Reading Between The Lines

Seeking to learn what books can't say for themselves

Assignment 5: Social Network Mapping with Kumu

“Let’s work with web scraping and social networking,” they said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re technologically inept,” they said. But I had to go and be a special snowflake by picking my own set of data—basically making a perfectly reasonable project take ten hours more than it should have.

This week, we worked on unearthing library records for dissenting academies via the Dissenting Academies Online Project. I chose to work within the calendar year 1830, focusing my search on Homerton Academy. With tools such as Kumu, Scraper, and xPath Finder (the latter two being Chrome extensions), I scraped data from the DAO database and used it to map connections between books and borrowers during that year, as seen below.

Regardless of the time I spent working on this project (due to the fact that I had to constantly seek help in fixing my own errors, because I’m a Creative Writing major and computers are hard) the end product was surprisingly cool. I didn’t even have to ask for help on Part III, which kind of made me question reality for a few minutes but it’s all cool now.

So there you have it – a comprehensive, slightly jiggly map of connections between the borrowers and the books of Homerton Academy in 1830.

Assignment 4: Want to know where it was published?

Ironically, seeing as I have very little experience with Christianity in any of its forms—personal, academic, or anything in between—I seem to have been gravitating toward religious texts in this course. This is probably due to the time period in which we’ve been working, but hey—it works, and I’m learning.

This week, we pored over the English Short Title Catalogue (which WordPress is trying to tell me is spelled wrong because I’m in the United States) in search of books published a) prior to 1800, and b) in at least three different places. I accidentally stumbled upon John Bunyan’s Come and welcome to Jesus Christ while searching for the very few records of books I’ve worked with personally.

The process of getting and refining all the information was messy, to say the least, but barring the six straight hours spent troubleshooting installation (and no, I’m not exaggerating), I’ll admit that it went smoother than expected in the end. It’s not a map that boasts fifty different cities of publication, but—thanks to OpenRefine, Zotero, Google Maps, and a lot of help from Dr. Benjamin Pauley (thank you, thank you, thank you)—it’s a functioning map, and an accurate one at that.

Behold, a map that answers the burning question that I’m sure has been plaguing you since birth: where was John Bunyan’s Come and welcome to Jesus Christ published?

Assignment 3: Using TimelineJS to Retrace the Life of a Book

I’m not sure, but I think I might have picked the one book in our Special Collections library with the absolute least notable owners in the entire world.

I don’t mean to say that any of them led boring lives, don’t get me wrong. I mean that despite the abundance of names in the provenance available to me, exactly zero of them turned up in genealogical databases, and exactly zero of them had a hand in any other publications I could find. It didn’t help that none of them had the decency to include their location (or at least, a legible one).

But I digress. Even though none of the owners seemed to leave a lasting footprint in history, it was fun to figure out who might have come first and what they did with it. It’s a fairly outdated concept, so it doesn’t see much use today, but judging from the number of names in it I suspect that it saw a great deal of use from religious figures or followers. I’m fairly certain that I’m the first person to have sifted through it so deeply in a long while.

This was an adventure. For someone as unversed in technology as me, Timeline JS might as well have been rocket science the first time I saw it despite how simple it actually was once I got down to it. The problems I encountered were mostly nuanced (often user error) so I have to say that the tool itself was actually quite useful.

So, here: the product of my puzzling. Behold the vast amount of dead-end (but still cool) provenance. I view it as a glimpse into the lives of ordinary people.

Assignment 2: Portrait of a Book

I was pretty close to analyzing the same book used in my last post (since it does, after all, have a few interesting notations at the beginning and end from previous owners), but I ended up selecting another one because I was set on finding one in the original binding. I ended up choosing a book written in 1766 by multiple authors: The Spectator, in eight volumes (see Image 3 in the gallery), which is a series of essays written by Sir Richard Steele, Joseph Addison (Esq.), Eustace Budgell, Mr. Tickell, Mr. Hughes, Dr. Parnell, Alexander Pope (Esq.), Laurence Eusden, Richard Ince, Henry Martyn, John Byrom, Gilbert Budgell, Rev. Richard Parker, Mr. Henley, and Henry Grove. Many of these men have political affiliations, mainly in the form of honor (as you can likely tell by their various titles), but none are names famous enough for I nor my partner Dakota to have encountered before.

The outside of the book is fairly nondescript save for the spine (see Images 1 and 2 in the gallery). It’s clear where metal tools were taken to the leather; not only are they accented with gold leaf (and red leather dye around the title, as you can see in the gallery) but I could feel the indentations when I ran my finger over them. The actual front and rear of the book feature no distinguishing marks other than redrot, which is a degradation process resulting from poor storage conditions that can render leather cracked and damaged. The endband at the top of the spine has half-broken free of the book, enough so I can see the stitches around it.

With Dakota’s help, because I have problems with processing and conceptualization, we figured out that the book was probably in duodecimo format (12°). I noticed that the book is printed on laid paper and has very visible horizontal chain lines, and the length of the cut pages is about 17-17.5 cm (roughly 18~cm uncut estimate). The signatures (which go from A-A3 with three blanks, B-B3 with three blanks, etc, all the way until Ee – but skipping J, V, and W) reveal that this particular book has six leaves to a gathering, leading us to the conclusion that the book is likely in duodecimo format. I’m not excellent at math (like, at all), but I think that at 12 leaves/24 pages a sheet of paper, this book probably took 15ish sheets of paper to manufacture.

Speaking of the printing signatures (which denote the sizes of each gathering of pages), that’s pretty much the only notable thing there is on the direction line. There are no catch words. However, on the first page of every gathering (A, B, C, D, etc.), there’s a small cross symbol to the right of the signature (see Image 4 in the gallery). I assume this means that all of the pages came from the same press, since the symbol is consistent throughout.

There are only a couple watermarks. On the first blank page I found one reading “1794” (see Image 5 in the gallery – the watermark is faint, but for reference it’s alongside the shadow of my finger). I couldn’t find another watermark on any of the interior pages (probably due to the fact that it’s duodecimo – if I’m right – which means any watermarks probably got cut off) but I did find one on the rear board (see Image 6). If it’s too faint to tell in the picture, it’s a segment of a fleur-de-lis.

There were also a few scribbles here and there, the most notable of which possibly being an owner (see Image 4 in the gallery). I can make out the date as June 25, 1796, and the name seems close to John Whits Smith, but I can’t really distinguish it so your guess is better than mine; have a look at it and let me know if you can figure it out. There’s also a few pencil marks on a blank page prior to the title page (not pictured because they were too faint in the image) but they indicate that the book was at some point purchased for 3.50 (currency not known).

As for binding, the cover is coming apart slightly, so I could see six places where the paper was sewn to the boards with what appears to be twine, but it’s not much. I couldn’t find anything indicating its state of binding had changed, so I assume I handled it with the same binding in which it had been published.

Finally, cancellations: the removal of pages due to a misprint or a post-printing edit. I have no idea if these count, but I noticed that two pages had been torn out – one right before the title page, and one before the final blank page. They’re right on that teetering point where I’m not sure if they had anything on them to begin with, so I hesitate to call these actual cancellations; I’m guessing someone just needed a piece of paper in a pinch, and decided to utilize some of the blank ones. I did notice that this book had fewer blank pages than some of the other old ones I’ve looked at lately.

If all else fails, I can always blame John Whits Smith-what’s-his-face for those missing pages. I wonder what they were used for.

Assignment 1: The Marble Gate – Visiting D. H. Ramsey Library Special Collections

The library at UNC Asheville is…well, it’s a library. It’s not sleek or modern or fancy, but we’ve got some good tech and great staff. It looks like what you’d expect to find at any library on a state campus.

And then you get to the Special Collections door, shown here.

I (with Dakota) was able to meet with both of the librarians who work behind this strangely fancy door: Gene Hyde and Colin Reeve. They were both lovely, letting us handle the books as well as showing us how to navigate their database – and, of course, welcoming us back anytime (barring the fact that there’s a doorbell outside what I’ve come to call the Marble Gate).

There were a great number of books inside this room (many of them fairly recent, but I’ll touch on that later). There’s room for error, since both Gene and Colin admitted that their database was acting up, but out of this mass of caged books we were able to draw out a strong contender for Oldest Book In the Room: A priest to the temple. Or, The country parson his character, and Rule of Holy LifeThis book, written by George Herbert and published in 1675, bears clear signs of being passed from hand to hand over the centuries, as indicated by the title page.

This book was rebound on November 26, 1913, as stated by a note scrawled before the title page, but still retains its original pages. It’s just not, you know, falling apart. Before the title page, there are a number of notes with varying degrees of legibility stating who the book belonged to, and in some cases under what circumstances.

The earliest entry we found during a cursory inspection was from 1727; it was mostly illegible to me, having been written in script with now-fading ink and all, but we did determine that it belonged to someone named Wells. I think I could pick out a few other random words, such as “Wightman,” “Bosford,” and “Roe.” I don’t know if these are names or places, since they were all written by the same hand and aren’t all formatted the same way. The next dated entry (that we could find) was from July 1, 1878, when this book was given as a “birth day greeting” to a S. Howard Hall. “Soon” after that, the book was rebound as I said by someone with the initials S. H. H. After that, it gets a little fuzzy date-wise. There are pencil marks on the initial pages, seeming to indicate ownership by a library prior to that of UNC Asheville (and relatively recently, at that) and even a price: $220. Gene and Colin mentioned that this book was purchased from a book dealer at some point, but I’m not sure when this happened in relation to said library.

This book kind of doubles as an answer to the first two questions of our assignment (the oldest book and a book that bears evidence of reader use) so I’m going to touch a bit more on this one but briefly throw in another book as a sort of safety net. Clearly, the past owners of this book wanted to stake their claim upon the pages and were not afraid to write in it, but the pages themselves are largely intact. Given that the subject matter isn’t something simple, and also that it covers a largely religious subject in a time where religion was a key part of life (even more so than today in ways), I think it’s safe to say that the owners of this book were purposely very careful to conserve it. Perhaps it held some sort of meaning for them, which might be how it arrived with its pages not crumbling or even dogeared. This stands in stark contrast to another book of which I regrettably didn’t take a picture. Though published later than Herbert’s, this book (something beginning with The pilgrim’s progress, though I didn’t catch the rest) was crumbling so badly that it had to be kept in an envelope. The original leather binding had a severe case of redrot, to the point where half of it had fallen off entirely, and the pages themselves had separated in the middle of the binding. (The picture here is not of the book in question; it’s just an example of redrot I found. The actual book was in way worse condition.) I know Herbert’s book was rebound so it’s not really a fair comparison, but the pages (which were intact in both books) showed a clear difference nonetheless. I’d hazard a guess that either the owners of Herbert’s book valued it more than the owners of the other book valued theirs, or the latter book just passed through way more hands. Or both.

The most notable collection in that room, though, wasn’t nearly so old. And it’s a cookbook collection, of all things: The Pamela C. Allison Cookbook Collection, spanning from 1932 to 2015. Gene and Colin had a great time describing their adventure to Pamela’s house to retrieve the cookbooks; there were around 3000 of them just piled around this woman’s house. They only took 1000 or so (those that ascribed to the common theme of Southern cooking) but those fill up two large bookshelves in the Special Collections room and are continuing to expand. In a statement available on the UNC Asheville Special Collections website, Pamela herself wrote “My cookbook collection is rooted in three seemingly unrelated interests—good food, reading, and research.” She combined her childhood love of her grandmother’s cooking with her desire to broaden her reading sphere, and started amassing cookbooks until it became an obsession. One of the professors here, Dr. Erica Abrams Locklear, was teaching a class that explored culture through cookbook literature, which motivated Pamela to donate her collection for the good of the Asheville community. She’s still collecting today.

Near the end of our meeting, the discussion turned to the librarians’ most valuable commodities. Though we did discuss the value of a book or two, they made clear that their collection wasn’t based on value. Half-jokingly, they told us that their most valuable commodity was space, and they were running out of it fast. It’s pretty clear just by looking around the room; all of the protective bookshelves were almost entirely full, and the normal bookshelves housing the cookbook collection were almost sagging under the weight of the number of books crammed into it. There’s so much crammed into each book, too; look how long I spent rambling about one or two books in this post, not even delving into content. I hope they can figure out plans for either increased storage or expansion; it won’t be good when we run out of room for this kind of knowledge.

(This post is derived from material in George Herbert’s A priest to the temple. Or, The country parson, his character, and Rule of Holy Life. Also included are references to the various collections and resources available at the University of North Carolina Asheville’s Special Collections area.)