A Folger Orientation to Research Methods and Agendas

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Weeklong Intensive Skills Course

Directed by Caroline Duroselle-Melish, Kathleen Lynch, and Owen Williams

In the promotional blurb for this immersive workshop, we described a goal of developing a set of research-oriented literacies through an exploration of the Folger’s collections of early modern materials. We promised examinations of bibliographical tools and their logics, opportunities to hone early modern book description skills, and improve your understanding of the cultural and technological histories of texts. Through a mix of moderated discussions, small group work and individual work with items in the collection, we prompted reflexive questions about the nature of primary sources from this period, the collections that house them, the tools whereby one can access them, and the kinds of research projects for which they provide evidence. On Friday morning, in small group reports, participants presented the kinds of things they found interesting during the course of the week and explained how they would take next steps in investigating them. Also, each individual described how he or she would apply what was learned in their own work.


Monday, 23 May

After gathering for coffee and donuts in the Founders Room, participants went to the Board Room to introduce themselves, and begin with a Rare Materials "Speed Dating" exercise. Participants went around a table, examining fifteen rare items from the Folger Collection, including books, manuscripts, pamphlets, and woodblocks. They had five minutes to examine each item and fill out a "Speed Dating" sheet. Once each participant had examined a plurality of the items, they reconvened for a group discussion and formulated the initial questions that would guide their research throughout the week.

In the afternoon, participants were instructed on how to use Hamnet and other electronic resources, as well as best practices for rare book handling. Each participant found and then called up one rare book and one maniscrupt from the Folger collection. They were then taken on a guided tour of the Folger. Participants ended the day with a happy hour at Capitol Lounge.

Tuesday, 24 May

The participants were divided into three small groups, and looked at their selected rare books and manuscripts under the guidance of Folger staff members. Participants spent half of the morning session examining their materials and the other half discussing what questions were coalescing around the readings, their research interests, and the materials.

Caroline Duroselle-Melish then led the session, "Introduction to Printing Practice," in which participants learned about papermaking, typesetting, and presswork. Participants were given the opportunity to set their own type and watch as Folger staff operated a replica handpress. Each participant was given a copy of the resulting broadsheet.

In the afternoon, Heather Wolfe led a brief session on paleography and scribal culture, including an examination of the different hands used in the early modern period and how to best open, read, and understand a letter from the early modern period.

Tom Fulton, a long-term NEH-Folger fellow, concluded the day with a presentation on working in archives, including strategies on how to make best use of one's limited time with rare materials.

Wednesday, 25 May

Participants convened in small groups with their rare materials and attempted to find their books on EEBO, ESTC, in other editions, within other bindings, and on other online archives to answer the question, "What are the effects of mediation?"

During their free time in the Reading Room, participants began to develop research strands to pursue, based on:

  • Other titles by author
  • Similar items in genre
  • Products of the same printers or publishers
  • Items in the same collection

In the afternoon, Caroline Duroselle-Melish led a session on "Images and Visual Culture" with particular attention on illustrated folios, woodcuts, and engravings.

The small groups convened after tea, in order to sharpen questions, follow up on implications, and begin planning presentations for Friday morning.

Thursday, 26 May

Caroline Duroselle-Melish began the day with a deeper dive into book manufacture, book formats and processes in printing houses. The session concluded with a discussion on how to find more information on early modern people (ODNB, Hamnet notes, STC/Wing indices).

Participants then broke into small groups to discuss their Friday presentations. Afterwards, they were given the option to attend a Fellows Roundtable on "Editing Early Modern Texts," with Elaine Hobby, Claire Bowditch, and Jason Powell or to have free time in the Reading Room.

Friday, 27 May

Each small group gave a brief presentation on what they found interesting about their group of materials during the course of the week, and discussed next steps in investigating them. Each participant then had five minutes to discuss three images from their book or manuscript.

The participants had free time in the Reading Room until the closing reception in the Founder's Room.

Associated Materials and Resources