English 241 Individual Research Projects
Use what you have learned this semester to explore, analyze, and describe a document of interest to you from Special Collections.
Early printed books (before 1820) are in need of description and some still need to be evaluated for conservation. To create a "finding aid" for an important book, write a thorough descriptive bibliography note for it, and research the history of its author (if known), printer, and relationship to other editions and MS copies if known. Any assistance you can offer these rare and delicate documents will be deeply appreciated.
You 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 popular adult novels.
You can study books from the collections of the two major authors we have in greatest numbers, the Jane Austen Collection, and the Oberdorfer Mark Twain Collection. Examining successive editions of Austen's books can reveal how the author's increasing public fame altered the layout of title pages and illustrations. Successive editions of Austen's and Twain's works respond to specific marketing decisions made by the author and his publishers as they tried to guide readers' interpretations of the works.
Many other opportunities are available. The purpose of the projects, however, is to ensure that you get a chance to apply your skills to something that deeply engages your curiosity. Please talk with me about your choice 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.
For your oral report to the class, present what you have discovered as of that moment. If you have discovered things which puzzle you, give the class the chance to help you understand what you have found. 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. The digital imaging lab will be available as needed, when possible, if you wish to produce archival quality images.
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 recently 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. 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 have edited and designed. 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:
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."