#Exercise 2: Annotating

Recently my interests have turned toward marginalia in manuscripts and early print books. Writing and drawing in the margins keeps books alive, show active participation in the text by humans. I am interested in who writes what, and where. Is most marginal writing part of the text, written by the scribe? Do readers tend to write more in the outer or lower margins? When readers are writing, is it more often than not related to the text they are reading?

To begin exploring these questions, I browsed thorugh Stanford’s digitized manuscript collection. Early on it became clear that legibility and my own paleographical experience would be a limiting factor, as often I found marginalia unreadable. I selected 10 items which appeared to have the most legible and interesting marginalia at a cursory glance.

My original plan was to use Mirador to tag instances of marginalia (and only tag– the only written description I might want would be a transcription of the marginalia, which will come in a later exercise), based on categorizations I encountered while reading Stephen Orgel’s The Reader in the Book, plus a few of my own. These categories were active reading (a reader leaving comments on a text), correction (a scribe or reader correcting the text), recording (making note of something unrelated to the text, such as a business transaction), structural (text/symbols that are part of the structure of the text, such as section numbering), and illustration (doodles, maniculae, etc).

Satisfied with the coverage of my categories, I set off to tag. Right away I found it quite difficult to fit what I was seeing on the page into the categories, not because the categories were insufficient but because, as previously feared, my ability to read the text was limiting progress. While I had done well to choose the most legible examples I could find in the collection, making out characters was still a challenge, and my minimal knowledge of Latin was doing me no favors. Structural elements and illustration were easy to pick out, but corrections, recordings, and active reading I found near indistinguishable. Without writing out a full transcription of everything I found, I was getting nowhere fast. Since transcription is to be done in the coming weeks, I changed my strategy. Rather than tagging based on my original categories, I tagged (and re-tagged) based on whether the marginalia appeared to be scribal or non-scribal. This, too, was not as easy as it might be for someone with more paleographic experience; I am satisfied that what I have is close enough for this initial step.

The outcome of this exerise is not quite what I desired before starting, but I have been able to make a couple of observations so far. First, that most of the marginal writing in these items appears to be non-scribal. This is in line with what I would have predicted– I would assume that more often than not if a scribe had something to say or correct, it would be in the body of the text. Second, what I did not expect to see (or did not think to expect) is that scribal writing appears more frequenty in the left and right margins, and is less likely to be written in a way that is not in line with the appearance of the page (upside down, or sideways, for example). After transcription I hope to be able to explore the reasons behind these observations, and inch closer to my original categorization scheme.


23 January 2016