Summer or not, we are slaving away at the CELL office in order to transcribe all the annotations contained in the books which are part of our Dee corpus! This blog post, by Finn Schulze-Feldmann, one of the three research assistants involved in phase 2 of AOR, reflects on Dee’s different annotation styles.
When transcribing John Dee’s marginal notes, one comes across many different styles of how to annotate a book. We all know some who consider books to be so sacred that their immaculacy shall not be tainted under any circumstances, and others who quite willingly leave their individual imprint on a book, scribbling their thoughts on the margin and highlighting passages in all the colours of the rainbow. If Dee had had different colour options available too, he would most certainly used them. His copy of Cicero’s Pro Publio Quinctio is at first sight slightly overwhelming to say the least. There are plenty of comments in the margins, heavy underscoring and various different drawings and symbols. Hardly any pages are left untouched. Thanks to these annotations we are able to gather some understanding of how a scholar as prolific as Dee worked.
This is, of course, not to say that Dee subjected all his books to such excessive treatment. Quite the opposite! His copy of Quintilian’s Institutio oratoria could serve as an example in any modern-day handbook on how to read, highlight and annotate texts. Measured and never in a way that the reader could not grasp them immediately, the annotations are a guide through the text – and a delight for those transcribing them. They reference other works of Cicero, number lists mentioned in the text and provide brief summaries. Thus, to navigate through the text is made an easy task.
And then there is a third kind of annotations. Scattered through all his books, there are some that might be of interest not so much for their scholarly purposes, but rather they allows us to get closer to John Dee the person, or shall I say, the artist? Dee used not only to annotate books, but also to draw in books. Admittedly, the majority of his drawings mark names in genealogical trees as kings or queens. But there are also the odd ones that are a bit more playful. One of my personal favourites is a face that is seemingly randomly drawn in a margin of Dee’s copy of Matthew Paris’s Flores historiarum.
Their entertaining effect aside, the different ways in which Dee annotated his books do pose questions regarding their purpose and use. Would anyone but Dee be able to make sense of his densely annotated Cicero volumes? They seem to contain different layers of annotations. Those in a neat hand would still help a modern-day reader to find their way around the text. Others such as notes confirming or rejecting what is written and references to other works bear valuable insight in Dee’s intellectual engagement with the text. Especially the Cicero mentioned above appears to be a book he had read over and over again, each time with another focus. A rich repository for generations of researchers to come, none of Dee’s contemporary, I suspect, would have benefited much from these. As the printed text itself is at times even obscured by the marginalia, this volume seems dedicated to private study alone. In contrast, it would not be much of a surprise if the well-measured and neatly written notes in the Quintilian were indeed intended to be read by others. They are instructive and insightful. That Dee had allowed himself a little digression by drawing random faces and crowns, readers both today and in the past may smilingly excuse.
I have always been a big fan of the Dutch expression ‘het nuttige met het aangename verenigen’, that is, to combine or unite the useful with the pleasant (in Dutch – a superior and more elegant language 😉 – it sounds far less clunky). Recently several members of the AOR team spent a perfect week in Poland, and we managed to achieve just that! The week started with a two-day colloquium, titled ‘Libraries, Scholarship, & Science at the Crossroads, from Nicholas Copernicus to John Dee, 1490-1610’. A large variety of topics were addressed in the papers presented at this conference, ranging from the (alchemical) writings of Edward Kelly, astronomical works heavily annotated by Joannes Broscius and Peter Crüger, and Dee as a reader of Antoine Mizauld, to Copernicus’ annotations, the ‘history of the history of writing’, and the design of printed books in the sixteenth century (for those interested, the whole programme can be found here). We also fulfilled our scholarly duty by giving papers on several aspects of AOR: Earle started with a lucid overview of AOR; Matt focused on the data aspects of AOR, discussing the ways in which we handle and view our own data; Chris presented a compelling approach to a particular element of the AOR data, the people mentioned in Harvey’s marginal notes, and gave numerous examples of how we can use network visualization in order to make sense of this data (Chris will write a separate blog post on this topic in due course); I focused on Dee’s copy of Cardano’s Libelli Quinque and compared his annotations to those of Harvey in another astronomical text, Luca Gaurico’s Tractatus astrologicus.
Several trips to various libraries in Cracow were included in the conference programme and this, together with the copious meals and the good company, proved to be the really pleasant aspect of this week. It turned out that most libraries in Poland, or at least those in Cracow and Wroclaw, have amazing collections, many of which are not well known outside (and in some case even inside) Poland, and true treasures are just waiting there to be discovered! During the days after the colloquium the scholarly tourism continued: on Wednesday we visited the Jagiellonian Library and saw (and touched!) the autograph of Copernicus’ De Revolutionibus (some low-res images can be viewed here).
In the afternoon we had the pleasure of going to Collegium Maius, the museum of the Jagiellonian University, where we encountered an actual bookwheel!
On Thursday we travelled up to Wroclaw to visit the University Library, which turned out to be truly extraordinary as one of the librarians had found, when she was preparing the show and tell, a presentation copy of Tycho Brahe’s De mundi aetherei to Johannes Praetorius! [insert image]. If this wasn’t enough still, that afternoon we went to yet another library in Wroclaw, the Ossolineum.
All in all, this was an amazing week and a wonderful combination of scholarship, bibliophilism, good company, and let’s say a more than sufficient quantity of excellent food and wine, beer, and spirits. It also proved to be a great way to get to know Poland, and many people, including myself, sort of fell in love with this country. We would like to express our heartfelt gratitude to all the people and institutions who made this week possible, in particular Clarinda Clama, who did a marvellous job organizing this week!
As the conference season has started in earnest, various members of the AOR team have travelled across the globe in order to preach the AOR-gospel. Here are some updates on the various conferences at which we presented!
As part of a now firmly established ritual, several members of the AOR team (Chris, Earle, Jaap, Matt, and Tony) took part in a round table discussion on AOR titled ‘Reading John Dee’s Marginalia: Expanding the Archaeology of Reading in Early Modern Europe’. As the title indicates, the round table aimed at discussing the new avenues into which AOR is moving due to the inclusion of a second reader, the Elizabethan polymath John Dee. Tony started with a wonderful comparison of various differences and similarities between Harvey and Dee as annotators and readers, while Matt zoomed in on a particular difference, namely Harvey’s and Dee’s diverging approaches to and use of annotations. The comparison between Harvey and Dee was fleshed out even more by Chris, who compared the use of the Greek language in the annotations of both readers. Earle presented a compelling overview of AOR and explained how the new directions into which AOR is moving form a logical extension of the first phase of AOR; Jaap offered an overview of some challenging new types of annotations the Dee corpus includes. All in all, it was a lively session in which we discussed the humanistic and technical developments of AOR and had a stimulating discussion with the audience about the content of the annotations themselves as well as the best way of making them available in digital form in the AOR research environment.
CNI 2017 Spring meeting
Members of the AOR team regularly attend and present at the meetings organised by the Coalition for Networked Information (CNI), which primarily caters for an audience comprising librarians, data curators and digital archivists. These meetings, which occur twice a year, are a perfect platform for our colleagues at JHU’s Digital Research and Curation Centre to provide information about the technical (infrastructural) aspects of AOR and related projects they are working on. It also has become sort of a tradition to present a paper which combines the humanistic and technical strands of AOR. Following up on an earlier paper Sayeed and I gave at CNI’s Fall Meeting 2015 in Washington D.C., we now embarked on a trip to Albuquerque. Whereas previous time we talked about the particular model of development the AOR team has adopted, ensuring the continuous close cooperation between team members with technical and those with humanistic backgrounds, in this presentation we focused on some of the new directions into which AOR is moving, largely due to the inclusion of a second reader, John Dee, and his particular reading and annotation practices, as well as the development of new use cases and the aim to enhance and expand the functionalities of the digital research environment AOR envisages.
Dee’s technical annotations, such as astronomical charts, genealogical trees, and tables filled with all kinds of data, do not only pose challenges to the XML schema, but also force us to think about the appearance of what we now would call “structured data” in his annotations. We need to think how to capture and, possibly, reconstruct the relationships between the component parts of the data Dee recorded in his marginal notes. Of particular importance is the way in which we conceptualise such ‘reader interventions’, but also how such interventions are made accessible in the AOR viewer. As such, Dee’s annotations further the development of both the humanistic and technical strands of the project. Hereafter, Sayeed presented his vision of the development of infrastructure and how infrastructure can be shared among DH projects, benefitting from similarities between projects while maintaining their integrity as projects with particular research questions, sources, aims, et cetera. He then moved on to showing how some of the AOR data can be linked to other, external datasets, thus enriching the AOR data with the data generated by other (DH) initiatives. We did address other topics in our presentation and, luckily, CNI has been so kind to record it! You can view it here!
Shakespeare Association of America
While Jaap headed to Albuquerque, Matt was on his way to Atlanta for the meeting of the Shakespeare Association of America (or #shakeass, which is surely up there in the catchy hashtag stakes). SAA is organised slightly differently to most other “big” conferences: most of the meeting is given over to seminars, rather than panels, and the focus is on working together in discussion on specific themes and issues. Matt had been invited to take part in a seminar called “Traces of Reading in Shakespeare’s Britain”, organised by Rebecca Munson (of AOR Project Partner Princeton University Centre for Digital Humanities) and Philip S. Palmer (Head of Research Services at UCLA’s wonderful William Andrews Clark Memorial Library). It was especially good to get a chance to swap notes with Erin McCarthy of NUI Galway’s brilliant project The Reception and Circulation of Early Modern Women’s Writing (RECIRC). The seminar benefitted from commentary from Heidi Hackel of UC Riverside, whose Reading Material in Early Modern England (CUP, 2005) is absolutely required reading for students of annotation (and offers an intellectual approach quite different from our own here at AOR, but that’s a subject for another blog entry.)
Over the last decade or so, it has become commonplace to talk about data sets in relation to humanistic research. Whereas data sets seemed to be intrinsically linked to and part of the natural sciences, humanists of various plumage now regularly create their own. Increasingly, humanities data sets do not only contain quantitative data, such as the information amassed by economic historians, but qualitative data as well. The very process of capturing qualitative data enables scholars to study particular historical phenomena from a quantitative perspective too. Yet, I would argue, the availability of quantitative data should not replace our more ‘traditional’ methodologies which are so finely attuned to studying and understanding qualitative phenomena.
For even when qualitative information becomes quantifiable, we should not discard the richness and depth of qualitative sources; it would make little sense to conflate the fluctuations in interests rates in the early modern period with the number of times wills of early modern Catholics did or did not invoke Christ, Mary, and the saints. Even though both phenomenon are quantifiable and can be expressed in numbers, these numbers reveal entirely different dimensions of the historical past. Nor would it make sense to present the number of times poets like Joost van den Vondel or Shakespeare used the word ‘mother’ in one of their plays as a fact as such – for what does it tell us? The use and meaning of the word mother only can be grasped when taking into account various factors, including the syntax of the sentence, the meaning of other words which surround this word, and stylistic conventions. Having said that, quantitative approaches to primary historical sources of whatever kind can be very useful; ultimately, such approaches enable us to discern patterns that are not immediately obvious. Such patterns are often difficult to detect in traditional, analogue research environments. Yet the detection of such patterns should facilitate a movement ad fontes, offering a new perspective through which we can view and study our cherished primary sources. Indeed, we should strive to marry qualitative and quantitative analyses, opening up new dimensions and raising new research questions that are difficult to conceive of and pursue outside digital environments.
How does our own data set relate to all of the above? Twice during the first phase of AOR (2014–6) we numerically broke down our data set, both in relation to the creation of internal reports for our funder, the Mellon foundation. Both documents can be found here and here. One of the things we immediately realised when analysing the AOR data set is its small size: currently, even now work on the AOR2 corpus already has commenced, all the XML transcriptions amount to less than 40 megabytes. This certainly is not the size which enables one to boldly walk into a conference room to shout “my data set is bigger than yours”. (As a note on the side, humanists should refrain from doing this anyway, since the data sets of virtually everyone working outside the humanities are larger than ours.) Although size matters to a certain extent (in our case: the larger the data set, the more transcriptions it includes, and the more users will be able to find and discover), what really matters is the actual data of which a data set consists and the way in which it is captured and structured, for this determines the ways in which we can interrogate our data and what we can get out of it.
The structure of our data reflect the various types of reader interventions we encountered in the books in our corpus, such as marginal annotations, symbols, marks, drawings, tables, and graphs. This division, which closely mirrors the actual annotations practices of the readers on which we focus, makes it possible for our users to search within and across reader interventions. The AOR search widget, the child of the heroic efforts of our programmers Mark Patton and John Abrahams, contains an advanced search functionality which makes it possible to create complex, query-based searches, a powerful way of interrogating the AOR data. The juxtaposition of AOR data (the transcriptions as well as the search results) to the digital surrogates of the annotated books, facilitates an easy and intuitive movement ad fontes. In such a way, we can reap the fruits of working with humanities data while having the primary sources (or their digital surrogates) ready at hand.
Another way in which we can approach and, in a way, dissect our data set is through statistical analysis. Our thinking about the application of such an analysis started with rather mundane questions such as: “if Harvey mentions Caesar in a marginal note, which other words do frequently appear next to it?” In order to streamline such an analysis, we decided to formulate a number of concepts groups, thematic groups which include words which relate to the same, often rather broad theme, such as war, king/kingship, mind, soul, body, action, et cetera (Harvey’s own system of astrological symbols, which denote more abstract concepts, was actually really helpful in designing these concept groups). The concepts groups consists of words which together appear with a certain frequency (in order to yield statistically significant results) and include (equivalent) words of the two languages which dominate Harvey’s marginal notes, Latin and English. In generating these groups, we could make use of the lists with words and the frequency with which they appear, which are part of our recurrent data releases.
Although the formulation of concept groups was within our power, we quickly realized that none of us master the specialist knowledge and skills to actually subject our data to rigorous statistical analysis. Hence we decided to employ some professional statisticians. Once the data was made ready for analysis, an interesting process in itself which I will address in a separate blog, the statisticians started their work in earnest, mainly aiming to see whether there are any statistically significant correlations between concepts groups. In order words, do we see words which are, for example, part of the concept group ‘mind’, often appearing with words which belong to the concept group ‘body’? This makes it possible to discern links between certain topics Harvey addressed throughout his marginal notes. Although at this point in time the results of the statistical analysis are tentative, partly because our data set is slightly lopsided due to books which focus on war and strategy (Livy, Frontinus, and Machiavelli), the insights one can gain by a statistical approach are already evident. Throughout AOR2 we will continue applying statistical analysis to our data, making use of the inclusion of the second reader, John Dee. As we envisaged, results from the data analysis, even when only partial, immediately forces one to go back to the primary sources: even if there is a correlation between one or more concept groups, the individual instances of this correlation need to be tracked down and studied within the larger context of a marginal note or a set of marginal notes on a page in a particular book.
Lastly, interesting things can be done when relating or connecting our data set to other existing data sets that float around on the web. So far many data sets exist on their own, rather isolated from their peers. Over the last couple of years, the concept of Linked Open Data has rapidly become popular, as a motley crew of people comprising web architects, data curators, scholars, and scientists feel the need to link their data to that of others. This is not always a straightforward process at all, and in the future a separate blog will be devoted to it. Regardless of the challenges, the possibilities of linked data have captivated the mind of the AOR team. Already during AOR1 we realised that readers were often moving outward, for instance by referring to other books, some of which are not in our digitized corpus or are simply no longer extant. Moreover, some of our books are classical, canonical texts, such as Livy’s History of Rome, and digital editions, including translations, exist (Perseus), and it would be neat to see whether we can directly link to these editions. The concept of Linked Open Data also influences our thinking about the way we capture our data: how to transcribe the astronomical data in the Dee annotations in such a manner that it facilities an easy exchange with already existing astronomical data sets? These are just some examples of where establishing links with other data sets and digital corpora might be rewarding. Creating such links, in particular to other primary sources such as early modern annotated books, will therefore be one of the main activities of AOR2. For this moves us closer toward representing and recreating the intellectual cosmos and larger information culture early modern readers and their books were a fundamental part of.
In an earlier blog post, Cynthia York addressed and summarised the invaluable comments we received from the 34 beta testers who willingly devoted some of their precious time to play around with the AOR1 viewer and answer a number of questions we had formulated. These questions covered various aspects of the viewer, including its functionalities and design, as well as of the AOR website itself. In this short blog post, I will reflect upon some of the suggestions which appeared more frequently and the subsequent actions we will take or already have taken to address them. But before that, we again want to express our heartfelt gratitude to our beta testers: thanks ever so much, you rock!
Pinning a page
Several beta testers expressed the wish to be able to ‘pin’ or freeze a page, ensuring that subsequent actions in the viewer (searching, browsing) do not result in the ‘loss’ of that particular page. We thought this to be an important feature too, since one can easily lose important research findings when going down the rabbit hole of (early modern) marginalia. Hence one of our programmers, John Abrahams, created a button which enables one to pin the page, making it impossible to move to another image (via the browse buttons) or to open another image in the same work space. It still is possible to conduct searches and to open a search result in another workspace, however. Research thus can continue, but without the risk of losing the pinned page. There is one small glitch which remains to be solved: opening several other workspaces through the ‘change layout’ button unpins the page.
The desire to return to the gallery of books (the AOR corpus) in a simple and straightforward manner was also voiced by several beta testers. Luckily, this request turned out to be pretty easy to fulfill as the new version of Mirador (2.1) included such a home button, further improving the ease with which one can navigate.
Transcription/search panel icon
Various testers mentioned that it was not easy to find the icon to open the transcription and search panel. Although it turned out to be difficult to change the icon, we have changed the accompanying tooltip text to ‘View Transcriptions & Search’. As the real meat of the AOR content can be accessed in this panel, we might arrange that this panel automatically opens after having selected a book.
The need for (better) documentation was mentioned frequently as well, and over the last month or so of the project the whole team has been working hard on generating documentation covering various aspects of the project, including its technical infrastructure and the functionalities of the viewer. In addition, two wonderful contextual pieces, a biography of Harvey and a short introduction to the history of reading, have been included as well. We aim to add another piece, this time on Harvey’s library, soon. All the documentation can be found here.
Various testers expressed the wish to be able to search for, for example, all instances of underscored text in a particular book or, indeed, all instances of a reader intervention in a book. This is a search functionality I have always been interested in myself, in particular because it’s fairly annoying to have to scroll through lightly annotated books in order to find a page which has been annotated by a reader. Including such a functionality provided to be impossible before the end of AOR1, but this is high on the to-do list of AOR2.
Highlighting the coordinate region of a specific annotation
When browsing heavily annotated pages, it sometimes is not immediately obvious where to locate a particular annotation. One way to indicate the location is to highlight a coordinate region in which the annotation ‘sits’, as done, for instance, by Annotated Books Online. However, there are a number of annotations, such as the ones who snake around a page or even across pages – as frequently happens in the heavily annotated books from the Folger, the Domenichi and Guicciardini – which can’t be captured in a system of polygons based on coordinates. Moreover, the XML transcriptions do not contain any spatial data related to the position of the annotations (and manually including these would take ages). We do describe the location (or position) of annotations on the page in the XML transcription and, realizing that some form of indication regarding the position of annotations is helpful, we have included a set of icons in the transcription panel which points at the location of a marginal annotation.
People mentioned in marginal notes as hyperlinks
Some testers would appreciate that the people mentioned in marginal notes (and which are broken out individually in the transcriptions) become hyperlinks which initiate a corpus-wide search (i.e. returning all the instances in which this person appears). Already when developing the AOR1 XML schema and, at a later stage, the document relating to the transformation of the data in the XML transcriptions to HTML in the transcription panel, we thought about this functionality. However, this proved to be quite a tricky feature indeed, so we were not able to implement it. However, this feature will be discussed for possible technological development and implementation in AOR2.
There are certainly more desiderata to be mentioned, and it was interesting to see how several comments of our beta testers overlapped with our own ideas regarding further improvement of the AOR viewer. Rest assured that we will do whatever we can to maximize the functionalities of our viewer and to further enhance the research environment AOR envisages!
The AOR team is proud to announce that several colleagues and friends have agreed to write guests blogs for the AOR-website. This is the first of these guests blogs, written by Katie Birkwood, rare books and special collection librarian at the Royal College of Physicians!
The library of the Royal College of Physicians, London (RCP) is extremely lucky to number among its roughly 20,000 rare books the largest surviving collection of volumes once owned by the Elizabethan polymath John Dee (1527-1609). Though it is impossible to pin down the extent of the collection precisely, over 150 Dee’s surviving books can possibly be identified in the RCP collection. In 2016 the Royal College of Physicians hosted the first major exhibition dedicated to John Dee and his library, displaying forty of his books alongside objects said to have been used by him as part of his so-called “spirit actions” or “conversations with angels”.
Dee was one of the most intriguing an enigmatic characters of Tudor England: famous variously as a mathematician, a philosopher, an astrologer, a magician, a mystic, and even a spy. Dee was also a determined book collector and owner of one of the largest libraries in sixteenth-century England, eclipsing those of the universities of Oxford and Cambridge combined. Dee himself numbered his library at 3,000 printed books and 1,000 manuscripts, though the evidence of his own library catalogue suggests a more conservative total.
The contents of Dee’s library were as varied as his claims to fame, covering subjects as diverse as fencing, mineral baths, falconry, and botany. The library was his pride and joy; the product of many long hours spent in bookshops in London and across Europe, and Dee’s close relationship with booksellers’ agents who could hunt out the rarest volumes. Scholars from across the continent visited Dee’s house at Mortlake (a small village on the River Thames, seven miles west of the City of London) to consult with the great scholar and to read his books and manuscripts. Members of Queen Elizabeth’s court including sought his advice on matters ranging from the appearance of a comet in the sky to possible routes to China via a north-west or north-east sea passage.
In popular culture today, Dee is certainly best known for his spiritual and angelic activities. His attempts to communicate with angels are variously portrayed as the enthusiasms of a misguided old fool, the effects of unworldly academicism taken too far, or actively malicious attempts to rule over his fellow men. However, it is the different, but perhaps equally romanticized image of Dee as scholar, seated in his study with books spread out before him, that calls most strongly to me. Dee’s annotations – by turns painstaking and passionate – speak eloquently about Dee’s life, his interests, and his personality.
Sadly, the story of Dee’s library is not an altogether happy one. Dee left England in 1583 on what would turn out to be his longest overseas trip. He left in some haste, accompanied by Edward Kelley, his ‘scryer’ – a man employed to see angelic visions in a crystal ball or other reflected surface – his wife and children, and around 800 of his books. The rest of the library, along with Dee’s globes and astronomical instruments, were left in the care of his brother-in-law, Nicholas Fromond. Fromond was not a good custodian, and let thieves into the library during Dee’s absence. When Dee returned to Mortlake in 1589 he found his house and library in disarray: the shelves ransacked and many valuable treasures lost. The popular story that Dee’s house was attacked by a local mob is almost certainly untrue; his books were probably stolen by friends, associates, pupils and others who knew their intellectual and monetary value.
Fortunately, by piecing together evidence from within the books and from the library catalogue Dee made in September 1583, shortly in advance of his departure (now Trinity College, Cambridge, MS O.4.20), it is possible to reconstruct at least some of what was lost. Around 350 volumes are identified in Julian Roberts and Andrew G Watson’s 1990 catalogue of Dee’s library, and additions are posted to the Bibliographical Society website.
It seems that a certain Nicholas Saunder (possibly a Surrey MP) was one of the thieves, or at least a receiver of stolen goods. Several of the Dee books in the RCP library have Dee’s ownership mark obliterated, with Saunder’s own name written in nearby or over the top. Saunder’s library, including other books unrelated to Dee, passed by some means into the possession of Henry Pierrepont, first Marquis of Dorchester (1606-80), whose library was given to the RCP by his family after his death.
Twelve of Dee’s annotated books now in the RCP library have been chosen as part of the AOR phase 2. Included in their number are some of the most stunning and revealing books in the whole collection. A two-volume folio works of Cicero annotated by Dee as a student in the 1540s provides plenty of material for the modern scholar to chew over. There’s also more than one surprise as you turn its pages. In one instance, a sketch seems to resemble a Greek temple on a small island in flames: the nearby text of Cicero’s De legibus relates how the Persian king Xerxes set fire to the temples of the Greeks on the advice of the Persian magi. A larger instance of scholarly doodling is found in the same volume. In his De natura deorum Cicero quotes some lines from the Lucius Attius describing a huge bulk surging through the foaming seas. Next to this, Dee has drawn a most spectacular ship in full sail.
Less artistically adept, but no less interesting, are the astrological observations and calculations left by Dee in his copy of Girolamo Cardano’s Libelli quinque.
Aside from star objects such as the Cicero and Cardano, a point of interest appears in almost every book that retains any evidence of Dee’s ownership or use, not only the star objects. At first glance, there’s not much of interest in Dee’s copy of Mario Nizolio’s 1544 Latinae linguae dictionarium. We can probably assume that Dee acquired the book during his years as a student at St John’s College, Cambridge. There was once an ownership inscription on the title page, erased presumably by Nicholas Saunder, and there are very few annotations within the text. However, Dee does leave at least one trace. He notes the Greek word “Lakoniken” in the margin next to the lexicon entry “scytale”. Lakoniken is an alternative name for the Spartans, and the scytale is a tool the Spartans are reported to have used to perform transposition ciphers. In other words: this single annotated word might hint at Dee’s early interest in cryptography and code-breaking.
I’m delighted that books from our collection are part of AOR, and am excited to see what more we can start to learn about John Dee and Elizabethan scholarly culture once all of his copious annotations have been transcribed.
Katie Birkwood, rare books and special collections librarian, Royal College of Physicians, London
Julian Roberts and Andrew G. Watson, John Dee’s library catalogue (London: Bibliographical Society, 1990)
In late November 2016 the Charles Singleton Center for the Study of Premodern Europe hosted and the Alexander Grass Humanities Institute co-sponsored at Johns Hopkins University campus-wide rollout of AOR, drawing a large group of faculty, graduate students, librarians, and members of the AOR team, in particular several interesting questions from the audience on infrastructure and DH sustainability fielded by the Sheridan Libraries’ Digital Research and Curation Center staff.
The panel started off with a wonderful retrospective from Tony Grafton on the history of obsessive-compulsive early modern readership and, more specifically, the history-behind-the-history of their often cited essay “Studied for Action: How Gabriel Harvey Read His Livy.” A large projection screen returned the gathered crowd to Princeton over 25 years ago and a wonderful, smiling photograph of Lisa Jardine accompanied by Tony’s warm recollections of their many long hours together pouring over Harvey’s notes in Livy’s history of Rome in the rare book reading room at the Firestone Library…and some particularly loud and heated debates about what Harvey was getting at, which they both enjoyed immensely. (There was no mention of librarians shushing anyone on those several occasions, but one can imagine.) Tony also recalled an essential conversation they had together with his Princeton colleague, Robert Darnton, on whether marginalia could ever really be considered a representation of the history of reading. Out of that fruitful discussion was born the organizing principle of the “bookwheel” that stands at the heart of AOR, and indeed forms the logo and the name of this blog on the AOR website. It is the idea that marginalia not only richly preserve the reading experience of a learned annotator through his immediate responses to printed texts; but, perhaps just as importantly, that they also present scholars with direct evidence of how someone like Harvey deployed the fuller resources of his personal library in the process. Harvey’s marginalia preserve, metaphorically speaking, the motions of a bookwheel filled with a multiplicity of essential books in the history of scholarship, ancient and early modern.
Harvey’s ready engagement with the contents of his uniquely formed, well-stocked library of hundreds of volumes was indeed “Studied for Action” as he “drew out all the garrisons” from his bookshelves (a phrase Harvey underlined in his copy of Machiavelli’s Arte of Warre) in order to turn his reading into tools to affect the world in his own moment: as an aspiring courtier, and as a “professional reader” advising, for example, Sir Philip Sidney on his forthcoming embassy to Prague by reading together from his annotated copy of Livy. Harvey’s compulsive, marginal cross-referencing between different books at his disposal—at times seeming to mark them simultaneously in reference to one another—has become an more frequent theme of our work since the AOR Viewer went live a few months ago, allowing us to search and track this activity systematically within individual books, and across all the books, in the AOR corpus. It will be fascinating to see the extent to which John Dee did the same in the nearly two-dozen annotated books from his library that will form the work of AOR Phase 2.
Earle Havens was up next with his own rendition of “The Archaeology of the Archaeology of Reading,” beginning with a Seneca’s old metaphorical saw about hard-reading scholars as busy bees: “We ought not only to write, nor only read…it must be gone back and forth from this to that in turns, so that whatever is collected by reading, the stylus may render in form. We should imitate the bees, as they say, which wander and pluck suitable flowers to make honey (Epistulae Morales, 84).
There were in fact many milestones of precisely this same kind of selective wandering through books, of learned readers plucking out purple passages, and making intellectual honey: from the “polyhistors” of Greco-Roman antiquity (Stobaeus, Aulus Gellius, Solinus), and medieval encyclopedists and compilers of florilegia (Isidore of Seville, Vincent de Beauvais, Thomas of Ireland), to the essential Renaissance hunter-gatherers and organizers of loci communes (Agricola, Erasmus, Melanchthon…their pedagogical tracts prescribing organized programs of reading were printed and reprinted as De ratione studii anthologies throughout the middle decades of the 16th century). Attention then turned to the idiosyncratic process of building up a digital corpus with the full advantage of an AOR dream team comprised of Tony, Lisa, and all our colleagues at JHU, Princeton, and UCL, and to the nuts-and-bolts of pulling all that talent together to make DH honey. This is one way of thinking of the AOR Viewer: as a kind of composite tertium quid comprised of the best gathered thoughts and efforts of a diverse and committed research team.
Once the old-timers wrapped up their reflections, the panel concluded with a firework display of marginalia from JHU Research Assistant—and long-suffering transcriber of the vertiginous marginalia in Harvey’s Domenichi and Guicciardini volumes—Chris Geekie. Chris carried the show from life and archaeology in the margins to the realm of imaginative literature, taking as his case study the myriad ways in which Harvey invoked the French agent provocateur of many aspiring Renaissance wits, François Rabelais. Taking as his starting point the broad view, both modern and early modern, that Rabelais was an irreverent, potentially atheist, author, Chris asked whether that notion held up in Harvey’s repeated references to Rabelais across his marginalia, and further afield in Harvey’s printed polemics.
The AOR viewer’s search feature reveals that Harvey hardly held one stable opinion of Rabelais, and that his tone vis-à-vis Rabelais morphed according to the context of the particular texts and contexts to which he responded pen in hand. Sometimes he praised Rabelais as a supreme wit, at others he emerges as a dangerous author for readers who lack a cautious mind. Interestingly, Rabelais’s name almost always appears in the AOR marginalia in conjunction with other major contemporary authors—Pietro Aretino, Guillaume Du Bartas, and Philip Sidney—suggesting a more nuanced view of the French author than just as arch-literatus or arch-irreligious. He could also be just one star in a larger constellation of Renaissance literati whose works collectively represented to a reader like Harvey a sequence of rich literary tropes, forms, and topoi.
Another convention was shot through with holes by Chris’s Harvey/Rabelais investigation through the AOR viewer: the scholarly distinction often made between Harvey’s apparently distinct public opinions—which he shared with full-throated ease in his public “quarrel” in print with the University Wit Thomas Nashe—and the personal, and presumably less performative, thoughts he was supposed to relegate to the margins of the books in his private library. At key points of overlap between Harvey’s marginalia and his printed polemics, Chris found this public/private distinction also to fall apart. A passage in Harvey’s Pierces Supererogation or, A New Praise of the Olde Asse (1593) unleashed a stream of ad hominem venom on Nashe, reducing him to “the bawewawe of Schollars, the tutt of Gentlemen, the tee-heegh of Gentlewomen, the phy of Citizens, the blurt of Courtiers, the poogh of good Letters, the faph of good manners, & the whoop-hooe of good boyes in London streetes.” Distinct echoes of this bizarre, Rabelaisian wordplay appears just as loudly in the middle of one of Harvey’s highly annotated pages of Lodovico Domenchi’s Italian joke book in the AOR corpus:
Clearly there is much more going on in Harvey’s two spheres of writing than has been generally realized, or realizable absent our new capacity to search thoroughly through his marginalia in a digital format. Even just a quick search for a literary persona like Rabelais in the AOR viewer, allied with additional research beyond the digital corpus, can reveal traditional public/private and print/manuscript binaries to be latter-day interpretive square pegs ill-fitted to history’s many round holes.
Last Thursday (13.10.2016) the UCL Common Ground provided the stage for our workshop in celebration of AOR going live earlier this autumn (see the previous blogpost). Posters and postcards had been circulating, and with clear results: the afternoon was very well attended.
A panel of AOR-anciens gave four concise, evocative presentations, intermitted with Q&A sessions.
Earle Havens started with a general introduction and spoke of the genesis of AOR, now shrouded in near-legend: the article by Lisa Jardine and Anthony Grafton, ‘Studied for Action: How Gabriel Harvey read his Livy’ (1990), and an inspired meeting between Earle and Anthony in a café in Louvain. The desire to study the history of early modern reading practices in a systematic way gave the project its spark of life.
Three themes connected the presentations: the project’s clear-cut definition of ‘big data’ as ‘too much information’ that, as Matt Symonds explained, is beyond operating with data individually. Much like for Gabriel Harvey and his contemporary readers, the conditio sine qua non for AOR has been to create a framework to deal with such an information overload – to structure the data, as Jaap Geraerts put it in his presentation on the practical aspects of constructing a XML-framework.
Second, the importance of cross-sectional collaboration. As a scholarly resource, it is vital for AOR to build that framework not as ‘words on a page’ but as a mobile, flexible creature that brings together conservational, technological, and intellectual imperatives. AOR exists by the grace of the symbiosis of its bibliographical, technological, and scholarly expertise.
And third, the way in which AOR broadens the research horizon. As became apparent during the Q&A sessions, a resource like this makes new research questions possible: to compare Harvey’s marginalia with Harvey’s own books, for example. Or, as Arnoud Visser from the University of Utrecht suggested in his presentation in which he approached AOR from the viewpoint of an end-user, to start reading between the lines of marginalia and look at what is omitted, not talked about, or implicitly alluded to. Other interesting questions arose during the Q&A, for example asking about the curatorial aspects of assembling the corpus.
When we say workshop, it was only the first leg of the afternoon. The panel discussion was followed by a reception in the Common Ground, during which both the Leffe and the inspiration flowed lavishly. If you want to (re)visit the workshop: a video will be made available in the near future.
As you might have noticed, this week our site was updated to version 2 as AOR has gone live! This update does not only include some cosmetic changes to our site, such as the button which takes you straight to the AOR viewer, but also comprises several documents, such as a short biography of Harvey, bibliographical entries of each of the books available in our corpus, a piece on the history of reading, a note on the technical infrastructure of the project, and the user documentation.
In order to celebrate the launch of AOR, our senior programmer Mark Patton has gathered some fun facts about the project:
The AOR project was a lot of fun and also a lot of work. Here are a few facts concerning the work we did and the data we produced.
1) 13 books
2) 5,877 page images taking up 511 GB of storage space
3) 5 transcribers and checkers
4) 2,686 XML transcriptions making up 226,948 lines
5) 4,577 commits by transcribers to GitHub repository holding XML transcriptions
6) 940 commits by programmers to source code GitHub repository
7) 43,324 lines of Java code
8) 3,095 marginalia in L. Domenichi, Facetie (1571) & L. Guicciardini, Detti et Fatti (1571) made up of 36,332 words
9) 26,106 underlines in T. Livius, Romanae historiae principis (1555) of 84,326 words
10) 718 words written in the margins of T. Livius, Romanae historiae principis (1555) page 430v, the most densely annotated page in our corpus (in terms of word count)!
11) The most mentioned book in the marginalia is De Civitate Dei at 23 times.
12) The most mentioned location in the marginalia is Rome at 41 times.
13) The most mentioned person in the marginalia is Julius Caesar at 153 times.
Overview of Testing
Over the span of four weeks (June 28–July 31, 2016), beta testers were invited to provide feedback on their experience with viewing and manipulating digital surrogates of the 13 books within the Archaeology of Reading corpus using an optimized version of the Mirador image viewer for this purpose at http://bookwheel.org/demo. This blog post summarizes the user experience feedback and proposed response by the AOR technology development team.
A pool of 50 volunteer testers representing a range from minimal to moderate familiarity with the early modern marginalia, reading practices, and the history of the book more generally was identified by the AOR leadership team. Instructions were provided to assist with locating controls and describing the basic functions of the viewer to acclimate beta testers prior to full user project documentation completion scheduled for end of August 2016. There was no restriction on choice of device to be used to complete the test (phone, tablet, laptop, desktop). The evaluation was unmoderated and consisted of five questions intended to capture relative levels of ease and difficulty in finding specific kinds of information, and efficiency in navigating the user interface elements in the viewer. Testers were asked to evaluate the Search capability and the Text Visualization features in particular, and their experience interacting with multiple, simultaneous window openings in the viewer. Beta testers were also invited to provide specific comments and recommendations about using the viewer in general terms at the conclusion of the test.
Findings and Response
34 testers submitted responses. Their comments and recommendations were categorized and ranked according to technical feasibility of content and implementation within the current phase of the overall AOR project.
The majority of initial reactions were positive.
• “Images are very crisp.”
• “The browsing is easy and fast.”
• “Overall comment on the site: fantastic! I love the smooth experience, clear images, and uncomplicated and well-designed feel of the individual image windows.”
• “The digital images are of great quality. I appreciate having multiple options for viewing them (book form, individual page, scroll view).”
Beta tester feedback recommendations will be addressed in upcoming viewer releases, and future development cycles, such as the following:
• “The information drop-down has to be closed manually, if left open it covers up the annotations dropdown. This is a bit distracting.” – (Now available in version 2.1 of the AOR Phase 1 viewer)
• “I’d love to be able to right click on a page and open it in a new window, not just from search results but when looking at all pages in a book especially.; The ‘change layout’ button is really helpful with this, but I’d also like the ability to open something in a brand new tab – this would be especially helpful as I have two screens, so I have the space, just not all within one browser tab.” (New feature for AOR Phase 2 development)
• “It’d be great to be able to ‘pin’ a page open (sort of like pinning window views in oXygen) or add a page to a ‘keep this’ shelf – even if it was only retained during that session.” (New feature for AOR Phase 2 development)
• “It would be good to do an empty search for the items in the drop-down in advanced search without search content specified.” (Planned for AOR Phase 2 development)
• “Superb detail for the taxonomies provided (symbol, mark, language). Would it be an idea to publish definitions in a thesaurus accompanying entry to the site?” (Now available in AOR Phase 1 user documentation)
• “I appreciate that names and titles referenced in the annotations are broken out individually. It would be useful and interesting if those would be hyperlinks leading to a search result of all instances when the names/titles are referenced across the whole collection.” (New feature for AOR Phase 2 development)
• “Also, the resource is extraordinary, but the user unfamiliar with these authors or with Harvey will be at a loss on how to use it without the provision of some kind of framework or introductory essay(s) of some kind.” (Now available in AOR Phase 1 user documentation)
There were no comments that indicated any beta tester could not recover from an error condition.
In general, AOR Phase 1 beta testers requested more in-depth knowledge of the viewer capabilities, particularly those unfamiliar with the authors and books included in the Phase 1 corpus of annotation books. This will be addressed in forthcoming user documentation, including an in-depth introduction to the authors, texts, bibliographical details of the specific books in the digital corpus, and a broader taxonomy of annotations, among other topics.
The project team is appreciative of the feedback from beta testers. A second round of feedback will be gathered in future AOR Phase 2 project development.