English 341 Individual Research Projects

        Use what we have learned this semester to explore, analyze, and describe a document of interest from Special Collections.    Thousands of opportunities are available.  The purpose of the projects is to ensure that we get a chance to apply our skills to something that deeply engages our curiosity.  Please talk with me about choices of research subjects, and about the collection's strengths and known rarities.  Click here for a short introduction to Goucher Special Collections of early printed books, Jane Austen, political memorabilia, Mark Twain, and other materials.

        Click here to see projects from Fall 2011.  Click here to see projects from Fall 2013.  Some projects might use documents from outside Goucher's Library, but please remember a major rationale for running English 241 and 341 was to give well-trained students access to actual physical documents from the school's collection.  It's a unique strength of Goucher's curriculum, so I hope we all will take advantage of it rather than using materials we might find online and could access at any time without special access privileges.  Students can arrange their own "digital access" by photographing their primary sources, or I can arrange the use of the library's digital camera to do archival quality imaging.

     Many of the Library's early printed books (before 1820) are in need of edition-specific and copy-specific description, and some still need to be evaluated for conservation.  To create a "finding aid" for a book, write a thorough descriptive bibliography note for it, and research the history of its author (if known), printer, and the book's relationship to other editions and MS copies if known.  Any assistance you can offer these rare and delicate documents will be deeply appreciated. 

     Students also can study specific parts of books of a given type or from a given era, like bindings, title pages, paratextual apparatus like indexes and tables of contents, illustration sequences, etc.  Previous students have studied representative bindings from a given era (C14, 15, 16 etc.) or illustrators' styles for C19-20 children's books, and illustration sequences in popular adult novels like the works of Austen and Twain. 

      I also have supplied manuscripts in English, Spanish, French, Bulgarian, and German, which you are free to research.  Some are cookbooks from upper-middle-class or aristocratic households.  Others are commercial, often formerly held in the files of families' lawyers.  In most cases, they are still genuine puzzles about which we know very little.  They are products of eBay sales, and typical eBay sellers buy bulk lots of MSS or individual items at large auctions in Europe for later resale.  They rarely know or care about document provenance, but we can infer quite a bit from internal evidence.  In the case of the various manuscript cookbooks, the study can include the history of cuisine in England or France, and in one case ("Dilhorne") the history of the family and its great country house which the cookbook served.  In the case of the Spanish and French legal manuscripts, exploration, taxation, and land law would be relevant.  When previous student researchers have worked on a document, I will make their reports available to you at the outset so that you can take advantage of what they already have discovered.

    The most important manuscript in need of research, description, and analysis is the Berners Hours, a 237-leaf illuminated parchment compendium of Christian religious texts created in Bruges by scribes' and illuminators' guild-members in atelier of William de Vrelant, ca. 1470.  Individual portions of the complex manuscript can be subjected to focused scrutiny.  Approaches can use methodolgies from literary studies, anthropology and sociology, religious studies, art history, chemistry and biology, history, political science, and probably every other discipline taught at Goucher with the possible exception of Dance and Equestrian Studies.

     For your oral preliminary progress report to the class at the end of the semester, you do not have to have solved all the riddles of your project.  Just present what you have discovered as of that moment.  If you have discovered new things which puzzle you, give the class the chance to help you understand what you have found.  Be methodical about describing any books or manuscripts you are working with, though a full "desbib" may not be necessary or may already have been done.  Many of these books were studied by researchers working for Goucher's CLIR grant in 2009-12.  Use the "what we know" and "what we don't know" reporting principle that you practiced in the laboratories.  Make sure you present us with some kind of record of your research, including the basic bibliographic information for the document, and as much additional description as you have been able to add.  I encourage you to take digital images of some or all of your primary source evidence.  Such images will help you illustrate your work.  The Library's digital imaging camera will be available as needed if you wish to produce archival quality images.  That also will help you continue to work on your project while you are away during Thanksgiving Vacation.

        Your written report should describe what document you researched, how you researched it, what you found, what aids you made use of, and what questions you still have (plus any ideas you have about how answers might be discovered "had we world enough and time."  Remember that, if you are working with early printed books, ownership evidence may be important.  The report can be presented as a Word or Rich Text Format document, or it can be presented as a web page.  In either case, illustrations of physical features of the document, using line drawings, scanned or digitally photographed images would be of great assistance.  Using the bibliographic description examples in Williams and Abbott, prepare a bibliographic description of the document as an "Appendix" to your narrative of the research method and findings.  Finally, remember to give the document a normal MLA format Works Cited, broken up into "Primary Sources" (including the document you are describing, in all its editions and states that you consulted) and "Secondary Sources," including course readings and additional resources to which you refer.  There is no minimum page count.  If you are concerned about whether you are "in the ballpark," I would be happy to skim an early draft to let you know if it is missing anything important.

        As you work, do not be afraid to consult with other students in the class.  Give credit for their assistance in an endnote, specifying what assistance was given and by whom.  If you give assistance that merits endnote credit, I will give you extra credit on your own research project report.  My intention is to encourage cooperation rather than competition.  Be friends and colleagues with each other, and you all will learn more.

Alternate Assignment I:

        Students who want to work with medieval scripts can practice using leaves from a medieval manuscript.  Pick a leaf from among the digital surrogates on the web page for Manuscript Laboratory on medieval manuscripts.  Come to Special Collections and ask for the physical leaf.  Using the leaf, itself, and its digital surrogate, analyze your leaf's contents.  Report the results of what you know and do not know, including remaining puzzles and hypotheses, in a paper in MLA or University of Chicago format.  Use images from the leaf and elsewhere to illustrate your discussion.  For help with binding and illumination description, see these sources.  Before you begin to study Medieval manuscripts, you should watch this web-based performance of the Christian Mass that reproduces the service for a Danish parish on October 4, 1450.    The most prolific producers of Medieval books were monks.  Just about everyone in Medieval Europe went to mass routinely as part of the social network which constructed European culture.  Think about the way routine repetition with variation in the aural/oral environment would affect people's expectations from books' contents and likely use.

Alternate Assignment II:

        Students who want experience in archives can take on the "Alnwick" archive of over a dozen C18-C19 documents acquired from a rare book dealer.  They resemble the indentures of Manuscript Lab 2 except that they are in more modern hands and thus are easier to decipher.  The first goal would be to describe the documents individually, including their physical dimensions, contents, persons-places-dates named, and other physical attributes.  Then, the archivist would ordinarily attempt to detect patterns in the documents' association with each other, beginning with persons or places named in more than one document, documents that performed similar functions, and other clues to the original situation from which the document trove was taken.  Where are the places named in the documents, and do any of the structures named there still exist?  (Skilled uses of GoogleEarth and GoogleMaps are helpful for this project.)  What sort of person might have had all these documents in her/his possession?  What do the texts of the contents tell us about English cultural practices, language, and economy in this region and era?

Alternate Assignment III:

        Produce an edition of a text you or another student edited and designed.  This assignment has been usefully combined with Creative Writing students' portfolio projects in poetry and fiction.  See the final suggestion for Paper 2 for instructions about things to consider before producing the edition, or use your Paper 2 as a guide for the edition you will produce.  Use MS-Word or another text processing program of your choosing (e.g., Quark), our available printers, your own ingenuity, and assistance from the Goucher community (CTLT, the Art Department, etc.).  Specialty papers can be obtained on sufficient notice.  Hand-illumination practices from Early Modern print editions might be adapted, and illustrations or illuminations of the text also might play a role.  Just make it something you can finish within the available time--small format and few leaves probably would enable you to concentrate on producing a high-quality artifact.  Pay attention to what Williams and Abbott say about editing procedures in "Textual Editing."  Provide appropriate paratextual guidance for your readers.  At least construct a "preface" or "afterword" that explains your intentions for the edition, your choice of documents to edit and publish, and your design of the book.  Again, Paper 2 might provide text for this purpose.  If you choose to create a deliberately anachronistic simulation of an earlier era's book, be sure to describe your intentions.  I am sure your colleagues in 241 would deeply appreciate a copy, and I would need at least one copy to evaluate, but beyond that, the edition size is up to you.

Alternate Assignment IV:   

          Working with one of the manuscripts from my collection (stored at Special Collections or in my office), describe the document's physical appearance and its text (language, scribal hand, layout, etc.), and transcribe and translate as much of it as you can.  Some manuscripts have been worked with by previous English 241 students.  It's up to you whether you want to start fresh, with no knowledge of what your predecessors found, or not.  Ask me if you want some idea whether the MS has been studied and, if so, how far your colleague(s) progressed.  Note that because of the more open-ended nature of this assignment, tentative results and conclusions are welcome in a successful project.

        See this link to third-party paleography sites to support study of the C16-17 Spanish manuscripts and C17-19 French manuscripts.

See this link to digital imaging to support study of the Peruvian MS (1630/1636)

        See this link to digital imaging to support study of the Bulgarian MS Cookbook.

        See this link to digital imaging to support study of the "'Philadelphia Revely' Commonplace Book."