This is a chance to compare script, print, and electronic text encoding side-by-side, in real time. The text will be written in manuscript, printed in movable type, and encoded by three teams, starting at 1pm.
In this blogpost we’ll report on the progress and the thoughts of the scribes, printers and encoders as they work through the same text, a portion of Psalm 107 (‘… They that go down to the sea in ships …’), to create a published version, in one or many copies.
Onlookers are welcome in Blackwell Hall, the main public foyer of the Weston Library on Broad Street, Oxford.
The Bodleian publications now available to read on HathiTrust are especially helpful for researching the manuscripts, archives, and rare books that now form the library’s special collections. While most of our catalogues are now accessed primarily in digital forms, many readers overlook introductory printed guides. You can now read The Bodleian Library: A Subject Guide to the Collections (2004) for an overview of the system, or R.W. Hunt’s introduction to the library’s intricate system of shelfmarks in the first volume of the Summary Catalogue (1953). For recreation, you might simply browse photos of the Bodleian in the early 1950s.
We are grateful to everyone who made this project possible: Andrew Dunning, Samuel Fanous, Sarah Barkla, Ruth Mallalieu, Beth Gibbs, and Martin Kauffmann. We also thank our colleagues at Oxford University Press, who printed our books before the formation of Bodleian Library Publishing and supported this project.
Examining several copies of the same book, especially one printed before 1500, is an enlightening experience. The copy-census is a valuable method for the study of early printing and one which requires personal inspection of copies which may be widely distributed around the world. To do this in person is a long and expensive process. A glimpse of the knowledge gained, though, could be had in a virtual visit to eight libraries, coordinated on 4 May 2021 to look at copies of one particular publication, the 1481 edition of Dante’s Comedia with a commentary by 15th-century Florentine scholar Christoforo Landino.
Although the invention of printing seemed to promise a stream of identical copies from the press, scholars of early printing are well aware that this was not always the result. Stop-press changes and accidents in the press account for minor or sometimes major differences between copies of the same edition. The marks of ownership over several hundred years have added further copy-specific elements to the objects held in libraries today.
Springing happily from a suggestion by Tabitha Tuckett, Rare-Books Librarian at University College London, this international tour co-hosted by UCL and the Bodleian Libraries Centre for the Study of the Book, with support from the Italian Cultural Institute in London and the Bibliographical Society of America, expanded on a growing practice of librarians showing books online using a visualiser. In pre-pandemic times the visualiser or document camera could be used for teaching in a lecture theatre or at a distance; in times of limited international travel it is a way to communicate across institutions, and librarians have grasped the possibility of ‘face-to-face’ comparisons on camera, as at the January, 2021 seminar on Myles Coverdale’s Goostley Psalmes between the Queen’s College Oxford, Beinecke, and Bodleian Libraries.
The event included short talks on Dante (Professor John Took, UCL and Dr. Alessandro Scafi, Warburg Institute), Botticelli’s illustrations (Professor Gervase Rosser, University of Oxford), on surviving copies (Professor Cristina Dondi, University of Oxford and Secretary of CERL) and on the context of the book’s production (Dr. Tabitha Tuckett, UCL).
Library curators from several institutions gave their time and expertise to this exciting tour which revealed the complexity of the original printing project and the rich history of collecting this edition over the succeeding centuries. A recording of the online event is hoped for. Libraries taking part in the 4 May virtual tour:
· Bodleian Libraries, Oxford, UK (co-organiser)
· Library Services, University College London, UK (co-organiser)
· Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Firenze, Italy
· Biblioteca Vallicelliana di Roma, Italy
· The Morgan Library & Museum, New York, USA
· The British Library, UK
· John Rylands Library, University of Manchester, UK
2021: Updating the discovery of detachable woodblock hats in Bodleian broadside ballads, we’ve had a printing block made with the detachable hat, and a matching hat for the woman pictured on the same ballad sheet, ‘Unconstant Phillis’.
The idea of applying image-matching software to the illustrations within the broadside ballad collection occurred to Giles Bergel in 2011. Under a John Fell Foundation-funded pilot project in that year Dr Bergel, in partnership with the Bodleian Library, asked Professor Andrew Zisserman of the Visual Geometry Group at Oxford to test their pioneering technology on a sample of broadside ballads.
The hat — in “Unconstant Phillis”
The hat — in “The Noble Gallant”
The first step was to obtain high-quality images. A sample of 800 ballads dating from the seventeenth century was chosen: this was the period when ballads were most typically illustrated, with a combination of commissioned and stock images. Photography, carried-out by the Bodleian’s Imaging Services studio, was funded with a grant from the John Fell Fund. High-quality colour images (600 DPI, 24-bit) were the result: these are now mounted within the current Ballads database and replace some of the older, lower-quality bitonal images which the Bodleian is hoping to fully replace.
Relja Arandjelovic at the Visual Geometry Group processed the new images and built a test site to demonstrate the image matching. The results were impressive: the pilot proved that software can match woodcut images on multiple printings, in varying conditions. The software, still under development, will be migrated to a new Bodleian Broadside Ballads interface under the current JISC-funded project.
What does “image match” offer to researchers?
Researchers working with ballads quickly notice that the same or similar woodblock-printed illustrations appear on multiple broadsides. The same hand-holding couple appears time and again on ballads of love; the same ships decorate songs of naval battles; the same cityscape appears, surprisingly, in ballads about London and Troy. And sometimes the same illustrations appeared in early modern English books and pamphlets, too. (See A guide to English illustrated books, 1536-1603, by Ruth Samson Luborsky and Elizabeth Ingram).
The repetition of generic illustrations in this way is often derided as evidence of ballads’ lowly status, but (as well as providing evidence for popular iconography), for early-modern bibliographic detectives, the re-use of woodblocks provides evidence for the date of a ballad’s printing: deterioration of a woodblock might be a way to establish a timeline of broadsides that share the same illustration.
But there are other questions to be answered, sometimes questions we didn’t even know we needed to ask, which could be answered by selection portions of woodcut printed images: like, ‘Where DID you get that hat?’
A ballad sheet in the image matching test site
Selection of a portion of the image to match in the test site
The result of matches across 800 digital images of ballad sheets in Bodleian collections
Different men, same hat, even the same wormholes: evidently the HAT is a woodblock with a life of its own
Elisa Cozzi, The Queen’s College, Oxford
DPhil student in English Language and Literature
shortlisted for the Colin Franklin Prize for Book Collecting, 2021
Irish gothic novels were among the first examples of the genre and greatly influenced later authors who played a key role in the development of the novel as a literary form, including Jane Austen, Mary Shelley, and Walter Scott. Unlike Ann Radcliffe’s popular gothic romances, set in a vague medieval past in faraway southern Italy or France, Irish gothic novels such as Regina Maria Roche’s The Children of The Abbey (1796) and Clermont (1798), Sydney Owenson’s The Wild Irish Girl (1806), and Charles Maturin’s The Milesian Chief (1812) and Melmoth the Wanderer (1820) share Irish settings, characters, and themes. They deal, directly or indirectly, with Irish history and politics and were influential in the development of Irish literary nationalism.
Roche’s The Children of the Abbey, once among the top bestsellers of the Romantic Age, has had a lasting impact on my studies. While researching material for my undergraduate dissertation I purchased a mid-nineteenth century illustrated edition of The Children of the Abbey from an independent Irish bookshop (John’s Bookshop in Athlone, Co. Westmeath). Printed by William Lane and A.K. Newman’s infamous London-based Minerva Press, which specialised in gothic novels and became the most prolific popular press of the age, my copy is a small one-volume edition, measuring 3x5x1.5 inches and bound in rib grain book-cloth with faint remnants of gilt ornaments on the spine. Although it is undated, the title page of the volume is signed “Elizabeth Jessop, 1859” in faded black ink, while the front free endpaper displays a handwritten place name, “Doory Hall, Co. Longford”.
Intrigued by these allusive traces of past readers, I discovered that the Jessops were an Anglo-Irish family of the landed gentry, with their seat in Doory Hall, near Longford. I also found (in Burke’s Peerage) that Frederick Thomas Jessop, Esq. had a child called Elizabeth, born between 1839 and the early 1840s. Thus, she would have been around fifteen or twenty years old when she put her signature in this copy in 1859: the perfect age to enjoy what was, by then, a good gothic classic. I find it fascinating that although the Jessops’ extensive library was sold upon the family’s demise, and their big house fell into ruin in the 1920s, a few of their books, like my own copy, survived to tell the forgotten tale of their past owners. This exciting discovery initiated me to the study of the book as material culture and inspired me to research the history of the Minerva Press and its gothic output. During my postgraduate course at Oxford I turned this research into a paper on Bibliography and Book History and included a bibliographical analysis of my own copy of The Children of the Abbey.
Although technically belonging to the genre of the ‘national tale’, Owenson’s The Wild Irish Girl contains strong gothic elements and themes, including a ruined castle on a cliff, a sensitive female protagonist, an ancient crime, and a nocturnal, blood-chilling plot twist. What most struck me upon a first reading was the presence of constant comparisons between Ireland and Italy throughout the novel. Irish places, traditions, landscapes, literature, and art are continually juxtaposed with their Italian equivalents. While the evocation of Italy and things Italian in gothic novels was mainstream, as Italy had been shaped as ‘quintessentially gothic’ since Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto (1764) and Ann Radcliffe’s The Italian (1797) and The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794), I soon realised that, in the Irish context, the Irish-Italian comparisons served a political purpose. In the early 1800s, when The Wild Irish Girl was published, both Ireland and Italy were grappling with foreign domination, fighting to gain independence from England and Austria, respectively. Thus, by bringing Italy and Ireland together, the radical Owenson (one of the founders of Irish cultural nationalism) framed Italy as a compelling mirror-image of Ireland, the epitome of a ‘nation’ oppressed by foreign powers, a politically subversive ‘double’ of Ireland. After all, ‘doublings’ and ‘mirrorings’ are classic features of gothic narratives.
The Wild Irish Girl alerted me to a previously unappreciated wealth of Irish-Italian literary connections in the Romantic period, and has directly inspired my doctoral thesis topic. In the case of Irish gothic novels especially, Ireland and Italy are often brought together and personified in overtly political romance plots. A good example is Charles Robert Maturin’s The Milesian Chief, which tells the story of an Irish-Italian girl called Armida Fitzalban who, although promised to an Englishman, travels to Ireland and falls in love with the Irish Connal O’Morven, the descendant of a dispossessed Gaelic prince, and fights alongside him in a rebellion against the English. A similar politicised Irish-Italian plot is at the centre of Bianca: A Tale of Erin and Italy (1852), another forgotten gothic tale by Maturin’s son Edward. These avenues of research brought me to my current doctoral project, which looks at the literary connections between Italy and Ireland in 1798-1848, with a particular focus on the literary production of Irish exiles and expatriates in the Italian peninsula.
No Irish gothic collection would be complete without the Victorian classics Carmilla (1872) and Uncle Silas (1864) by Sheridan Le Fanu, Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890), and Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897). The last notable Irish-Italian novel in my collection is a second edition of Luttrell of Arran (1863) by Charles Lever (1806-1872). My 1866 edition is enriched by 44 illustrations by H.K. Brown and has an emerald binding embossed with Celtic patterns. Partly set in Italy and containing humorous-gothic tropes, Luttrell was written in Trieste (about an hour away from my hometown) where Lever, predating James Joyce, spent the last years of his life.
Despite their critical neglect, the enduring appeal of Irish gothic classics is reflected in contemporary publications. For example, Sarah Perry’s Melmoth (2018) reimagines Maturin’s masterpiece in a feminist key, while Kiran Millwood Hargrave’s The Deathless Girls (2019) tells the untold story of Dracula’s three vampire brides.
 John Burke, A Genealogical and Heraldic Dictionary of the Landed Gentry of Great Britain and Ireland (London: Colburn, 1847): 649.
Yvette Siegert, Merton College, Oxford
DPhil student Medieval & Modern Languages
In order to consult the historical archives in Cartagena, Colombia, you have no choice but to visit the Palace of the Inquisition. You climb a grand colonial staircase, past displays of religious iconography and authentic torture devices, to the only air-conditioned room in the building. There you meet with Don Aníbal, the archivist, who invites you to sit in front of a blinking computer screen and describe what you are looking for. Birth certificates, newspaper folios, fin-de-siècle magazines, city plans, or revolutionary pamphlets – it makes no difference: Don Aníbal can coax almost any resource out of the cumbersome digital database that only he can decipher.
The problem lies in procuring the desired item itself, since it may no longer be available. One of the obstacles to preserving materials in Cartagena is the intense year-round tropical heat and humidity. Onsite documents have suffered the effects of dampness or flooding; various irreplaceable volumes have disintegrated owing to disorder or neglect. Digitisation efforts have not been able to keep up, and many documents of national interest are stored in far-off Bogotá, the capital of Colombia.
My aim as a collector parallels my research aims as a D.Phil student: to understand how Cartagena managed to survive its century-long stagnation since Independence and become a central inspiration for important works of Spanish American political thought and cultural production.
The reason my collection keeps expanding – one extra suitcase per visit – is owing to my desire to develop my D.Phil thesis into a cultural history of the city, one that will not only trace its broader intellectual and literary currents but also incorporate details of its astonishing contradictions and inequalities, while capturing its vibrant whimsy, resilience, and creativity. This book collection is a loving act of resistance against forgetting the history of a city that is not only essential to my intellectual growth but also, I’ve discovered, a part of my family heritage.
Some items came into the collection thanks to my friendship with Ibeth, the first person I ever met in Cartagena. Ibeth – we share a name – manages Librería Los Mártires, a famous makeshift bookstall in the archway of the clock tower in the heart of the city. During my fieldwork, I’d visit her on most days and stay for a cup of hot tinto under the breezy arches. Ibeth introduced me to Ruby Rumié’s Tejiendo Calle/Weaving Streets, an artbook from a ground-breaking exhibition, at Nohra Haime Gallery, that portrayed fifty of Cartagena’s famous Afro-Colombian palenqueras, or street vendors, who are depicted in brochures and guidebooks in familiar costumes bearing the colours of the Colombian flag. This exhibition called urgent attention to the women’s exploitation in a gentrifying city where they are icons of its largest economy.
My favourite workplace in Cartagena is a bookshop named Ábaco, where the shop-sellers let customers sit for hours with a book and a glass of coffee (or cocktail). There I obtained Ortíz Cassiani’s account of the Cartagena railway, a rare work of scholarship that shows how the ‘devil train’ modernised the city and connected it to the interior metropolitan centre.
One of the most unusual items in my collection is the recent full-length comic Lezo, about the blind, one-legged hero who miraculously staved off an invasion by Sir Edward Vernon, who was so confident of a victorious plunder that he had celebratory commemorative coins minted in England ahead of his sea voyage. This book, crowd-sourced and self-published in Spain, calls attention to a nearly-forgotten hero of Spanish America.
Collecting books about Cartagena is part of an attempt to resist the erasure of the city’s past while remaining hopeful about the prospect of peace in Colombia. That optimism is sustained by the friendships that make my collection possible.
Books mentioned in this extract:
Rumié, Ruby. Tejiendo Calle/Weaving Streets. Cartagena de Indias: Villegas, 2018.
Ortíz Cassiani, Javier. Un diablo al que le llaman tren. Bogotá: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 2018.
Miranda, Ángel et al. Lezo, Parte I: La toma de Bocachica, illus. Guillermo Mogorrón. Madrid: Espadas de Fin del Mundo, 2020.
I am grateful to the Socity for Latin American Studies, the Clarendon Fund, and Merton College, Oxford, for research funds that made it possible to carry out my 2019 fieldwork in Colombia and acquire several items for this collection. – Yvette Siegert
The winner of the Colin Franklin Prize for Book Collecting, 2021, is announced. This competition is open each year to current undergraduate or postgraduate students of the University of Oxford.
This year’s prize has been awarded to Yvette Siegert, Merton College, Oxford, D.Phil Medieval & Modern Languages, for her collection, ‘In Search of the Heroic City: Cartagena de Indias, 1821–2021’
Siegert’s collection is inspired by a fascination with Cartagena, as she writes, ‘“the Heroic City” … a fortressed city that withstood invasion for centuries and was part of the first province in New Granada to declare independence from Spain (in 1811) … My aim as a collector parallels my research aims as a D.Phil student: to understand how Cartagena survived a century-long stagnation since Independence and became a central inspiration for important works of Spanish American political thought and cultural production.’
Her winning essay describes encounters with books and documents in and of Cartagena, evoking the story of this port city in documentary and architectural survivals, from the historical archives kept in the Palace of the Inquisition to Librería Los Mártires, the makeshift bookstall managed by Ibeth (Yvette’s namesake, in translation) in the archway of the clock tower at the heart of the city.
As well as the £600 prize to the winner, £300 is given to the Bodleian Libraries for purchase of a book, in consultation with the winning student book collector.
In 2021, a strong field of entries was considered by the judges. Several entrants have been invited to contribute versions of their essays to The Conveyor blog, and will be featured here.
This year, in awarding the prize, we also mark the passing of the bibliophile and collector for whom it is named. Colin Franklin (1923-2020) was a distinguished author, book collector and bookseller who over many decades encouraged numerous young book collectors at the University. The prize is funded by Anthony Davis in his memory.
Public and university libraries have faced the pandemic with a multitude of inventive new ways of connecting books and readers, such as ‘Grab and Go’ book deliveries limiting the time of physical visits. What about special collections libraries, whose materials cannot be taken out of the institution? Temporary closures or limited access to reading rooms have meant a pivot towards more provision of digital resources, and archivists and librarians have been active in unearthing treasures to share on social media.
The lockdown period has also been an opportunity to explore what can be done in new ways and even to push beyond the usual patterns of scholarly discourse. Online meeting platforms and visualizers (the modern version of that classroom standby, the overhead projector) lend themselves to the visual exploration and discussion of related items, collections, or genres of material held in institutions that are geographically distant.
Using this technology and adapting seminar formats to online presentation, at the Bodleian Libraries Centre for the Study of the Book we have found new opportunities to participate in cross-institutional events in 2021, sharing collection material with other libraries via online platforms and learning from their expert staff and unique items. In the style of a potluck meal, each institution brings a copy or a witness to the online gathering which fills out the whole intellectual smörgåsbord.
29 Jan 2021Coverdale’s Goostly Psalmes [follow link for recording]
‘Translating, Singing, Printing the Reformation. The Queen’s College Sammelband with Myles Coverdale’s Goostly Psalmes’, with a showing of The Queen’s College copy and the Bodleian and Beinecke Library fragments
(Oxford Seminar in the History of the Book) Henrike Lähnemann, Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages, University of Oxford Matthew Shaw, Librarian of The Queen’s College, Oxford Sarah Wheale, Head of Rare Books at the Bodleian Libraries Kathryn James, Curator for Early Modern Books and Manuscripts at Yale’s Beinecke Library See blogpost with downloadable foldable ‘fragments’ and links to facsimiles
1 Feb 2021 Medieval book coffers [follow link for recording] Bodleian and John Rylands curators
‘Newly acquired medieval book coffers at the Bodleian and the John Rylands Libraries’
(Oxford Palaeography and Manuscripts Studies Seminar)
See the 3D image of the Bodleian coffer on Cabinet, here.
4 May Dante 1481: the Comedia, illustrated by Botticelli [follow link to register]
Bodleian Libraries; University College, London; Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Firenze; Morgan Library; British Library; John Rylands Library; Trinity College, Cambridge
(Bibliographical Society of America event and in conjunction with special series Dante 1321-2021: A Man For All Seasons)
22 June Yiddish and Russian Children’s Books [registration opens soon]
YIVO and Bodleian Libraries
Seminar in Palaeography and Manuscript Studies
Convenors: Daniel Wakelin, Martin Kauffmann
Meetings will take place online via Zoom on Mondays at 2.15pm (GMT) in weeks 1, 3, 5, and 7. Original manuscripts will be shown. Registration is required. E-mail: email@example.com . Your message must be received by noon on the Friday before the seminar (or register for the whole series by noon, Friday 15 January).
Week 1 (18 January) Julian Luxford (University of St. Andrews) The Tewkesbury benefactors’ book
Week 3 (1 February) Bodleian and John Rylands curators Newly acquired medieval book coffers at the Bodleian and the John Rylands Libraries
Week 5 (15 February) Adam Whittaker (Birmingham City University) Medieval music theory in Bodleian manuscripts
Week 7 (1 March) Marc Smith (École des chartes) Late medieval writing models: contextualizing MS. Ashmole 789
Seminar in the History of the Book, Hilary Term 2021
Fridays at 2:15pm (GMT)
On-line: Register by email to: firstname.lastname@example.org , giving the dates of any seminars you wish to attend.
Conveners: Cristina Dondi (Lincoln College, Oxford) and Alexandra Franklin (Bodleian Centre for the Study of the Book)
Due to limited space (even online), registrations for the live events will be honoured in the order received.
Presentations will be recorded if the speaker has granted permission, and in that case will be available a few weeks after the date of the seminar.
Friday, January 22 Matthew Payne (Keeper of the Muniments, Westminster Abbey) ‘Follow the Money: Wynkyn de Worde, Jacques Ferrebouc and the Bardi’
Friday, January 29: Special session at 5:00pm GMT Goostly Psalmes in Oxford and New Haven Henrike Lähnemann (Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages, University of Oxford) ‘Translating, Singing, Printing the Reformation. The Queen’s College Sammelband with Myles Coverdale’s Goostly Psalmes’
With a showing of The Queen’s College copy and the Bodleian and Beinecke fragments Kathryn James (Beinecke Library, Yale University); Matthew Shaw (The Queen’s College, Oxford); Sarah Wheale (Bodleian Libraries, Oxford)
Friday, February 5 Francesco Guidi-Bruscoli (University of Florence) ‘The Borromei’s trade unveiled: digging for information in fifteenth-century account-books’
February 12 – No seminar
Friday, February 19 Alessandro Bianchi (Bodleian Libraries, Oxford) ‘Hidden in plain sight. Printed books from the Japanese Mission Press in the Bodleian Collections’
Friday, February 26 Kanupriya Dhingra (SOAS, University of London) ‘Streets and Serendipity: “Locating” Daryaganj Sunday Patri Kitab Bazar’
Friday, March 5 Benjamin Wardhaugh (University of Oxford) ‘Hunting for readers in sixteenth-century editions of the works of Euclid’
Friday, March 12 William Stoneman (Cambridge, MA) ‘Buying Incunabula at Gimbel Brothers Department Store: A Curious Chapter in the History of American Book Collecting’