Sherman 2008

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Sherman, William H. Used Books: Marking Readers in Renaissance England. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008.

avoiding words "marginalia" and "reading": "These terms tend to bring with them a set of modern cultural assumptions and disciplinary tools that do not fit well with the evidence that survives from the pre-modern archive." (xiii)

instead, "book use", pulling from Bradin Cormack and Carla Mazzio (xiii), themselves drawing on Geoffrey Whitney (Usus libri, non lectio prudentes facit)

"I am endorsing Stoddard's suggestion that textual scholars must also be anthropologists and archaeologists, putting books alongside the other objects taht can help us to reconstruct the material, mental, and cultural worlds of our forebears" (xiv)

Simon Goldhill, "Literary History without Literature"; "perhaps it is time to call for a history of reading without reading?" (xv)

  • c.f. statistical analysis of texts, "distant reading"...

"the ineluctable specificity of readers and readings, and it is this (I would suggest) rahter than the fragmentary nature of the evidence that makes marginalia resistant to grand theories and master narratives" (xvi)

Introduction: Used Books

Renaissance readers taught to write/mark in books; John Brinsley, Ludus Literarius (1612) (3)

  • act as aid to memory (4)
  • make use of the book: "reading is just part of the process that makes for fruitful interaction with books. Only with marking and practice can books lead us to the kind of understanding needed to make them speak to our present needs" (4)
"Printed images and texts were part of a dynamic ecology of use and reuse, leading to transformation and destruction as well as to preservation." (6)

by the end of c16, increasingly common for readers to take notes in notebooks or tablets (7)

"Looked at from the user's rather than the producer's perspective, there are significant continuities across the 'Medieval-Renaissance' divide -- not only in the visual forms of books but in the transformative techniques employed by their readers." (7)

cutting up and combining texts (9)

Natalie Zemon Davis: book as "carrier of relationships" (qtd on 18)

"marginalia" not generally used as term in Renaissance England; scholias, notes, glosses (20), adversia, animadversion, graffiti, epigraphs (22-3); comes into use in c19

  • "The term becomes fixed, oddly enough, just as the practice it describes begins to wane -- or rather to be narrowed into an increasingly privileged form of writerly behavior on the one hand, and an increasingly transgressive form of readerly behavior on the other." (20-1)

pg23-4: possibility of taxonomizing marks across different platforms by their function (e.g., owners marks on books, owners marks on walls)

objects as exograms, external repositories for memories (John Sutton, drawing on Arjun Appadurai) (24)

Towards a History of the Manicule

between c12-18, possibly most common symbols used by readers in books (29); no standard name! (33)

"This practice [manicules] provides some of our most graphic evidence that after the printing press begins to give readers books that are relatively uniform, accurate, and easy to navigate, readers continue to customize them according to their needs and tastes." (36)

hand of God; hands on volvelles, pointers (37)

"clarify the organization of the text and ... to help individual readers to find their way around that structure and put their hands on passages of particular interest" (41)

"Far and away the most common function of the manicule was simply pointing to a passage that someone involved in producing or using the book considered worth noting: this is true of many printed manicules and the vast majority of the manuscript examples I have encountered." (43)

commonplacing, sententiae (44)

why bother?

  • must "appreciate the extent to which, and the ways in which, the book and the hand were bound together in premodern culture" (47)
  • early modern readers were trained in "manipulation of information -- in selecting, ordering, and applying resources gleaned from a wide variety of texts" (47)

gathering of flowers -- florilegium

modern readers aren't aware of their hands making their way through the book; in c16-7, though, "reading was a self-consciously embodied practice, no less a manual art than writing or printing; and readers picked up their books with an acute awareness of the symbolic and instrumental power of the hand" (48)

  • John Bulwer, Chirologia, "'Chironomia

indexicality -- Wittgenstein, Augustine's Confessions and ostensive definition

manicule is at once icon, index and symbol in Pierce's definitions (50-1)

Heideggarian Zuhandenheit ("readiness-to-hand)

"It is possible that, after a signature and a monogram, the manicule was the most personal symbol a reader could develop and deploy." (51)
"With modern readers, their handwriting is going to be distinctive while their symbols will tend to look pretty much like other people's symbols. For early modern readers it is the other way around -- their symbols, and in particular their pointing hands, are more likely to be recognizably theirs." (52)

Reading the Matriarchive

Derrida, Archive Fever; domiciliation / house arrest of the archive

  • considering the role that women played in archival practices of early modern period

difficulty of establishing female ownership (56)

books to celebrate eminent women of the past: Thomas Bentley's monument of Matrons (1`582), Thomas Heywood's Gynaikeion (1624)

manuscript compilations made by women: commonplace books, etc. (58)

"There is some evidence ... that women used the printed books in their households not simply for guides to proper devotion or conduct but to store and circulate individual and collective records -- in other words, in just the same way that they used manuscript compilations." (59)

"strong sense in which the book is serving as an official place for individual readers or groups of readers to take stock -- of their families, their beliefs, their belongings, and their textual resources" (61)

Lady Anne Clifford; adorning her house with sayings (65)

Marking the Bible

early literacy meant reading the bible (72)

expected to find the Holy Book less marked than others; but incidence of marginalia "turns out to be almost identical" to that of the whole STC collection at Huntington

"How to take profite by reading of the holy Scriptures," published in many editions of the Geneva Bible (73)

"Signatures and other ownership notes are, predictably, the most common inscriptions and were one of the principal ways of not simply signaling that the Scriptures had become personal property but of placing the book in space and time -- and using the book, indeed, to mark one's own place in history, particularly after books had passed through multiple households or descended through multiple generations in a single family" (76)

not unusual to find variant versions / alternative translations copied in margins (79)

vogue for putting bibles in embroidered bindings in Tutor and Stuart England (80); "the function of these bindings is more than merely decorative. They are one of the places where we can see the persistence of religious images after Protestant scripturalism and iconoclasm have taken root in England, largely supplanting the image with the word and effectively banishing illustrations from the texts of Bibles and prayer books" (80)

categories of readers' marks in printed Bibles in first 100 yrs after break with Rome:

  • ownership notes
  • penmanship exercise
  • cross-references
  • liturgical instructions
  • numbers of pages, chapters, verses
  • corrections
  • polemical notes
  • dating

pious vs. impious marks -- Bible put in every "vulgar hand," now used less delicately (83-4)

An Uncommon Book of Common Prayer

manuscript book of common prayer, made ~ 1560s

woodcut initials from printed books added in

"There are useful reminders of the fact that many books outlived the contexts for which they were originally produced, remaining meaningful and/or useful to readers who were willing to update them." (92) -- remixing historical past / residual media to meet current media ecology

"hybrid confections" of manuscript and print (Sandra Hindman)

books being cut up and destroyed, used as bookbinding materials, during the Reformation (102); could the initials have come from these books? if so, interesting that books burned for their Catholicism are remixed into manuscript book of common prayer

"the sue of scissor and paste was by no means inherently sacrilegious in the c16. It played a more central role in Tudor and Stuart textual culture than we have tended to realized, and is in fact part of a very long tradition of cutting and pasting with the best and even holiest of intentions" (103)
  • Mary Erler, "Pasted-in Embellishments in English Manuscripts and Printed Books, c. 1480-1533"
  • Ursula Weekes, Early Engravers and their Public' -- suggests cutting/pasting as devotional work of women in religious communities
  • Little Gidding citation

leaf books -- collectors editions on early printed books, accompanied by cut leaf from the original (105)

problems of exceptional evidence; this book is "stubbornly transitional, almost uncannily in-between: it takes us across the traditional divide between script and print but also into a number of other early Elizabethan middle grounds" (108) (professional/amateur, production/consumption, public/private, Catholic/Protestant, medieval/Renaissance)

Carlo Ginzburg and Carlo Poni and marginal cases

John Dee's Columbian Encounter

"One of the most consistent features of Dee's marginalia as a whole is their attention to the conditions of textual production and reception." (119) -- notes authorship, ownership, use of texts

traces of Dee's marginal conversations with Columb "are more trivial and tedious than uncannily ful of the will to be heard. They are bound to strike us as less compelling than the dramatic stories of exploration, piracy, and colonization ... [and they] lack, for the most part, the psychological and creative intensity that modern readers have come to look for in engagements with texts. " (126)

Sir Julius Caesar's Search Engine

"To study readers' notes is to work at the fringe of the tapestries that weave together books, lives, and events." (127)

Sir Julius Caesar's commonplace book (1558-1636)

are commonplace books "marginalia? -- "any detailed picture of Renaissance readers and their marks needs toe xtend beyond the margins into the other kinds of texts and tools they had at their disposal. And, strictly speaking, Caesar's notes do qualify as marginalia, since they are written in immediate proximity, and in direct response, to the text in a printed book -- albeit one that is almost completely blank." -- acts like "an annotated subject index to a great lost library" (129)

"In sixteenth- and seventeenth-century England, the strictly structured formats for note-taking prescribed by Erasmus and other humanist educators were giving way to looser compilations that served the functions of practical manuals, business ledgers, family archives, private diaries, or simple scrapbooks." (130) -- but commonplace books still based on traditional methods; Caesar's had "intermediate status, between the different methods of commonplacing as well as the different media of script and print" (130)

printed headings produced by John Foxe, printed by John Daye (also responsible for Actes and Monuments)

originally printed by Oporinus in Basel while Foxe was in exile (1557); headings follow order of ten Aristotelian predicaments/categories

new edition issued 1572 in folio format, changed headings, Pandectae locorum communium (132); may have been following Conrad Gesner's Pandexts (1548) (137)

Caesar added his own headings

"Caesar was working at the very cusp of a new phase in the history of knowledge, where new disciplines and objects were turning curiosity into a virtue instead of (or as well as) a vice." (136)

surprising text made it to print at all; Daye had underestimated the size of Foxe's Actes and Monuments, exhausting his paper stock by the end of the print run -- had to past together smaller sheets to finish the job -- yet Fxe persuaded Day to "undertake another paper-intensive project just two years later" (138)

  • paper accounted for largest proportion of a printer's costs

Daye ended up recycling unsold sheets from the commonplace book in printing two later texts

connection between commonplace books and lawyers (142-4)

  • some commentators worried that "digests, abridgments and notebooks were leading to fragmentation, disorder, and the general disintegration" of the law's coherence (146)
"Caesar took ful advantage of the codex's capacity as an instrument for discontinuous reading." (148)
"what Caesar has produce,d in other words, is a universal relational database that works as (and can, in fact, be best reconstructed through) hypertext" (148)

Dirty Books? Attitudes Toward Readers' Marks

"When books are communal property -- as in public libraries or educational institutions, where volumes circulate from raeder to reader -- writing in their margins is considered antisocial behavior, at best a breach of decorum and at worst a breach of law." (156)
"the cult of the clean book is strongly associated with the growth of institutional libraries. ... Lending libraries undoubtedly helped to spread literacy and learning to new groups of readers, and in turning marginalia from a tool to a transgression they also deprived those readers of one of their most powerful methods for conversing with authors and other readers." (157)

people who don't "use" books but keep them pristine are singled out in The Ship of Fools (159-60)

use value vs. exchange value (177); rare books became commodity "through the emptying out of its objectness in the naem of abstract exchange." -- fetishism -- "obscures and even effaces the world of work bound up with their creation and employment" -- Sherman wants to show "the ways in which used texts (when handled sensitively and observed closely) have the power to remind us of their social lives -- lived, like secondhand clothes, at the intersection of 'history, memory, and desire'" (178)


"simply put, the digital tools being developed for her have, as yet, paid very little attention to readers. Databases and facsimiles ... are primarily concerned with giving us access to accurate and attractive informational content and with helping us to make our way around it (a goal generally knwon, in the computer and information sciences, as 'usability'). Their emphasis on 'interactivity' nowithstanding, they have not yet imagined us doing much with or to books beyond turning their pages and have not yet found ways to preserve our marks -- much less to improve them or to educate us about the markings of those who turned pages before us." (182)