Getting to Know Some Old Things Very Well: An attempt to lure you into the study of old books (AKA "bibliographic scholarship")
As part of English 211's blatantly obvious attempt to encourage students to research actual artifacts from the era they are studying (ca. 800-1700), they are urged to seek extra credit for their "Participation" portion of the final grade (20% total) by examining and reporting on documents in the Library's Special Collections, located on the fourth floor of the Athenaeum. To participate, locate the "Getting to Know" assignments in the Syllabus, and within a week of that period either before, during or after. Read the preliminary information, and make an appointment with Tara Olivero (Curator of Special Collections and Archives) or her assistant to use one of the resources described in the web page linked to the syllabus (or click on the links below). You will be instructed about how to handle fragile early printed books, and your grade will depend in no small degree on your following those instructions so that no harm comes to the books other than ordinary wear and tear (e.g., occasional minor flaking of paper from edges of pages or binding "dust"). You can preview those instructions by clicking here.
In brief: slow down; make an appointment first; allow the project visit at least an hour or more; wash your hands before entering Special Collections; take only notebooks and pencils [and no food or drink!] into Special Collections unless by special arrangement; put all other books and bags in the lockers at the entrance; use only pencil when taking notes or computers by permission; before the books arrive at your work desk, provide them with properly sized foam book cradles and "book snakes" to hold down pages; handle the books as you would a two- or four-hundred-year-old person, very very gently.
After preparing yourself, set aside some time, at least an hour or more, to get to know an old thing very well. Slow down your mind by meditating on your senses. Re-learn to feel with your hands the textures and shapes of objects, especially paper, bindings, and the marks made by pens and hand-press type (which "bites" into the surface of the paper unlike modern offset or photocopy type, which rides on tope of it). Use all your senses to help you experience the book as its first readers might have done. Use the questions listed below each book as suggestions to stimulate your curiosity, not serial commands for what you should do. Any one of them might suffice for the written portion of the project. For help, ask the Curator of Special Collections and Archives or her assistant, or the course's instructor, before, during, or after your visit. If you run out of time, jot down (in pencil!) notes to yourself about what you want to know next, including possibilities for a second visit. After examining the book, consider looking it up in the Oxford Companion to English Literature if it is a well-known work, or JSTOR's "Language and Literature" database, which has good coverage of scholarship on early books. You also can estimate its relative rarity by looking it up on WorldCat (for North American library collections), the University of Karlsruhe (for European library collections and rare book dealers) and www.ABEBooks.com (for American rare book dealers). Remember to specify the publication date so that you do not get swamped with modern reprints.
After your initial investigation (and perhaps a talk with the instructor) write a short (3-7 page) paper in MLA format in which you respond coherently to one or more of the questions asked about the early book. You also may invent your own questions, but be sure to consult with the instructor about how to focus it before you do so. Describe the book and its history, what evidence you examined closely, what conclusions you came to, and any questions that still remain. Because this is genuine, open-ended scholarly research, not a staged exercise with completely foreknown outcomes, you may well run into real puzzles that would require more time to solve than we have in this course. Identifying such puzzles is as valuable as arriving at well-justified conclusions. Use of secondary sources is recommended, and in many cases, specific sources are suggested, though they are not required. Further consultation with the instructor will be welcomed as a sign you are getting "hooked" and may be a candidate for advanced study in one of several 200- and 300-level courses Goucher offers to encourage undergraduate study in Special Collections (i.e., English 241 (Arnie Sanders), History 242 (Matthew Hale), and Art 382 (April Oettinger). You also may wish to apply for a Peirce Center research fellowship to continue your study of this or other rare books in the collection.
English 211 Extra Credit Project Instructions
Stage I, Week 4: First Stage of the "Getting to Know Some Old Things Very Well" Project--MS to Print, Editing Chaucer for the Renaissance and Modern Reader. Papers for this stage are due by Monday of Week 7.
Stage II, Week 10: Second Stage of the "Getting to Know Some Old Things Very Well" Project--optional extra credit work in Special Collections: Early Modern Chaucer and English legendary history reception threads. Papers for this stage are due by Monday of Week 13.