BPL Archive Reflection

I found our field trip to the Rare Books and Manuscripts Department at the Boston Public Library to be an amazing experience. When I got my library card and registered with the Rare Books and Manuscripts Department at the BPL before the semester started, I was impressed by both the enormity and the beauty of the building, but the significance of what we were going to study didn’t stick out to me at the time. When we started working with the texts on EEBO in class and I got a better feel for what we were going to be looking at when we got to the library, I started to get more excited for the trip. After completing a few document analyses, I really felt ready to dive into the texts at the archive.
Holding the documents in my hands felt like both holding a piece of history and being a part of it. I got so much more out of being able to physically look through the documents at the archive than I ever did looking through electronic versions of the same texts on EEBO. It was so interesting to see margin notes from previous readers/editors/printers, and trying to decode why certain elements of the documents seemed to be altered or missing altogether. For example, I looked at Christopher Marlowe’s “Tamburlaine the Great” on EEBO and at the archive. When looking online at EEBO’s copy of the document, we noticed that there was no attribution to Marlowe anywhere to be found. The online version of the document was very difficult to read, so it was hard for us to come up with an educated guess as to why this was the case. However, when we worked with the original document at the archive, we were able to really dig into the dedication by the printer and discovered that he chose to omit Marlowe’s name from the document as well as alter parts of the play to make it his own and to appeal to a more sophisticated and upper-class part of society. We also noticed that the original document had the name “C. Marlowe” lightly written in pencil on the title page what seemed like a long time after the document was printed. I found it so fascinating to really see the dynamic between printer, author, and the society that was receiving the document, which was something that I never would have picked up on by only looking at the EEBO version of the document. Working in the archive really made me appreciate the fact that so much has been preserved over the years, and the fact that we can still learn new things every day about these documents. Prior to this trip, I definitely took for granted how many resources are out there for us to explore, and how much more value is in physically holding the document rather than using EEBO. I would be really interested to take another trip to the Boston Public Library and spend more time with these documents to see what else there is to learn!


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