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Rare Book School’s “The Scientific Illustrated Book to the 1800”: Pedagogical Bloggings

July 25, 2013

Part 1

In juggling my two current part-time library jobs with non-stop writing and reading, I have a humongous amount of reading to get through prior to heading up to UVa, in Charlottesville later this month. Many of the materials I have to get through are highly technical, and often hard-going, and sometimes, I feel frustrated trying to visualize the stuff I am reading. Or, worse my attention wavers because the details just bogged me down. So, to help me keep track of what I am reading, I decided to blog about whatever thoughts that come about as a result of the readings while also providing a summary of the readings, more to myself if to no other. Over the week to come, I will also start updating with pictures and notes I will be taking over the course of the class. It has been nice to go back to writing about history of the book, since I have not been able to do so given that my dissertation project has no direct relation to it (long story).

Also, I wish I have been better at keeping up a proper site  (especially an online creative and intellectual portfolio) like my colleague, Whitney Anne Trettien, who has a whiki list of all book history related stuff. In 2010, we collaborated on, probably, the only intensive graduate level book history independent reading course that had ever taken place at Duke (but I might be wrong). As a final assignment, we did a detailed annotated bibliography of a selection of the readings for the course.

The first book I managed to get through halfway before it got recalled (am waiting for the interlibrary loan and I hope will get here by this Saturday if not before) is Sachiko Kusukawa’s Picturing the Book of Nature. Image, Text, and Argument in Sixteenth-Century Human Anatomy and Medical Botany. I read the first part that provides a general overview of the politics and technic of illustrations, particularly that involving anatomical figures and natural history. As I have read similar histories about the expense of producing illustrations and the politics involved with regard to pictorial copyright (thinking now of Adrian Johns’s The Nature of the Book and Piracy, the overview provided in the first part of the book provided just the additional technical knowledge I need to understand how and why it would cost so much so produce any specific form of print. One also learns the difference between the value of the engraver and the illustrator, and why copying off published manuscripts are so rampant! The details of the technique, and the pricing system at works, help one to understand how to tell the differences between editions of the same book, how certain illustration and binding practices are in placed in certain localities, and even how the material cultural development at any point in time would decide as to what method of engraving is the most economical. There are plenty of examples about the cost of the type and plates, and even of the paper of choice. The latter is particularly important since that would affect the quality of the image produced. Also, there is contention between the production of artistic visuals based on what one thought the object of nature should looked like versus what is the ‘authentic’ rendition. Even Leonardo Da Vinci got criticized for producing anatomical figures that did not live up to the standards of medical perception of his time. Once I receive a copy of the book, I will highlight, with concrete examples, as to what I meant.

I have been moving between Gaskell’s A New Introduction to Bibliography and Griffith’s Prints and PrintMaking. I actually got this book for that aforementioned book history course but never really got to to, partly because none of the faculty we worked with are particularly interested in such technical bibliographic details. Prior to beginning this book, I thought I would like to get through Fredson Bowers’s Principles of Bibliographical Description, which would go into more details of the how-to of dfescriptive bibliography with also some references to the printing process. However, practicaliy trumps idealism, since reading all these materials, however delightful, is impossible in the short time I have. Nevertheless, I would bring the book with me to thumb through while at Charlottesville.

In terms of the Gaskell book,  I have only managed to get as far as the chapter on cancellations, ploughing through chapters on the printing type, composition, paper, and imposition. Just trying to get my head around the different details of the handpress took up a lot of time, and until I finally get an actual demonstration, I don’t think, at this point, that I really comprehend the full mechanical details, though I could guess the workflow involved, which sounded complicated when explained in sentences but are actually processes completed under a minute. The most interesting and technical section of the book involve the descriptive analytics of paper, particularly the watermarks, chainlines, gatherings, and  folds. Moreover, it is in understanding all these marks on the paper that one is then able to understand why the printers chose to layout the printing form as they did, or how the process of printing involved appeared non-identical but are actually two sides of the same coin. The styles of folds varied over the centuries, and sometimes, even across different presses. It is in understanding the quoins and quires, and the cuts and impositions made, that one is able to understand the art of descriptive and analytic bibliography, as well as the provenance of the book (I suppose one would require even more detailed knowledge to understand if the production is a very good copy or forgery). There is also a number of pages dedicated to the printing type, of obvious importance since the issue of readability and aesthetics are involved, and the decision made on the type could be a costly affair. That also help us understand the genealogies of the font styles one has in word processing. Then, there is also the choice of ink, and the need to have ink of a specific grade, obviously influences the market for the production, and of course whether one would use rollers (from the 19th century onwards, or just balls).  If one has heard about galley proofs back in the day, then you would know that it started, possibly, from the early modern period onwards when a reader, usually the author but sometimes it could be one of the younger apprentices, would read aloud from the originals while the compositors correct the proofs. Should there be any mistakes, major or minor, either a cancellation (that comes in the form of an entire sheet of print being cancelled out) or a list of errata would be produced (depending on who makes the mistakes, a penalty might be exacted). The difference in the alignment and marks on the paper, everything else equal (same thickness, texture, and weight), would give away the fact that a page or more have been replaced. What I am writing here now is just some highlights, and in the coming week, I would enter into some greater details, with better understanding at that time.

Maybe sometime on Friday, I can get a little in about Griffiths, that I only got through a few pages of so far, but it highlights some of the same ideas about illustrative work and the printing of it the Kusuwaka discusses as well (in retrospect).

There is also an interesting blog on thinking about science from a visual standpoint that I can’t wait to check out more on, particularly since the art and science of diagramming is of great interest to myself. (See .http://picturingscience.wordpress.com)

Though I am blogging rather irregularly now on this topic, I hope to be able to do daily blogging a sa form of note-taking for myself from the coming Monday onwards. Moreover, we will be taking a field trip on Wed to Dibner in DC so it would be a really exciting event to blog about.

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