’s decidedly homely remote storage system.  Both French and American documentaries dispel romantic concepts of the library, but a comparison of the two exposes the increasingly diminished role of the human in the highly functional and mechanized archival vaults of today.

Directed by Cristoforo Magliozzi and narrated by Schnapp, Cold Storage takes viewers behind the scenes to the gargantuan breathing machine that is the Harvard Depository, a sprawling concrete monster that bends humans to its will as it exhales and inhales books sent to and from readers at Harvard’s libraries. In climate controlled concrete bunkers, shelves tower above and beyond sight, forcing human assistants to use electrical lifts to reach them. Drone technology allows cameras to capture a perspective from non-human heights.  The resulting point of view is that of the building viewing the tiny workers lifted mechanically to shelves no human could reach without robotic help. Because of the volume of books sent there daily, books are cataloged and shelved by size, not by content.  The result is a collection

designed for the eyes of laser scanners, inventory tracking systems, and mechanically-aided acts of retrieval. . . . The HD reduces its sparsely-distributed human agents to parts in a cybernetic machine that speaks a language not of authors, subjects, and titles, but of barcode label identifiers and the ID numbers they encode (139).

That laser scanners are now part of an intended audience is also suggested by the dust jacket designed for The Library Beyond the Book.  An impossibly long barcode runs down the left side of the front cover, a hyperbolic indication of the book’s need to be “readable” by lasers in either Amazon warehouses or book depositories or both.

The lifespan of the depository poses a problem that has always haunted libraries: finding space.  Its climate controlled bunkers preserve books and other records for hundreds of years, but the concrete bunkers themselves will last between 70 and 100 years.  With new books added to the collection’s 9 million items daily, the project is “unsustainable,” explains Matthew Shehy, head of access services.

To the old, though intensifying, problem of sustainability is a new problem of concept, one that Battles suggests in his earlier volume, The Library: An Unquiet History.  The machine-controlled bunkers of the HD force a reassessment of the beautiful and coherent religious metaphors we often use for libraries—”cathedral,” “monastery,” “hermitage,” and “refuge.” In those spaces, humans could collaborate with texts and others to construct a sustained cultural memory and identity.  By contrast, the bunkers of today contain numbers of texts growing so quickly that not only cataloging but also comprehension seems beyond the scale of human minds.

Everyone should watch Cold Storage for its creepy revelation of the non-human design of the very institution on which we rely to preserve, celebrate, bemoan, and understand the human record.  For all its irreverent play, this  multimedia project makes a serious point, leaving us to consider how best to respond to a monstrous body that was designed with the latest technology without full consideration for its place in human society.

Folger Digital Anthology Encoding Specialist Posting

July 14, 2015

The following announcement from Owen Williams at the Folger Shakespeare Library may be of interest to readers.

Digital Anthology Encoding Specialist

Posting Date: 7/6/2015

The Folger Shakespeare Library, located on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., is seeking an encoding specialist for a 2 year NEH grant funded position working on our Digital Anthology of non-Shakespearean drama (or early modern English drama). The Folger is a world-class research and cultural center on Shakespeare and the early modern age. Home to the world’s largest and finest collection of Shakespeare materials, the Folger offers activities that range from scholarly seminars to theatrical performances, from K-12 outreach to exhibitions and lectures.

The Digital Anthology Encoding Specialist (DAES) will work closely with our CLIR Postdoctoral Fellow in Data Curation on a new project to establish clear and consistent encoding of 36 carefully selected plays from the early modern period using Text Encoding Initiative (TEI) markup. The DAES will be responsible for helping develop the XML schema, correcting current markup, and enhancing existing encoding work to correctly identify and verify such elements as act and scene divisions, speakers and speech prefixes, cast lists, stage directions, or other information. They will help establish standards and workflows for coding correction, participate in project documentation, and identify areas for further improvement as the project develops. This is an exciting opportunity to be in on the start of a project that will open the study of these, and other, plays to a wider audience on open and free platforms. This is a grant funded position at no more than 50K a year plus full benefits.

The ideal candidate for this position will have a working knowledge of early modern drama, including the works of Christopher Marlowe,  John Marston, and others, as well as significant training or experience in TEI markup language. Requirements: B.A. in relevant field with a preference for M.A. in early modern English drama, history of early modern theatre, or literature, or equivalent professional experience, strong knowledge of Early Modern Drama, experience with TEI markup, and familiarity with the concepts behind Early English Books Online-Text Creation Partnership (EEBO-TCP). Preference will be given to candidates familiar with early modern descriptive bibliography, text mining, topic modeling, digital indexing, and/or digital publication.

Interested applicants should submit their resume and a cover letter, with the subject line ‘DAES’ to or by mail at Attn:HR/DAES, Folger Shakespeare Library, 201 E Capitol St SE, Washington, DC 20003. Incomplete applications will not be considered. No phone calls please. EOE.

Happy Digital Bloomsday!

June 16, 2015

It’s June 16, the celebrated day of James Joyce’s Ulysses, during which Leopold Bloom wanders through Dublin.  June 16 is also the day on which Bloom met his wandering wife Molly.

Traditional Joyce fans attempt to read the entire Ulysses (or parts of it) in a 24-hour period on this day.  Digital celebrations also exist, including representations of Joyce’s text in both bar codes and tweets.   The tweets divide the novel into 96 15-minute sections.  For more, see this NPR story.  Book historians may prefer to celebrate this day by looking at the history of Ulysses‘s book covers here.

My heavily annotated 1946 Modern Library hardback, lovingly rebound by a marvelous librarian at UNC (the always-to-be-admired Rachel Frew), is still my favorite way of reading Joyce’s novel.

After Print: Manuscripts in the Eighteenth Century

April 13, 2015

Readers may be interested in the upcoming “After Print: Manuscripts in the Eighteenth Century” conference at UC Santa Barbara on April 24.  Margaret Ezell will be a keynote speaker.

The schedule is printed below.


All events will be held in the McCune Conference Room in the Interdisciplinary Humanities Center, 6020 HSSB.

8:00-8:45 a.m.: Breakfast

8:45-9:00: Welcome remarks

9:00-10:30: Panel 1: Accessing Authorship

Emily C. Friedman, Auburn University: “Amateur Manuscript Fiction in the Archive: An Introduction”

Andrew O. Winckles, Adrian College: “Pray for the Unworthy Scribbler: Oral, Manuscript, and Print Culture Among Early Methodist Women”

Betty A. Schellenberg, Simon Fraser University: “‘Through Virtue’s Sacred Gate to Honor’s Fane’: Manuscript-Print Equilibrium and the Yorke-Grey Coterie, 1740-1766″

10:30-10:45: Coffee

10:45 a.m.-12:15 p.m.: Panel 2: Politics in Manuscript

Dee E. Andrews, California State University, East Bay: “Thomas Clarkson’s Hand: The Uses of Manuscripts in Abolitionist Authorship”

Nathan Perl-Rosenthal, University of Southern California: “Revolutionary Manuscripts: Reading Political Epistolarity in the Revolutionary Atlantic, ca. 1765-1800″

Leith Davis, Simon Fraser University: “Mediating the Glorious Revolution”

12:15-1:15 p.m.: Lunch

1:15-2:45: Panel 3: Scientists and Cosmopolitans

Chiara Cillerai, St. John’s University: ““Forms of Belonging: Elizabeth Graeme Fergusson’s Manuscript Books”

Tilottama Rajan, University of Western Ontario: “Arranging the Sibylline Leaves of Science: The 1835 and 1861 Editions of the Work of John Hunter (1728-93)”

Colin Ramsey, Appalachian State University: “Becoming Dr. Franklin: Benjamin Franklin’s Construction of a Scientific Reputation in Manuscript and Print”

2:45-3:00: Coffee

3:00-4:30: Panel 4: New Methods

Marissa Nicosia, Scripps College: “Cooking in the Archives: Bringing Eighteenth-Century Manuscript Recipes into a Twenty-First-Century Southern California Kitchen”

Sandra Friesen, University of Victoria: “Beyond Best-Text Editions: Interpreting the Many MS Contexts of ‘Seigneur/Seignior/Signior Dildo(e)’”

Claude Willan, Stanford University: “Poetry Clusters”

4:30-5:00: Break

5:00-6:30: Keynote address: Margaret Ezell, Texas A&M University

“‘Burn when read’:  Some Thoughts on Manuscript Cultures after the Expiration of the Licensing Act (1695)”

Call for Abstracts: Scholarship, Print, and Polemics in Seventeenth-Century Germany

January 25, 2015

Readers may be interested in the following Call for Abstracts from Christian Callisen–AB

Scholarship, Print, and Polemics in Seventeenth-Century Germany

Call for Abstracts

This is a call for abstracts or extracts of book chapters that explore scholarly practice in the Holy Roman German Empire of the seventeenth century. The proposed volume is specifically interested in exploring the interactions between scholarly practice, print technology, and the polemics associated with confessionalisation and the rise of the early modern nation state. Potential contributors are encouraged to consider these interactions in the context of early modern interdisciplinarity and the correspondence networks that underpinned the Gelehrtenrepublik.

A rising interest in the early modern republic of letters is apparent in historical scholarship of the last three decades, and the last ten years in particular have seen a surge in this field. Initiatives such as the Cultures of Knowledge project at Oxford, and new journals such as Republics of Letters, sponsored by Stanford University, focus specifically on this unique world and the correspondence networks and scholarly rituals that were so crucial to its success. Nevertheless, scholarly interest in the German context, at least among Anglophone scholars, has been somewhat sporadic. English-language scholarship (particularly monographs) on the early modern republic of letters has tended towards the English and French contexts, with a gap in our understanding of how these experiences translated to and from the German lands. Alternately, one often finds the literature examining the topic with intellectual icons from the Low Countries at the centre and scholars from Germany and elsewhere cast almost at the periphery.

This volume will add to a growing body of work in the German context with contributions that explore scholarship, print, and polemics in the seventeenth-century German lands with a specific focus on the interdisciplinary practices and correspondence networks that supported them. In so doing, it is anticipated that this volume will not only add to our existing understanding of early modern scholarly practice, but will also offer different perspectives on interactions between German scholars and their international counterparts. In this light, contributions that compare and contrast the German experience with the broader seventeenth-century republic of letters, and/or which contextualise their analyses in this context, are strongly encouraged.

Abstracts may be up to one page in length, and final chapters should be between 6,000 and 8,000 words, including notes.

Please submit abstracts, extracts, or drafts to the editor, Christian Thorsten Callisen, via email ( by 31 March 2015. Successful submissions will inform a book proposal for consideration in Brill’s Studies in Intellectual History. It is anticipated that completed drafts of chapters will be required by the end of February 2016, with revisions to be completed thereafter, though final deadlines will be confirmed.

Christian Thorsten Callisen is based in Brisbane, Australia. His research focuses on interdisciplinary scholarship and the dissemination of ideas in early modern Europe. His work has appeared in the Journal of the History of Ideas and he is editor of Reading and Writing History from Bruni to Windschuttle: Essays in Honour of Gary Ianziti (Ashgate, 2014).

Digital Diversity 2015: Writing|Feminism|Culture

August 25, 2014

This conference may be of interest to many on this list:

Digital Diversity 2015: Writing | Feminism | Culture
Edmonton, Canada, May 7-9 2015
Celebrating the 20th anniversary of Project Orlando

How have new technologies transformed literary and cultural histories? How do they enable critical practices of scholars working in and outside of digital humanities? Have decades of digital studies enhanced, altered, or muted the project to recover and represent more diverse histories of writers, thinkers, and artists positioned differently by gender, race, ethnicity, sexualities, social class and/or global location?  This conference examines the trajectory of feminist digital studies, observing the ways in which varied projects have opened up the objects and methods of literary history and cultural studies. It marks the twentieth anniversary of the start of the Orlando Project, an ongoing experiment in digital methods that produces Orlando: Women’s Writing in the British Isles, from the Beginnings to the Present ( Alongside pioneering projects such as the Women Writers Project, the Corvey Project, the Dickinson Electronic Archives, the Perdita Project, and the Victorian Women Writers Project, Orlando blazed a new path in the field, bringing together feminist literary studies with emerging methods of digital inquiry.  These twenty years have witnessed a revolution in how we research, produce, and circulate knowledge. It is time to reflect upon the impact of the digital turn on engagement with the literary and cultural past.

We welcome presentations that will together reflect on the past, present, and future of digital literary and cultural studies; examine synergies across digital humanities projects; and stimulate exchanges across such fields as literary history, history, art history, cultural studies, and media studies.

Potential topics include:

    • Transformations and evaluations of feminist, gender, queer and other recuperative literary studies
    • Digital manifestations of critical race studies, transatlantic/transnationalist or local/community-based approaches
    • Collaborations between digital humanities specialists and scholars in other fields
    • Born-digital critical and creative initiatives in cultural history (journals, blogs, electronic “branch” projects, crowdsourcing, multi-media, and interactive projects)
    • Editorial initiatives, digitization and curation of primary texts, representation of manuscripts and the writing process
    • Inquiry into texts, networks, and historical processes via visualization and other “distant reading” strategies
    • Authorship and collaboration: the work of women and other historically marginalized writers, traditional models of scholarship, and new conditions of digital research and new media
    • Sound and sight: sound and visual arts studies in digital environments
    • Identities and diversity in new media: born-digital arts in word, sound, and image, in genres including documentaries, blogs, graphic novels, memoirs, hypertexts and e-literature
    • Conditions of production: diversity in academia, publishing, library, information science, or programming, past and present
    • Cultural and political implications of particular tools or digital modes of presentation
    • Pedagogical objectives, practices, environments
    • Dissemination, accessibility, and sustainability challenges faced by digital projects
The conference will include paper/panel presentations as well as non-traditional presentation formats. Please submit abstracts (500 words for single paper, poster, or demonstration, and 1500 words for panels of 3 papers or workshops) along with a short CV for each presenter. We are applying for funding to support the participation of students and emerging scholars.

We welcome proposals for other non-traditional formats. Half- to full-day workshops will be held on the first day of the conference; demonstrations and poster presentations will be embedded in the conference program. Proposals for workshops should provide a description, outline, and proposed schedule indicating the length of time and type of space desired.

The deadline for all proposals is 15 September 2014. Submit proposals by email, to Follow us on Twitter @digdiv2015.

Universal Short Title Catalog (USTC)

April 5, 2014

The Universal Short Title Catalog (USTC) holds records for European books printed through the sixteenth century.  Records list locations of original copies.  If open-access digital copies are available, these are also noted.

The USTC web site describes itself as “a collective database of all books published in Europe between the invention of printing and the end of the sixteenth century.”

The project also offers 6-8 week internships at St. Andrews for

qualified scholars wishing to gain experience of work with a major bibliographical project. Successful applicants will receive instruction in rare books cataloguing and have the chance for hands-on experience with the University Library’s uncatalogued 17th century collections.  In addition to physical bibliography, the internship will involve extensive practice in the manipulation of digital resources. A certificate of completion or letter of reference will be made available to those successfully completing the internship. They also attend our annual book conference, held at the end of June (this coming year, 19-21 June 2014).

Please see St. Andrews’  internship page for details.  Plans are underway to expand coverage into the seventeenth century.


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