Saturday, February 9, 2008


My history of the book class is off to a wonderful start and in recent weeks we've been looking at the practice of extra-illustration, or putting images in the margins of or in between sheets of existing books. We read essays about James Granger's A Biographical History of England, published in 1769, the first text to which extra-illustrated portraits were added. This practice came to be known as grangerizing a text, and last week we actually got to view a grangerized version of the Biographical History, among others. Alan Jutzi, the Chief Curator of Rare Books at the Huntington Library, visited our seminar and brought with him several of Richard Bull's meticulously grangerized books. For each paragraph or two excised from the original text, Bull added rare engravings and mezzotints, handwritten notes, and other fascinating ephemera and portrait into what could be considered an early form of scrapbooking.

Bull's handiwork, and that of his family --he was clearly aided by many of the women in the household--is extraordinary. For one text, he cut out a window on each page so that when the sheet from the original text was inserted, you could see both front and back of the double-sided sheet. Portraits and other clippings were added in and around those elements. Because books were not sold as bound objects until well into the 19th century, people like Bull could take a text like Granger's Biographical History or the bible and insert many sheets, embellishing the text, extending its meaning, and show off one's personal collection of prints or curatorial perspective.

Last week our class was visited by two scholars: William Sherman from York University presented "Toward a Pre-History of Collage" and Matthew Eddy of Durham University explained the early 19th century notetaking practices of Dugald Stewart in "Words in the Mind and on The Page: Dugald Stward, Memory and Taking Notes." Though both were excellent, Bill Sherman's presentation was particularly intriguing for the way that it traced a long-standing practice of cut-and-paste well before the modern conception of collage as practiced by Picasso and Braque. He demonstrated that as far back as the Renaissance, people were cutting out ornaments, borders, illuminated letters, and other scraps of text and placing them into other books, a practice that was as creative as it was destructive, and one which calls into 
the question the very way that we look at books. Far from being pristine, inviolable objects, as we might understand them today, books in an earlier period were sites of change. You can almost see the process of thought taking place on the page, and it's a fascinating area of study to try to understand how and why such books were made and how they were used, whether
 for pleasure, boredom, or erudition. Sherman, who works in marginalia, will be publishing this work as a book soon and I'll post a link once it's up. 

In the meantime, here's a link to his most current text, Used Books: Making Readers in Renaissance England, published by the University of Pennsylvania Press.

And here's more from the Huntington about extra-illustrated texts.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You made some good points there. I did a search on the topic and hardly found any specific details on other sites, but then great to be here, seriously, thanks...

- John