The Study of Book History

As we have completed this course, we have learned the various ways to understand the field of book history. It is a large field that is aimed at studying every aspect of the book in order to figure out whatever questions may surround it. Now that books are being digitized, it’s curious to think how the entire field will be reformed in the future. Right now, I find it difficult to think that book history will be changed because of e-readers, but in a century or two, there could be considerable change. 

We learned about different book historians and what parts of books they focused on, some of them choosing to study the physical parts of books– namely book sleeves. Could this still be a possibility with digital texts? It’s hard to imagine, a lot of the presentation of the text will be removed with digitized texts, where the focus is primarily the communication of text. I think that this can be both good and bad. I personally have to problem with digital text as many readers do– the whole “it’s destroying the integrity of reading” argument or whatever, where there is something wrong about everything being made digital. We looked at articles that had both sides of the argument, but I’m still undecided.

While I don’t have a kindle or any e-reader, I am considering buying one. I hate reading off of my computer, I find it far too distracting and often am unable to do close readings of texts. I think that reading off a kindle with digital texts would make procrastination less appealing. Also, I think it’s environmentally responsible to use a kindle versus paper, so that is appealing to me as well. I am slightly paranoid that one day the electronic grid will collapse and by then all our texts will be digital and eventually be lost. So while I think converting texts to fit the screen is a good idea, it could very easily backfire and set civilization back a few centuries, worst case scenario. 

Looking at screens is also uncomfortable on my eyes, and I definitely do it enough, so reading off a kindle or tablet could be overexposure to backlights. There is still something very cathartic about closing my computer and turning off my phone and picking up a book before I go to bed. I think that this is important in that you can have both, I don’t think that once you buy a kindle it means you stop reading off of paper. It just happens less. 

I can’t really say how this may affect book history, I can’t even say with authority that it will affect book history. The field may not change at all, it may just be easier to find information than it was before. But I think it will, just looking at how other mediums have changed because of the internet and digitalization. Music is so much more accessible now, people can produce their own music and sell it right from their computer. Similarly, movies are now being seamlessly streamed to screens. This seems like a huge step in the right direction. It would be interesting if authors could sell PDFs of their books of their websites, eliminating the need for publishers. Of course that opens the door to piracy, which would certainly affect the industry. Perhaps this will shape how we read and study books in the years to come.

An Optimistic Future (?)

As we’ve learned more and more about book history in class, a question that has mounted within me has been: what will book history be like when scholars years from now are studying us? We’ve studied texts that track library catalogues, diaries, trading records…but what will happen now that all of that has become digitized or fallen out of practice? Will it be easier to compound and analyze information due to digitized resources or will it be more difficult when perhaps smaller slivers of historical evidence become buried in the overwhelming information that the internet has to offer?

I think maybe a little bit of both.

Considering what we’ve read these past few days about digital texts and how we as readers consume them, I would have to believe that book history itself will change immensely simply for the fact that books themselves will change. There have been many arguments about whether the internet makes us smarter or dumber, but the undeniable truth is that it changes us as a society. Some of us now read in an “F” pattern, some hyper-read or use the “control-F” function to quickly find the desired information and ignore the rest. This all has me thinking back to the article that we read about the phenomenology of reading. Those processes will probably change as well – and might have already – and will make it necessary for that field of book history to alter its course.

At any rate, I’m going to play on the optimistic side when thinking about the future of book history; with more digital texts available and more ways to compile large-scale data, the possibilities will be endless for anybody – even amateurs like me! And let’s face it: if the world continues along the road of digitizing information, we can’t stop it. But I think it will be worth it.

Unless Apple and Google take over and everything ends. Then, God speed.

Just Another School or Truly a Separate Discipline? Take 2

I’ll admit, I was very hesitant about book history at the beginning of the term. Coming from a background that emphasizes literary criticism, I didn’t understand how book history could contribute anything to someone’s understanding of a book, author, etc. How could using quantitative methods really contribute to the comprehension of a book or success of an author? At the start of the class I saw book history and literary criticism as two very different entities, one that seemed much more plausible and the other that was this strange being, which probably came from me creating a huge separation between the two, I didn’t see book history as anything like literary criticism, which is probably where my lack of understanding came from. So, as a way to wrap up the term and these blog posts, I figured I’d conclude with the question I asked at the beginning of the term:

How is the history of the book different from literary criticism?

I feel like the best way to answer this question is to look at the history of the book as a behind-the-scenes (and after-the-scenes, if you will) look at a text or author, in a sense. With book history you can get a better sense of the significance of a book without focusing solely on the words in a book. You can look at the material of a book, the production history, the readership, etc, all things that will reveal these interesting details about a book. While some of the conclusions drawn may be similar to those that can be drawn from a book, it does so in a very different manner.

Take the Shakespeare example that I mentioned in my first blog post. Shakespeare is a highly regarded author in our society, but why? The forms of literary criticism that I am more familiar with may say it’s because he contributed to the English language, that the themes of his works are universal, and many other things. However, with book history, you can use methods to analyze his popularity and high regard in the details beyond the text. When was it that his popularity began to grow? Was it immediate or did it come much later? How do his works and the contexts in which they were written relate? There are a myriad of questions that can be asked and answered, and book history helps in answering these questions from a perspective that I never really considered, or even thought possible.

It’s been fascinating to expand my knowledge in general, from what I know as literary criticism to how to use quantitative methods in a humanities field. Specifically, I’ve been able to combine my love of language with book history, using the methods I’ve learned to look deeper into the significance language can have on society. While I could have simply read articles or analyzed the contents of a dictionary to get a similar conclusion, I don’t think the conclusions I’ve made in my paper would have been as significant or interesting without the statistical analysis or the analysis of readers. Simple, maybe, but I’m really glad I was able to learn about book history as a discipline and expand my horizons beyond the more traditional forms of literary analysis. It’s really been a great semester!

Book-Length Study on Stephen King

As can be assumed, I picked Option 1 as my blog topic due to my current/completed research project related to the top horror novels of 2000-2014. My own research that was related towards a correlation between book length and authors success opened up many other avenues of approach towards this thesis (which since then has been changed two times). To answer the question of how I might persuade the nationally known literary scholar that quantitative methods for literary study could contribute to the project, I would simply tell him about how my own research has opened many doors for interpretation due to data.

For example, from the very beginning of my database creation I noticed that Horror texts have become way more popular as a genre as time has passed. The way I was able to see this trend was by the absence of data for the years 2001-2005 and 2007-2008. While this does not reflect that people weren’t reading horror texts, it does reflect that there wasn’t enough of that genre sold in those years for there to be a horror category.

Another example refers to Stephen King specifically, the author I have decided to conduct a book-length study on. In my database Stephen King is one of the prominent authors from 2000-2014 (13 appearances & 9 titles). Interestingly enough the majority of his texts are longer than the average range of pages for the database. Looking at King’s works compared with the other authors that were prominent in 2000-2014, it shows that the more successful authors are the longer their range of books are. While this does not confirm that as an author becomes more successful the longer their books are, the pattern is still there.

For my last example of King’s work, I looked closely at his range of pages to investegate this pattern more closely. If the observation proved to be true, King’s works would have been shorter in the beginning and longer towards the present time. But looking at the data there was no correlation to support this. King’s works were shorter in the beginning, longer in the middle and in a middle range towards the end. So by looking at this we may be able to deduce that King’s work and success reflected a range of pages that was in demand by consumers.

I feel that if I presented and elaborated this data to the nationally known literary schoolar, they would at least be compeled and interested by my findings. I feel that by showing a combination of data with social interpretaions they can work together to enhance a book-length study of a famous author, like Stephen King.

Summer Internship: Haruki Murakami

As I mentioned in lecture on Tuesday, one of my favorite authors in Haruki Murakami. I first encountered Murakami in my AP Lit. class, and since then I have been making may way through his long list of books. Each is challenging, complex, and at times frustrating, but every one of Murakami’s texts I’ve read has been a pleasure to wade through.

Most of Murakami’s books circle around fictional worlds that are occupied by strange people and places. They are a bit sic-fi, a bit mystery, and a bit theoretical all at once. I find the stories really exciting and thoughtful. I’m also really drawn to the book covers–they’re beautiful.

Photo courtesy of Google Images

Photo courtesy of Google Images

Photo courtesy of Google Images

Photo courtesy of Google Images

In terms of quantitative book history, I think that Murakami’s collection is really apt to utilize some of this field’s methods.

  • First, each of Murakami’s texts is a translation from an original Japanese publication. As translations, quantitative book history could be used to tell an interesting story of this process. During my internship we could explore when each book was translated, where it was distributed, and the relationships of Japan with each of these countries at the time. Or we could look at where the book sold best as a translation, possibly to draw some sort of correlation between country of sale and popularity or profit. Did it sell better in one place or another? Because each text has audiences globally, quantitative methods could be really helpful in understanding patterns in why Murakami has become such a phenomenon world-wide. Not every author can say the same, so maybe there is something important to learn in how Murakami’s books are marketed and distributed.
  • And second, quantitative book history methods could be used to track trends within Murakami’s entire collection. Although each book is a separate story, most, if not all, maintain common characters, places, and ideas. For example, a lot of the books have sheep in them–strange yes, but important to the stories. Trying to piece together these common threads is something I’m always looking to do while reading Murakami, but often it’s hard to decide which ones to look for/pay the most attention to. The books are complex, so you can’t really focus on all of them. I personally think it would be really interesting to track these reoccurring themes throughout all of Murakami’s books, and then use variations on mean, median, and mode to figure out which occur most often. It’s not exactly math per-say, but using these measures of frequency to monitor reoccurrences could help guide a new reader’s experience with Murakami’s complicated writing style.

I hope in giving examples like these that I would be able to persuade my internship scholar to use quantitative methods for lit. study. And even looking at our classes’ final presentations, I think that a number of the topics explored could also be looked at in Murakami’s works. Like fantasy and thrillers, each of Murakami’s books varies in page length. Some are shorter, while his most recent book 1Q84 is around 1,000 pages. As a case study, it could be interesting to look at his collection and see how page length has varied over time. Or like the texts of John Robert Seeley and Virginia Woolf, it could be fruitful to look at Murakami’s writing in terms of social and political spheres. Murakami’s books are often political/historical, and could interact with the phenomenology of reading in unique ways. And maybe it would be worth looking at word choices in Murakami’s writing. As translations, certain words may have been altered or kept in Japanese. Tracking the history of these specific words could be a cool tool in better understanding how translation has evolved throughout the history of books.

Maybe some of these projects would be a bit of stretch, but the more I’ve learned about quantitative book history, the more excited I am about its many outlets and possibilities. Books are massive, and it seems that the study of them is exponentially huge as well. Congrats on finishing up this semester everyone! It’s been a pleasure.

-Jeff

Response to Conference Presentations

Although all of the presentations this past week were awesome, I’ve chosen to dedicate my blog post to Abby’s power point. As we’ve discussed before (I think…?), Abby and I are both English and Linguistics double majors, so I found her topic particularly relevant to my personal interests. And as I think we’ve also talked about (again, I can’t exactly remember…), we’ve both taken Anne Curzan’s History of English course, which makes a study of dictionaries and language change that much cooler!

First, I really enjoyed the opening slide of your power point. I like how you’ve grounded your presentation in a quote, and I also really like the play on words you have between woman/man. It was a cool and unique way to preface the gendered nature of your research from the very beginning. From there, I think that you have done a particularly good job of presenting your research in an accessible, and visually interesting way. There is a nice variety of images, graphs and charts that gave your presentation a good pacing. It was also cool to be able to see images of the dictionaries that you were using for your study. I always forget just how much the dictionary has changed over time, and really how many versions of the dictionary that there are, so the images you provided gave a nice context/historical legacy to your own research. And for me particularly, as a linguist it was interesting to see the dictionaries themselves. The data in a dictionary is never something I have paid any sort of interest to, but in the future it is something I am going to be more aware of while looking things up.

In terms of your graphs, I thought it was a smart choice to lead with a contextualization of why and how dictionaries can reflect social trends. Here, you seem to key in on not only gender, but also social class, education and personal family structure. Using your dictionary entries, you are able to make a number of interesting conjectures. The one I liked best was the idea that most of the women in school were unmarried, and therefore could be using the dictionary as a way to further education in an otherwise male dominated world. That was a thought process I’d never seen employed through studying a dictionary, and I found it to be a very insightful one. And in terms of these conclusions, I appreciated that you presented the data in a number of ways (again, the variety of your entire presentation was great). Being able to see the facts about female readers both graphically and in a table made the information easier to comprehend, and more impactful. Well done!

Outside of the powerpoint, I thought that you did a good job of giving the presentation itself. Notably, I really appreciated that you didn’t just read off of the slides. If anything, your slides really didn’t have that much text at all, which to me was a good thing. You provided a lot of other information otherwise, which just speaks to how comfortable you are with the topic you presented on. Combined with the strengths of your slides, your personal presentation of the research was really strong. I hope that the rest of your paper goes well! I am interested to hear how you tie in all of these great image with the text itself.

In terms of everyone’s presentations though, it was cool to seem how much work and development has happened over the past couple of weeks. I remember sitting in class together, all struggling to write basic abstracts, and now we all have so much interesting research done. I had already read John and Brie’s, but to see their final trajectory was great. I also really liked Tim and Ira’s, especially how personal the research of both was. I was excited to see how different all of our presentations were, it makes the sphere of book history seem so much more accessible. Best of luck to everyone as we finish up our papers!

Responses to Conferences

I really enjoyed everyone’s presentations. I thought this was definitely a great way to show our classmates more definitively how we were getting on with our work in a way our papers couldn’t. Because the paper is aimed at combining quantitative data with analysis, I think a presentation is a great way to communicate research efforts and conclusions. 

Brie’s work translated very well into a presentation, and it was nice to see how she has already improved on her paper. It made a strong effort to introduce Woolf to the audience and then transition into her work on Three Guineas. We got to see her history and how her transformation into a feminist writer was somewhat unexpected. I also thought that it was interesting to see how her association with the suffragette movement was somewhat distant, as they were guilty of violence that conflicted with Woolf’s feminist views. 

I was also interested by Abby’s presentation. It really showed how incredible some databases are and what we can infer about society and the past because of them. I think it was a relevant topic with important findings. Equality in the workplace is something that is still being questioned today, as men make far more on average than women. It’s reassuring that we have made some big strides compared to our past. 

Ira’s was an interesting examination of the correlation between page length and popularity. I was actually surprised to learn that there was no correlation between the length and popularity, because I think people are very reluctant to pick up a large book because you have to commit so much to a book of that length. Books are so engaging and if you aren’t in love with what you are reading, it’s basically impossible to continue on with it. Looking at your data, I think it would be fair to assume that there is some optimal page length within 300-400 pages. This makes sense to me, I really think that a strong majority of books fall in that length.

I had already read Jeff’s paper but I think he has made some nice strides on his work. I like the decision to expand on expansion as a whole, rather than just focus on Seeley. It’s very difficult to find useful information on authors, even famous ones. I think that focusing on Seeley’s popularity and how it may or may not relate to the decline of the English empire would be an interesting direction.

Finally, Tim’s presentation was very unique. I was honestly blown away by how many books his sister has read, but to actually input them into a database and review them showed some pretty serious dedication. I think it had a strong conclusion to. Your sister definitely didn’t fall under the typical teen girl audience, but I think that regardless of her not liking the Twilights and Sisterhood books, she doesn’t fall under any typical readership with such a giant library. 

I really liked these presentations and hope that everyone’s papers turn out great.

Responses to Conferences (4/15 & 4/17)

This week of class, the conferences were extremely awesome, for lack of a better description. While it having been so early in the day, my energy levels may have perceived to have been low, I was very mentally engaged. I was very pleased and awe struck with everyone’s topic and as Abby mentioned earlier it was definitely a unique experience to see the development of the entire class’ research ideas and topics. And to expound from that it was specifically unique to have gone through the same thing personally and have a sense of understanding when it came to the actual presentation.

Personally, I felt that my presentation was drastically different than the rest of the class’, and I hope that my efforts didn’t come off as under prepared. I decided to present an oral report combined with a handout and a visual of my data after reading Tufte’s arguments about presentations. I felt that my data was pretty complicated to break down, so it would’ve benefited the audience to have a visual representation of my data rather than use slides that wouldn’t be nearly as effective. In this sense I feel that I effectively demonstrated Tufte’s views on presentation.

Looking at the rest of the presentations over the last two class meetings, I really enjoyed Jeff’s work. I felt that all of the hard-work and extra time he put in outside of the estimated work load of this project was extremely evident. I really enjoyed the presentation, structure and organization of his research. The way that everything linked together made his work seem seamless and I quickly lost track of time as he continued to explain his research on Seeley. The most interesting connection was the one that linked the mentality of expansion and Seeley’s The Expansion of England. Although the dates were inaccurate in the presentation, this did not hinder my interpretations of the data and topic.

Tim’s evaluation and research on his sister, Dominica, was also very unique and interesting to learn about. It was interesting to see all 800+ volumes presented graphically and visually. The discussion of the reviews and patterns of her as a reader really embraced the concepts of understanding things quantitatively through data, and also in actuality by interviewing Dominica and using her book reviews as data. One thing that I mentioned after his presentation was the inclusion of her background of being home schooled. I feel that home schooling is still prevalent as a practice in America, but majority of the audience might not have experiences with it. A effective analysis and description of the home schooling background will add a plethora of support to his research.

Brie’s research on Virginia Woolf and her connections to Women’s Suffrage really put Woolf into a whole new perspective for me. This semester I have read one of Woolf’s earlier texts To the Lighthouse, and at that point I was only aware of her personal problems, and depression, per a description from my professor. Brie was able to shine a new light on the activist role of Virginia Woolf and present her as a Women’s activist. I really liked the explanation that Brie gave about how one does not have to be physically there to be an activist but by writing the words down and distributing them to the masses, Woolf was doing something; an activist.

John’s work on Moby-Dick told me a lot about the author, Herman Melville. Melville had a much different life than I knew, and I was only aware that he, just as F. Scott Fitzgerald, died believing he was a failure. A literary joke. This is a phenomenon that I wanted to learn more about myself and having John present this was extremely interesting. Like what makes an unsuccessful book popular later on in the future. I feel that John effectively described this occurrence and his ngram on Melville really helped to convey this point. 

And last but not least Abby’s work Using the What Middletown Read Database to Explore Women’s Dictionary Reading, was really unique. I was interested in her topic because I had never heard anything like it before. It was interesting to see that the more women educated themselves the more single they made themselves. There was a direct correlation between women having spouses and level of education/occupation. This is not a new trend and I believe at that time men were threatened by an educated woman. It was also not the social norm and very radical for that time. I wonder if some of the same patterns are prevalent in this time period, and maybe not so much with school teaching (which is now dominated by women (I believe)) but maybe other occupations like a female CEO or some other high power positions.

There is so much more to say about all of the presentations, but  I just wanted to highlight the parts that really stuck with me after the two class meetings. I wish the best of luck to everyone as they complete their final drafts and hope that the papers are just as interesting and thought provoking as the presentations were. I can honestly say that I have never done anything like this before, and actually presenting my own ideas like this was way different than a science fair presentation. This actually made me feel legitimate and original. If I had the chance to do it again with another topic choice, I would do it all over!

Responses to the Conference Presentations

The conferences this week were certainly very interesting. On a personal level, having to condense my paper into a 20 minute presentation was rather difficult but a fruitful experience. It was definitely a learning experience to have to organize my thoughts and alter them in a way that would make the audience more interested and engaged with my topic, and hopefully I did so successfully.

Being a bit general, it was great to see how everyone’s topic developed from day one of our research until this point. It was great to be able to see that development over the weeks and the almost final products during the conferences. It was also interesting to see how much each person’s topic differed from one another. While there were the broad similarities, each one was distinct on multiple levels. It would be way to difficult to respond to just one presentation, so I’ll just respond to all of them!

John’s presentation was interesting to me because I don’t know too much about Moby-Dick. I never knew how unsuccessful the work and Melville were and how much events (like his death) and reviewers influenced the classification of the work as the “Great American Novel”. It’s strange how something can be classified as such even though it had very little success in the beginning. This presentation was really enlightening and makes me curious about the success of other books, and how many other books and authors experienced the same development as Moby Dick.

I enjoyed Brie’s presentation a lot because it really connected to my own topic. While overall there were different perspectives broadly speaking, we both were focused on the effects a group of books/author/book had on women and society overall. I liked how she was able to use the content of the Three Guineas letters as a way to gain a sense of who was reading and responding to the work, and conclude that this work was able to influence the individuals who read it.

I never really considered how an author’s success and book length related, and Ira’s presentation really helped me realize that there is indeed a relationship. It was interesting to see the development of the data from a very long list of bestsellers, to a more specific set of data that reveals how an author’s success and the length of a book are related. I’ll definitely be thinking about that the next time I pick up a book.

Jeff’s topic was something I know nothing about, or even heard of, but was interesting nonetheless. It was nice to see how he was able to make a connection between Seeley’s The Expansion of England and the mentality of expansion (and even a connection to our reading in the beginning of the semester, phenomenology). I never really realized how much of an influence something like this could have on the reading process and it was nice to be able to see a specific example of this in Jeff’s presentation.

It was really cool how Tim was able to analyze his sister’s data in order to gain a greater understanding of her reading processes and the influence she was able to make on other readers that may, like her, not be “normal”, or a “typical” teenage reader. I said this before during our workshop in class, but the data used in the presentation and paper are a really good depiction of her reading habits and an interesting way of giving us an idea of how she grew as a critic.

I feel like there is so much more I can say about each presentation since they were all so different and enlightening. It was great to be able to participate in a conference like this and be able to share my own work as well as learn more about the research and findings of my other classmates.