Deirdra Chapman BPL Reflection


The most interesting thing I learned during the first BPL trip on 2/10 was how truly delicate these texts are and how intricate all the details are on them. It is incredible to think that I got to touch and read and feel several rare books that are hundreds of years old. I was taken back by how much history was in the literature back then, and how the two subjects seemed to go hand in hand. When we were first instructed to register with the Rare Books and Manuscripts Department over winter break, I had absolutely no idea that I was in for a truly amazing and culturally enriching experience. I was intimidated by the dark and quiet room I had entered, I felt like it was some sort of super-secret room that performed covert operations. I have lived outside of Boston my entire life, and had never been to the BPL, so this trip was overdue in my book. I am only a freshman, so still early on in my English career. However, the discovery of the Rare Books Room has given me a place that I can refer back to as I continue to advance deeper into my English studies. I know it is going to be a great resource for me over the next several years, and then later on in life once I become an English teacher. Where else, in close proximity, can you go to a repository for an array of the most rare books, manuscripts, and other historical artifacts? This department does a wonderful job preserving and creating access to these rare collections, and allows the scholarly community to thrive off of them.

I thought EEBO and those other digital archives were incredible when we were first shown them. I had no idea some of these texts even existed, but the fact that we could view them digitally was awesome. Now after the BPL visit, I can say nothing is more amazing than actually dealing with the rare books and pamphlets in situ. I had the privilege of analyzing Tamburlaine the Greate, a text that was unknown to me before this visit. Sure, the book smelled musty and putrid, but that musty smell was the scent of hundreds of years of history; in a way the airless odor you smell when you open one of these old books takes you back to the historical moment when it was first created. I really loved the black type font displayed in Tamburlaine because I though it looked eloquent and vivid at the same time. I liked being able to actually view what a typical quarto looked like. I can use Tamburlaine as a reference now when I analyze different rare texts. The most interesting part of analyzing the cover pages in Tamburlaine was that there was no attribution to Marlowe, even though everyone in 1605 would have known this was one of his pieces. Professor Bennett then explained to us how the printer might have been trying to sell the story off as his own. Seeing this text of Tamburlaine has made me more curious, so I would like to dig deeper and see if I can discover other versions of this book and see how they differ in appearance. There was a bit of written marginalia on the inside cover page that read “C. Marlowe.” We do not know who wrote this, why they wrote it, or when they wrote it. Part of the fun in dealing with these types of rarities is the air of mystery that accompanies them. We cannot know every specific detail about their individual characteristics, unless someone was actually there in 1605 when it was printed, so it is fun to try to come up with a rationale for why things are they way they are. The thing that fascinates me the most is that not one of these texts looks the exact same.

This class is giving me a whole new sense of appreciation for these older texts, pieces I never got the opportunity to study in high school. Going to the BPL was the perfect way to get a hands-on experience for all the class discussions we have about the origins of printing and the tedious work it required. Now having been accustomed to the Rare Books Department, I can definitely see myself going back there quite often for both scholarly advances and personal endeavors. 


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