While it is common to find the traces of readership in the margins and end-pages of books and manuscripts, often those traces do little to illuminate the thoughts and subsequent works of that particular reader. The form that these traces take can be as complex as actual sentences with textual notes that curl and loop around the margins of the printed lines, or as brief as a check drawn to highlight a particular passage. Known as marginalia, these tracings to the expert eye provide clues that elucidate a writer’s inner thoughts while reading a particular passage and often shed light on later works.
The Melville Marginalia Online project represents the efforts of one group of experts to find, annotate, and then make available to the educated public the marginalia written in texts by the great American novelist and poet Herman Melville. The Digital Library has been working with the scholars at the Melville Marginalia Online to digitize the same editions owned by Melville; these editions can then be accessed in the Melville Marginalia Collection, and are used by the scholars who add in the marginal notes of Melville and scholarly commentary on those notes to create a truly scholarly version of the text.
In early June the Melville Marginalia Online scholars were able to go one step further and secured access rights to digitize an actual physical volume owned and annotated by Melville. This volume, the Complete Poetical Works of William Wordsworth, is richly annotated by Melville and important to scholars of Melville’s life and thought; indeed an article has been written about this specific volume by Thomas Heffernan. And this book has really traveled: Melville took this volume with him on an ocean voyage to the Pacific in 1860, with his brother Thomas as captain. Now owned by the Woodstock Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C., the work was transported to Villanova for digitization. As time was limited to keep the book in-house, members of the Digital Library Team worked quickly to complete all of the scans and to check the quality of all of the images before the book was back on the road again, this time going south. Some books seem to live lives filled with constant streams of movement, fated to pass between owners, or in this case, to travel the world!
Here is a link to the digitized work.
Scott Grapin (left), and Teri Ann Pirone and Johanna Hibbs (right) scanning the Wordsworth volume.
Michael Foight scanning (left), and a sample of Melville’s Wordsworth marginalia (right).
For more information about this volume and Melville’s Wordsworth marginalia, see:
Melville and Wordsworth / Thomas F. Heffernan. American Literature, Vol. 49, No. 3 (Nov., 1977), pp. 338-351. [JSTOR link]
For more on literary marginalia, see:
Marginalia: Readers Writing In Books / H. J. Jackson. Yale University Press, 2001.
Romantic Readers: The Evidence of Marginalia / H. J. Jackson. Yale University Press, 2005.
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