Category Archives: libraries

Mapping books, mapping a library

When I’m not working or blogging on Defoe, I’m working on Bishop Richard Hurd, the clergyman and literary scholar (1720-1808). Currently I’ve being paying attention to his library. Built in the 1780s, Hurd’s library – both the book collection and the physical library itself – still exists at the old Bishopric palace of Hartlebury Castle. I’m not going to go into detail here, but suffice to say, it’s a wonder (check their website for more details).

Now I knew from previous visits that the collection contained ms correspondence, Hurd’s commonplace books, printed books he has annotated himself, works annotated by previous owners, as well as various material and written interventions by Richard Hurd Jr. (Hurd’s nephew, secretary, and erstwhile librarian). What I wanted to do is to try to get a sense of how such books and their annotations might relate to each other and how they relate to Hurd’s published output. Now the library has over 3,000 titles, of which quite a number are annotated, so I wanted to track such interactions with a case study of the relations between Hurd’s publication, Moral and Political Dialogues (1759), and the various works by Edward Hyde, Earl of Clarendon held in various editions in his library. But tracking – mapping – the complex relations between these books, their owners, and the annotations became almost impossible in traditional prose description; particularly as the annotations and the interactions were also time-sensitive. What I needed was a visual aid.

At about the same I came across the project Six Degrees of Francis Bacon (an inspired title for a project!) The striking way in which the project visually presented data to track a network of literary relationships was an inspiration. I didn’t have such resources at hand, so I opted for a quick and dirty option and tried out some free mind-mapping software. What I produced – for a paper for the Writers and their libraries conference – rendered rather nicely a set of relations between objects and annotations.

Clarendon in Hurd's Library
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It’s quite striking. But I found that the mind-mapping tools I tried all depended upon a single (or a very limited number) of starting points from which sub-topics were then hierarchically related. As you can see, I ended up by having to put the rather vague and abstract phrase ‘Hurd and Clarendon’ as the epicentre of this series of interactions. Now I had a number of objects in my case study, none of which could be said to the origin of a subsequent series of relations. In fact that was the very problem I was trying to articulate: how can one envisage a variety of interactions between objects, the contexts of which are separated by time, but which came to occupy the same physical and chronological space?

Subsequently, I’ve started experimenting with a piece of software not out of beta yet but which looks fantastic and, more to the point, very easy to use. This is Scapple, designed by the producers of Scrivenor. Details at the literatureandlatte forum.

[Click to enlarge]
[Click to enlarge]

What striking is that because Scapple is designed to mimic the rather looser way people actually doodle ideas, it doesn’t require a single starting-point. For a project like mine where I needed to map interactions between objects that have more complex and non-hierarchical relationships, this was ideal. Although I haven’t yet played around with the aesthetic appearance, the tentative reconstruction I’ve begun already looks very different without a centre. At the moment I don’t know if this will ever get beyond a personal tool, but even if that’s all it does, it should enable me to better conceive and represent the idea I began with: a kind of dialogue or virtual conversation between authors and their annotations within a library.

New summer digital institute: Folger’s ‘Early Modern Digital Agendas’

This sounds very interesting indeed: the Folger library will be running a new summer institute in July 2013 on Early Modern digital humanities. I quote the announcement (on the Early Modern Digital Agendas website):

In July 2013, the Folger Institute will offer “Early Modern Digital Agendas”under the direction of Jonathan Hope, Professor of Literary Linguistics at the University of Strathclyde. It is an NEH-funded, three-week institute that will explore the robust set of digital tools with period-specific challenges and limitations that early modern literary scholars now have at hand. “Early Modern Digital Agendas” will create a forum in which twenty faculty participants can historicize, theorize, and critically evaluate current and future digital approaches to early modern literary studies—from Early English Books Online-Text Creation Partnership (EEBO-TCP) to advanced corpus linguistics, semantic searching, and visualization theory—with discussion growing out of, and feeding back into, their own projects (current and envisaged). With the guidance of expert visiting faculty, attention will be paid to the ways new technologies are shaping the very nature of early modern research and the means by which scholars interpret texts, teach their students, and present their findings to other scholars.

This institute is supported by an Institutes for Advanced Topics in the Digital Humanities grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities’ Office of Digital Humanities.

With thanks to EMOB.