The 2,700-plus books at the Mount, Edith Wharton’s historic Berkshire estate, represent only a portion of the novelist’s remarkable collection. Another 2,500 volumes, which one of Wharton’s heirs stored in a London warehouse after her death, were destroyed in the Blitz. And the volumes now in the Mount’s collection themselves survived storage in an English castle (some have the wormholes to show for it) and in a bookseller’s attic before a high-profile (and contentious) negotiation brought them to the Mount in 2006.
Simon Burrows and Glenn Roe’s edited collection, Digitizing Enlightenment: Digital Humanities and the Transformation of Eighteenth-Century Studies, is a necessary reminder of the huge strides made by the field of eighteenth-century studies when employing the transformative tools of digital humanities. Impressive in its breath, this volume offers an in-depth view of several institutional projects, as well as sample DH applications to the study of the period. Ambitiously arguing that “the eighteenth century may … offer the perfect laboratory for applying digital technologies” (11), the editors have gathered contributions on major digitization efforts and DH projects undertaken in the past decade, many of them interrelated or involving transnational and cross-disciplinary collaborations, that have transformed in a relatively short period of time our understanding of the Enlightenment.
Poring over card catalogues? Check. Feeling oddly compelled by titles, cover copy or illustrations? Check. Scrutinising author photographs and biographies, publishers’ colophons and blurbs? – I’m just going to come right out and say it. Queer readers are closet book historians. For much of the last century and the early years of the present one, a necessarily partial, subjective canon of queer literature could only be strung together by tenacious readers willing to follow such tenous, coded “threads of connection”, which depend as much on material books and their paratexts as on their content. “Before love”, as Valerie Rohy puts it, “there was the library; before intimacy, before identity, before community, there were books”. But although the links between sexuality and textuality are well-rehearsed, the scholarly fields of book history and bibliography have been somewhat slower to accommodate queer theories, methods and pedagogies.
If you are tired of taking acquisition adventures from librarian and bookseller memoirs as proof of the larger trends at play within the literary archives market, this is the book for you. Chen’s pithy study takes us through the views of each stakeholder connected to a typical American literary archival collection, from creator to end user, mainly through both quantitative and qualitative examples using her meticulous dataset of those authors included in the seventh edition of The Norton Anthology of American Literature (hereafter NAAL).
Heather G. Cole is the Head of Special Collections Instruction and Curator of Literary and Popular Culture Collections at Brown University’s John Hay Library; from 2012 to 2017 she was the Curator of the Theodore Roosevelt Collection at Harvard University. She has continued the work done by R.W.G. (Robert William Glenroie) Vail. He was the Librarian at the museum created by the Roosevelt Memorial Association, after Roosevelt’s death, on the site of his childhood home on 20th Street Manhattan (today the Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace National Historic Site). Vail had first started putting together as many documents on Roosevelt as possible. Later, he decided to begin writing a bibliography of all of Roosevelt’s works. During the 1920s, he wrote to publishers, collaborators and booksellers to find out as much as he could on these works. He could not complete and publish the bibliography, he started working for the New York Public Library in 1937. His work was “recovered” by Heather Cole and brought back to life; what she managed to do was to make all the work previously done, plus new information and research, available to readers and researchers.