2016-2017 Material Witness sessions

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Below are the descriptions for the Material Witness sessions that took place during the 2016–2017 academic year. These include the fellow who curated the session as well as the list of items that were displayed.

October 26, 2016 - "Unbound: Manuscript Fragments"

Books from the handpress era were bound with an array of materials: the threads of provisional stitching, soft vellum wrappers, stiffened boards, and, quite frequently, repurposed manuscripts.  Reuniting hybrid items that are now catalogued separately, in this program we will begin to construct a history of early modern book use, modern conservation, and the library’s investment in preserving its own past.  Curated by Megan Heffernan (English, DePaul University), this collection-focused discussion considers manuscript fragments that have been salvaged from the bindings of printed books held at the Folger. 

Materials Displayed:

X.d.515 (7): Lease for Nathaniel and Joane Carter

X.d.515 (9 a, b) + STC 23040: From the accounts of Knapton Manor, formerly bound with John Speed, A prospect of the most famous parts of the vvorld (1631)

X.d.515 (11 a, b) + STC 21593 + STC 20996.2, Copy 1: Two pieces of an indenture involving Margaret Owen and Symon Herbert. Collation notes from Giles Dawson (the Folger’s first curator of manuscripts and books) and later STC cataloguers describe how one piece was wrapped around Austin Saker’s Narbonus (1580) and the other around Barnabe Riche’s Riche his farewell to militarie profession (1583). The two books entered the Folger separately: the Saker in 1937 and the Riche in 1933. We think Laetitia Yeandle recognized and reunited the indenture after the two books were rebound in the 1960s. Last week, conservation (very helpfully!) removed the manuscript from an older mylar and board housing, exposing the offsets from the ink of other documents and a phantom STC number on the outside of the binding. The microfilm from 1952 shows evidence of the other documents wrapping the Riche.

X.d.515 (28): Marriage settlement for Robert Metheun. Possible auction lot or shelfmark in pencil on the outside? Interesting how the corrections in the MS text aged differently.

X.d.515 (29): Lease between Miles Hobart and Phillip Carey. On the outside of the binding, contents of 18 different pamphlets bound together as well as a pasted on label, possibly for a shelfmark.

X.d.515 (30): Indenture (?) showing patterns of wear along the spine.

X.d.515 (32): Indenture with evidence of being wrapped around boards and the list of contents on the back spine. Also showing signatures from witnesses on the outside.

January 25, 2017 - "Left Behind"

Curated by long-term fellow, Debapriya Sarkar (Hendrix College), this meeting of Material Witness will focus on early modern things, ideas, and texts that have been excised, abandoned, eliminated, and otherwise left behind – mostly within the early modern period itself, but with a glance at the ways that scholars, archivists, and curators have edited the early modern archive. Together we will examine manuscripts and print texts which will help us to think about the ways that women and men from this period winnowed through their possessions and intellectual productions: we’ll examine manuscript commonplace and recipe books (focusing on items that have many deletions and cross-outs), household inventories (which help to show how objects in the home were discarded and/or preserved), and wills (perhaps the definitive record of items an individual could choose to “leave behind” to others).

Materials Displayed:

February 9, 2017 - "500 Years of Treasures from Oxford" (Special Session)

Our next Folger Material Witness session will be led by Peter Kidd, curator of the current "500 Years of Treasures from Oxford" exhibition which goes on display on Feb. 4th at the Folger. Offering a “sneak peek” at the materials that will part of this exhibit, this meeting will focus on tracing the provenance of pre-1600 books and manuscripts. The discussion will focus less on the very obvious marks of provenance, such as bookplates and ownership inscriptions, and more about the usually-overlooked things, such as pencil annotations made by modern book dealers, which can sometimes be used to reveal a lot about a book's earlier history. As a medievalist and cataloguer, Kidd will also address problems and confusions sometimes created by the very different meanings of common terminology used by manuscript and printed book scholars, e.g. "signature," "folio," and "collation." Taken together, these revelations may help scholars and collectors alike to uncover new histories of medieval and Renaissance texts.

Materials Displayed:

February 25, 2017 - "Blank Space"

“I warrant he hath a thousand of these letters, writ with blank space for different names” (Merry Wives of Windsor, 2.1.71)

Peter Stallybrass has written that “the history of printing is crucially a history of the ‘blank’” (“‘Little Jobs’: Broadsides and the Printing Revolution”). Curated by long-term fellow, Derek Dunne (University of Fribourg), this session will investigate what is at stake when early modern documents are designed for incompletion. Considering the growing bureaucracies of the time, what can we learn about authority from the way certain forms are authored in stages? Filling in the blanks is more complex than it might appear, and I want us to dwell on how empty spaces can carry meaning in a range of documents, including licences, indentures, bills of mortality and literary examples.

Materials Displayed:

March 15, 2017 - “Renaissance Vergils”

When Shakespeare writes that Lucrece cannot “read the subtle-shining secrecies / Writ in the glassy margents of such books,” he has in mind a text with commentary—most likely, a classical text. Curated by our long-term, Folger-ACLS fellow, Joseph Ortiz (University of Texas at El Paso), this session of Material Witness touches on the myriad ways that classical texts circulated in the Renaissance, with a particular focus on Vergil. There are the usual suspects (lavish folios with copious glosses, or “margents”), but there are also less ennobling forms of transmission by which Vergil was translated, adapted, excerpted, arranged, and cut up (sometimes literally).

Materials Displayed:

April 26, 2017 - “Let the Good Times Roll: Continental Festival Books”

Curated by long-term fellow, Jessica Goethals (Italian, University of Alabama), this session of Material Witness will explore the visual and textual rhetoric of continental festival books. Considering the collaborative relationship between authors, artists, printers, and patrons, we will evaluate how these illustrated printed books fused human and equestrian choreography, technology, music and meter, architecture, and materiality in order to both experience and memorialize the secular and religious spectacles of early modernity.

Materials Displayed: