The Rare Books and Manuscript Office at the Boston Public Library offered a different experience for reading and engaging with old texts. My previous experiences have involved reading digitalized copies of these manuscripts or reprinted modern versions of these texts. However, being able to handle actual manuscripts allowed me to experience things that can only be done in person. Things like the physical size of the book affected my perceptions of what I was reading. Some manuscripts were much smaller than I was used to and made the text feel more intimate. Some manuscripts were part of collections in large books, this made me engage what I know about one text with the other texts it was combined with. The illustrations in the books were easier to observe and analyze in person than on an online file. Also, sometimes digitalized copies miss some information. For instance, Nashe’s Summer’s Last Will and Testament had in the text that it was published in 1600, but on the spine of the book it said 1610. This important information was not provided on the Early English Books Online database. Also, many of the manuscripts contained marginalia not visible in online copies. Some of this marginalia can offer important insight, such as dates.
I thought it was exciting to be holding texts possibly held by the authors themselves and to know that so many people have read the same book that I was holding. I really enjoyed seeing some of the marginalia that included notes like “very rare” and rhyme schemes, showing that perhaps someone like me had been analyzing this text and taking notes at some points in the last 400 years. It was amazing to be able to engage so immediately with literature and history which often feels much removed from present day. I understood what many professors have suggested, that studying English is like being a detective. I was excited that the more I looked at a text the more things I discovered in it. This trip was a great experience that offered so many new ways to engage with texts.