English/BKS 341 Second Writing Assignment: Printed Texts and Archives

        There is no minimum page length.  I would prefer that your writing would take up no more than five pages when printed, though you may include features that would make it more sensible to read it as a digital text.  I want to emphasize concentrated, sophisticated thinking in your writing, rather than length or sheer accumulation of ideas.  The topics below are intended to simulate, not limit, your creative engagement with the issues we have been discussing.  You may well find that you have more to say than you can fit into five (virtual) pages.  Remember that you can return to these topics in the final research projects, though I hope most of you will want to work with books from Goucher's Special Collections.

1)  How does the construction of the book we studied in our hand-press book leaf laboratory compare with books you are familiar with?  This entails a more "essay-like" examination of the two books' features than #1 above (which should follow "desbib" format you see in Williams and Abbott).  In your essay, think about its page and section/"chapter" design, its type font, its paper, its punctuation and spelling, and other physical features of the document with which you worked.  How would the contemporary readers' experience of this text have differed from specific kinds of modern readers' experience of printed texts, and are there any kinds of modern printed texts which serve the same or similar functions in a modern culture (possibly but not necessarily our own).  For this topic, you should have examined all of our leaves from the older edition, and you should be at least somewhat aware of the famous text it contains in its various print and digital forms.  Contemporary readers' use of the lab specimen book would have been markedly different from the typical uses modern readers would have for most books, today.

2)  How do the paper and ink of the book we studied compare with the paper and text-substance of modern books you are reading in your other courses?  This requires some experience with scientific equipment, including microscopes and techniques for physical analysis of paper, ink, and other materials.  Look at a sample page of each book under high magnification.   What does this reveal about the materials from which the paper of each book is manufactured?  Look closely at the individual characters of text.  Do they stand up on the paper or are they impressed into the paper?  Do they have distinctly demarcated edges, or are the edges rough, etc.?  Do any of the pages in the lab bear marks of water, mold, insect, or other damage, and what does close inspection tell you about the process by which the damage occurred?  Write up your results in "report" form as if you were giving a conservation librarian the results of your inspection to prepare her to work on the document.  See me for introductory materials on forensic paper and ink analysis to get you started if you adopt this project.

3)  How does the content of the book we studied in our hand-press book leaf laboratory compare with texts you have read elsewhere?  What does its rhetoric tell you about its audience's interests, attitudes, and beliefs?  (Beyond the obvious point that they're late-Medieval-Early-Modern Christians, of course!)  How does the narrative appeal to them?  What modern genres of literature (and cinema and games) do these narratives resemble?  Compare the experience of reading the same narrative in the hand-press edition with the experience of reading a modern printed edition or digital edition.  How do the physical formats of the texts affect expectations readers bring to "performing" and interpreting them?

4)  Produce an edition of the text of your leaf in a "diplomatic transcription," following the original spelling and punctuation exactly as it appears on the leaf's two sides, and annotate your transcription by comparison with a modern edition of the text.  You will be helped to read the text by comparison with the digital edition available online, but do not fall into the trap of trusting the digital edition to be identical with yours.  The digital edition has been prepared by a modern editor who used a different exemplar as his text, and he made many changes in the text when digitally "setting the type" from his exemplar, most obviously modernizing the spelling.  As you compare your leaf's version of the text with the digital edition, annotate your transcription with any "substantive variants" you detect when comparing your text with the digital edition's allegedly more accurate text.  Remember that modernized spelling is not, ordinarily, a "substantive variant" because it does not change the meaning of the text, but it might be if the editor has turned an archaic word into a familiar Modern English word that does not mean what the archaic word meant.  Use the OED to check these changes.  Other examples of substantive variants are changes in punctuation that alter the meaning of the sentence, changes in words or phrases or whole passages, and typographic details that paratextually direct readers' interpretations.  Do you see any pattern in your edition's differences that might indicate a planned series of alterations by the printer, or do the differences appear the result of errors?  If the former, what motives might explain the changes?  If the latter, what kinds of errors seem to have occurred? 

5)  Using the digital images of the printed book leaves, compile an "alphabet" of the printer's type font, both upper and lower case, and describe it aesthetically in comparison with some other modern fonts.  For comparison, see Paul Needham's alphabet of the type font used by Guttenberg for the 42-line Bible (class handout).  Using typographic scholarship in the library's collection and elsewhere, describe this font and this particular book's production.  This requires extremely careful measurement and comparisons that will require use of the individual leaves, themselves. as well as the digital images.  Type design has its own vocabulary and an extensive history.  See me, and links to the online syllabus, for some introductory materials you can use if you adopt this project.

6)  Consulting the IISTC online, the Karlsruhe University Virtual Catalog, WorldCat, and other resources, construct the publishing history of the lab specimen's text up to and including this edition.  You may take for granted its first Latin editions and begin with its first English edition.  How many times and in what formats (folio, quarto, octavo, etc.) was it produced?  What kind of paratextual guidance did each of its printers give the successive generations of readers, like title pages, prefaces, afterwards, glosses, foliation or pagination, etc.?  Remember that the multiplication of paratext tells us things about readers' developing needs and expectations.  How do the editions "evolve" in their subsequent appearances?

7)  Propose the design for an "edition" of a manuscript work.  In a short essay, describe the design of a small pamphlet or chapbook to contain a document or documents of your choice.  Explain what text you would choose to produce in this edition, and why it should be published.  Explain what your typesetting copy would be (manuscript, previous printed text, etc.).  Then exercise your creativity and describe the book's page layout, type fonts, decorative devices, and other details characteristic of fine print publication.  You might get ideas by looking at your "class book," or from the hand-press book lab edition.  Feel free to copy the styles of other printers (a great tradition!), but explain whose styles you are copying and why. Finally, illustrate your proposal with at least one sample page, though you should not attempt to produce the entire edition. Actually producing the book could be your final project for the course if you choose not to work in Special Collections doing descriptive bibliography.

8)  Choose one of the "Uncataloged" books in the Rare Book Collection stacks, and create a descriptive bibliography of it.  Fill out an SC&A Catalog Processing Form (available on GoucherLearn) that will enable a cataloging librarian to enter the book (or series of books) into the online catalog.  In addition to practicing your "desbib" skills on your own, you will want to carefully make use of appropriate online catalogs of other institutions.  In all cases, do not neglect to consult the OCLC "WorldCat" catalog to determine whether other college or university libraries in the US and Canada hold copies of your book.  Some of the institutions which hold copies of an edition will allow OCLC users to "click-through" directly to their catalog entries.  But BE VERY CAREFUL!  Hard-pressed cataloging librarians in past eras have sometimes borrowed entirely, copy-cut-and-paste, a pre-existing OCLC record from another institution.  Do not make the mistake of blindly following their example--it's possibly the only way to fail this assignment.  The target description might be from a copy of a similar but different edition, so the basic bibliographic (signatures/format) and pagination information might be wrong.  If copy-specific information was also copied from the "Notes" or "Other Contributors" sections, you might find multiple institutions repeating the same statements about bindings, former owners' bookplates, inscriptions, and other copy-specific details that cannot possibly exist in different copies of the same edition.  You might even be able to detect the true source for multiple "stolen" bibliographic records in a single library's records for its unique copy.  Some other sources are more often reliable and very useful for determining basic evidence about editions and locations of  For instance, if your book was published in England or one of its colonies before 1800, certainly consult the English Short Title Catalog (ESTC).  If the book was published on the Continent (Europe to Russia), the Karlsrhue University online catalog can give you accesss to hundreds of university libraries, as well as national "Union Catalogs" that cover every book known to have been printed in a given country.  Karlsrhue also covers the continental version of ABEBooks.com, whose dealers often supply invaluable images of title pages and interior pages so that you can compare their copies with ours.  Of course, ABEBooks.com and other online used book dealer catalogs are also useful sources for your search.  The final report for this topic should begin with a properly completed SC&A Catalog Processing Form, followed by a report on your methods of research, your experiences using the resources, and conclusions, a section that might critique or revise your own initial methodology, comment on the existing resources' accuraacy and usefulness, etc.