It’s not at all odd that I love marginalia, is it? I once wrote all of the archives libraries that held a copy of a particular eighteenth-century book and asked them if they would share all hand-written notes in the book with me. The results were fantastic. I found family arguments inscribed on title pages, emotional responses to tragic events–“THE HORROR!”–and failed courtships remembered. Marginalia has the potential to tell us so much about how people used literature and related to books. That’s why I am thrilled that UWaterloo English professor Dr. Katherine Acheson has just edited a new collection Early Modern English Marginalia, published with Routledge. Here’s more evidence of why this is an absolutely fascinating book:
Marginalia in early modern and medieval texts – printed, handwritten, drawn, scratched, colored, and pasted in – offer a glimpse of how people, as individuals and in groups, interacted with books and manuscripts over often lengthy periods of time. The chapters in this volume build on earlier scholarship that established marginalia as an intellectual method (Grafton and Jardine), as records of reading motivated by cultural, social, theological, and personal inclinations (Brayman [Hackel] and Orgel), and as practices inspired by material affordances particular to the book and the pen (Fleming and Sherman). They further the study of the practices of marginalia as a mode – a set of ways in which material opportunities and practices overlap with intellectual, social, and personal motivations to make meaning in the world. They introduce us to a set of idiosyncratic examples such as the trace marks of objects left in books, deliberately or by accident; cut-and-pasted additions to printed volumes; a marriage depicted through shared book ownership. They reveal to us in case studies the unique value of marginalia as evidence of phenomena as important and diverse as religious change, authorial self-invention, and the history of the literary canon. The chapters of this book go beyond the case study, however, and raise broad historical, cultural, and theoretical questions about the strange, marvelous, metamorphic thing we call the book, and the equally multiplicitous, eccentric, and inscrutable beings who accompany them through history: readers and writers.
Image credits: Routledge, Centre for Material Texts