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.
For the past few days, I have gone down the rabbit hole of worldwide library catalogues in order to actualise the status quaestionis of Gabriel Harvey’s library. The last cohesive attempt dates back to Virginia Stern’s book Gabriel Harvey: his life, marginalia and library from 1979. But books are nomadic objects. Like so many early modern collections, Harvey’s books have not stayed together, and since 1979 have either moved to different shelves, some surfacing from the private depths of the bibliophile world, while others were last seen in auction catalogues before disappearing entirely.
What further complicates this task is that we can really only make educated guesses as to how many books Harvey’s library consisted of. Rough estimates range from a few hundred to well over a thousand. The corpus that I have reassembled so far (of course standing on the shoulders of Stern and others) consists of roughly 160 books of which I am confident what shelf they are currently on. They will provide a wider context for the AOR corpus.
Geographical context also applies here, as there are traces of Harvey’s library in more than twenty libraries across the world—usual suspects like the British Library and the Oxford and Cambridge college libraries but also, for example, the National Libraries of Wales and Australia, and various institutions across the United States, most predominantly the Folger Shakespeare Library and Princeton University Library. An additional complication is that catalogues of smaller libraries and collections, such as the Rosenbach Library and the collection of the Saffron Walden Museum, are often not electronically available. The diaspora of Harvey’s library is absolute: a catalogue of his books can only be provisional—we never know how many books are still unfound.
One such book that has recently become available and that already has been written about in our previous blog posts is Harvey’s copy of Thomas Tusser’s Fiue hundred pointes of good husbandrie, now residing at Princeton. In our corpus of thirteen it is not so obvious, but when zooming out to the (known) spectrum of Harvey’s whole library, Fiue hundred pointes becomes more evidently peculiar. In a collection of mostly political, historical and legal works, a practical calendar for countryside living – in rhyme! – seems out of place. Tusser’s Hundreth pointes was a popular book from the moment it was published in 1557. It was reprinted so often that the London-based publisher Richard Tottel decided to expand the book into a larger volume, Fiue hundred pointes, with the addition of hundreth good poyntes of huswifery. Harvey’s copy is a reprint from 1580, the year Tusser died.
It stands out in Harvey’s library because of its subject, but also because of its genre: Fiue hundred pointes is a long poem that offers minute advice on how to live the pastoral life in accentual anapaestic, and predominantly in a-b-a-b rhyme. It’s a plain and sometimes grating style, but it is an easy meter to remember. Such rhymes were efficient instructional texts. Tusser’s farming manual was still being used as a teaching text in the eighteenth century, and some of its adages survive today: for example, “A fool and his money are soon parted” or “What a greater crime than loss of time.” Harvey gladly contributed in the margins of his copy quotations he picked up; for example, somewhere in the first pages he adds: “Dulcis odor lucre, etiam ex lotio” (“Profit smells sweet, even from urine”).
Harvey’s marginalia don’t mention Tusser’s stylistic or literal qualities. But in some of his first few annotations, Harvey does give this book a place in his library. He draws parallels between Tusser and the works of Xenophon, Hesiod and Virgil before recommending Fiue hundreth pointes as both useful for the economist and pleasant for the philosopher. Throughout his marginalia he refers to the classics, and continues to reference points of specific economic and political interest. Harvey’s marginalia make Tusser’s book seem less outlandish in the corpus.
Harvey may not expand on Tusser’s rhyme, but his relationship with verse is well known. “Harvey is not unknown to the lover of poetry . . .” so begins the lemma in a nineteenth-century literary dictionary, “he is the Hobynol whose poem is prefixed to the Faery Queen, who introduced Spenser to Sir Philip Sidney: and, besides his intimacy with the literary characters of his times, he was a Doctor of Laws, an erudite scholar, and distinguished as a poet.”
Harvey’s poetry in Latin shows his love of wordplay, puns, and ironic wit. It is showcased in his Gratulationum Valdinensium (1578), a series of poems dedicated to Elizabeth I. But, as one contemporary succinctly put it, Harvey was “more potent in his venom than in his honey.” His vitriolic pen worked considerably better than his other pens, as illustrated in his Three proper and familiar letters (1580). His love for the classical dactylic hexameter made his verse look and sound like that of a poetaster: dogmatic and a little awkward. How different was his approach to English verse! His unpublished experiments with English hexameters show a much more flexible approach: “to reform our English verse and to beautify the same with brave devices . . . lie hid in shameful obscurity,” he wrote to Spenser.
Others were less infatuated with Harvey’s verse: “He introduced hexameter verses into our language and pompously laid claim to an invention which, designed for the reformation of English verse, was practiced till it was found sufficiently ridiculous. His style was infected with his pedantic taste; and the hard outline of his satirical humour betrays the scholastic cynic, not the airy and fluent wit.” Even in 2016 that reputation persists. Edmund Gosse’s essay on Thomas Nashe accepts for truth Nashe’s accusations: “Gabriel Harvey is a personage who fills an odious place in the literary history of the last years of Elizabeth . . . wholly without taste, and he concentrated into vinegar a temper which must always have had a tendency to be sour.”
Only a very select group of Elizabethan poets risked trying their hand at imitating the classical meter in the vernacular. Harvey’s fellow experimenters—Spenser, Ascham, Sidney, and Thomas Watson—conversed at large about the rules for an English hexameter system, but Harvey was less enthusiastic. He refused to comply with rules and committed only to the idea that the length of a syllable in verse should correspond to its actual pronunciation. But he did not divulge how English sounds were to be measured.
Instead, Harvey seems to have leant towards the applied rules of classical Latin. In letters to his fellow experimenters he compares the idea of rules for verse to an applied custom and “natural” law. Here spoke Harvey the lawyer. He realized the potential of the vernacular to rival, and break free from, the “absolutist” rules of Greek and Latin verse. He maintained his relaxed approach to English hexameter. To create a natural, quantified verse in English, he “dare give no Precepts, nor set downe any Certaine General Arte.”
Harvey may not have filled the margins of Fiue hundreth pointes with remarks on its style and verse, but he was always attracted to the stylistic aspects of the texts he read. The AoR-team has spent a long time on a marginal annotation in Harvey’s copy of Frontinus’ Strategemes of warre (1539), that serves as a showcase of Harvey’s wit and love of puns (many thanks to Arnoud Visser for helping us out!).
It is the epitaph of a sturnus, a starling. At the same time it is a warning to those to whom trust and hope come easily: “nocuit sperare columbis” is translated liberally as “Hopeful pigeons get hurt”! In a book about cunning war stratagems, this annotation is not out of place, but it is clearly very carefully crafted. It is also not so straightforward. The Latin is a little off and unlike Harvey’s usual language. It is bursting with puns and obscure references, and therefore a prime example of the horrors of translating a proud humanist’s Latin. The first line, for example, “Sturnus ego, haud ulli volucrum Virtute secundus,” is a play on “Turnus ego, haud ulli veterum virtute secundus,” a line from a speech by Aeneas’s greatest enemy, Turnus, given to him by Virgil in book XI of the Aeneid. Other seemingly odd phrases are yet to be traced back to the sources Harvey used for inspiration.
The Sturnus epitaph shows how Harvey approached language: with craftsmanship. He says as much in his correspondence with his fellow experimenters with the English hexameter. Literary and lyrical endeavor for Harvey is a craft rather than an art or a “pastime for educated gentlemen”; the writer is an artisan, a “smith of words,” rather than an artist. For Harvey, in the end, writing is as much a craft as working the fields.
Creating a data set is nice, making it publicly available is even nicer, but it is even nicer still if the data can be “interrogated” in various ways. To make this possible, the development of a robust search facility is necessary. When we started the project, the possibilities for search within IIIF and IIIF-compliant viewers were fairly limited. Developments within the digital world move fast, though, and recently IIIF has released its Content Search API. This search API enables searches within the data associated with the “structural components of the presentation API,” including the manifests (e.g., the books, in our case) and the sequences (e.g., a set of pages of a book). Moreover, digital annotations associated with particular objects will be searchable too. Great as this is, the specificity of the AOR data requires a search widget that is more closely tailored to our data set. Our tech wizards Mark Patton and John Abrahams, both based at the Digital Research and Curation Center at Johns Hopkins University, developed exactly such a widget and integrated it into the AOR viewer. This blog will highlight several of the search functionalities and the way in which specific parts of the AOR data can retrieved by them.
As mentioned in an earlier blog, the AOR viewer offers two kinds of search, a basic and an advanced one. Both the basic and advanced searches return the pages that match the specific query constructed by the user. All the search results are clickable links—that can be opened in the current or a new workspace—which immediately take the user to that page. A basic search is a simple string search that covers all the textual data associated with every type of reader intervention within a particular book or across the complete AOR corpus. For example, a search for “Caesar” returns all the pages on which this name is mentioned in the underscored words of the printed text, marginal notes, and their translations, the printed text that has been associated with particular marks, and so on. The basic search thus constitutes a broad search, a large fishing net, if you like, to scoop up large chunks of data relating to a specific keyword. Basic searches can be made more specific though, for instance by adding quotations marks: a search for Julius Caesar might return instances of Julius and Caesar, while searching for “Julius Caesar” only returns the instances of this name.
The advanced search offers various possibilities. First, a user can focus on a specific type of annotation. One can, for example, look for a specific word in only marginal notes, thus further narrowing down a basic search. Another possibility is to look for specific people, books, and geographical locations mentioned by Harvey in his marginal annotations. Through the advanced search it is possible to construct detailed searches based on an aspect of a particular type of annotation. In the XML transcriptions we have recorded whether Harvey made an annotation with pen or with chalk, enabling searches for all annotations that were made in chalk, for example. We have also tagged the language in which marginal notes or the underscored words in the printed text were written. The user can select a particular language in which a marginal note was written and then search for a key word, or just use the search to retrieve all the instances of marginal notes written in a specific language, useful for those who, for instance, want to focus on Harvey’s annotations in Greek.
Second, the advanced search also allowed for the construction of queries consisting of a combination of search terms, enabling the user to look for specific combinations of key words or types of annotation. As mentioned in a previous post, one can, for instance, search for pages that contain the Mars symbol and marginal notes that mention “Caesar.” Another (fairly random) example would be to search for the pages containing a marginal note that mentions “Caesar” and a marginal note in Greek. Users can add search terms at will, and a virtually endless number of combinations are possible. As a result, the search functionalities open up the AOR data set for the various avenues of inquiry that scholars from different disciplines might have.
A soon-to-be-implemented search functionality is the possibility to sort search results. Currently this functionality exists only on the test server, but it should be available soon. This is what it will look like:
Some wide-ranging searches will yield many results, which can be ordered based on relevance and page number. This will make it easier to manage and navigate the search results and to work with our tool. As the search functionalities are still being developed, partly because of some suggestions made by our users (please continue to let us know what you think!), more updates can be expected. All the search functionalities will eventually be addressed in detail in newer versions of the user documentation (the current version can be found here).
P.S. Just a reminder that last week we launched our second data release, which includes all the transcriptions of the latest addition to the AOR corpus, Tusser’s book on husbandry. The data release and accompanying documentation are available here!
Today I’d like to look at one of the especially tricky problems in transcribing Harvey, a symbol that has appeared twice so far in our corpus. It looks something like the letter Greek pi with a wavy line above it.
The first text that contains this symbol is Thomas Freigius‘ Paratitla seu synopsis pandectarum iuris civilis (printed 1583), a summary of the Digest (also known as the Pandects), a 6th century compendium of Roman law that became the foundation for developing legal systems throughout Europe in the early modern period.
This chart, with the pi symbol on the left side, appears on a blank page before the text proper begins. It appears to be a graphical representation of the division of the Pandects according to Freigius’s own summary. Perhaps the symbol is an abbreviation for the Pandects? Harvey was trained as a lawyer, but would he have used this symbol? With just this single example, it is difficult to come to any conclusion, but if we analyze the other example, we can begin to formulate a more substantial hypothesis.
The second instance appears in Olaus Magnus‘ Historia de gentibus septentrionalibus (signed 1578 by Harvey). The work deals with the history and traditions of the Swedish people, a rather fascinating topic for Europeans at the time. In a section dealing with the legal customs of Sweden, Olaus describes the fact that many legal cases were addressed on the basis of swearing and upholding oaths. Harvey leaves the following marginal note:
Transcribed, this annotation reads:
Juramentum, maximum litium expediendarum remedium. π.de jurejur.l.1.
Et omnis Controuersiae finis. Decretal.c. Etsi Christus. eod.
The annotation immediately presents some problems for translation, especially with the abbreviations which clearly reference other works. But, ignoring those abbreviations for now, these lines translate roughly to:
An oath is the greatest help in expediting lawsuits. [π. de jurejur. l. 1]
And it is the end of every dispute. Decretal. [c.] “And so Christ.” [eod.]
Due to my ignorance of early modern law, my first approach to making sense of this note was rather banal: Google. But given Google’s massive efforts to digitize early modern books, a simple search can return some incredibly useful results. For example, searching for “iuramentum maximum litium expediendarum remedium” immediately gives us a work that provides a brief summary of all the sections (or titles) of both civil and canon law.
Here we have a 1562 edition of the Titulorum omnium iuris tam civilis, quam canonici expositiones, that is, explanations for all the titles of civil and canon law. This work was composed by the German humanist Sebastian Brant, perhaps more famous for his satire Ship of Fools.
Using Brant’s legal compendium, however, I was able to figure out the various abbreviations in Harvey’s note, and ultimately confirm the meaning of the strange pi symbol. First, by searching through the volume, I found that one of the principal legal titles of civil and canon law turns out to be “De iureiurando” (“On swearing oaths”), which solves the problem of making sense of Harvey’s abbreviation “de jurejur.” The title can be found in multiple places, both in the Pandects as well as in the Decretalium (the Decretals of Gregory IX), solving as well Harvey’s abbreviation “Decretal.” In fact, in the relevant section of Brant’s discussion of the Decretalium, we find many phrases identical to the ones found in Harvey’s marginal note:
Leaving aside once more the citation abbreviations (ff.eod.l.j, c., infra eod.), there are three relevant portions of text that jump out because they also appear verbatim in Harvey’s marginal note:
Est enim Iuramentum maximum litium expediendarum remedium
omnis controversiae finis.
& si Christus.
Perhaps Harvey himself had a book such as Brant’s before him while he was annotating Olaus’ book on Swedish traditions!
If we leave behind Brant’s book and search for the title “De iureiurando” in the full texts of both the Pandects and the Decretalium (also found on Google Books), the abbreviations start to make even more sense.
In the Pandects, Book 12, Title 2, “De jurejurando,” the first paragraph includes the phrase “Est enim Iuramentum maximum litium expediendarum remedium.”
Thus the first line of this title is the phrase that both Harvey and Brant extract and cite as “l.1.”
Likewise in the Decretalium, in Book 2, Title 24, “De iureiurando” we find that chapter 26 contains the text “Homines per maiorem suum iurant, & omnis controversiae eorum, ad confirmationem finis est iuramentum.”
In reality, this passage appears in a chapter (also known as a caput) that begins “Et si Christus,” which helps us make sense of the citation “c. Et si Christus.” It is clearly a way of helping a reader find a certain section by referring to the opening words.
In order to verify this method of abbreviation, I also looked around for information on early modern legal citation strategies. I managed to find a handy reference guide from the Harvard school of law, which, among many other things, informs us about the following strategies in the early modern period:
The basic form of their citations employs the abbreviation ‘ff’ for the Digest (probably a corruption of a curiously made upper-case ‘D’)
To this is added an abbreviated form of the title, and, normally, the first word of the fragment, frequently preceded by ‘l.’, for lex.
Many of the early printed editions also give an alphabetical listing of the first word(s) of the leges (fragments) in each of the parts of the Corpus.
If the reference is to a fragment that is in the same title in which the reference occurs, eo. (for eodem titulo) will be substituted for the name of the title.
Thus, we are in a position to begin translating Brant’s abbreviations:
ff – the Digest/Pandects
eod. – in the same title under discussion [i.e. “De iureiurando”]
l.j – in the first fragment (where j is often used for the Roman numeral i)
Likewise, with the other phrase from the Decretalium:
c. & si Christus infra eod.
c. & si Christus – in the chapter (caput) beginning “Et si Christus”
infra eod. – later, in the same title [i.e. “De iureiurando”]
This exact same method of citation can be seen in Harvey, the only difference being that, while Brant’s compendium uses “ff” to refer to the Digest/Pandects, Harvey uses the pi symbol with the wavy line.
π.de jurejur. – in the Pandects, under the title “De iureiurando”
l.1. – fragment 1.
Decretal.c. Etsi Christus. eod. – Decretalium, in the chapter beginning “Etsi Christus,” under the same title [i.e. “De iureiurando”].
Given that we earlier hypothesized that Harvey was using this symbol to refer to the Pandects, we now have even more convincing evidence. We also have an interesting point of departure for thinking about the ways in which Harvey may have been reading a description of Swedish traditions and customs. But I’ll leave that for another time!