What is the Archaeology of Reading?


While the body of early modern scholarship on the history of reading practices has burgeoned during the past several decades—guided in large part by the initial scholarly work of our project partners, Professors Lisa Jardine† and Anthony Grafton—as a collective body of knowledge the history of reading has nonetheless remained limited to isolated, partial, and impressionistic studies of single texts read by single annotators.

Click to view the types of annotations captured by AOR and displayed in the viewer in our broadside poster.

As researchers, we conduct this work in the conspicuous absence of comparative evidence of the larger range of early modern historical reading practices, strategies, and agendas. Scholars also find it physically impossible to effectively penetrate the dynamic array of information preserved in annotated books for the purpose of systematic analysis owing to their sheer density of content, in many instances, relative to the original texts on which the annotations comment.

By creating a corpus of important and representative annotated texts with searchable transcriptions and translations, we can begin to compare and fully analyze early modern reading, and place that mass of research material within a broader historical context. In so doing, we could also approach—not in isolation but as a dynamic, internally and institutionally complimentary, research team—the traditionally subjective study of reading in a demonstrably empirical, comparative, and systematic way.

To facilitate this approach to these materials, the Archaeology of Reading team has elected to focus on a distinct and roughly contemporary dyad of clearly identified early modern readers: Gabriel Harvey and John Dee. While the identities of a large majority of early modern annotators remains unknown in extant collections, this focus on known readers will enable the project team to analyze and more precisely situate the processes of reading and annotation within their respective historical contexts.

International Image Interoperability Framework (IIIF) Endpoint Viewer

The Archaeology of Reading technology team is working closely with the International Image Interoperability Framework (IIIF) protocol and community to develop features and use cases that will enhance AOR within this larger framework. IIIF features a set of protocols, application programming interfaces (APIs), and shared technologies for the presentation of web-based images. In the case of AOR, these images are digital surrogates of rare book materials containing manuscript annotations by Gabriel Harvey and John Dee, which users interface through AOR’s adapted version of the Mirador (version 2.0) viewer. The technical infrastructure for AOR includes a data archive, an image server, a IIIF image service, a corresponding IIIF presentation service, and the IIIF-compliant Mirador viewer.

The data archive for this project provides the framework for long-term access to, and preservation of, all project content: an important contribution to Digital Humanities more generally, insofar as this issue has not yet been unaddressed within IIIF. The technology team has defined an archival data model that can be mapped to other data models for data access and presentation over time. Another layer of the infrastructure that has been developed in Phase I of AOR consists of an image server that accesses content from within the data archive. Currently, the team is utilizing a commercial FSI image server, though comparable image server resources (e.g. djatoka) may also be used.

While AOR has been deployed using the versatile Mirador 2.0 API, the AOR technology team has developed IIIF endpoints for any available image service and presentation service, so long as they can be accessed by an IIIF-compliant image viewer. All AOR data can be accessed through our Mirador2 IIIF-complaint viewer, which has been specifically enhanced to meet the use requirements identified by the team for both current and future users. Over the course of AOR 1, the technology and scholarly teams have worked together closely to define and implement a set of use cases related to image viewing and manipulation, transcription viewing, and dynamic, query-building search capabilities. The current AOR viewer is the culmination of this iterative development process, which involved computer engineers, data specialists, and specialist humanities scholars, and presents users with a wide-ranging set of functionalities that enable new forms of research on the history of reading practices through previously inaccessible manuscript marginalia within printed texts.