Phase 1 Report: “Renaissance Books, Midwestern Libraries”

As some of you know, I’ve been working and communicating this summer with a number of librarians, undergraduates, graduate students, and faculty members at several universities across the Midwest. Our collective goal has been to report certain eligible Special Collections items — namely, printed materials published between 1473 and 1700 in the English language or in English territories — to the English Short Title Catalogue (ESTC). The effort to increase awareness of these Midwestern copies of early printed books is beneficial both to scholars of the Renaissance and to the libraries that hold them. “Renaissance Books, Midwestern Libraries,” has recently reached the end of its first phase, and not without some significant success. What follows is a summary and report of this progress as we prepare for phase two. (I’ll be talking more about all this next month, both at the IIT Digital Humanities Series and at the Chicago Colloquium on Digital Humanities & Computer Science.)

First, a word on where we began. A comparison of reported items at eight private, prominent institutions in the Northeastern United States to those of the Midwestern universities making up the Humanities Without Walls consortium reveals a general discrepancy in numbers:

IL 1473-1700

HWW 1473-1700 [initial]2Institution Codes (ESTC)

Both tables reflect reported holdings as of May 2014, and remember here that although the ESTC includes items published up to the year 1800, we are limiting ourselves to 1700 for the sake of ease. Although the reported ESTC holdings of the University of Illinois, the University of Chicago, and the University of Minnesota stand in relatively the same ballpark as those of Ivy League institutions (that is, the 5,000+ range), most HWW institutions appear to have fewer than 2,000 items. Northwestern’s holdings, for instance, amount to just under 200 according to this chart. My own work at Northwestern Special Collections, however, and my realization that many of the items I paged were not listed in the ESTC, strongly suggested to me that this picture did not reflect actual holdings at all. I suspected that this was also the case at Iowa, Michigan State, Ohio State, Notre Dame, and other institutions in the HWW consortium.

The first round of the Global Midwest Initiative project that I proposed aimed to address this issue at Northwestern and to stimulate simultaneous projects at other HWW institutions. Working first with Gary Strawn and Sigrid Perry at Northwestern, I devised a list of 2,687 Special Collections items eligible for inclusion in the ESTC. Then, with a team of skilled Northwestern undergraduates — Hannah Bredar, Erin Nelson, and Nicole Sheriko — we reported the items to the catalog one by one, flagging doubtful items for a later, second pass. The project thus operates as an effort in both cataloging and pedagogy.

By the end of the firspiet phase of this project, we had entered 1,231 items to the ESTC, raising Northwestern’s representation in the catalog for the interval 1473-1700 from an initial 188 items to 1,419 items.  The pie chart to the left offers a view of the total 2, 687 items in our starting list, the work we completed, and the work remaining. This portion will include the 1683-1700 items, which we have not yet reached, as well as the “hard cases,” which are currently flagged for deeper assessment in the archive during the project’s second phase.

The project has seen substantial success thus far. However, there is still much more to do. We invite others to join with Northwestern, Iowa, and Wisconsin in an effort to make visible to ESTC users the many Renaissance books that the American Midwest has to offer. Feel free to get in touch with any questions or suggestions as we prepare for the next round.


c17 Quarto Playbooks at Northwestern

In keeping with the “Renaissance Books, Midwestern Libraries” project I’ve been running this summer, today I’m going to discuss a couple more early printed items in Northwestern’s Special Collections library.

The subject of this post is dramatic quartos. Scanning a spreadsheet of our Special Collections holdings, I’ve counted a modest, but respectable total of 24 playbooks published in quarto between 1620 and 1660. (There are a number of later c17 playbooks too, but I’m keeping the window narrow for now.) This collection include works by Francis Beaumont, George Chapman, John Fletcher, Philip Massinger, Thomas Middleton, and James Shirley, among others. Shirley is the best-represented playwright in Northwestern’s playbook collection by a good margin; of the 24 items here, 10 feature Shirley’s name on their title pages.

Printed in 1640 by Thomas Cotes for William Cooke, The Humorous Courtier is one among several of these Shirley playbooks. This is a Caroline-era comedy of courtship in which Duke Foscari contends for the hand of the Duchess of Mantua along with a gaggle of pompously eloquent, misogynistic, and foolish suitors. (Naturally, since he is a duke, he woos in disguise.) An especially interesting feature of this playbook is the prefatory catalog of 20 Shirley plays available in print at the time of this book’s issue:

Charles Deering McCormick Library of Special Collections, shelfmark 822.4 S55hu

Such catalogs were becoming more common at this time and served a growing audience for printed drama in light of the closing of the theaters (also in 1640). Since Cooke published other works by Shirley, he obviously had something to gain by including this list. 9 of these titles can be found at Northwestern, along with The Opportunitie, not listed here but also published by Cooke in 1640. (For those wondering, The Opportunitie was entered in the Stationers’ Register to Andrew Crooke and William Cooke on April 25, 1639, about 3 months before The Humorous Courtier was entered to Cooke.)

Published three years earlier by Crooke in 1637, The Gamester is a triple-plotted Shirley comedy that treats of sex, gambling, and dueling. This is one of Northwestern’s more interesting quarto playbooks on account of its “used” condition. If you can’t already see what I’m talking about just by looking at the title page, keep scrolling…

Charles Deering McCormick Library of Special Collections, shelfmark 822.4 S55g

Although prefatory material was not uncommon in printed drama at this time, the Gamester quarto of 1637 does not feature any.  To remedy the situation, perhaps, an early reader tipped in (between sig. A1 and A2) their own “Persons of the Comedy”:

Charles Deering McCormick Library of Special Collections, shelfmark 822.4 S55g

These markings show us how one reader attempted to bridge the gap between this Shirley quarto and other playbooks with useful character lists or other paratextual materials. Rather than forcing readers to jump into the play without any foreknowledge of the characters, this inscribed copy offers a guide to the “Persons” (“Hazard,” or “Mr. Barnacle”) and, in some cases, their relationships to each other (“louer of Violante,” “Nephew to Barnacle,” “Cousen to Wilding”). You can see that some inscriptions have been cropped at the bottom, most likely when the book was bound.

If we look at the title page’s verso, there is further evidence of book use. First of all, it looks like the same reader has traced the title through the leaf and written it again — strangely — in a half-backwards script. (These markings we can call “pen trials.”) Below this, however, are fragments of a verse and what could be the name of our reader here. Deferring as usual to the more gifted paleographers out there, I transcribe thus:

Cloris farwell for if with y
I longer stay ….

Will Macey[?]

Searching EEBO for “Cloris farewell,” I turned up what seem to be a few versions of a song. John Wilson’s Select ayres and dialogues for one, two, and three voyces, to the theorbo-lute or basse-viol (1659, Wing W2909) includes a song attributed to Henry Lawes that begins, “Cloris, farewell, I now must go, / for if with thee I here doe stay…” (O2r). The music appears here, too. There are other “Cloris” songs in this volume, and a search through EBBA turns up quite a few others. Published shortly after Wilson’s book, Thomas Jordan’s  A royal arbor of loyal poesie (1663, Wing J1058) includes a song entitled “The Broken Contract,” which appears with “Tune, Cloris farewell, I needs must go” (2D4r).

In addition to these two, I found a similar verse in a miscellany published in 1694 by Jacob Tonson (Wing D2237). The book’s extended title is The Annual miscellany, for the year 1694 being the fourth part of Miscellany poems: containing great variety of new translations and original copies by the most eminent hands. Yale’s copy is available to EEBO subscribers, and I found this relevant section (copied here according to fair use):


Because they include the phrase “I longer stay,” one might suspect that the lines inscribed in Northwestern’s copy of The Gamester could be a recollection of Edmund Waller’s version of this song. However, because we’re dealing with lines that appear to have been circulating freely for many decades in manuscript and print, we cannot definitively say that our reader is copying from any particular source. A better question might be: why would a reader inscribe these lines in this particular playbook, as opposed to another? What is it about The Gamester?

As for the person responsible for the Cloris lines, the title-tracing, and the “Persons of the Comedy” (“Will[iam] Macey,” perhaps?) there is more searching to be done that would refine this investigation. But until then, know that Northwestern has a fair number of early quarto playbooks, and quite a few of them by James Shirley.

A 1595 Geneva Bible at Northwestern . . . and water damage

In this post, I’ll give you all a look into the Humanities Without Walls project I’m piloting this summer, “Renaissance Books, Midwestern Libraries.” (With a little luck, this’ll be the first of several installments.) Thanks to the instrumental help of my research assistants Hannah Bredar, Erin Nelson, and Nicole Sheriko, as well as the constant aid of librarians and faculty at Northwestern and elsewhere, I’m proud to say that thus far the project has almost tripled number of Northwestern’s early print holdings (from 1473 to 1700) represented in the ESTC. When we began there were only 188 items registered, and now there are 555. With a couple months of the summer ahead of us, as well as a good portion of Fall term allotted to the project, we aim to raise this number even higher, bringing Northwestern’s Special Collections holdings digitally to the view of scholars searching today’s most extensive bibliographic catalog for early printed books. Ideally, a second round of funding will allow the project to expand into our eighteenth-century holdings and out to other institutions as well.

100_3776A particularly interesting item that I had to page at Special Collections (meaning it was a “hard case,” unmatchable to an ESTC record by online catalog consultation alone) is this raggy old Geneva Bible, published by Christopher Barker in 1595. I photographed the Bible like this because its front matter and final few leaves have been lost, as have many leaves and portions of leaves throughout its entirety. (Northwestern’s catalog reads: “NUL copy incomplete: t.p. and numerous pages missing at beginning and end, many pages mutilated.”) Looking at the ESTC records in the hopes of a match, I could not identify an edition of Barker’s Geneva Bible of 1595 that fit perfectly with this item. That could mean one of a few things. First, it could be me: I might just need to devote more time to the volume in the hopes of matching it with the variant details listed in the ESTC. Second, though, it could be that this is an extant state of a particular edition that has yet to be recorded. This can sometimes be the case. That the date on the “NEWE TESTAMENT” title page is not dated 1594 made this seem a possibility; the title page is dated 1595 here. (STC 2161 has”Newe” and is dated 1594.) Third, there may not yet be enough criteria available in the ESTC that survives in this very fragmentary Bible to verify it as belonging to any particular record.


But let’s take a look at the really interesting part of this book: its messy survival condition. I defer to Aaron Pratt when it comes to early printed Bibles, but this particular one interested me enough for me to write a few things here about its history and provenance. As you can see in the photos I’ve included, certain early owners of the book inscribed their names in it and crossed out the names of previous owners; this is a common practice among Renaissance readers. I held the leaves this way to show how the manuscript annotations, pen-trials, and markings in this book add to an already-rich typographical texture  (see the cartographic woodcut on the mangled verso, as well as the woodblock initial beginning Matthew).

100_3775Especially interesting about this book is the provenance it preserves through a nineteenth-century owner’s note slipped into the first few leaves. According to the note, inscribed sometime between 1865 and 1873, the book was probably purchased by Samuel Winsor and Rhoda Delano Winsor of Duxbury, MA shortly after their marriage in 1746. Here, we get not only an account of the former owners of the book, but the means by which the pages were made yellow and damaged (as you can see in another photo I’ve included here, the vellum binding covering the book has also suffered a gaping hole). It’s not too often that we get this level of detail about a book’s use, neglect, and “injury”:

It is not age that caused
the leaves to turn so yellow
but during the Winter of 1857
it was packed in a trunk with
clothing, the trunks stored in
a basement in Washington. St Boston;
the water pipes burst, were not
attended to, when every thing became
filled with dampness & injured this book.


Having once lived not very far from Washington Street in Boston, and having stored my clothing and books in the basement there, I can definitely sympathize with the Winsors! Strangely though, as you can see in the photo above, this portion of the inscription is crossed out. We find out at the bottom of the inserted leaf that the person responsible for the inscription is “the daughter of Job & Betsy Winsor Sampson, who was the daughter of Sam & Rhoda Winsor.” This was either Betsy or Judith, and knowing this helps us to date the inscription. ( provided a substantial amount of help here in clarifying identities and relationships mentioned in this account.)

So, altogether, what I report here is a small portion of this HWW project that concerns a particular book’s provenance and water-damage history. But stories like these, as Andrew Stauffer repeatedly has said, constitute the hidden histories of books both in Special Collections libraries and in the library stacks. They show how Renaissance books accumulate eighteenth- and nineteenth-century histories as well. Maybe one day I’ll dig into the history of this Bible’s passage from Massachusetts to Evanston — unless someone out there wants to do it first, that is. Until then, there will be numerous other stories, family-related and otherwise, to uncover about men and women and their lives with Renaissance books.

Photos here are published courtesy of the Charles Deering McCormick Library of Special Collections at Northwestern University; this item is shelfmark 220.52 1595. Renaissance Books, Midwestern Libraries is supported directly by the Alice Kaplan Institute for the Humanities, The Graduate School, and Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences at Northwestern University. This program is also supported by the Humanities Without Walls consortium, based at the Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The Humanities Without Walls consortium is funded by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

*** Update 2:24 PM CT on 7-9-14: On Twitter, Aaron Pratt explained that this artifact is in fact STC 2166.

News: “Renaissance Books, Midwestern Libraries”

As some of you may know, I recently received a grant through the “Global Midwest” Humanities Without Walls Initiative. A Mellon-funded program, HWW unites humanities centers at 15 research universities in the Midwest and is designed to stimulate inter-institutional collaboration. (You can read more about it here.)HWW-Logo-web

The project I proposed, “Renaissance Books, Midwestern Libraries,” hopes to do two things over the next few months: 1) register Northwestern’s Special Collections holdings, at least for now the printed matter issued 1473-1700, in the English Short Title Catalogue (ESTC); and 2) develop relationships among HWW-institution faculty, graduates, and undergraduates who have investments in some combination of Renaissance literature, book history, and digital humanities. You can find my sub-page on the HWW Wiki here.

I’m very happy to report that I just got the project off the ground  this week. My highly-recommended research assistants Erin Nelson, Nicole Sheriko, and Hannah Bredar recently joined me for an orientation session outlining the project’s objectives and workflow. As I mentioned, our task will be to register about 2600 early printed books into the ESTC, thereby putting our institution’s rare books “on the map” for scholars and students around the country and around the world. This is done by the process of matching, or correctly identifying and updating records on the ESTC’s back-end based on a carefully curated list of our holdings. Special care must be taken in the case of multiple issues or states, fragmentary printed matter, sammelbände, and incorrect catalog information (should we be able to pick it out). Modern facsimiles require some caution as well, since NU’s catalog does not always designate them as such (for instance, the Upcott typographical facsimile of Shakespeare’s First Folio [1807] is dated “1632” in the library record.)  Discussing these “hard cases” in the Special Collections reading room was one of the purposes of our orientation sessions. At this stage, I have divided the first 1600 items between the four of us, and although Erin and Nicole will be working remotely for the majority of the job, Hannah and I will be on point to verify a record in the archive, if need be. (And need there will be.) You can expect to read about some of our triumphs and challenges here.

I’ve  also begun to communicate with scholars at a few other Midwestern institutions about the prospect of spreading this effort. If you feel your institution’s Special Collections holdings aren’t well-represented in the ESTC (or, if you just don’t know what you have), feel free to get in touch. Ideally, this initiative will be able to demonstrate that the Midwest is actually a profoundly good place to study Renaissance book history (or, to do rare book research more broadly).

I’ll close here with a few key thank-yous. I’m very grateful to Northwestern’s Kaplan Institute for the Humanities for bringing this project into being. I also have Ben Pauley (Eastern Connecticut State U), Ginger Schilling (UC-Riverside), and Northwestern Special Collections Librarians Sigrid Perry, Gary Strawn, and Scott Krafft for their diligence, patience, and encouragement. Gary was instrumental in providing a list of NU’s Special Collections holdings, and Sigrid has provided critical help since the consultation stage. And of course, I’m indebted to the usual suspects in the Department of English, as well as my wonderful assistant book historians, Erin, Nicole, and Hannah, who will likely be adding guest postings here about what they find during the course of their work.