Hands-On Research with Rare Books and Ephemera
Instructor Commentary by Arnold Sanders
¶ 1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 Students prepare for English 241: Archeology of Text research projects in twelve weeks of readings and laboratory experiences, which introduce the skills necessary to work with early printed books and archival documents. (For the text of the assignment, see here). The goal of these projects is to enable each student to pursue a self-designed creative or descriptive study of books, manuscripts, and other artifacts from Special Collections and Archives. Because the course is interdisciplinary and students come from many majors, it is hard to predict where students’ curiosities will take them. The best way to encourage active student engagement is to prepare students for the widest range of book- and document-related work. Successful projects can lead to further research supported by Goucher’s Peirce Center fellowships.
¶ 2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 Beginning with the study of how a digital document is constructed and the history of the Internet’s “cloud” library, students practice searching online scholarly sites such as the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), WorldCat, English Short-Title Catalog (ESTC), and the continental library collections accessible through the University of Karlsruhe’s online catalog. They also explore using search engines and databases to identify and locate people, places, and things. Those skills provide interpretive context for hand-press books in the course’s next segment. After three weeks of studying typography, format, bindings, and hand-made paper and its manufacture, students have learned the most basic descriptive bibliography skills. This enables them to describe the edition-specific and copy-specific details of their “cadaver books,” a set of early printed books they handle each week to encourage safe and intelligent treatment of early paper and bindings. Finally, paper and parchment manuscript laboratories teach students to decipher secretary and scribal hands from the nineteenth through the thirteenth centuries. This enables them to interpret marginalia in early printed books, including owners’ inscriptions and other provenance and use evidence.
¶ 3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 Sarah Kendall’s study of the Burke Austen Collection’s copy of the two-volume American first edition of Jane Austen’s Emma (Philadelphia: M. Carey; for sale by Wells & Lilly, Boston, 1816) represents a creative response to traditional rare-book provenance study, resulting in her discovery of a significant trove of correspondence in the book’s archival container. Before Alberta Burke brought the book to Baltimore, it had passed through the hands of Christina Broun Dalhousie (the Countess Dalhousie); a prominent collector, Frank J. Hogan; and a poet, Siegfried Sassoon. Kendall’s study demonstrates the way a book’s value changes as it moves from owner to owner, becoming as attractive for its associations and rarity as it is for its text. An archives-based approach to using the course’s analytical tools is represented by Cassie Brand’s study of U.S. Naval Academy dance cards found in the scrapbook kept by Goucher student Mary Lee Keith (Class of 1924), augmented by research at The Nimitz Library in Annapolis. Brand showed how the cards could be used to study crucial changes in American courtship conventions as women took control of their relations with potential suitors.