Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Book Review: "The Slave Ship: A Human History"

Marcus Rediker's The Slave Ship: A Human History (Viking, 2007) explores the history of the transatlantic slave trade by concentrating on both the slave ship itself (which Rediker calls "a strange and potent combination of war machine, mobile prison, and factory") and also on the humans who populated the ships and paid for their voyages: the slaves themselves, the common sailors, the captains, and the bankrolling merchants. Rediker notes that while many histories of the slave trade have been written, the scholarship has been plagued by what novelist Stephen Unsworth termed the "violence of abstraction" - a reliance on numbers and statistics which serves to dehumanize slavery and those involved with its continuation.

At the end of his introduction, Rediker writes "[T]his has been a painful book to write, and if I have done any justice to the subject, it will be a painful book to read" (p. 13). He's right, but his following sentence is also correct: "There is no way around this, nor should there be." This is indeed a profoundly disturbing book, one which I had to put down for hours and in a couple cases even days at a time before I felt comfortable opening it again.

The first chapter is comprised of a series of vignettes showing some of the various gruesome, imaginative and horrifying ways slaves found to rebel on board the ships, or to take their own lives to end their suffering. Rediker goes on to provide a deep, thoughtful analysis of the ships used to haul human cargo, as well as one of the best overviews I've read of the origins of African slavery and an ethnographic look at the regions from which most slaves were 'obtained'.

Chapters in the middle of the book highlight three particular individuals: the slave Olaudah Equiano, sailor James Field Stanfield, and captain John Newton. This is also the best scholarly treatment of Newton I've read, as Rediker is able to cut through the myths about the man and examine his career in its totality. I had no idea, for example, that Newton was such a prolific writer while serving in the slave trade: Rediker suggests that between his letters, diaries and logbooks, Newton "may have written more from the decks of a slave ship - and more about what transpired on the decks of a slave ship - than has any other captain" (p. 158).

Following the targeted examples, Rediker takes captains, sailors and then slaves in a more general light, discussing the impact of merchants' orders on the way the captains carried our their missions, examining the terroristic nature of the captain's authority aboard ship (toward both sailors and slaves), and getting deep into the question of how the enslaved came to form a collective identity on the ships which in some cases prompted revolt or resistance.

Finally, Rediker briefly discusses the abolitionist movement as it emerged during the late 1790s, ably analyzing the spread of a particularly effective piece of propaganda, the image of the slave ship Brooks. He also works to remind readers of the important work done by leading abolitionist Thomas Clarkson (lately overshadowed by William Wilberforce and others), who spoke with hundreds of slave-trade sailors about their experiences on board the ships, working - Rediker argues - as an early sort of social historian.

Powerful, moving, and extremely well-written, Rediker's book should be read by anyone with an interest in human history. The range of sources and research is staggering, and the footnotes are both thorough and illuminating. With a minor reservation about some of the views expressed in the epilogue, I recommend this book very highly indeed.

Halloween Listening

- The Poe Wars go national today; Ed reports that NPR will air a segment on tonight's "All Things Considered" (should be available here by around 7 p.m.). [Update: It's here]

- Also, for the fans of Halloween traditions out there, the original Halloween creepy radio broadcast of H.G. Wells' "War of the Worlds" (mp3).

[Update: Via Scott at Fine Books Blog, for the War of the Worlds-obsessed, here's a collection of 318 covers from different editions of the book. Nifty!]

Yale Joins Microsoft Digitization Effort

One hundred thousand of Yale University's out-of-copyright books will be available by early next year through Microsoft Live Search; the titles are to be digitized by Kirtas Technologies. The Rochester Democrat & Chronicle reports that the university "chose Kirtas for its innovative book-scanning technology, including its APT BookScan 2400, which can scan 2,400 pages per hour while guaranteeing an overall error rate of less than one per 10,000 pages."

Yale Librarian Alice Prochaska said of the project "This collaboration will allow the Yale Library to give international digital access to our rare and uniquely held materials. We have been extremely pleased by the work that Kirtas has done for us in the past, and we look forward to working with them again on this exciting project."

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Need a New Word?

In today's Times, Alan Hamilton discusses Toujours Tingo, a new collection of "unlikely but useful words that other languages enjoy but English does not" compiled by Adam Jacot de Boinod. Judging from the comments to the article, it sounds like some of the included words may not be widely used even in their original tongues - but they are amusing, nonetheless.

Monday, October 29, 2007

LC and Xerox to Tackle Digital Image Format

AHA Today notes a press release from last week announcing a collaborative effort between Xerox and the Library of Congress to "develop new ways to store, preserve, and access digital images ... The two organizations are studying the potential of using the JPEG 2000 format in large repositories of digital cultural heritage materials such as those contained in the Library and other federal agencies."

As a trial run, Xerox will convert one million already-digitized images from LC's collections into JPEG 2000, a recently-developed format which supports the addition of metadata, "information on the provenance, intellectual property and technical data relating to the image itself."

Following the trial, Xerox will "turn over their findings and recommendations for best practices to the library" for use in future conversion projects.

With the growing reliance on digitization, a stable, useable and flexible format is going to have to be developed (and in fairly short order). Hopefully this project is a step in the right direction.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Links & Reviews

- From BibliOdyssey, beautiful illuminations from Jan Długosz's Catalogus Archiepiscoporum Gnesnensium Vitae Episcoporum Cracoviensium (Catalogue of the Archbishops of Gniezno and Lives of the Bishops of Cracow), 1531-1535. The artist is Stanislaw Samostrzelnik.

- I've been meaning to include this one for a week or so now and keep forgetting: The Times' Ferdinand Mount comments on the Royal Academy of Art's current exhibit, "Making History: Antiquaries in Britain, 1707-2007" and the accompanying book. The show highlights the first three hundred years of the Royal Society of Antiquities; Mount calls it "full of charm," adding that "its catalogue burns with enthusiasm, more so than many a self-styled blockbuster that takes a period or style and smothers it in philistine commentary about the consumption patterns of a new leisured class."

- Leonardo da Vinci's "The Last Supper" is now available online in what can only be described as "extremely high definition," the BBC reports. The new 16-billion pixel image of the painting "will allow experts to examine details of the 15th century wall painting that they otherwise could not - including traces of drawings Leonardo put down before painting." I tested it out this morning, and although it does take some time to load, the clarity is remarkable.

- Paul Collins notes his article in the current New Scientist, "The Mutual Poisoning Society" [subscription required], about 19th-century food reformer Frederick Accum. Last weekend, Paul linked to Design Week's look at some renovations at the London Library.

- Michael Lieberman has a handy field guide to bookworms for us, courtesy of a 1951 Antiquarian Bookman chart.

- This year's Samuel Pepys Award, a biennial £2,000 prize from the Samuel Pepys Club "for a book that makes the greatest contribution to the understanding of Samuel Pepys, his times or his contemporaries" goes to John Adamson's The Noble Revolt: The Overthrow of Charles I. The Guardian reports notes that while Adamson's book doesn't even mention Pepys, award judges thought "the events described so influenced the environment in which he grew up, that the book greatly enhances our understanding of Samuel Pepys and his times."

- Jim Watts notes the sale of a 13th-century manuscript Qu'ran at Christie's last week; this copy is the earliest known complete, dated (1203) Qu'ran written in gold. It sold for $2.3 million, setting a new record for any Qu'ran - in fact any Islamic manuscript - at auction. Bidding was described as "fiercely competitive."

- John over at Hyde Collection Catablog liked this Thomas Rowlandson watercolor of a 19th-century book auction; it sold at Bloomsbury this week for $65,000, surpassing pre-sale estimates.

- Speaking of Bloomsbury, Rare Book Reviews reports that their next sale, on 31 October, will feature New Yorkiana. Highlights include a 1636 Dutch deed transferring land on Long Island to European possession, described as "one of the earliest colonial New York documents in private hands" (estimated to sell for up to $75,000).

- New blogs (to me, at least): Book Hunter's Holiday (by an online bookseller), and Now or Neverland (by author David King). Links have been added to the sidebar. (h/t to BiblioHistoria for the former)


- In the Boston Globe, H.W. Brands reviews Joe Ellis' newest, American Creation. Brands writes that Ellis "again strikes a balance between laudable achievement and blameworthy failure in America's founding." Calling Ellis "the reigning master of the episodic approach to history," Brands declares the author's style "discursively delightful," before noting that he could have pushed a bit further on the point that Ellis might have pursued further the point that "the Founders' very success tended to entrench their failures" (slavery, Indian policy).

- Ian Sansom writes for the The Guardian on Umberto Eco's Turning Back the Clock: Hot Wars and Media Populism (just out from Harcourt in the US). Sansom begins "Come, reader, the game's afoot: another collection of nimble, teasing, brilliant and infuriating little essays and essaylets" from Eco. I didn't read further, because my copy of Turning Back the Clock is sitting in the corner of my desk, waiting impatiently for me to finish my thesis chapter so I can jump in.

- Charles Nicholl's The Lodger is reviewed by James Shapiro in The Guardian. To summarize, "Part biography, part detective story, Nicholl's latest work is a triumph and ranks among the finest books ever written about Shakespeare's life."

- Over in The Telegraph, Jane Stevenson covers a new biography of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Andrew Lycett's Conan Doyle: The Man Who Created Sherlock Holmes, and a collection of the man's letters edited by Jon Lellenberg, Daniel Stashower and Charles Foley (Arthur Conan Doyle: A Life in Letters). Stevensons calls Lycett's book "competent if a little colourless," but criticizes the editors of the collection for light-handedness: "The brief linking passages of A Life in Letters fill in all manner of factual minutiae, but fail to weigh the value of the author's words."

- In the LATimes, Nick Basbanes reviews The Journal of Dora Damage, a recent novel told from the perspective of a female Victorian bookbinder. Basbanes notes in his review that the author of this book, Belinda Starling, died just weeks after submitting the manuscript of this - her first book - for publication. He writes "Starling did an enormous amount of research for her debut effort, and it shows. More impressive, she did not let her material get in the way of telling a richly atmospheric story that is fresh, complex and credible; it is an accomplished work that augured good things for the author." (h/t fade theory)

- Woody Holton's Unruly Americans is reviewed by Chuck Leddy in the Christian Science Monitor; Leddy concludes "The author's irreverent approach to the Framers, backed by his breathtaking amount of scholarly research on the debt crisis of the 1780s, should provoke much-needed discussion among historians about the economic background of the Constitution." Another one just waiting for me at home, and this one I have to read soon because Holton's going to be giving a lunch talk in Boston sometime in the next week or two.

- In the California Literary Review, Brett Woods examines John Ferling's Almost a Miracle. He says the prose can be a bit much at times (he uses the word "gushy"), but that the "scholarship is solid and displays a noteworthy attention to detail."

- From the Harvard Book Review, Samuel Bjork tackles Jeb Rubenfeld's The Interpretation of Murder, which I enjoyed last fall. Bjork writes that Rubenfeld's greatest gift as a writer is his "ability to provide a firm historical foundation to an otherwise fictional work," but he doesn't seem to have enjoyed the book all that much.

BBC Does Dracula

Ed (taking a brief breather from the Poe Wars) has some great listening suggestions for this week from BBC7, including productions of "The Mystery of Edwin Drood," "The Fall of the House of Usher," and what I'm sure will be a spectacular seven-part version of "Dracula." Click on the Drama section here. You can listen live, or the programs will be archived for a week.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Book Review: "Bookmark Now"

I picked up a copy of Bookmark Now: Writing in Unreaderly Times recently because I saw that it contained a piece by Paul Collins; I was pleased to find that its other contents were also worth reading. Editor Kevin Smokler has collected a series of essays by young writers on the topics of writing, reading and books, partly in response to the 2004 NEA report "Reading at Risk." Smokler and most of the authors here argue that the state of American literature is much stronger - if in different ways - than the "Reading at Risk" report indicated. Smokler writes in the introduction "This is an amazing time for books. If reading and literature are in crisis, it certainly isn't one of apathy but one of seismic rumblings of change that will have a profound effect on the future."

The vast majority of the essays here were both fun to read and thought-provoking. I enjoyed and chuckled repeatedly at Pamela Ribbon's musings on author photos, and found Michelle Richmond's critique of the MFA culture utterly disturbing. Glen David Gold's essay on Googling oneself and Robert Lanham's tutorial on how to break into the McSweeney's mindset are recommended, and I empathized entirely with Tracy Chevalier's inability to come up with a literary Top Ten list (ask me my favorite book, watch my head explode). Douglas Rushkoff's thoughts on the safe future of the book are important and spot-on.

But Paul Collins' essay was, as expected, my favorite. In "121 Years of Solitude," Collins discusses his discovery of Notes and Queries, the great Victorian periodical of questions and answers. Bookmark Now is worth buying just for this, in which Collins reads 120 years worth of the journal, making discoveries and finding reassurance in the marginalia of a previous reader. Incidentally, many early editions of N&Q are available online (here, or here). I can attest to the fact that they make fascinating reading, but after reading Collins' thoughts I think I'll read them differently.

If the writers who contributed to this book continue to write, American letters are in good hands. Literature will change with the times, but it always has done, and reading's still going strong.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Harry Breaks Another Record

£19,700 ($40,367). That's what someone paid today at Christie's for a first edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, the Guardian reports. The copy, described as "exceptionally fine" by the auction house, was read just once, and is in near-pristine condition. It beats out the old record of £19,500, set earlier this year.

A publisher's proof of Philosopher's Stone (with "J.A. Rowling" misprinted on the title page) was also on the block this morning; it fetched £2,250.

Mid-Week Links

There's just too much good stuff this week to save it all for Sunday.

- The Bayerische Staatsbibliothek München has received a grant to digitize its collection of incunabula - almost 20,000 copies from 9708 editions. "Over the coming years, one copy of each 15th-century edition held in the BSB will be digitzed. It is intended to start digitization with the ca. 1150 incunabula in German and the ca. 680 editions of which the BSB holds the sole surviving copy in a German library. After that, books printed in the German-speaking countried in the 15th century and books printed abroad will be digitized. Illustrations (mainly woodcuts) will be indexed with an iconographic classification system." Their already-digitized incunabula can be viewed here.

- Yesterday's Washington Post featured a report on the high misplacement rate in the general stacks of the Library of Congress. "Investigators for the congressional library have told lawmakers on a House oversight committee that its review of the retrieval system for the general collection concluded that a 17 percent of materials requested could not be found." Between staff cuts and insufficient funding, I'm surprised the percentage is that low. More from Book Patrol.

- Rare Book Review notes the opening of the new Centre for Conservation at the British Library.

- Jeanne at SpellboundBlog reminds us that it's American Archives Month ... I confess, I'd quite forgotten.

- Ed's got more news from the Poe Wars, including his appearance on a radio show where he calls for a Poe Summit, which sounds like great fun. He also alleges the very serious charge of cooping in the Edgar Allan Poll, where Baltimore has taken a lead.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Digging for the Classics

The Times' Richard Owen reports today on an archaeological expedition at Herculaneum, where excavators hope to find papyrus scrolls preserved beneath layers of volcanic sediment. "Previous digs have unearthed classical works at a building now known as the Villa of the Papyri, thought to have belonged to Julius Caesar’s father-in-law, Lucius Calpurnius Piso, who was known to be a lover of poetry."

More than 1800 scrolls were removed from the villa when it was discovered during the 18th century - those are now at the National Archaeological Museum of Naples. After additional portions of the villa were discovered back in 1997, funds for the project ran out amid protests over the techniques used in the dig, but now excavations have been allowed to resume, and will continue for the next year and a half.

"Some historians believe that the papyri, which may have included lost masterpieces by Aristotle, Euripides or Sophocles, were being packed to be taken to safety when the eruption occurred."

I'll keep an eye on this one - there could certainly be some awfully exciting finds down there.

Madrid Maps Homeward Bound

The maps and other historical documents stolen this summer from Madrid's Biblioteca Nacional are now headed back to the library, their authenticity confirmed by Spanish investigators in Buenos Aires.

César Gómez Rivero "has two cases against him in the courts in Argentina, one for the fraudulent sale of two of the maps in Australia and the United States, and the other ... an extradition request from Spain."

Recent Acquisitions

- The Hill Museum & Manuscript Library at St. John's University has acquired a copy of the Ostrih Bible (1581), "the first complete printed Bible in Church Slavonic, the common liturgical language of Slavic Christianity ... The HMML copy was originally owned by the Orthodox Bishop of L’viv, Ukraine, Hedeon Balaban (bp. 1569-1607), and was only recently discovered in northern Romania by a European bookseller. This is an extremely rare book, with only a handful of copies in North America. HMML’s copy is in unusually good condition: most copies are very worn, and often are missing pages." HMML also recently acquired a first edition of The Dialogues of Pope Gregory the Great (Strasbourg, 1472-3) in a Bozérian le Jeune binding.

- Holdings at the Lilly Library at Indiana University will now include a copy of an 1811 book detailing the origins of Ocktoberfest. The work, just 46 pages long, "describes the harvest festival first held to celebrate the 1810 wedding of the [Bavarian] crown prince Ludwig to princess Theresa von Sachsen-Hildurghausen."

- A small library in India recently received a bequest of some 400 books from the estate of a college professor, The Telegraph reports. Uttam Chandra Bhattacharya's family donated the books - which included "rare volumes on the Upanishads and Vedas, as well as four volumes of Rabindranath Tagore’s Geetanjali in Sanskrit" -to the Dhubri Sakha Sahitya Sabha’s library.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Cotton Mather in the Library

The following is a slightly-edited version of "Chasing Cotton Mather," which recently appeared in the in-house newsletter of the Massachusetts Historical Society. I share it here for others interested in bibliographic delights.

The MHS library staff recently received one of the most interesting interlibrary loan requests we’ve had in quite some time; on behalf of a patron, another library was seeking a copy of Cotton Mather’s Heavenly considerations; or the joy of heaven over them that answer the call of heaven, a sermon printed at Boston in 1706. WorldCat lists MHS as having the only copy, which is catalogued in ABIGAIL. Our natural first step for an early American imprint such as this is to check the Evans fiche and digital databases, but they did not contain this title (and the print version of Evans’ bibliography offers only the title and an imprint: “Boston: Printed by B. Green, 1706”). The English Short-Title Catalogue also contained no information about the sermon, so we turned to Thomas James Holmes’ bibliography of Cotton Mather’s works. Imagine our surprise at reading Holmes’ entry, which begins: “No copy of this work has survived to our time.”

Holmes reports that the title of the sermon was taken from Samuel Mather’s list of his father Cotton’s writings, and that he used the imprint assigned by Evans for his bibliographic entry. Holmes did discover that Cotton Mather had mentioned the work in his diary on 11 July, 1706; the entry there reads: “About this time, to give a further Stroke unto the Intentions of promoting early Piety, having preached a Sermon on a Lord’s-Day to my Great Congregation, with an Appendix to it, unto a great Meeting of young People assembled on the Lord’s-day Evening. The Discourse was desired by the young People, who published it. It is entituled; Heavenly Considerations. The Joy of Heaven over them that answer the Call of Heaven, or, Powerful and Wonderful Motives to Repentance and Early Piety; fetch’d from the Joy of Heaven over every Repenting Sinner on Earth.”

In the book-world, there are records of many printed works of which no copy is known to exist (think of the famous Oath of a Freeman, the first document printed in North America). According to Holmes, Heavenly Considerations was one of these lost biblio-souls. But if so, what was catalogued under that title in ABIGAIL? What was quietly residing inside a white envelope in Box 1706? Our curiosities piqued by the thrill of the hunt, a colleague and I hurried up to the stacks, where we confirmed that Heavenly Considerations is lost no more.

The tiny book hardly gives off a good first impression. Just 16 centimeters tall, in duodecimo format, containing a mere fifty-six pages, the sermon is stab-bound in nothing more than a piece of green paper. Printed as it was on thin, inexpensive paper stock, it’s a wonder that even this one copy of Heavenly Considerations survived to see its tercentenary. The sermon is severely water-stained and has suffered significant damage to the bottom corners of the first several leaves. Its title page is missing, but it can be identified by the caption title on the first extant page (signature A2), “Sinners Repenting and Heaven Rejoycing,” and by a dedicatory line: “To my YOUNG PEOPLE.” The pamphlet was priced cheaply at 7 shillings, 5 pence, and the date 1706 appears immediately preceding the text.

Evans assigned the printing of Heavenly Considerations to B. Green, the Bartholomew Green who ran a print shop on Boston’s Washington Street near the Old South Church. However, an advertisement printed on the recto of the final leaf reveals that it was in fact Bartholomew’s nephew Timothy who produced Heavenly Considerations. Timothy, who had apprenticed with his uncle (and was the son and grandson of Samuel Green Sr. and Jr., also early Cambridge and Boston printers), opened his own shop on Middle Street (now Hanover Street) in the North End in 1700. Both Bartholomew and Timothy printed other works for Mather in 1706, but a comparison of Heavenly Considerations with the layout and typography of those additional works shows that Timothy was responsible for Heavenly Considerations. In fact, Timothy even claims credit outright: when examining another of his 1706 Mather imprints - the second edition of The Religion of the Closet - I happened upon the advertisement there, which reads “There is now a Printing, and will shortly to be sold, by Timothy Green, at the North of Boston, a very Encouraging Small Book, to Repentance and Early Piety: Entituled Sinners Repenting, and, Heaven Rejoycing.…”

We have been unable to discover much about how MHS’ copy of Heavenly Considerations passed its time before coming to us, but we know that it was presented to the Society with some other Mather works around 1960 by its former owner, Benjamin Tighe. His name appears in pencil on the wrapper opposite the first page of text. The final, blank leaf is also signed by one John Clap, who wrote there (several times) “John Clap his book 1712.”

So, from a simple interlibrary loan request, we not only “re-discovered” a hidden gem in our collection, but we’ve also been able to clear up some longstanding bibliographic mysteries about the format and production of Heavenly Considerations. Our senior cataloger has added some additional notes to the ABIGAIL record, including the mention of the text in Mather’s diary, to reflect these discoveries. And what of that interlibrary loan request? We were glad to be able to provide digital photographs of the text to the other library’s patron.

We hope to be able to make a full digital version of Heavenly Considerations available fairly soon, and if/when that happens I'll certainly share it with you all.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Libraries Look for Alternatives to Google Books

I'm still planning the next phase of my Great Google Books Discussion (the good, the bad and the ugly) but in the meantime, the NYTimes today has an article by Katie Hafner about some of the libraries who are choosing different routes. Most notable among the non-Google/non-Microsoft options is the Open Content Alliance, which recently agreed to work with the Boston Library Consortium and its 19 libraries in digitizing copyright-expired volumes from their collections.

Michael Lieberman weighs in here.

I say the more the merrier, and the more cooperative, comprehensive, unrestrictive and well-executed the better.

Madrid Maps Update

The Times provides some new information about the Madrid map thefts today, reporting that Spanish police flew to Buenos Aires this weekend to recover the materials stolen from the Biblioteca Nacional and to request the extradition of the thief, César Gómez Rivero. Spanish authorities want to try Rivero in Spain, "where penalties for the theft of historical items are much stiffer" than Argentina.

This story also gives the names of the New York and Australian dealers who'd purchased maps stolen by Rivero: "Acting on requests from Spanish police, the FBI has retrieved another map from Richard Lan, a dealer in New York, who had sold it to a private client. Australian police have recovered another from Simon Dewez, a dealer in Sydney, who bought it in America. Both men insist that they bought the maps in good faith. 'I had absolutely no idea it was stolen,' Mr Dewez said. 'I thought it was a fantastic buy, a rare opportunity.'"

You know what they say about things seeming too good to be true.

This case seems to be wrapping up fairly tidily, provided that extradition proceedings go smoothly.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Links & Reviews

- In the Boston Globe, "Observer" Sam Allis profiles Sid Berger and Michele Cloonan and their magnificent collection of paper. Having seen a (small) portion of their collection - Michele is the Dean of GSLIS at Simmons and Sid teaches a wonderful history of the book course there, as part of which he had my whole class over to see the paper - I can say that Allis doesn't exaggerate: the scope of their collection is simply staggering.

- BibliOdyssey provides a fifteenth-century German danse macabre selection, and an interesting collection of Athanasius Kircher images.

- The Poe Wars continue, and Ed Pettit's now taken the fight to the airwaves. He'll be on Radio Times tomorrow morning around 11 (the show will be archived here so the rest of us can listen in), and he says there'll be an NPR appearance coming up soon.

- Michael Lieberman discovers a particularly unfortunate (but rather amusing) book title: Cooking with Pooh. He also comments on the official release of a prototype for the World Digital Library, which is scheduled to launch sometime next year. Also from Michael, some illustrations from Shaker primal books, comprised of visionary drawings made during periods of meditation.

- Grabbing some of the Processus Contra Templarios action, Slate's "Explainer" column tackles the question "What's in the Vatican Secret Archives?"

- Travis reports that he'll be teaching a class this spring in the University of Illinois' GSLIS program: Rare Books, Crime & Punishment. Let's just say I'm a little jealous of the IU students at the moment.

- Joyce notes the arrival of a new biblio-blog, Exile Bibliophile. The focus will be bookseller ephemera. Link added to the sidebar.

- Bookride has the second part of their examination of the Decameron. First part here.

- JK Rowling, answering a question from a fan at an event in New York on Friday, revealed that she "always thought of Dumbledore as gay". Much discussion has ensued. The Telegraph has a piece today titled: "Now the search for subtext will truly begin." Personally, I agree with The Millions on this one: "To me, though, there's something terribly spare and arbitrary about these post-publication revelations. What are we as readers supposed to do with these out of context details? Can we ignore them? Should we?" I don't suppose we should, but I also don't think that we should subject the Harry Potter canon to the lit-crit microscope. They're stories, and good ones, and let's leave them at that.

- Paul Collins examines the "Belford University" diploma-mill, where an investigator received a bachelor's degree in aerospace engineering for $509 ... after giving his age as 12 on the application and submitting an essay which read simply "I luv planes and rockets."

- In the Guardian, Charles Nicholl summarizes his upcoming book The Lodger: Shakespeare on Silver Street, about a 1612 court case in which one William Shakespeare played a bit part.


Maryanne Wolf's Proust and the Squid: The Story of Science and the Reading Brain (HarperCollins) is discussed at Reading Archives. Richard Cox writes "Wolf examines how reading changed brain functions from the ancient world onwards and speculates about how our present immersion into the digital world might be bringing additional changes. Her focus is more on the biological and cultural rather than the cultural and historical, and the result is a very different kind of contribution to the literature on reading texts and other documents."

Andrea Barrett's The Air We Breathe (W.W. Norton & Co.) got some airtime on NPR this week.

Jay Winik's The Great Upheaval (HarperCollins) is reviewed by Andrew Cayton in the Washington Post. "Winik knows how to tell a gripping story. But The Great Upheaval is a shaggy work of portentous prose whose parts do not add up to as much as the author claims. By focusing on besieged leaders ... he tends to slight the energy and promise of the age of the democratic revolution in favor of lamentations about the excesses of vulgar, fanatical and usually non-American hordes. The book also neglects the critical role of particular demographic and geographic features in the development of France, Russia and the United States."

Bill Gifford's Ledyard: In Search of the First American Explorer (Harcourt) finds its way into the Dartmouth Review, where Jared Zelski writes "Gifford’s writing is agreeable and never too long-winded, which resonates well with the free-spirited character of John Ledyard." But Zelski didn't like Gifford's "sidetrack narratives."

Marcus Rediker's The Slave Ship gets more ink this weekend with an Adam Hochschild review in the New York Times. Hochschild says "Rediker has made magnificent use of archival data; his probing, compassionate eye turns up numerous finds that other people who’ve written on this subject, myself included, have missed." I'm reading this book now, and while it's incredibly depressing, it covers a subject that needs to be much more widely understood.

Quill & Brush Acquire Comstock Books

Scott Brown reports that Quill & Brush (owned by Allen and Pat Ahearn) have acquired and are beginning to sell books from the collection of murdered bibliophile Rolland Comstock.

In an e-newsletter, the Ahearns write "We have recently picked up a few thousand books--most of which are signed--from the estate of collector Rolland Comstock, who lived just outside the city of Springfield, Missouri. Rolland was an avid collector who was rumored to have 50,000 first editions. As best we could tell, he had 35 to 40,000 firsts and 10 to 15,000 magazines. Impressive by any account."

Some of the books are being sold now as "author collections" while a catalog of additional individual items is being prepared. The collections are not being listed on the web, so if interested, you'll have to subscribe to the email list.

There have not been any breakthroughs in the investigation of Comstock's murder.

Friday, October 19, 2007

More Dispatches from the Poe Front

In the New York Observer, Matthew Pearl sets out his theory that Poe died of a brain tumor, and in an email to Ed Pettit Pearl comments on the Baltimore-Philly Battle. He writes "I think one of the extraordinary and potent things about Poe is that he doesn't belong to any one home, city, country. He's forever the orphan. So I guess I'm neutral on this fight. Hey, I live in Boston, and most people forget Poe was born here. Maybe we should get in on this."

Or maybe not.

There's also this column from the Philadelphia Inquirer's book critic Carlin Romano, and if you haven't yet, don't miss the Edgar Allan Poll. Ed's even been on local t.v. and radio quite a bit lately talking up the Poe Wars.

Great fun all around.

Another Book of Mormon Cracks $100K

Rare Book Review notes that yet another copy of the first edition Book of Mormon has sold for more than $100,000 at auction. PBA Galleries sold the book in their 11 October Fine Americana Sale for $103,500. This particular copy "has on the front pastedown endpaper the private library bookplate of Paul M. Hanson. Hanson served as a member of the Council of Twelve of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints from 1913 to 1958. Inscribed by Hanson to John T. Conway on front free endpaper."

No word on the buyer, but Ken Sanders' prediction-streak is still holding up well.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

BibliOdyssey Book Forthcoming

BibliOdyssey, one of the best image-blogs out there, announced earlier today that FUEL Design will be publishing a collection of their material between two covers as BibliOdyssey: Amazing Archival Images from the Internet (Amazon).

Curator PK writes: "When I was first contacted with the suggestion in August 2006 I admit that I was fairly skeptical. 'Unpossible, surely?' 'How do we get permission?' 'Which repositories?' 'Who do we contact?' 'What laws do we need to know?' 'Which images?' 'Which countries?' 'Thematic or chronological or what?' 'What happens if they say no?' 'What happens if they say yes?'

Where I only saw insurmountable difficulties, FUEL took the long view, to their credit, softly batting away my initial objections and sketching out a very rough plan for how the project might move forward. They picked out some images, I suggested some institutions, we wrestled over the illustration choices; I did most of the contacting and all of the writing and FUEL did the overall editing, designing and packaging.

So the process has really been about establishing a dialogue with a lot of different people and institutions and being open about our intentions. It probably helped that I've had occasional exchanges with universities and libraries since the site started, so there is a certain familiarity 'out there' about BibliOdyssey. The response to the project idea was overwhelmingly favourable, although individual institutional policies and legal technicalities were sometimes an impediment. Many people went out of their way to accommodate our requests for higher resolution images or supplied interesting background to the books and images or gave recommendations about alternative image choices. We are eternally grateful for their assistance."

Kudos not only to PK for creating a varied, interesting and beautiful site, but also to FUEL for recognizing it as such, and to the institutions for cooperating with this project. Neat!

Stolen Maps Recovered, No Arrest Made (Yet)

Alright here's what seems to be the latest information regarding the recovery of documents and maps stolen from Madrid's Biblioteca Nacional (by way of partial update to yesterday's post).

AFP reports that a lawyer hired by the suspect (César Gómez Rivero) delivered eight documents, including two Cosmographia maps, to Argentinian police in Buenos Aires, "Argentina's assistant police commissioner Marcelo Elaide told Spanish radio Cadena Ser." The suspect "asked to not be arrested in exchange for having returned the items." Elaide added that "Argentine police have located the suspect but have not arrested him since they have not received a request from Spain."

Presumably that request will be forthcoming.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

New Common-Place

The October edition of Common-Place is out, and as always it looks to contain some articles of interest, including a piece on a bookbinders' tool maker, an essay on "undisciplined reading" by Matthew P. Brown, and a review of Hakluyt's Promise. Hopefully before the end of the week I'll have a spare moment to spend reading these and the other included articles.

Map Thief Arrested - Maybe

The man suspected of stealing more than a dozen rare maps and documents from Spain's National Library has been arrested in Argentina, according to (some) media reports. The man, "60 year old César Gómez Rivero, has apparently handed himself into the authorities, and a team from the Spanish Civil Guard are report[ed] by some sources to be preparing to travel to Argentina on Friday. He was also carrying other documents which he claimed had also been taken from the Biblioteca Nacional."

Library director Milagros del Corral appeared to confirm the arrest on Wednesday, but El Pais reports on its website today that while Rivero's lawyer has been in contact with an Argentinian judge to discuss returning stolen documents in his client's possession, Rivero has not in fact surrendered. The judge apparently refused Rivero's demand that he not be arrested if he turned over the stolen materials. "We are continuing to look for him," said a Civil Guard spokesman.

Several of the items stolen by Rivero have been recovered, including one map each in Sydney and New York.

Crockett Contretemps Update

The Austin American-Statesman has some news from the Crockett Letter front: Regina Davis reports that part of the reason the Texas Historical Commission moved so quickly to purchase the letter may have been that "the agency had to spend or commit to spend the money in its Texas Historic Artifacts Fund by the end of the fiscal year, Aug. 31, or the money, about $800,000, would be returned to the state treasury."

THC chairman John Nau says this isn't so: "
'I'm comfortable with it,' he said of the commission's handling of the purchase process. 'We built into the agreement with the owner that we would have 120 days to authenticate the document, which is adequate time to do the work. We are right on schedule to get the right answer.'"

Davis adds details from an emergency conference call meeting of the THC on 28 August for the purpose of approving the purchase of the letter; she reports that THC member Diane Bumpas "
had reservations about the cost of the letter, saying that the price did not compare with what she had seen other documents sell for at auction." She also notes that John Nau and Ray Simpson III, the letter's seller, "had a longstanding business relationship," and that Nau had purchased items for his personal collection from Simpson's gallery. "Nau said his prior dealings with Simpson had no bearing on how the situation was handled."

Monday was the deadline for interested parties to submit proposals for forensic document analysts and handwriting experts to authenticate the document. Federal Forensic Associates Inc. of Raleigh, N.C., the only bidder, was selected for the forensic document analysis, which determines the age of the paper and ink, and tests whether a document has been falsely aged. The contract is for $17,000, which will be paid by the commission, and the firm can immediately begin its analysis, commission spokeswoman Adrienne Reams said. No proposals were submitted by handwriting experts, so the commission is extending the deadline for that position until Oct. 29, Reams said."

Handwriting experts, here's your chance!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

"My Dearest Friend"

The Boston Globe ran a short notice this weekend of a new book, My Dearest Friend: Letters of John and Abigail Adams (Harvard University Press). Jim Taylor and Maggie Hogan, two of the main editors of the Adams Papers project at MHS, have done a wonderful job selecting, editing and presenting some (well, almost 300) of the best letters between John and Abigail Adams. I got a chance to see the book recently - it's beautifully-designed - and look forward to having a chance to read through it more carefully.

My Dearest Friend will "launch" officially at 7 p.m. on 19 November with a public reading of some Adams letters at Faneuil Hall in Boston. Governor and Mrs. Patrick, Senator and Mrs. Kennedy, and former Governor and Mrs. Dukakis are planning to be in attendance as readers. It's going to be quite an event, so mark your calendars!

Obits of Note

- Roy Rosenzweig, a professor of history at George Mason University and a leader in the field of "digital history", has died at age 57 after a fight with lung cancer. Rosenzweig founded GMU's Center for History and New Media in 1994; "as its director, he oversaw the creation of online history projects aimed mostly at high school and college students, including Web sites about U.S. history, the French Revolution and the history of science and technology. Perhaps its most visible project was the September 11 Digital Archive, a collection of 150,000 items - including e-mails, digital voice mails, BlackBerry communications and video clips - made by average citizens at the time of the 2001 terrorist attacks. The center gave the materials to the Library of Congress in September 2003.

Tributes from colleagues and other materials about Professor Rosenzweig are being collected here.

- Joe Board, 76, longtime professor of political science at my alma mater, Union College, passed away last Friday, 12 October. He also had been battling cancer. Professor Board was officially retired when I arrived at Union back in 2000, but he was still teaching some classes, and I was lucky enough to take his course in international law in the spring term of my freshman year. He was the very epitome of a scholar and a gentleman, and well-liked by all who knew him. More on his life and works here.

Monday, October 15, 2007

More on "Processus Contra Templarios"

Since my post on the news that the Vatican will be publishing an edition of Processus Contra Templarios has proven rather popular, I thought I'd better provide a small update I just read. The BBC reports today that 800 copies of the text will be created: one copy is to be presented to Pope Benedict XVI, "while most of the remaining 799 copies of this luxury limited edition have already been reserved by libraries and collectors around the world."

The book, which is being produced by Scrinium, will be "printed on synthetic parchment, comes complete with a reproduction of the original papal wax seal, and is packaged in a soft leather case together with a scholarly commentary. Each copy will cost just over 5,900 euros ($8,000; £3,925)."

No word yet on if or when a trade edition of this text will be made available.

Rare Manuscripts Prompt Diplomatic Spat

The Chicago Tribune reports on a decades-long international dispute over rare books, manuscripts and collections currently held by Krakow's Jagiellonian Library. The materials - which include letters written by Martin Luther and George Washington; original music manuscripts by Bach, Beethoven, and Mozart; and other important documents - were moved out of Berlin at the beginning of World War II and hidden in Poland to prevent their destruction by Allied bombs ... and now the Germans want them back.

"Poland insists Germany forfeited any legal and moral claim to the collection long ago. Polish President Lech Kaczynski bluntly told the Tribune last month that the collection would not be returned." Since 1977 (when it first admitted having the collection), Poland has returned several key items, including Martin Luther's Bible and the manuscript copy of the last movement of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony.

Negotiations over the return of other items have been ongoing since 2000, but, the Trib report notes, "now with the highly nationalistic Kaczynski brothers in power [in Poland] - Lech is president, twin brother Jaroslaw is prime minister - the talks appear to be dead in the water." German rhetoric hasn't helped: "Tono Eitel, a veteran German diplomat who is handling the negotiations for his country, described the manuscripts as 'the war's last prisoners,' while an article in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper referred to the collection as beutekunst, a term usually used to describe the artworks looted from Germany by the Red Army. This infuriated the Poles."

[h/t Shelf:Life]

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Book Review: "Footsteps"

Literary biographer Richard Holmes provides an inside look at the biographer's craft in Footsteps: Adventures of a Romantic Biographer (1985). Combining sketch-biographies of Robert Louis Stevenson, Mary Wollstonecraft, the Shelleys, and Gerard Nerval with autobiographical accounts of his travels (some physical, some mental) in pursuit of those subjects, Holmes has written an engaging and perceptive account of the process by which he went about his research and work.

Holmes follows RLS and his donkey (Modestine) through the small towns of rural France, experiences Paris during the riots of 1968 to try and relate to Mary Wollstonecraft's residency there during the post-Revolutionary Terror, and tracks the Shelleys and their various comrades during their peregrinations around Italy. I think in some senses it's difficult for anyone not so fully immersed in these lives to understand some of the revelations Holmes experienced, but that is certainly no reason for him not to share them or for us not to read them.

Links & Reviews

[Lots of goodies this week - enjoy!]

- From today's Times (UK), William Sutton examines translations of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. The Turkish version of the final book (Harry Potter ve Ölüm Yadigarlar) was just released last week, second only to the Ukrainian translation (Harry Potter i Smertelni Relikviyi). The French translator won't be finished until February, and in Italy "irate Potter fans have organised Operation Feather, deluging the publisher Salani with feathers to demand earlier publication, in the manner of Hogwarts' messenger owls." Sutton also discusses the many "unofficial" translations cropping up in various parts of the world, as well as the difficulties inherent in translating some of Rowling's names and ideas (Dumbledore in Norwegian? Humlesnurr, formed by combining the words for 'bee' and 'spin'). Voldemort's full name in French (to preserve the anagram)? Tom Elvis Jedusor.

- At Bookride, the first part of a two-part post on Boccaccio's Decameron. Always some interesting anecdotes here.

- Tom Pazzo posts an auction report over at Bookshop Blog. He doesn't say where the auction was, but he does report that a first edition of Hobbes' Leviathan went for $4600.

- Travis reports that Jay Miller "has [finally] been charged in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California with Interstate Transportation of Stolen Goods. He has pleaded not guilty." Another court appearance soon.

- Ed's got the latest dispatches from the Poe Wars battlefield.

- Michael Lieberman notes that police in Essex, England are on the lookout for four "Mini-Bookshop" vending machines stolen last month. "The machines, worth £10,000 each, were in a trailer attached to a lorry parked at PN Computer Services on High Street, Elsenham near Bishop's Stortford." A £2,000 reward is offered for their return.

- Over at Drawger, a gallery of endpapers.

- The Association of Research Libraries has published Celebrating Research: Rare and Special Collections from the Membership of the Association of Research Libraries. The book "includes 118 collection profiles, each from a different ARL member library. Each profile is illustrated with color photographs and tells a story of a single collection, recounting how the resources were acquired and developed. The compilation is rich with examples of how research libraries are engaging different communities to deliver library services and encourage the use of such distinctive collections." Nicholas Barker contributed the introduction. A companion website has also been released.

- Scott Brown at FB&C highlights their upcoming collection of Nicholas Basbanes essays, Editions & Impressions, and also passes along an Anne Trubek piece about collecting 'hypermoderns' (books published within the last two decades or so).

- Back in February I noted the discovery of book with Rousseau provenance at Cincinnati's [fixed, not Chicago's] Lloyd Library; they've now mounted an exhibit, "In Rousseau's Own Hand: His Book, His Notes, His Botany", complete with images of the annotations, other botany-related books used by Rousseau, &c.

- Last weekend's Paul Collins posts: comments on the Archimedes Palimpsest, and a link to a review of a recent book, Fopdoodle And Salmagundi: Words and Meanings From Dr Johnson's Dictionary That Time Forgot. Paul includes a web edition of a small portion of Edward Vaughn Kenealy's "epic and epically bonkers play A New Pantomime."

- From BibliOdyssey, images from an anonymous, undated and spectacular Arabic manuscript showing some sort of water-moving machine, a fun miscellany, and a collection of costume plates from Dutch artist Caspar Luyken (1703).

- Richard Cox examines the new book Scribal Culture and the Making of the Hebrew Bible from an archival perspective. Perceptive and relevant, as usual.

- Over at Galleycat, they spent some time this week wondering what's the oldest library in America (here and here). As usual, it's complicated.


Marcus Rediker's The Slave Ship: A Human History - by Colin Woodard in the Christian Science Monitor. I heard Rediker speak on this book at Northeastern this week, and am very much looking forward to reading it. His talk was riveting and excellent. Woodard says Rediker "has drawn the slave ship out of the shadows, creating a history that is elegant, readable, and entirely horrifying. It is, as Rediker warns at the outset, a painful book to read, and one the reader won't soon forget."

Eve LaPlante's Salem Witch Judge: The Life and Repentance of Samuel Sewell - by Marjorie Kehe in the Christian Science Monitor.

John Kukla's Mr. Jefferson's Women - by Stacy Schiff in the New York Times. Schiff's verdict: "Generally, Kukla is working with a thin historical record; the perhapses pile up. More disturbingly, the evidence seems honed to fit an argument. ... Kukla contrasts Jefferson unfavorably with Benjamin Rush and the Marquis de Condorcet, progressive thinkers whose ideas about women were especially advanced. If, however, the charge that Jefferson 'did nothing whatsoever to improve the legal or social condition of women in American society' holds, his entire generation stands convicted. It seems as unfair to tar him with that brush as it does to accuse him of selfishness, behavior that would hardly distinguish Jefferson, or most of the rest of us, in any century."

- Lucy Worsley's Cavalier: A Tale of Chivalry, Passion, and Great Houses - by Judith Flanders in the New York Times. Flanders says this unconventional biography of William Cavendish, first Duke of Newcastle-upon-Tyne doesn't quite measure up: elements "fail to cohere" and the book "sometimes reads like a historical novel. ... "The description of Newcastle’s father’s deathbed is 'extrapolated,' an endnote tells us, from 'similar scenes' in contemporary sources, including paintings. In the text, the reader is straightforwardly told that certain people are present, but the endnotes amend these assertions, revealing that documents 'do not place' these people 'in the house on the day,' although 'their presence seems likely.'” This is not history. It is fiction." Quite so, and yet another indictment of editors and publishers who allow authors to get away with blurring if not outright fudging facts. For shame.

- Angus Hawkins' The Forgotten Prime Minister: The 14th Earl of Derby (Volume I: Ascent, 1799-1851) - by Andrew Roberts in the Times. Of the subject, Roberts writes "Although he formed three ministries, was the longest-serving party leader in modern British political history and abolished slavery throughout the British Empire, Derby is not today remembered at all, even in the Tory party that he led between 1846 and 1868." Of the book: "With its genealogical tables, chapter headings based on Derby’s Iliad translation and deeply learned expositions on the minutiae of parliamentary manoeuvrings, this book hails from the elitist high-politics school of history and is (rightly) proud of it."

- Woody Holton's Unruly Americans and the Origins of the Constitution - by Terry Shulman in the Richmond Times-Dispatch. "Holton's sour view of the framers' motivations might have been tempered by an acknowledgment of how much more democratic the Constitution has become since its ratification. This, too, can be attributed to the framers. The author gives short shrift to any higher agenda (in the fashion of most revisionists) and fails to focus the reader's attention on the Constitution's ingrained powers of reinvention. ... But Holton's book is groundbreaking in that it enlarges exponentially our understanding of the people's role in the formation of American government. Unruly they might have been, but they were canny enough to see the extent to which they were being taken advantage of by their state governments and capable enough to bring about the grass-roots upheavals that led to the drafting of the Constitution." My copy of Unruly Americans arrived this week, and is another one I'm really looking forward to.

Recent Acquisitions

- A Rochester, NY t.v. station reports that a first edition of Frederick Douglass' 1855 memoir My Bondage and My Freedom was found among the books destined for a Ronald McDonald House book sale in upstate New York. "Upon finding out about the book, Glen Jeter, a local McDonald's franchise owner, bought it, and then gave it back to be displayed at the new Frederick Douglass Resource Center, once the center is completed next spring." Jeter paid $400.

- "
A collection of historical and rare books on Banff belonging to legendary editor of the Banffshire Journal, Dr William Barclay, has been donated to the Banff Preservation and Heritage Society by his family," the Journal notes.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Book Review: "A More Perfect Constitution"

In his new book A More Perfect Constitution (Walker & Company, 2007) Larry Sabato, the founder and director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics lays out a series of twenty-three proposals for constitutional revision. These amendments would, he argues, bring the Constitution into the twenty-first century by making the structures of our government more fair, more representative, and more effective.

Most of us are instinctively leery of major structural changes to the Constitution, and with good reason - it's lasted for more than two centuries, and has served the United States well. At first glance, some if not many of Sabato's proposals seem unnecessary, unpalatable, or both. But after reading his justifications for them, I was convinced by both the desirability and the necessity of nearly all of them.

Since Sabato's stated purpose with his book is to promote a great debate over these ideas, and to prompt what he terms a "generational process of moderate, well-considered change," I've begun a discussion here of his proposals by outlining them in brief and adding my own views as they currently stand (I will admit that some of them changed just in the course of reading this book). I have attempted as much as possible to keep Sabato's proposals separate from my own opinions so as not to influence others' perceptions of his ideas, but I do encourage everyone interested in this discussion to read his book, where he makes his case in much greater and persuasive detail.

I don’t agree with all of Sabato’s proposals; I doubt anyone will. I certainly don’t expect everyone to agree with my views either. But I do think these points are all worth debating, and I agree with Sabato that we shouldn’t simply accept the Constitution as it stands, but should examine how it works and what, if anything, we can do to make it better for the nation. Some of the changes Sabato suggests would, I submit, make our government work better, and I applaud him for putting out this plan for us all to discuss and consider. Whether anything will come of it remains to be seen, but certainly nothing will happen if we just ignore the proposals.

Art/Map Thefts Highlighted

In the Sydney Morning Herald, Philip Cornford has an article today on international art theft, which the FBI now says totals some $8 billion annually worldwide, making it "the first biggest crime [in monetary terms] behind drug dealing, arms dealing and money laundering." He notes a recent theft from the National Gallery of New South Wales, in which thieves simply entered a gallery, unscrewed a frame, and walked off with Frans van Mieris' (1635-1681) self-portrait "A Cavalier."

Cornford's piece discusses the links between the stolen-art markets in Australia and Britain, mentioning the recovery of the two Cosmographia maps from Spain's National Library. In that case, he says, no charges have yet been filed. He also examines various strategies for dealing with theft, including offering rewards or ransoms.

Well worth a read.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Stolen Maps Recovered

Everett Wilkie passes along two articles from Spain's El Pais (one from Tuesday, one from today) regarding the map thefts from Madrid's Biblioteca Nacional reported back in early September. The articles are in Spanish, but I've found condensed English versions here and here.

Tuesday's piece reveals that one of the stolen maps (from a 1482 edition of Ptolemy's Cosmographia) was recovered by the FBI in New York after it was found to be in the possession of a collector. "The identity of the collectioner [sic] was not given. It was not known whether he or she was aware that the map, which is valued at about 100,000 euros (140,000 dollars), was stolen."

Police now believe that twelve pages of maps and documents were removed from the National Library by an Uruguayan man living in Argentina, who registered with the library as a historian using the name César Ovilio Gómez Rivero (may not be his real name).

And from Australia, news that police have recovered two additional maps from the same 1482 text, these "found in Sydney at the home of an Australian antiques dealer who had bought them at an auction in London. ... The names of the Australian dealer and the London auction house were not revealed."

More as I find it.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

The Poe Wars

Ed Pettit's "We're Taking Poe Back" piece in last week's Philadelphia City Paper has prompted some supportive volleys from other Philadelphia partisans, while the Baltimore gang is firing back. In a Baltimore Sun column, "We Have the Body, and We're Keeping Him," Poe House curator Jeff Jerome tells Philly "Keep your greasy, onioned, sub-stained hands off Poe!" Jerome admits to being impressed by Ed's research: "I plan to go up to Philadelphia, punch him in the eye and then say, 'Let's talk about Poe.'"

A.J. Daulerio, writing for the Philadelphia Magazine blog The Daily Examiner, calls the Baltimoreans "crabcake-stuffed cranks," and gets in a few low blows of his own. Ed says of the fracas "In his time, Poe took part in some rough and tumble literary wars (often of his own making), so I feel gratified that my piece has generated some heat. At least this battle will remain good-natured; Poe's fights were gravely serious, with his literary survival always at stake."

Well, I have to point out that Boston also can lay claim to Poe: he was, after all, born here. But as a Boston Globe story pointed out back in January, there's not much love in Beantown for the man whose literary corpse is being so viciously tussled over by his other sometime-homes: "His name is not routinely uttered on tours of the city, nor does it appear among the 1,000-plus attractions on the city's tourism website. Boston has neither a Poe statue nor a Poe museum - only a small plaque commemorating his birthplace on the outside wall of a luggage store. The Poe Studies Association, a group of scholars and fans, rejected Boston for its 2009 celebration of the bicentennial of his birth partly because this city offers little for Poe aficionados."

Following a particularly poorly-received reading at the Boston Lyceum in 1845, Poe wrote of Boston "We were born there - and perhaps it is just as well not to mention that we are heartily ashamed of the fact." He and the grand literary poobahs of the day - Hawthorne, Longfellow and their ilk - were not on pleasant terms (to say the least). And Poe's final stay in Boston can hardly be remembered pleasantly: he tried to kill himself here in 1848 by overdosing on opiates after a relationship went sour. Not exactly the ties that bind, are they?

But wait! What is that anonymous byline on the title page of Poe's first published work? "Tamerlane and Other Poems. By A Bostonian."

Well, it's something, at least. But not enough, I think, to warrant Boston's entry into the Poe Wars. We'll let Baltimore and Philly fight this one out - we wouldn't want to rile up the Brahmins.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Harvard's Missing Maps

The Houghton Library at Harvard recently sent out a reminder notice of the maps known to be missing from their collections. If you've seen, purchased or otherwise been in contact with these maps recently, please contact the Houghton staff (contact info on the linked webpage).

Philadelphia Poet Dies

The Philly Inquirer [title typo fixed] ran an obituary on Sunday for Herschel Baron, a poet and retired mechanical engineer who died recently at the age of 94. "The bantam retiree, a familiar character in Philadelphia poetry circles for more than 20 years, was hard to miss with his shock of white hair and beard, rakish Greek fisherman's cap, pipe (he owned 300 pipes), and tweed jacket as he walked the streets of the city. He was one of the original residents of the William Penn House, a Center City cooperative, and his home was crammed with more than 5,000 books."

Read the whole piece here.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Hooke Manuscript Goes Online

The Royal Society's folio volume of Robert Hooke's notes of the organization's early proceedings (1661-1691) is now available online. The manuscript, saved from auction last year by the intervention of the Wellcome Trust, has been carefully transcribed as part of the digitization process with the assistance of Hooke biographer Lisa Jardine and others.

"[Hooke's] minutes of the Royal Society describe in detail his numerous experiments and a dazzling range of inventions, from his work with a microscope, confirming the very first sighting of bacteria and sperm, to accounts of flying machines, the first pressure cooker and his dealings with Newton," a Telegraph report notes.

The Royal Society's introduction to the digital version has some more background about the folio: "Rivalries and disputes over inventions meant that Hooke did not trust the written account of Royal Society activities left by his Secretarial predecessor, Henry Oldenburg. Therefore the Folio begins with Hooke's corrective copy of early minutes, intended as a definitive record of the events described. In fact, Oldenburg's and Hooke's writings enrich one another.

As Secretary, Hooke drafted original descriptions of Society meetings from the late 1670s and these rough minutes form the second part of the Hooke Folio. Here, the Folio contains material that was lost or distorted in official accounts of the Royal Society's story, for example fuller versions of major scientific discoveries."

A non-broadband viewer and transcription of the Folio are here (not quite as flashy, but more usable, I find).

McCormick Ornithology Sale Sets Record

I dropped the ball on last Friday's Sotheby's sale of the Brooks McCormick Ornithology Collection, which I previewed back in September. Rare Books Review caught it, though, and reports that the total take was just over $2.7 million, well above the high estimate. As expected, the high spot was Mark Catesby's The Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands, which was sold to an American dealer for $657,000 - setting a record for an 18th-century natural history work at auction.

A first edition of Buffon's Histoire naturelle de oiseaux nearly doubled its estimate, selling for $157,000; John Gould's Birds of Europe fetched $145,000. Five original Audubon Birds sold for more than $50,000 apiece (Whooping Crane, Wood Duck, Virginia Partridge, Wild Turkey (male) and Osprey). The first edition of Darwin's Origin of Species and a copy of John Selby Prideaux's British Ornithology sold for $58,000 each.

The proceeds from the auction will benefit the International Crane Foundation.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Jefferson and the Sharks

Back in September I linked to this post at J.L. Bell's excellent Boston 1775 blog, where Bell points out a Marcus Rediker essay in the Boston Globe about a satirical broadside he'd found, "The Petition of the Sharks of Africa" (transcription here).

The abolitionist broadside, written from the perspective of the sharks, urges Parliament not to stop the slave trade, because "your petitioners are sustained, not only by the carcases of those who have fallen by distempers, but are frequently gratified with rich repasts from the bodies of living negroes who voluntarily plunge into the abodes of your petitioners, preferring instant destruction by their jaws, to the imaginary horrors of a lingering slavery." The whole document is very imaginative and incredibly disturbing.

Why bring this up again, you'll ask? Well, last night as I was adding some more of Thomas Jefferson's library to LibraryThing (project intro here, progress report here), I got to a collection of bound tracts titled "Political Pamphlets. English. 1800. 1801", and there as the first entry is a folded broadside, "The Petition of the Sharks of Africa" [Sowerby 2802]. So Jefferson not only had a copy of this broadside, but kept it and had it bound with other works; the volume still exists at the Library of Congress.

Lost in Translation?

Several English-language news sources from the Middle East (Qatar Peninsula, Arabian Business) are reporting that a Qatari man has been offered up to $4.3 million for a 400-year old Quran manuscript. The man, Saeed Ali Al Suwaidi, says he received the book from a Yemeni scholar during a trip to Mecca last Ramadan. "We began talking after a preliminary introduction. He told me that he had a rare copy of a Holy Quran. It was handwritten and a little less than 400 years old. He asked me if I would accept it for safekeeping."

The scholar, who is unnamed in the news reports, told Suwaidi that the Quran was created over a five-year period by Mohamed bin Ahmed bin Qassem Al Aqwa, and was completed in 1034 Hijri (the Islamic equivalent of 1624 CE).

Suwaidi: "I agreed to accept the copy for I felt I was being blessed. It was a huge responsibility. I took immense care and preserved the manuscript so sunlight and moist air did not spoil it. It was a proud possession and the most valuable asset of my life." Recently, he told the Peninsula, he's had offers to buy the Quran, including one bid of $4.3 million. "I might agree to part with it if I get a good offer," Suwaidi said.

Either I'm missing something here or Mr. Suwaidi has a very different conception of "safekeeping" than I do.

[h/t Rare Book News]

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Book Review: "Books of Secrets"

CUNY history professor Allison Kavey's Books of Secrets: Natural Philosophy in England, 1550-1600 (University of Illinois Press, 2007) offers a detailed analysis of a fascinating genre of cheap printed books during the late sixteenth century - books of secrets, designed to provide their readers with ways of understanding and dealing with the natural world (through alchemy, meteorology, cookery, medicine, &c.). Building on earlier work in the field by William Eamon and others, Kavey discusses various aspects of the genre, making linkages between the printers who issued these sorts of books, examining the authorities behind the texts, and delving into a structural analysis of the books to understand how they were created, packaged and marketed to readers.

Kavey's final two chapters analyze two types of books in particular: those marketed to women, and Gervase Markham's horse care manuals (which she argues were marketed to gentlemen but would have been most useful to the grooms actually dealing with the horses). While I'm not sure I agree entirely with all of Kavey's answers to the questions she poses, she has certainly provided an intriguing look at this genre of books and laid a good foundation for future scholarship in this area. By utilizing a wonderfully interdisciplinary approach, Kavey provides a good example of how book history can both inform and be informed by other fields.

In her concluding section, Kavey writes "print scholarship benefits from considering books in their own context, by placing them next to similar books by similar printers and attempting to locate them within the print marketplace" (p. 159). She's done a good job of that in this book.