Visual and Material Culture 341 / Book Studies 341: Archeology of Text:

Archival Research Methods and “the Book” in the Internet, Print, and Manuscript Eras

                     Manuscript leaf from a Book of Hours    A printer working a wooden hand press    1st Google server (Takuya Oikawa, Flickr "Computer History Museum")        

Fall 2023 (MW 10:40-12:30) Athenaeum Room 435 (Special Collections and Archives, 4th floor)

Instructor: Arnie Sanders,  Emeritus Associate Professor of English, and Bibliographic Description Volunteer at Goucher Library Special Collections (Last edited: 9/28/23 3:30 PM.)

Office Hours, Fall 2023,  afternoons when the course meets, and by appointment (just call or email at least 24 hours in advance)

 News: 9/28/23--Because the midterm papers are due in about two weeks, I set up next week's pre-class assignments to be relatively light and emphasize our in-class hands-on learning about paper and type.  I dedicated Thursday 11AM-4PM to conferences if in-person conversation will help your paper toward completion.  (Please ignore the URL from Spring 2022--I just rewrote the page for Fall 2023.)  I also can stay late on Monday and Wednesday, but please let me know at least a day in advance of the day you want to talk so that I can plan my schedule.  As always, if you have anything in writing that you can post to Canvas, I will read and respond to it with any help I can provide.  I'll respond more quickly if you email me that you have posted it.  Canvas only notifies me once a day about new postings, I think at midnight or some other unhelpful hour.

     To augment our "let's start a print shop" discussion from the last class and to prepare us for the "papyrology" (paper study) and "typogrphy" (type study) classes next week. please read another of Bill Kovarik's short (!) essays on how Johannes Gutenberg, and many others, contributed to the invention of European moveable type printing: "The Printing Revolution."  As you read, look for places in our whiteboard schematic of print shop organization where we left out important elements of the business.  Pay special attention when he mentions paper and type.  Here is a link to a photo I took of the board after class.  He also points out that Asian inventors came close to inventing a workable/profitable system of moveable type printing long before the Europeans, but the "software" of Asian logographic written languages multiplied the number of types needed to impractical sizes.  The European systems that converged in Gutenberg's print shop also took centuries and many earlier inventions to bring about the first printed book.  As one of Kovarik's sources wrote, “Gutenberg invented moveable type.  But, it’s no exaggeration to say that Medieval Europe worked for 300 years to invent Gutenberg” (John Lienhard, 1992).

I'm leaving these links up from last week in case the prove useful as we study paper and type:  Click here for Bill Kovarik's "Life in the Old Print Shop," an entertaining but well-informed view of the 18th-cenury print shop's society and tasks (Radford U.). 

To name only one change in European culture brought about by increased literacy after the 1450s, shopkeepers began using text on the signs outside their doors rather than relying solely on iconic images (e.g., a shoe for a shoemaker, or a literal image of a tavern's name [e.g., "The Eagle and Child" of Oxford where C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the other "Inklings" gathered). 

Click here for a timeline comparing the parallel careers of William Caxton and Sir Thomas Malory, author of the text Caxton printed and called "Kyng Arthur." 

Print took advantage of many converging sources of cultural change: bubonic plague (1348-9); reformist forces within the Christian Church; pressure from Islam in the East on European nations and trade; and Humanist/Renaissance interest in classical pagan literature brought about by rediscovery of long-lost manuscripts from that era. By the mid-1400s, print begins to accellerate all of those socio-political changes exponentially and was, itself, the beneficiary of a population eager to read about these issues.

As you begin drafting your initial approaches to your midterm paper, please consider posting it to the Canvas "Midterm Paper Topics, Questions, Source Citations" folder.  If you go there and read someone else's posted midterm paper pre-writing, please consider responding to it with suggestions, potential directions of development, questions, and if you know or can find some, sources.  (Remember, as journalists always tell us, "sources" are people, not documents, but we often get to know the people through the documents they've published.)  That moves both of you along toward midterm paper thinking and improves your class participation grade.  ("Can I get more than 25% for class participation?" you ask.  Try it and see.  I'm persuadable.)

I have set up a combination "conference schedule page" and "conference preference page" so that even if you are not ready to schedule, I can know in advance what your availability is.  Click here to go to that page and please send corrections by email.  Early conferences can ease your worries about what I would like to see in a paper, classroom contributions, Canvas postings, etc.  They also can ease my worries about your worries, if you know what I mean.  The better I can predict what you all know and want to know, the more finely tuned I can make the course in relation to that knowledge.

            Consider the "Syllabus" linked below to be a primary text reading for each meeting of the course.  You will find some readings in required printed texts (see the menu link below), and many others in scanned or Word doument articles stored on the course's Canvas "Files" folder.  Note especially that one of the course's main print textbooks, Writing Material (NY: Longman, 2003), went out of print in the late "teens" and is no longer available even in used copies for a reasonable price.  I have scanned the assigned chapters, and a few others that interested students might want to read, and all are located within the Canvas "Files" folder inside their own "Writing Material (2003) Reading Scans" subfolder.  The Library's copy will be on reserve for the course.  Other assigned readings (or "viewings" in the case of text-less images) are directly linked to Web pages, though I have learned to avoid these because of the frequency with which they become unobtainable due to accidental or deliberate deletion, URL and server changes, or other sources of "404 File Not Found" error messages (i.e., "link rot").  Please let me know if you have trouble locating or reading/viewing any of the assignments, ideally soon enough before class that I can remedy the problem.  Also remember that your colleagues in the class may have already figured it out.

            If you want to see what kinds of research the course will prepare you to conduct, use the following link  to look at the PowerPoint and video presentations of last Spring's students to give you a good sense of what the course can train you to accomplish:  student presentations of prelminary results for their independent research projects for Spring 2022.

Always remmeber to wash your hands before entering Special Collections.  It takes time to develop the habit, and it will be important to our hands-on work with early printed books and manuscripts.  Think of it--bibliographers were hand-washing before Covid-19!

Special Collections staff ask that students enter ATH435 through  the front door of Special Collections.  The "back door" into the Periodicals Room will remain locked.  Please put backpacks in the lockers on the right of the entrance hall, and do not bring food or drink into the classroom.  Students can bring to the classroom paper notebooks, laptop or tablet computers, cellphones set to "buzz" or "Airplane Mode," and use only pencils--no pens, please.


        If you are on campus, by appointment you can visit Special Collections and Archives on the 4th floor of the Athenaeum between 10-12:30 and 1:30-4 Mondays through Thursdays.  Contact Debbie Harner (Public Services and Education Archivist,, 410-337-6075) or Kristen Welzenbach (Curator of Special Collections and Archives,,410-337-6370) to make an appointment for in-person research.  Note that they are NOT available for impromptu conferences because they are in charge of supervising and maintaining the entire rare book collection.  Click here for the official SC&A research policies and procedures:  If digital browsing is more your thing, see our Book Arts Baltimore blog for examples of research and descriptive bibliography using books from Goucher's collection:  (Scroll down past the first five for the ones based on our collection.)

Links to Previous Project, Classes, Events, and Useful Sites.

“There is no ignorance more shameful than to admit as true that which one does not understand: and there is no advantage so great as that of being set free from error.” Xenophon, quoting Socrates, translated by F.J. Furnivall, a great and influential editor, shortly before his death on 2 July 1910.

 Our motto: tolerate mystery as a precondition to discovery.


        This interdisciplinary course introduces students to archival research techniques using Goucher’s Rare Book Collection and online digital archives, including cached web history like the Internet Archive. Working backward in time, from the present to the Medieval period, the course will survey the ways people have packaged and used written/visual information, from digital media to early printed pamphlets or books to manuscripts. Students who have completed the course will be equipped to do additional archival research in Goucher's archives for 200- and 300-level courses, and to work as “archival assistants” in the Special Collections division of the Goucher Library.  This training also enables students to conduct research in authors' manuscript drafts of literary works, to pursue primary source research in Modern Languages, Hispanic Studies, History and Art History, and to apply their previous training in biology and chemistry to the forensic analysis of documents.  Students with Literature 341 experience, and who have suitable proposals and letters of introduction from Goucher's librarians and a faculty member in the field, usually can get access to rare books and manuscripts in archives and special collections around the world.  Students who successfully complete the course are strong candidates for Peirce Center Fellowships which pay stipends to support research in Special Collections during any semester, in January, or during the summer.  Previous years' students have won competitive internships.

Student Learning Outcomes (vulgo dicta, "SLOs"):

1)  Students will understand how digital text files are coded, stored, and how they may relate to manuscript or print versions of the text as a digital "edition."  Students will understand how text files are retreived from the Internet, with special emphasis on text-base construction and maintenence, search engine use and awareness of the Internet's history as an ongoing element of the Archeology of Text.  They will be aware of and able to compensate for (in most cases) the inevitable degradation and loss of digital texts due to causes such as "link rot," version incompatibility, hardware and software obsolescence, Darknet criminal activity, and ordinary commercial negligence or malfeasance.  They will be able to describe and analyze Web site structures, text displays including images (still and full-motion), and other attributes of digital texts.  Superior students will be able to create their own Web sites and digital editions of well-edited texts.

2)  Students will be able to handle safely and describe accurately the structure of any modern or pre-modern printed book, including format, paper, typography, mise-en-page, and bindings.  Superior students will be able to write near-perfect diplomatic transcriptions of early modern editions, with explanatory notes and appropriate bibliographic references.  All students will be able to read, and to write, standard bibliographic descriptions following the Bowers-Gaskell rules.  All students will be able to write rudimentary copy-specific notes that might be used in MARC entries for their own or the Library's rare book collection.  Superior students will be able to write "desbib" for complex edition-copies, including those which do not fit the standard WorldCat or ESTC descriptions of their editions.  All students will be able to use the Haebler "M" series table of incunabular founts, and to use standard typographic terms to describe type founts used to print any book.  They will be able to detect, measure, and describe the dimensions, chain-lines, and watermarks in laid paper.  Superior students will be able to use standard watermark collections to estimate the era and (sometimes) country of origin of a given book's paper stock.  All students will be able to describe standard pre-modern bindings in terms of parchment or other binding materials, sewing patterns, backing bands, clasps, and other artifacts.  They will be able to use tables of modern publishers' bindings to identify them on copies of post-1800 editions.  They will be able to use the English Short Title Catalog (ESTC), WorldCat, and the Karlsruhe University online catalogues to assist in identification of the edition of a given copy of any pre-1800 book.  They will have some experience of the use of, Alibris, and other online booksellers to estimate the rarity and relative worth of a given copy of a printed book.  Superior students will become proficient comparative analysts of one or more authors' bibliographic output, and will be able to demonstrate the comparative worth of edition-copies of a given work based on copy-specific points of description known to scholars in standard bibliographic references for the work.

3)  Students will be able to work safely with fragile paper and parchment manuscripts, and will understand the basic scholarly vocabulary used to describe MSS.  They will be able to read, and to date by era, some representative Continental and English manuscript hands from the Carolignian through the Victorian periods.  They will be able to create at least rudimentary alphabets in Carolignian uncial, Gothic, and Gothic Bastarda hands.  Superior students will be able to create their own manuscripts using calligraphic hands appropriate to the texts and audiences for which the MSS are intended.  All students will be able to use the O.E.D., Emma Thoyts, and other standard resources to interpret medieval and early modern documents.  Superior students will be able to produce near-perfect diplomatic transcriptions, with explanatory notes, of modern, early modern, and medieval manuscripts.

4)  Students will know and follow the rules for working in rare book libraries and archives, including hand-washing, and the use of pencils, low-wattage investigative lighting, millimeter rules, book cradles and snakes, and other basic analytical tools.  Students will become familiar with the conventions of rare book librarianship and the conservation principles upon which those rules are based.  They will be safe and welcome guest scholars in rare book collections, and will be, themselves, worthy guardians of rare books and manuscripts for future generations.

5)  Literature majors will be able to use the skills and knowledge mastered in this course to meet these more general departmental SLOs:

Your interpretations [of English literature] will also be informed by your knowledge and understanding of:

 "Academic Honor Code: Reference to the academic honor code is required of all course syllabi as a reminder to students.  Suggested wording includes: Reminder: All students are bound by the standards of the Academic Honor Code, found at" (from the "General Academic Honor Code" pdf linked here).  I distinguish between accidental forms of plagiarism, in which the author obviously intended to cite sources but cited them at the wrong place, from pure carelessness (no citations, even if sources are listed at the back), and especially from outright theft of intellectual property intentionally passed off as one's own.  The first type of cases are opportunities to teach and learn.  The second type are more troubling and may go to the Honor Board if they happen late in the semester, after we have discussed source use and its importance to your readers.  The last will be sent to the Honor Board without hesitation.  Students also are increasingly content to cite sources long after their prose has begun to borrow ideas from those sources. I understand that some instructors actually teach the "cite the source at the end of your use of it" as a rule.  In the real world, that is technically plagiarism, too, but it has become so common that I must spend gallons of ink and hundreds of keystrokes un-teaching it.  Never make me guess whose ideas I'm reading.  Cite sources when you first depend on them.  I want to know how well you can think, not just how well your sources can think, which should be a matter of historical record for anyone who reads them.  Let there be a bright line of fire between ideas that are originally yours and those of other writers to which you refer. 

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