Fragments of History
Cut/Copy/Paste explores the relations between fragments, history, books, and media. It does so by scouting out fringe maker cultures of the seventeenth century, where archives were cut up, “hacked,” and reassembled into new media machines: the Concordance Room at Little Gidding in the 1630s and 1640s, where Mary Collett Ferrar and her family sliced apart printed Bibles and pasted the pieces back together into elaborate collages known as “Harmonies”; the domestic printing atelier of Edward Benlowes, a gentleman poet and Royalist who rode out the Civil Wars by assembling boutique books of poetry; and the nomadic collections of John Bagford, a shoemaker-turned-bookseller who foraged fragments of old manuscripts and title pages from used bookshops to assemble a material history of the book. Working across a century of upheaval, when England was reconsidering its religion and governance, each of these individuals saved the frail, fragile, frangible bits of the past and made from them new constellations of meaning. These fragmented assemblages resist familiar bibliographic and literary categories, slipping between the cracks of disciplines; later institutions like the British Library did not know how to collate or catalogue them, shuffling them between departments of print and manuscript. Yet, brought back together in this hybrid history, their scattered remains witness an emergent early modern poetics of care and curation, grounded in communities of practice. Stitching together new work in book history and media archaeology via digital methods and feminist historiography, Cut/Copy/Paste traces the lives and afterlives of these communities, from their origins in early modern print cultures to the circulation of their work as digital fragments today. In doing so, this project rediscovers the odd book histories of the seventeenth century as a media history with an ethics of material making—one that has much to teach us today, in our own fractured media ecology.