Fragments of History

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Whitney Trettien

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.

Background engraving after Jan van der Straet, “Sculptura in Aes,” Nova Reperta (New Inventions) (Antwerp: Philips Galle, c. 1580-1605). British Museum Collection Database, Ii,5.174.

How to Read

Below is a draft chapter from my in-progress monograph, Cut/Copy/Paste. An overarching goal of this project—limned in greater detail in the abstract above—is to demonstrate how using digital technologies as bibliographic research tools challenges and changes the kinds of stories we might tell about early modern readers, writers, books, and their publishers. Toward that end, I am staging this draft digitally, so that you might explore some of the images, datasets, maps, graphs, and social networks that undergird my claims about Edward Benlowes as a publisher of boutique printed books. Other chapters on Little Gidding and John Bagford will be made available in this space, too, as this project progresses.

Because this is still a draft chapter, some of its resources and features are more gestural than fully formed at this point. Much of the photography comes from my own research notes; in many cases, you will see hands, call slips, and poor lighting in place of professionally-imaged pages floating against a black background. There are also moments where I wish to incorporate additional resources but am still in the process of obtaining permissions. Even so, it is my hope that the 123 total resources included here offer more than a glimpse of possible future directions for not just this monograph as it progresses but digital book history as an emerging field.

While this chapter has been written linearly, it is lengthy, and certain readers may wish only to engage individual sections. The history of libraries and collecting at the end of the sixteenth and into the seventeenth centuries is addressed in “Mapping Early Modern Libraries.” Sammelbands, miscelleneity, and Phineas Fletcher’s The Purple Island are discussed in “Collaboration and the Cambridge Press.” Benlowes’ major publishing project is introduced in the short section “Toward a Poetics of the Codex” and fully examined in “Assembling Theophila.” The last section, “Humphrey Moseley’s Social Network,” compares Theophila to the Royalist publisher Moseley’s output using a dataset that maps the degree of a book’s collaboration. Other readers may wish simply to explore the chapter’s digital resources by jumping directly to the collections below or using the faceted browser here.

Readers are invited to annotate, highlight, and comment upon any portion of this draft chapter or its resources. I especially welcome comments on the inclusion (or exclusion) of certain digital assets that may assist my argument. Thank you.

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  • isbn
  • publisher
    University of Minnesota Press
  • publisher place
    Minneapolis, Minn.