Week 17: Provenance and the Individual Book in the Digital Age

Another chapter down.  This one was on reception and readership and – combined with some very exciting plans for a new project which I’ve been cooking up with a friend down south – it’s been making me think about provenance and book ownership even more than usual.

“[People] care about what makes a book unique

A year or so ago I was talking to a book collector about the ways in which digitisation had affected collecting.  “People care more about provenance now”, he said, “they care about what makes a book unique“.  That’s very true.  When we can download a PDF of many an early printed book from Google in a matter of minutes, the printed text begins to recede into the background as a collectible object in favour of – to borrow a phrase from the Material Evidence in Incunabula project – the “copy specific, post-production evidence and provenance information”.  This has a knock-on effect for us academics as well; only look at the number of new projects focusing on the study of historic libraries, the investigation and recording of material evidence, and the renewed interest in bindings and other facets of the book as physical artefact.

This is an altogether good thing (as long as we don’t begin to neglect the printed book itself!).  It also represents a larger sea-change in collecting.  While celebrity autograph albums and the like were widely popular in the nineteenth century, there was much less interest in the post-production aspects of most books, even to the extent of incunables and other desirable items being “washed” to remove those untidy humanist scribbles (*weep*).  Now that provenance is such a hot topic, bibliographically speaking, not only are we seeking to understand it more from a scholarly point of view, it’s also changing things as basic as how early printed books are catalogued.

The beauty about provenance from a collector’s standpoint is that it’s a great leveler.  Not every wouldbe book collector can own a shelf of incunables, but anyone with patience and knowledge can find books with wonderful histories inscribed in them.  All of the following were picked up in charity bookshops, library book sales, etc., rarely for more than a tenner at most:

 

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J. H. Millar.  A Literary History of Scotland.  London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1903.

This delightful example of early twentieth-century literary criticism contains the stamp and bookplate of one of Fife’s early public libraries, established in Kirkcaldy by the Beveridges – local linoleum magnates – in 1895.  The bookplate, rather forbiddingly, reminds prospective users that “The Librarian is authorised to levy exemplary fines upon readers damaging books”.

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C. M. Bowra.  Sophoclean Tragedy.  Oxford: At the Clarendon Press, 1947.

This monograph by the inimitable Maurice Bowra contains extensive annotations on almost every page, apparently by its former owner, Nigerian colonial administrator and poet Charles Ashbee Woodhouse, whose 1948 signature appears on the flyleaf.

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Pliny 2

Pliny the Younger.  Epistularum libri novem . . ., ed. R. C. Kukula.  Leipzig: In aedibus B. G. Teubneri, 1908.

When I was a postgraduate, old Teubner editions of the classics could be found in every Oxford bookshop, but this volume, with its successive Balliol owners is a particularly lovely example of the university book trade.  It has been interleaved to facilitate note-taking, though most of its readers seem to have given up long before the end.

Of its owners, Alexander Wigram Allen Leeper (1887-1935), who probably purchased it new and was responsible for the interleaving, was an Australian civil servant and authority on cuneiform texts.  Bernard Francis (Brian) McGuinness (b. 1927) is a retired philosophy don and authority on Wittgenstein.  Richard Patrick ffrench (1929-2010) was an ornithologist who studied the birds of Trinidad and Tobago.

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Charlton T. Lewis and Charles Short.  A Latin Dictionary.  Oxford: at the Clarendon Press, 1890.

The Historian reminds me that the Oxford Latin Dictionary is better, but I retain a fondness for Lewis and Short, especially this rather touching volume.  Ralph Porter Wade (1883-1939) purchased his dictionary at the precocious age of sixteen before going on to be Gell Hebrew Prizeman at Christ’s College, Cambridge, and a vicar in Lincolnshire, while Edwin Lisle Marsden (1886-1950) was another northern cleric.  From there it went to Eton and finally made its way to the Classics Bookshop in Oxford.

All of which goes to say that provenance research needn’t be limited to scholars of incunables or wealthy industrialists gloating over their Gutenberg Bibles (if this latter, endangered species still exists).  The next time you’re in a charity shop or used bookstore, glance over a flyleaf or two and see what you discover . . . .

Copyright © 2018 Kelsey Jackson Williams

Week 22: Strikes and Snow

This is the first week in which I’ve fallen behind my completion schedule.  It’s all the more strange given that the week which has just gone by, on first glance, would seem to have been the ideal stretch of time in which to plow ahead with the book project.

Why?  Well, I’ve somewhat sophistically convinced myself that I can work on the book during strike days (for the strike and what it involves click here) as that will be working for myself rather than for my institution.  Whether that’s a valid argument or not is another matter, but either way it should have meant that I had three clear days of book time earlier this week.  On top of that, the “Beast fae the East” ensured that classes were cancelled on both Thursday and Friday, meaning two more days at home (in heavily snowed-in Doune – see the picture at the top of this post), which – even allowing for the need to mark student essays – ought to have helped matters along.

But I think in the end that a regular routine is more productive to writing than any number of more or less unexpected bonus days.  Somehow I’ve managed to explore the Leighton Library, sort press furniture for our home press, clean a giant pile of brass rules for the same, write a paper which ended up being canceled by snow, and do pretty much everything conceivable this week except for actually moving forward with the book.

Rules

I may not have progressed with the book, but these are now scrubbed, polished, and sorted by size.

And so, I’m now about a week behind.  With luck that will change next week: the strike is due to continue and I’ll be sitting at home with little else to do.  But this time I’ll have to knuckle down and impose a routine on these otherwise all too slippery days of strike and snow . . . .

Copyright © 2018 Kelsey Jackson Williams

Week 25: A Chapter Down

We are currently in week 25.  I used to organise my desk journal and the other paraphernalia of scheduling by weeks of term or semester, but that’s now been supplanted by the overarching countdown of the book manuscript and, by that highly specific calendar, we are twenty-five weeks away from hand-off to OUP.

I’m now four weeks in to the completion schedule I set myself at the beginning of this year and am feeling, on the whole, pleased with its progress.  Teaching has been happening for a little while now, but I’m still managing to balance it and administrative responsibilities with ongoing book work.  Indeed, as I write I have one more chapter in the bag than I did when I began all of this in January.

So, how did that happen?  Last spring I wrote about generative writing and the ways in which I’ve used it during the present book project.  This chapter was no different.  I outlined at progressively detailed levels until I had a paragraph-by-paragraph skeleton of the chapter I wanted to produce (about 3,000 words), then over a couple of days I fleshed that out into a ~9,000 word very rough first draft.  In the subsequent week I added footnotes and tidied the style until it’s now sitting at about 12,000 words and is in a pretty decent state save that I need to check a few sources when I’m next in St Andrews.

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John Cockburn’s Bibliotheca Universalis (Edinburgh, 1688), one of the case studies in Scottish intellectual culture discussed in the chapter I’ve just finished.

That probably makes it all sound easy enough, but I’ve actually found this chapter quite hard.  It’s chapter one – I’m writing the book out of order – and contains about half of my attempt to intervene in Enlightenment historiography (the other half will be in the introduction).  I find that sort of heavily referential, positioning activity to be heavy work and am by no means convinced that the current draft does a sufficient job of explaining both where I sit amongst the various Israelite, Robertsonian, Pocockian, etc. interpretations of Enlightenment and how what I’m doing is different.  Mercifully, I’m now turning to chapter four (again, out of order) and what I’ve been calling the “Ancient Monarchy Debate” – the long-running critique of Scotland’s supposedly 2,000-year-old royal dynasty – which is much more comfortably antiquarian ground.

If all goes well, I should be writing another blog post, recording the successful completion of chapter four, somewhere in the last days of February or first days of March . . . .

Copyright © 2018 Kelsey Jackson Williams

Scheduling the Book

I survive in academia with the help of calendars and schedules: the paper diary that used to be enough to keep me organised when I was a student has expanded into a Google calendar, an increasingly complicated desk journal, and multiple tables and Gantt charts, but the principle remains the same.  My latest schedule, though, is particularly terrifying: the schedule of finishing the book.

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This is the part of my 2018 schedule I’m really looking forward to . . . .

 

On the surface of it, finishing The Book doesn’t seem too daunting.  My submission date is 31 July, I already have most of it written, and a relatively light teaching semester ahead of me.  But once you begin to break down the twenty-eight weeks between now and the end of July, things start looking tighter.  To stay on schedule I’ll need – for example – to finish the chapter I’m currently working on by 9 February and knock off the next one (which, mercifully, already exists in a partial draft) by 2 March and while four weeks seems like quite a lot, I’ll also be juggling teaching, the press, and all the other administrative and quotidian responsibilities of being a lecturer (not to mention those interfering non-scholarly activities, like buying a house).

So I’m steeling myself for a busy few months.  Packed as they’ll be, I think I’ve worked out a manageable timeline for completion and I’m looking forward, after a semester devoted almost wholly to teaching, to return to this project and see it through its final stages.  Step one: draw up a detailed plan of the chapter I’m about to write.  This is chapter one (because I’m writing out of order), an overview of Scottish intellectual culture at the end of the seventeenth century, and I’m currently putting flesh on the bones of a fairly general outline I made before Christmas.  Once I’ve worked out what I want to say, paragraph by paragraph, then I’ll turn to generative writing to produce a first draft.  Before I can do that, though, I want to reread and refresh my memory of a couple of key texts (the seminal works by Clare Jackson and Hugh Ouston on this period) and review my notes towards the chapter, some of which were taken three or four years ago and almost certainly contain material which has long since escaped my mind.

Evernote and my increasingly well-worn copy of Restoration Scotland beckon . . . .

 

Copyright © 2018 Kelsey Jackson Williams

The Origins of Scottish Copperplate Engraving (Musical and Otherwise)

A guest post I wrote for the wonderful “Claimed from Stationer’s Hall” project. If you don’t already know about Karen McAulay’s fantastic work, take a look at: https://claimedfromstationershall.wordpress.com/ .

Claimed From Stationers' Hall

It is with great pleasure that we share our second guest blogpost, this time by Dr Kelsey Jackson Williams, Lecturer in Early Modern Literature at the University of Stirling, and Printer, The Pathfoot Press.  If you’ve ever wondered what the process of music engraving actually entails, then your questions are about to be answered here.

One of the vast treasure trove of musical scores which falls within the remit of the Claimed from Stationers’ Hall project is the imposingly named A Collection of the Ancient Martial Music of Caledonia, called Piobaireachd as performed on the Great Highland Bagpipe. Now also adapted to the Piano Forte Violin and Violoncello. With a few old Highland lilts purposely set for the above modern instruments. To which is prefixed a complete tutor for attaining a thorough knowledge of the pipe music, compiled by the Skye native and prominent bagpipe-maker Dòmhnall MacDhòmhnaill (1766/7-1840) and published in…

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A Stray Letter and a Unique Book

At a recent workshop in Edinburgh I was comparing notes with two colleagues about which bibliographies of Scottish printing we owned (such are the exciting lives of academics).  In the course of the conversation both related their pleasure at having obtained copies of that magnum opus of Scottish book history, the Bibliographia Aberdonensis, a systematic account of every writer from Aberdeenshire and the surrounding area during the early modern period.  This, in turn, led me to think of my own well-thumbed copies of the two volumes of the Bibliographia, the result of a fortunate eBay purchase some years before.

I’d been using my copy for some weeks before a small sheet of paper fell out from between its pages onto my office floor:

Baxter letter

An unexpected discovery.

The letter, for so it proved to be, read:

THE DEANERY, YORK.

Nov. 11 35

 

My dear Professor Baxter

            I have looked with very great interest at the volume containing “Hayi Oratio”, & greatly hope that when the occasion arises the relevant part of it will be photographically reproduced.  I am sure that the Dean & Chapter will readily give the needful consent.

            I am handing over the copy of the St. Andrews music MS. To our Librarian, & a proper acknowledgment of the kind gift will be duly sent.

Ever yours sincerely

H. N. Bate

 

The sender of this letter was Herbert Newell Bate (1871-1941), then Dean of York, and its recipient, James Houston Baxter (1894-1973), Professor of Ecclesiastical History in my own sometime academic home, the University of St Andrews.   The copy of the “St. Andrews music MS.” which Bate was handing over to the chapter librarian was evidently Baxter’s facsimile edition of Cod. Helmst. 628, published as An Old St Andrews Music Book (London, 1931).

What really piqued my interest, though, was the reference to “Hayi Oratio”, for this was surely none other than  M. G. Hayi oratio habita in gymnasio Aberdonensi 2 Iulij. 1569 (Edinburgh: Robert Lekprevik, 1571), Aldis 101.6, ESTC S92888, USTC 507327.  George Hay’s Ciceronian browbeating of the still-all-too-Catholic scholars of Aberdeen has been long since been discussed and analysed by John Durkan, but both Durkan and the bibliographies cited above were aware only of the (supposedly) unique copy in the National Library of Scotland.

What then of the York sammelband which Bate reported in 1935?  I have yet to find it in any catalogue, but I remain hopeful that somewhere in the north of England this copy survives.  If it could be located, the eighty-two year-old letter which I came across so fortuitously could result in the discovery of a genuinely important, at-present lost, fragment of Scottish Reformation history.

Copyright © 2017 Kelsey Jackson Williams

Demography, Statistics, and the Cultural Historian

These days if I’m forced to put myself in a sub-disciplinary box, I usually say that I’m a cultural historian.  This is less because I’m an adherent of the Burkean New Cultural History (or any other theoretical agenda, for that matter) than because it seems to offer a comfortable basket into which I can fit my interests in intellectual history, material culture, literature, and the history of scholarship.  It also nicely serves to distinguish the kind of qualitative, example-driven work I do from the more quantitative, statistical work that one might (in an oversimplifying sort of way) associate with an economic or social historian.

Needless to say, I now find myself deep within the territory of economic and social history, doing my best to say something useful and not be too much of an idiot while doing so.  Over the past year I’ve been working on the readership of early Enlightenment Scottish texts (you can see an example here and some commentary on the data-crunching underlying this work here).  This part of my book project has now reached a point where I have a sprawling, unwieldy spreadsheet recording the names, residences, and occupations of 3,575 subscribers to historical works published in Scotland between 1707 and 1744.

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A sample few lines from the database: some Stirling-based subscribers.

Now comes the challenge of deriving meaning from all of this data.  Historical demography is not a field I’ve ever explored in any depth, but I’m now finding it absolutely imperative to understand if I’m going to do anything useful with my spreadsheet of readers.  Take the basic question: what percentage of the population subscribed to these books?  The population of Scotland in the early eighteenth century was probably somewhere in the ballpark of one million, which would seem to suggest that my subscribers represent only a tiny fraction, something on the order of 0.35% of the total population.  But what if you consider them as a fraction of the adult population?  Of the literate population?  On a more fine-grained level, what can I say about the relative percentages of subscribers from different parts of the country?  Or the presence or absence of different professions and social classes?

Some of these questions will probably be insoluble, but others will, with effort, be resolved.  It’s a sobering reminder, though, that different corners of the field use very different forms of scholarship to produce their results and that we should be wary of trespassing without understanding in our interdisciplinary travels.  I for one will certainly be asking friends more familiar with demography and statistics to comment on the resulting chapter when it eventually takes shape.  In the mean time, I’ll be trying to make sense of historical demography and thinking hard about what that can teach me about the shape of the Scottish Enlightenment . . . .

Copyright © 2017 Kelsey Jackson Williams

Kayaking and Epigraphy: A Match Made in Heaven?

A few months ago, the Historian and I were on holiday in Mull, bouncing along sheep-strewn single-track roads in our aging but faithful Honda Jazz in search of whatever antiquities we could find.  We found plenty, including a possibly unrecorded boat graveyard, dozens of pre-Clearance settlements, and a Victorian country house with a particularly delectable vegetable garden, but the most exciting discoveries weren’t on the mainland of Mull itself but in the waters to the west.

The island of Inch Kenneth (Innis Choinnich) lies at the end of Loch na Keal, off the west coat of Ulva, where the loch meets the open sea.  Visited by Johnson and Boswell, it was later the home of Unity Mitford, whose utterly disgusting mansion continues to survive on the island’s south side, and is now home more or less entirely to sheep.  It’s also the site of a medieval church and that was the goal of our visit.  We kayaked over from the sound of Ulva – a slightly nerve-wracking experience, even in reasonably good seas – and spent the better part of the morning exploring the island and its antiquities.

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And such antiquities!  There were beautifully carved funeral monuments dating from the late middle ages to the nineteenth century, a sample of which you can see in the photo above.  In this post, though, I want to talk about three heavily worn but spectacular carved stones which currently lie in the midst of the Victorian graveyard and which have not, I think, been written on before.  Their inscriptions are enigmatic at best, entirely non-existent for two out of the three.  How do we interpret these stones?

The answer is through heraldry.  Each stone contains weathered but still discernible coats of arms and it is these which allow us to make some educated guesses as to their period and subjects.  Hebridean heraldry is rather unusual compared to most western European heraldic traditions but its oddity helps in this case.

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To begin with the first, and easiest, above.  We have the partially damaged initials and date (“HML”, “1676”) as well as a quartered shield of which quarters two, three, and four are a tower, a birlinn, and a hand holding a cross, respectively.  These arms match those of the Macleans of Lochbuie as recorded in 1672, but the date makes me suspect that instead it belongs to a cousin of the Lochbuie family, Hector Ruadh Maclean of Coll who died in that year.

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The second stone presents more of a challenge.  Once again, we’re presented with the characteristic quartered shield of Hebridean heraldry, but only the first quarter (two towers) is immediately recognisable.  Had that been all, it would have been impossible to identify this tomb, but we’re fortunate to have notes on Inchkenneth made by Duncan Macleod of Salen, Mull, in 1897 which gives us the remaining quarters (a triskele, second; a deer’s head, third; and a repeat of the two towers, fourth) as well as the now obliterated date “1758”.  The presence of the Macleod triskele may suggest that this stone belonged to a later Hector Maclean of Coll who died in 1754 and whose mother was a Macleod.

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The arms are better preserved on the final stone in this sequence and appears to show a fess chequy in the first and fourth quarters, a triskele in the second, and a heart in the third.  The combination of the fess chequy of the Stewarts with the triskele common to the Macleods in a Mull context may suggest that this stone belonged to a child of Robert Stewart, 8th of Appin (died by 1739) and Isabel Macleod.  Robert’s mother was a Maclean of Coll, one of Hector Ruadh’s daughters, providing a connection to the Inch Kenneth burial ground.

What initially appeared to be three disparate stones turn out to be linked by familial ties and to represent a larger pattern of burials on the part of the Maclean family of Coll.  In turn this encourages us, I think, to consider the remarkable richness of these stones’ carvings as evidence of an island visual culture which is all too often neglected.  In 1897 Duncan Macleod saw several more stones in the vicinity which are now vanished or buried and commented on the presence of others which even then were “so worn as to render them wholly illegible”.  Instead of surprising outliers, these monuments are the fragmentary relics of an largely lost Baroque material culture of commemoration common to the gentry families of the Inner Hebrides.

Copyright © 2017 Kelsey Jackson Williams

Research Days

The autumn semester has begun in Stirling and while I continue to work on the book project, it’s now being juggled alongside teaching, admin, organising a research seminar, coordinating my division’s presence at university open days, printing, and all of the other duties that go to make up a semester’s workload.  Stirling, to do it justice, encourages us to keep our research and writing on track during the semester by setting aside one day a week as a “research day” in which we stay away from the office and try to achieve something other than writing lectures or marking papers.  That’s easier said than done and in the process I’ve found myself thinking more about the nature of the time we spend on individual research and writing.

research stock photo

Stock photos are inherently funny and odd, but I particularly like the grim melodrama of this one, found while idly searching on the keyword “research” at pexels.com.

There’s no doubt that I work more efficiently when my time is limited.  Even though I think I became more diligent and organised about managing myself between the doctorate and post-doc, the wide open landscapes of the latter still meant that I didn’t need to feel too guilty about checking my e-mail or going out for a coffee or any of the other procrastinations that can fill up one’s time.  Now that research rubs shoulders with so many other responsibilities, though, the temptation to have that sort of leisurely progression through a working day is much less.  I was reminded of this on Friday – my first “research day” of the new term – when I realised I’d been working almost without break all day on a single project; I was so caught up in the pleasure of actually having the time to think that I’d hardly noticed the hours go by.

But there’s also a problem with assuming we can turn this sort of work on and off like a light-switch.  One of the biggest difficulties I find in keeping up with research during the semester is not so much keeping the time protected (though that’s a challenge in itself) as it is picking up the threads where I left off the previous week.  There’s a flow you can get into when you’re working day after day on a single project and it’s that flow and the consequent feeling of having all the ideas and sources and quotes you need ready and waiting at your fingertips that I miss on coming back to a piece of work that’s sat cold on my desk since the previous week.

Still, some research is better than no research, especially when a major submission deadline is looming just over the horizon (I’ve promised to get my final manuscript to OUP by the spring of next year).  So I’ll take what I can get and keep plugging away at chapter nine in the hopes of having it and maybe also the introduction finished by Christmas.  It remains to be seen if my eleven or so remaining research days this semester are enough time and mental space to make that happen . . . .

Copyright © 2017 Kelsey Jackson Williams