Reflections on an Archive

Deirdre Clifford

BPL Reflection

I was unsure of what to expect out of my trip to the Boston Public Library; it was confusing to me to see the use of traveling all the way into Boston to see books that were just as accessible online from the comfort of my room. I certainly did not understand the gravity of holding and touching the books which had first been held centuries before or first editions that I had read copies of before. I greatly underestimated the effect the library would have on me as well as the effect seeing and working with the books would have on me.

I was analyzing an early translation of Ovid’s Metamorphosis, translated by George Sandys. The age of the copy would have been impressive in and of itself; it was a missive folio, published in 1632, and clearly delicate from age. I had a strong fear that my touch would disintegrate the pages or that my turning them would ruin the binding (none of which happened, thankfully!) However, the text itself, though fascinating, was nothing compared the marginalia, transcribed from previous authors. Notes scrawled next to the title page predicted that the work I was holding fearfully was the author’s personal copy. There were the hand written initials G.S. and they appeared to be the work of Sandys himself. Having an author’s personal copy was almost too exciting, the fact that I was holding papers that may have been held by Sandys centuries before is still difficult to wrap my mind around.

I have read and admired Ovid’s Metamorphosis before, but never truly took into account the history of the work. Sandys published it in English as a way to bring the story into a new time period, a way to make it available to more people eager to learn. The marginalia displays its import as well, being passed down through various authors in various periods, all interesting in reading and speculating about its history. And our trip into Boston only further seeks this point; traveling in to see and hold these copies, to study and learn from them, years after their publication.

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16 responses to “Reflections on an Archive

  1. Visiting the archive at the Boston Public Library was like nothing I had ever seen before. I have never been exposed to books that old, frail, or valuable before. That being said, seeing the books on the table and knowing they were hundreds of years old and belonged to authors, editors, and others from the 1600s seemed to add an extra layer of caution to the process that was not at all captured in doing digital document analyses.
    Having to walk all the way through the long corridors of the library and up the grand stair cases to get to the rare books room was a dramatic lead up to begin our day at BPL. By the time we all made it to the actual archive, we could see the books laid out and set up on book wedges ready for our curiosity to flip through their tired pages. That’s what I found to be most surprising from this trip—the feel of the pages was heavy and thick, but delicate and brittle at the same time. The thick leather covers looked indestructible by also like a piece of wet cardboard ready to bend or break at any minute.
    Prior to the trip to the BPL, we had all only looked at documents on a computer screen and were able to successfully and completely get all of the information we needed in order to perform an accurate document analysis; similarly, we were all able to do this at the library seeing the books in person. What really makes the process different is actually touching the books. When flipping the pages you can feel the history in each piece of paper as you move it—something impossible to do when clicking the “next” button on EEBO.
    I also found it interesting to see the pamphlet bound into the book. That type of manufacturing is not something that can be appreciated when using an online database. When looking at that book with the inserted pamphlet pages, you can almost imagine the man taking each leaf of the pamphlet and pasting it into the book pages.
    Those types of findings are what made this experience memorable. The unique binding of books, the marginalia, the notes, the way the book felt and looked. Each of these books had a personality that was enhanced by its yellowed pages, frail texture, and overall look. That personality was not captured at all when we examined the cover pages on the online archive. However, I am not sure how much the personality of the book really did play into what information we needed to get out of them. Yes, I think that for other projects that do a more holistic analysis of the book, including the look and feel of the book, this in-person archive would be of much more value. But for us, and our purposes at the moment, I think the same information was captured in our document analyses, regardless of whether we saw the book in person or online.
    The library added the extra layer, though. True, seeing the documents in person wasn’t necessarily captured in our document analyses, but I think being exposed to what these books are actually like was a valuable experience that made me appreciate what I see online more. Now I know the general texture and appearance of what I see on my computer screen. And if I am ever able to use that knowledge in the future—I think it will be an excellent addition to whatever project I am working on.
    Lastly, I think that this trip has provided a lot ideas for updating our document analysis worksheet. Including a section on the look or condition of the book may help to finish the story behind the document. This may better capture the true feeling of each book, which would add a new dimension to the document analysis that we are currently working with.

  2. At first I was not as excited about taking a trip to the Boston Public Library. In my mind I did not see the huge deal behind the trip; I live about ten miles from the city and had been to the library countless times. However, once we made the trip into the city and up into the Rare Books room my mind was changed completely. It was definitely a one of a kind experience, one that I was not expecting at all.
    It was really interesting seeing books that were so old and worn but yet still so in tact. I think in a sense, studying and examining one book in detail made me really feel like I connected with the book and also with the author which was a new feeling to me. I mean I have felt connected and interested in books before, as everyone has, but this was definitely a new and exciting thing. Knowing that some of the books were even the authors own copies was just mind blowing. I think it really helped me become more interested and appreciative of old literature and its connection into our modern world today.
    Personally, I examined Marlowe’s Tamburlaine the Greate. The interesting thing about this quarto was that the printer decided not to give credit to Marlowe; instead he almost seemed to take credit for the work himself. To me, this was so amazing to see, it was like seeing a huge part of history first hand. In that time period, issues came up of printers and editors copyrighting work that was not their own. When this play was printed Marlowe had already passed so if the printer did in fact take credit for his work, really there would be nothing that anyone could do to prove him wrong. That play was one that really showed the issues in that era of printing and printers stealing the works of authors.
    Also, I noticed some written marginalia in a lot of the books, and that was really cool to see. The little notes could have been written in by the author, editor, printer, or even just a common reader for personal enjoyment. They could have been written in while at their time in the BPL or hundreds of years ago. But still, not knowing who or when the notes were written in gave the books a mysterious under tone.
    Overall, I really enjoyed the trip to the BPL, I thought it was a great time and really educating. It definitely increased my interest in what we are doing in the class and the books we are examining. I also think it really helped me understand how books were first printed and how much work actually went into the printing process. Now a days I think we really take this process for granted and do not understand how much it actually took to print a book way back when. The trip really gave me an appreciation for this process and even for the class as a whole.

  3. 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!

  4. My visit to the Boston Public Library was stunted by my unfortunate health at the time. After managing to maneuver and park the van into Boston, I was excited to be there. My first visit to the BPL to get my library card wasn’t a very successful one since they denied me access to a full library card, but I was happy that that didn’t stop me from being able to access the rare book collections and see all of the valuable editions of the collections. One of the first things that caught my eye at the BPL weren’t the books, but the artwork on the walls. After studying in Italy for a semester and being a nerd for art I had learned a lot about Pompeian frescoes and the four different styles of Pompeian frescoes. The BPL had each style present in the building and they were done beautifully and creatively. Each style had its own section within the library. For me, to see these works of art was a great way to being my day.
    After finally getting to the rare books collection I wasn’t sure exactly what we were going to do. I knew that we were going to look at rare books obviously, but I was very unclear as to what the objectives were for the class while looking at these books. As the morning progressed, the objectives still didn’t become all that clear. It was awesome seeing these books, but the why we were seeing them wasn’t made clear until we started doing a document analysis. Then I began to wonder why we were doing a document analysis. Even today I’m still pretty unsure of what all of this is about and what the main point of all that we are doing.
    Besides that lack of understanding, it was still amazing to see these books. I have worked in archives in the library of a house museum in Italy as an internship and I have also done the archiving internship here at Stonehill, but these were by far the most interesting objects I have ever handled. Having experience and interest in the field of archiving made this trip extremely exciting (even though I may not have looked as thrilled as I really was, curse sinus infections) and I had a real appreciation for the care, maintenance, and handling of these rare pieces of history. I was really surprised that the BPL didn’t make any of the visitors who were handling the books wear white gloves. The oils and acid on our hands makes the pages wear quicker and can cause a lot of accidental damage. Another thing I really appreciated was all of the hand written catalogs of the collection because as someone who has had to do that and then digitize it into an online catalog, it is extremely time consuming and monotonous. I can’t wait to go back again in better health and with an actual card so that I can spend more time with the books and are able to handle them without any hiccups.

  5. I enjoyed the trip to the Boston Public Library. I had never been there before, and I think the building itself is beautiful, as others have already stated. Thinking about how much knowledge is contained in the building is incredible; one could easily spend a whole day reading, researching, and relaxing in the serene atmosphere of the library. I would probably go there a lot more often if I lived closer. I’m glad I got to know the area of Boston and the layout of the library just incase I ever need to use it as a resource.
    I was surprised that there was barely any security around the rare books, besides the locked doors and the fact that we had to register with the library. I was also very surprised that there wasn’t a more strict protocol about handling the books, besides handling them very carefully. Like Melissa said, I was expecting to have to use gloves. Professor Bennett said that she noticed some deterioration since the last time she’s seen the books, and that makes me wonder what the books that we saw will look like in a few years. I’m glad myself and my classmates had the opportunity to get up close and personal with the books, but I’d hate to think that the more classes like us and other scholars engage with these rare books, the less likely they are to stay intact for future generations. While EEBO and other archiving databases are a great resource for making sure the content of these books stay around, nothing can compare to actually looking at the 400 year old marginalia, handwritten letters, signatures, and original ink of these books.
    These are texts whose importance has transcended hundreds of years, and to think that I could be laying hands on the author’s personal copy, or even a copy that actually circulated during that time period is incredible. These copies all were, at some point, resting on someone’s bookshelf. Their pages were being explored by candlelight and talked about between friends. While we read about history in books and talk about it in class, it’s hard to imagine a world that existed before we did. We talk about Marlowe and Shakespeare but I know I don’t always remember that they were real people; throughout learning about them and other writers in school, they have just become these distant figures that I need to know to pass tests. But taking the trip to the BPL and experiencing these books first hand truly helped me feel connected with the past and make it seem more tangible.

  6. I found our excursion to the Rare Books and Manuscripts Department of the Boston Public Library to be an amazing experience that surely enhanced my understanding and appreciation of the Early Modern texts that we are working with in this course. My first impression of the Rare Books and Manuscripts Department at the Boston Public Library when I registered was that it was quite hidden, like an attic holding mysterious and antique treasures. When I returned for the field trip, I was excited to have the opportunity to physically touch and examine the pages of the 450 year-old texts. Before delving into a specific text, I enjoyed surveying the pages that were discolored with age and the illustrations that were impressively detailed of the various texts that our class would be analyzing. As I held each text in my hands and observed it closely, I began to think about how much time and effort printers had to exert to produce these texts. It was also easier to appreciate how much these texts must have cost because of the work that went into producing them and how this would affect the audience and availability of these texts to mainly the upper class.
    My group did a document analysis on “Ovid’s Metamorphosis Englished Mythologized and Represented Figures: An Essay to the Translation of Virgil’s Aeneis” by G. Sandys. There was written marginalia that indicated that the reader believed that this text was G. Sandys’ original copy. It was amazing to examine the reader’s handwritten notes because they provided a window into the way in which he was actively interacting with the text. We looked on EEBO after the field trip and noticed that these handwritten marginalia were not included which I feel is a disservice to the reader. After we examined the handwritten marginalia, we continued interpreting the rest of the title page. As we participated in this in situ analysis, we could closely examine the style of font, the text and the illustrations in a more intimate and detailed way than on EEBO. While I was looking at the title page as it was in front of me, I could see how the page was discolored with age, which made the date of publication of 1632 seem more realistic than its pure white portrayal on EEBO. Then, we thought about the nature of the title and the words that G. Sandys incorporated into the title to show that it was an interpretation of Ovid’s Aeneid. He utilized the words “Englished” and “Mythologized” to show that the text is a more modern interpretation of Ovid’s Aeneid; thus, a representation of a representation. The most interesting part of the experience for me was observing the detailed illustrations and the impressive amount of time, effort and money that the printers and editors must have put into the production of this text. Although the illustrations are accessible online for this text on EEBO, the illustrations were clearer in person. On EEBO, the smaller details of the pictures are too dark to see mostly because it is a representation of a representation of a representation. EEBO creates a situation in which there is another level of distance that is created between the reader and the text. It was a helpful experience to evade one of these levels of distance so that I could more closely examine the details of the illustrations. I also enjoyed being able to feel the texture of the cover of the book and understand that it was leather. It was easier to appreciate the detail of the illustrations and the effort, time, and money that the printers and editors put into the production of this text in situ rather than through the digital archive.
    Personally, I prefer the in situ analysis as compared to the digital archive of EEBO because I can interact with the text in a closer, less removed manner. I believe that the digital archive puts another level of distance between the reader and the text, which makes it more difficult to appreciate it in its entirety. Although the digital archive does create this distance, EEBO is a great resource that makes these 450-year-old texts available in some manner to the public. The question that I would pose is what are we sacrificing with another level of representation? My worry is that as we continue to create distance from the original, will future generations believe that the simulation is real?

  7. Working in the Boston Public Library was a really cool experience, and I am glad I had the opportunity to see what they had to offer. The Rare Books room was a really interesting room that looked like it was out of a movie, with very old and very rare books displayed behind glass cases all the way around the room. The dim lighting combined with the backlit books in their cases made for a very mysterious feeling throughout the room. Inside, we were actually able to touch the books, which was quite an experience. I was able to look through the play Tamburlaine, which was published in the year 1605. The pages were extremely old and frail, and included some written in marginalia that really added to the experience of being able to physically see the books. This particular printing of the play did not have an author attributed to it, but someone at some unknown point in time had written in “C. Marlowe” for us. We discovered through the foreword by the printer that he wished to have the work contributed to himself rather that Marlow, which is why he left out Marlow’s name. This is noteworthy because Tamburlaine was a very popular play at the time, and readers would have known the true author just by the name.
    I found it interesting that on the inside cover of the back of the book was a page that commemorated the date of May, 1873 as the date when the book was added to the Boston Public Library. Even that date was impressively old, the United States was still getting over the Civil War at the point that the play was added to the library. This information was not included in the EEBO edition available online, which really shows how much better the experience is in situ.
    Overall, the trip to the Rare Books room at the Boston Public Library was very successful, and I would definitely enjoy going again. Even the architecture and design of the actual library were beautiful; the staircase with the stone lions was quite a sight, as were the large tapestries and paintings on the walls. Coming from a small town with a smaller library, the grandness of the Boston Library was unexpected but a welcome surprise.

  8. 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.

  9. I had a great experience working with early modern texts at the Boston Public Library. However, I initially wondered if the trip would be worth all the effort. Between getting a library card, registering for the Rare Books and Manuscripts Department, dealing with snow storms, and driving to Boston in a 12-person van, I thought our two hours at the BPL wouldn’t justify the struggle. I was pleasantly surprised.

    I have always preferred holding books and flipping through their pages to reading digital copies. When I read things online, my eyes tend to glaze over and miss important information. EEBO is a convenient tool for finding and reading ancient texts, but for me, the website lacks the intimacy of a library. I was excited to see 450-year-old copies of plays and poems by great writers like Shakespeare, Nashe, and Marlowe and feel connected to their works and the stories behind them. Still, I didn’t realize how incredibly cool it would be to touch pieces of history.

    My group analyzed a copy of Much Adoe About Nothing, a Shakespearean play written in 1600, that contains the marginalia of George Stevens, who owned the piece during the mid 1700s. I found myself imagining how far this play must have travelled and how many paths it must have crossed to have ended up in my hands. We live in a highly technological world where information is rarely lost and material things are discarded as quickly as they are created. Yet as an aspiring author and a proud romantic, I love the idea of my own writing passing through the centuries.

    This experience played with my imagination in more ways than one. The books were works of art, some of which had paint-splattered covers, rainbow pages, gold lettering, and more. They had character; personality and handcrafted touches that have been replaced, nowadays, with uniformity and commercialized designs. Being among these rare texts made me realize why I fell in love with books in the first place. It also taught me why digital archiving is important and how our class is contributing to the literary world. Every text in the Rare Books and Manuscripts Department had a story to tell. I, for one, am excited to unravel the mysteries.

  10. Having known a bit about the BPL field trip before signing up for the class, I had been looking forward to it for a long time. It was one of the reasons I signed up for the class because it was such an interesting and different approach to analyzing literature. Right from the beginning, the library made the entire process very easy. When I walked in to get a library card and register with the rare books section, I was immediately told to where I needed to go and how to get there. There were signs clearly indicating where everything was, making the building easy to navigate. The woman registering me was very polite and efficient. This visit took a total of twenty minutes and was much easier than I anticipated.
    When we went to actually analyze the documents, the process was very different from what I had imagined. Because Professor Bennett said we were an unusually young group to be studying such old texts, I thought we would be restricted in our access. However I was wrong. We were given the documents we needed and were left to our own devices without any interference. The room itself seemed almost otherworldly with all the different texts it held from various times.
    I studied Much Adoe About Nothing. Days earlier I had looked at it online but the version on the computer could not compare to the physical copy that I could turn the pages with my own hands instead of by clicking on a mouse. The pages were far more weathered that they had appeared online and yellowed with age. There was writing all over the margins, and while unfortunately most of it was too faded to read, gave me a sense of just how old the text really was. We had also figured out beforehand that it was only one of the few surviving editions of the cuarto, adding to the appreciation of being able to actually handle it.
    One of the interesting things we found was the attribution given to Shakespeare on the front, a rarity for its time. Typically the printer would be given credit, but not the author of the play. We decided this was a tribute to shakespeare’s popularity and his ability to appeal to all people with his plays. The spelling of Shakespeare’s name also had an unexpected backstory. Originally, he probably did not have an e in his name, but because the k and s were similar looking when printed and would blend together, an e was added to his name to distinguish between the two letters. That is something that wouldn’t even be close to a problem today, yet something as simple as spelling could cause a printer problems, again putting into perspective just how primitive the printing press was when these texts were created.
    At the end we were allowed to go and look at the other texts the groups had been analyzing, enriching the experience at the BPL even further. The trip truly added to my appreciate for texts we are studying.

  11. Before going to the Boston Public Library, I was not really sure what to expect. I know that we have worked with texts from hundreds of years ago in class, and I did not know what it would feel like to work with them in person. Just seeing the library on the outside was interesting. I know that this is a library for the city, so it would be appropriate for it to be extravagant. I’m from a small town and have never really been to a library that looked so beautiful. Before this trip, I thought most libraries were mundane and boring looking. However, after seeing not only the architecture but the overall atmosphere of the library itself, my opinion has definitely been changed. When we first arrived at the rare books section of the library, the atmosphere thrilled me. It seemed as though we were looking at things that were in some ways secretive. I felt as though I was researching and studying things that others may not have the opportunity to do. I have never been to an archive like the one in the Boston Public Library. I find it interesting already to work with texts from centuries ago using databases like EEBO, so I found it amazing to actually be able to work with them in person.
    Before going to the library, I was at times confused with the online databases and how to correctly use the texts and see what was most important to see. I thought it was a great experience to be able to look at texts first hand and be able to see them up close. As we were working with the texts in person, I felt that we were doing a lot more than just looking at texts. In some ways, I felt as though I was looking at the past and the history that went along with it. It was amazing seeing such personal marginalia (even letters) that authors and editors had written to one another during that time period.
    With my group, I closely studied Ovid’s Metamorphosis. I found it very interesting that there was not much to say about the author on the text, just that it was signed “G.S”. After studying this work first hand, I now definitely understand how important doing this is. Doing a document analysis was both easier and more interesting when I was looking at the text in person. Overall, I thought the trip was a great experience.

  12. Working at the Boston Public Library was definitely a unique experience. I had been there only once before, on new years eve, but did not get a real chance to look around too much because they were close to closing. I did make it to the room outside the rare book study room, though, which I thought was sort of a strange coincidence that I’d end up there again less than two months later. It is a huge building with tons of nooks and crannies, but that is where I’d ended up.
    I’ve always had a thing for old books, but I think some of these were really older than I am used to. I love going to antique stores, and books are one of the things I always find myself drawn to. Books have always been an important part of culture – ever since people started writing things down – and I like the idea that we can hold and work with texts that were read, owned or handled by prominent literary figures of the past. Pencilled-in margin notes are fascinating even if you cannot fully decipher them. They seem to make the book living and breathing with its own opinions and comments. The copy of Much Adoe about Nothing we encountered looked as if it had been owned by George Stevens, an eighteenth century editor of Shakespeare. I went through every page reviewing the notes that he wrote, and although I could not read probably 85% of them because the script was so squished and scratchy, it was still infinitely cool that they existed. When I find interesting books in antique shops I immediately look for marginalia inside that brings the past to life.
    These texts are obviously extant, but I still think it’s sort of sad to see the pages deteriorating right before our eyes. The big catalogues were falling apart, loose pages everywhere and little rectangular pieces of page snapped off from the edges so you could not even tell which side belonged at the seam and which belonged on the outer edge. Nothing lasts forever, but I will say I thought the pages of Much Adoe being pasted into a larger book to keep them intact was a genius idea. And when you have to handle the fragile texts with so much care, it really feels like you must really be doing something special. So many mysteries lie within the pages, and I think my antique book-love was gladly revamped.

  13. I enjoyed the Boston Public Library Archives trip a lot because it was definitely a learning experience, working with books that are so old that they are rather sacred and almost sacrosanct since the BPL workers are very meticulous with rules regarding who is allowed to go near the books, yet alone touch them and physically interact with them. Books looked so different back then. Bindings and covers looked so much more individualized and, in that sense, more expensive. Our books now all have the same cover per amassed publication and they are often paperbacks. I didn’t see any paperbacks there.

    I think it’s a bit funny how, nowadays, we often look upon marginalia as if it’s this gook on the work. We usually try to buy new books or with light- to no markings. It’s like we don’t think our contemporary scholars and readers have interesting thoughts to note, yet we find any marginalia as absolutely fascinating and analyzable from past centuries, time periods, and cultures. I guess we shouldn’t marginalize our own marginalia because, in the future, it might be fascinating to scholars and readers attending their library archives.

    Books decay over time. That’s definitely something I noticed. I suppose, being material, it shouldn’t surprise me, but it still did because they’re sturdy-looking hardcover books, yet, with much use, they still begin to sort of atrophy. That’s why we have to be so careful with these books is because they’re so vulnerable to just unbind themselves or tear off pages. You can’t just come by another copy, like you can with modern publications. These books, being so old, teach you the importance of circumspection, carefulness, and care towards these books. I guess it’s kind of a nice thought that, even though books age and wrinkle a bit, as long as their readers provide a gentle love and home, will remain for centuries and centuries. They’re not permanent pieces, but with diligence and care, they can be much less mortal than humans.

    I thought it was really cool, looking at publications of books used by the Romantic poets. It’s cool, realizing that these great literary figures all read some of the same things we currently read, like Shakespeare and Marlowe, and it’s even cooler to see how some of them read it: what the text looked like to them—its size, its font, its pages. It’s all really fascinating. We were trying to look at these old texts as if we were Sherlockian deducers, looking for clues. There are so many different clues to sort through, including stamps, bindings, marginalia, longer titles, subtitles, dedications, and dates. Of the group I was working in, Megan was the best with noticing interesting details, like how the publication date differs from the binding date by ten years. So, the book may have been re-bound ten years after it was initially printed. Fascinating. The pages were numbered differently, too. Our book, A Pleasant Comedie, called Summer’s last will and Testament (1600), had pages that were ordered from 1a-d to 2a-d and so on, instead of just 1 to 2 to 3. I’m not sure the thought process behind that decision, but I’d be curious to find out.

    I think it’s also quite interesting how Professor Bennett said some of the stories, passed on orally, could be altered in certain publications based on who provided the lines, like an actor performing the play whose character has few lines, but this actor may attribute many of the lines to his character. I think it’d be interesting to see a published play with those sorts of crazy character discrepancies.

  14. I arrived a bit early to the Boston Public Library in order to get my library card. The process went smoothly and before I knew it I was off to the rare books section. There were signs pointing me in the right direction and it would have been very hard to get lost. I had been to the library the year before on my own personal field trip, in an attempt to change the pace of my everyday scenery at Stonehill. The grandeur of the building and its architecture only enhanced my experience, so I was more than happy to come back and become a member of the library myself.
    Working in the rare books room was something I will never forget. Working with texts that were so old was truly fascinating. I certainly felt like a detective, aiming to look at every last detail of the works in an attempt to find something new or something that had been overlooked. I spent most of my time with a copy of William Shakespeare’s “Much ado about Nothing” ti was printed in the year sixteen hundred. I was surprised to see that it was still in decent shape. At sometime they took the pamphlets in which it was written and pasted them into a larger book in an attempt to preserve it. It did the trick because I was even able to make out some of the scribbles in the margins and on the back of the title page. The most interesting thing I learned was that the owner of the 1600 copy of “Much ado about Nothing”, George Stevens, used that copy in order to make changes and edits. He then later was one of the editors of a ten volume collection of William Shakespeare’s plays. So we can deduce that George Stevens used his edits from his own personal copy of “Much ado about Nothing” in that larger ten volume project.
    Overall I only have positive things to say about the Boston Public Library, I would be more than happy to go back and see what else is hiding on the shelves of the rare books room.

  15. Our trip to the Boston Public Library was such an eye opening experience for me. Aside from Stonehill’s own library, I hadn’t actually been to a library since high school simply due to the fact that most research materials and articles are stored in digital warehouses and databases. Physically going into Boston, our state’s capital was a fun journey because it brought me back to the days in which people had to travel to ideological centers and places that housed this type of knowledge. This is especially relevant to the age we are studying when print materials were just starting to be generated which made the sharing of these works that much more difficult.

    Additionally, just being in the BPL was a great experience in itself. It represents this physical mecca for knowledge and history which society seems to sometimes forget about due to the move towards digital archives. We forget as a people that actual places that house the physical copies of this intellectual production exist in the world and not just in some intangible cyber space. The Rare Books and Manuscripts room was very interesting to explore because one realizes that it houses books that were handled, read, and touched hundreds of years ago. Prior to the field trip I didn’t necessarily see stark differences between viewing a document in person versus through a digital archive, but after experiencing this field trip I definitely can see huge benefits in this work. For one, my group explored Tamburlaine the Great and found that the EEBO file differed from the physical book in that the BPL book contained a very important piece of marginalia on the title page. “C. Marlowe” was hand written in on the title page. This was a huge discovery for my team in that we began to make so many questions of what this could mean for the printer in his decision not to print the author’s name in the first place, as well as who wrote the name on the page to begin with, etc. This was enlightening for me to discover that actually handling the hard copy of the text can illuminate so much more than a digitally archived version can begin to do.

  16. 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.

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