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Experimental Descriptive Bibliography

5 min read

Novel: The Wedding Ring, or, History of Miss Sidney. In a series of letters. In three volumes. By Anynymous.

Context: In the preface, the author refers to an obsession with knowing the identity of the author in order to place the story of the novel into context. The author says that readers want to know whether the author “be of dark or fair complexion, mild or choleric disposition” or “married or single.” Readers also want to know the motives of the author and reasons for writing—whether the novel was "written by the importunity of a friend, or whether the author’s natural temper and inclination directed the choice of the subject.” This obsession with authorship to me seems contradictory to the traditional way of thinking about literature—shouldn’t we value the text based on the quality of the writing and the story?

But the author is hinting on something that was and remains to be true about literature–text is often inextricable from context. It is not just petty curiosity that drives past and present readers’ obsession with authorship. The identity of the author gives readers clues into how to read the text. In most literature classes, reading a new book often begins with a lecture or on the background information of the time, and a biography of the author.

Thinking about the relationship between text and author is even more interesting when one considers that past and present-day readers will have different reasons for wanting to know the identity. At the time of its publication, concerns over the author were probably related to credibility—was the author really a woman, what class was she, and had she written anything noteworthy before? Today, the identity of this eighteenth-century author would help us place this novel into historical context in order to analyze data and form a thesis about gender and authorship.

The traditional bibliography leaves out the complicated relationship between the author and the text that I have described above. This relationship is addressed directly in the preface, and it extends throughout the reading of the book, because as I mentioned above, the identity of the author often gives us a lens through which we read the novel.

This project is also motivated by my own musings and confusion over the obsession with gender in literature and in life. Professor Buurma mentioned in class that data analysts who are not necessarily lit scholars often use gender as an example of theses we can make about metadata. But this example is often simplistic and also—who cares??? Can’t we look at other things with all this data? Finally, the obsession with author identity/gender past and present makes me wonder— is it necessary to treat gender in such strict binary terms when analyzing literature? What do we lose and what do we gain if we move beyond that binary?

Project Plan: I plan to explore what the bibliography leaves out by exploring possible identities of the author and what we imagine the identity might tell us about the text. I like the idea of exploring these questions in a modern context. I plan to photograph students (maybe specifically student writers?) who identify as female. I want to ask them to dress as if they were trying to disguise themselves, as if they were going out in public and didn’t want to be recognized, celebrity hiding from paparazzi-style. I will ask them to write a letter, because The Wedding Ring is written in epistolary style. I imagine there will be a variety of methods of writing letters—whether it is an email, a letter on paper, a quick post-it note to a friend. I will also ask them to write the letter in a space they feel is most appropriate/natural for them to write this letter.

The collection of photographs will serve as possibilities for the author of “The Wedding Ring.” What can we discern about the possible authors even though they are wearing disguises? What do their clothes and their location for writing say about their identity? Why are they writing on a laptop as opposed to paper? What do we think they are writing?? Can we tell what they’re writing just by this appearance? I think more questions and different ways of interpreting the photos will arise once I have taken the photos.

I like leaving aspects of this project to the discretion of the students (how to dress, how they want to write the letter, where to write the letter, with whom they will write, etc.), because to me this seems more experimental, which is fun, and it represents the lack of control from both the author and the readers in the writing and reading of a novel.

I’m not sure in what format yet would be most appropriate for displaying these photos. I could make a collage, where the photos can be viewed close together, or a photo essay, which is more conducive for close scrutiny of each individual photo as well as comparison. I also need to think about whether these photos should be displayed online or if I should print them—what is at stake with materiality, especially when considering bibliography, which strives to convey the materiality/physicality of a book through formatted description?


Tiny crafts + GIFs + soundtrack for "Pupil of Pleasure"

4 min read

In my experimental bibliography, I hope to materialize and thematize some of the concerns I have had throughout the semester about the seemingly intractable conceptual problems of creating digital facsimiles and representations of books. I want my project to create an affective reaction in the viewer or user of the project, who will feel the same intense desire I feel to touch the physical books bibliographic data and digital facsimiles attempt to capture; I want to touch on the inaccessibility to the uninitiated of bibliographic data; and I want my work to function in the space created by bibliographic data which is both deeply machine-oriented and deeply humanistic.

I asked Nora Battelle, who worked on the END this summer, about her experience with the bibliographic data she collected, since I felt my project was missing something. She explained to me that all of the data is extremely personalized and that everyone’s cataloguing records look different, as our traditional descriptive bibliographies in this class vary in style. Though the records were all the same in terms of all being machine-readable and all going to serve the same purpose, Battelle explained, each cataloguer has their own style and the types of things each cataloguer chose to notate were different. Though the aim of collecting the data is to capture all of the information about the book, that is simply not possible and cataloguers will all record very different things. Battelle also mentioned that each cataloguer is so distinctive that database users can tell that certain entries were written by the same person. Though it is a database, a collection of digital information that can be read by a computer, it is also discursive and personal and irrepressibly human. That is incredibly exciting to me and something I hope my project will reflect.

My ideal and first-draft conception of the project, then, is as follows: I will create a small (fits in one hand) representation of each category of bibliographic data the traditional descriptive bibliography collects — format, title page, notes, etc. (I imagine these like little sculptures, with, for instance, the format representation a sculpture of a sheet of paper folded a certain number of times). I will then film someone’s hand playing with each small sculpture. I imagine that watching these short videos (hopefully GIFs?), the viewer will want to touch the objects, much as I strongly desire to hold, gaze upon, and flip through the real physical objects represented by digital facsimiles in the ECCO. I also hope that presenting these small sculptures of each category without any context will make the viewer feel slightly alienated or without an understanding of the categories, in order to recreate the feeling of inaccessibility I get when looking at traditional descriptive bibliographic data. A separate set of audio files, which ideally would be only playable once the viewer has watched the GIFs, or which would run out of order and at random throughout the viewer’s watching of the GIFs, would have people describing — first using the traditional bibliographic descriptive language and then speaking in personal and discursive ways — the book. This will capture the essential humanity and personalization of bibliographic description.

I am very unsure of my ability to technically make all of these things happen, since I am very bad at crafting, especially on a very small scale and I have zero knowledge of filmmaking or editing. But, if i figured out a way to make all of these things happen, it could be extremely cool. My final project might not end up materializing all of this, but I will definitely try and make use of my friends with artistic and digital skills, if that’s allowed.


Descriptive Bibliography

2 min read

Devonshire, Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of. The Sylph; a novel. In two volumes. London: printed for T. Lowndes, No. 77, Fleet-Street, MDCCLXXIX., 1779.

| THE | SYLPH; | A | NOVEL. | IN TWO VOLUMES. | "Ye Sylphs and Sylphids, to your chief give ear, | "Faes, Fairies, Genii, Elves, and Demons, hear! | "Ye know the spheres, and various talks assign'd | "By laws eternal to th' aerial kind: | "Some in the fields of purest water play, | "And bask, and whiten, in the blaze of day; | "Some guide the course of wand'ring orbs on high, | "Or roll the planets thro' the boundless sky: | "Our humbler province is to tend the Fair, | "Not a less pleasing, nor less glorious care." | POPE'S Rape of the Lock. | VOL. I. | [Ornament, size unknown (as a digital facsimile was consulted), looks like a Celtic knot] | LONDON: PRINTED FOR T. LOWNDES, NO. 77, FLEET-STREET. | MDCCLXXIX.


Vol. I, 264 p., Vol. II, 215 p., 12mo; Vol. I, A1, B1-B12, C1-C12, D1-D12, E1-E12, F1-F12, G1-G12, H1-H12, I1-I12, K1-K12, L1-L12, M1-M11; Vol. II, A1, B1-B12, C1-C12, D1-D12, E1-E12, F1-F12, G1-G12, H1-H12, I1-I12, K1-K12


Vol. I: A1r title, A1v blank, B1r-M9v text, M10-M11 advertisements; Vol. II: A1r title, B1-K4v text, K5-K12 advertisements


Epistolary. Source location is Harvard University Houghton Library. Retrieved from Eighteenth Century Collections Online. In both volumes, there appears to be no J gathering. A1v of Vol. I has a stamp and writing on it. The stamp reads | HARVARD COLLEGE LIBRARY | THE GIFT OF | FRIENDS OF THE LIBRARY . The writing reads | By Georgiana, duchess of | Devonshire . There are also some numbers written in the bottom right corner; they read | 7415 | 41-141 | 242 . Other writing on the page is illegible. In Vol. II, A1v is not shown in the digital facsimile. M12 of Vol. 1 is either not present or not shown.


Descriptive Bibliography

1 min read

Lady. The unfortunate union: or, the test of virtue. A story founded on facts, and calculated to promote the cause of virtue in younger minds. Written by a lady. London: printed for Richardson and Urquhart, 1778.

Lady. THE | UNFORTUNATE UNION: | OR, THE | TEST OF VIRTUE. | A | STORY founded on FACTS, | AND | Calculated to promote the Cause of VIRTUE | in Younger Minds. | Written by a LADY. | VOL. 1 | London, | Printed for RICHARDSON and URQUHART, | under the Royal Exchange, and at | No. 46, Pater-noster-Row | MDCCLXXVIII.

  • I 197p; II 226p. 12 mo.


    Vol 1. A1r title, B1r-K3v text. Vol 2. A1r title, B1r-L5v text.


    Source: Harvard University Houghton Library. Digital facsimile obtained from ECCO. Epistolary form. No half title, no advertisements, no dedication, no preface, no index. In Volume 1, pages 132 and 133 are cut off halfway and then are repeated as full pages after. Same for pages 152 and 153 for volume 2. There are illegible handwritten scribbles on the title page next to the title.


Descriptive Bibliography

1 min read

Craven, Elizabeth, Baroness. Modern anecdote of the ancient family of the Kinkvervankotsdarsprakengotchderns: a tale for Christmas 1779. Dedicated to the Honorable Horace Walpole, Esq;. 1st ed. London: 1779.

MODERN ANECDOTE | OF THE | ANCIENT FAMILY | OF THE | Kinkvervankotsdarsprakengotchderns: | A TALE | FOR | CHRISTMAS 1779. | Dedicated to the Honorable | HORACE WALPOLE, Esq; | [double rule] | LONDON: | Printed for the AUTHOR; | And Sold by M. DAVENHILL, No. 13, Cornhill; | J. BEW, Pater-Noster-Row; and the Booksellers in | Town and Country.

Collation 4mo. Vol 1. A6 , B-I4 , K-L4 , M2 , 95 leaves, pp. i [ii-vi] 12-84


  • A1 title

  • A2r-A6v dedication

  • B1r-M2v text

  • M2v half end page


  • London : printed for the author; and sold by M. Davenhill, No 13, Cornhill ; J. Bew, Pater-Noster-Row; and the Booksellers in Town and Country

  • Microfilm Reel#: Eighteenth Century Collections Online: Range 1877

  • Physical Description: [12]. 84p: 8°

  • ESTC Number: T068887

  • Source Library: British Library

  • Lines and images found were not given dimensions as only a digital copy was available.

  • The dedication pages were not numbered and the text pages where paginated with brackets.

  • Half end page: contains the words “FINIS.” and a library stamp of an oblong octagonal frame with the words “MVSEVM BRITANICVM” inside.