Andrew Stauffer describes the importance of the project very eloquently on the Book Traces website but I want to underscore his description of these books as constituting a massive, distributed archive of the history of reading, hidden in plain sight in the circulating collection. Viewed that way, they are a treasure. Historians of reading constantly face an evidence problem because it is difficult to find or follow past readers’ traces. However, not all post-industrial nineteenth century books look like treasure from the outside. They can be crumbly and fragile, riddled with what librarians call inherent vice. Faced with these volumes, some readers, and some library circulation managers, are happy for a rationale that justifies moving them offsite or online. There are many discoveries to made if you think to look, but we need to start looking before the evidence is moved out of sight or obliterated.More information on the project here (and the lovely Tumblr showcase. Andy will come to class this evening to explain and inspire: I like the show-and-tell aspect to this whole thing!
The readings I've given my students to complement and contextualize the project (must now write lecture!):
#William Sherman, “Dirty Books? Attitudes Toward Readers’ Marks,” from Used Books: Marking Readers in Renaissance England (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008), 153-178
#H. J. Jackson, “‘Marginal Frivolities’: readers’ notes as evidence for the history of reading,” in Owners, Annotators and the Signs of Reading, ed. Robin Myers, Michael Harris and Giles Mandelbrote (New Castle, DE and London: Oak Knoll Press and the British Library, 2005), 137-151
#Andrew Stauffer, “Hemans by the Book,” European Romantic Review 22:3 (2001): 373-380
#Nicholson Baker, “Discards,” The New Yorker (April 4, 1994): 64-86