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Announcement: History of Reading Working Group » Objects for Study

Interesting historical objects that bear on the current exploration of online reading practices, where “objects” refers to the equivalents of hardware, software, protocol, media, design, and usage conventions of the past—with their attendant psychological, social, and cultural implications.

The “history of the book,” “history of print culture,” and history of “oral culture” fields have witnessed vigorous growth in recent years as a historical extension of the contemporary focus on media and technology.


Surname is a literary style that describes the celebrations in wedding, birth and circumcision ceremonies in Ottoman Palace. This book is a miniature manuscript based on one of these surnames. In the Surname (1582-1583) of Murat III, Nakkas (the painter) Osman built a documentary of the 55-day long festival organized for the honor of the Shehzadehs (Sultan’s sons.) Although the scene of the festival was represented in a fixed background, the parts of the “décor” were enriched by surprising variations with no particular aim to depict a real space. Therefore, the structural aspects of this manuscript reflect the characteristics of a subjective narration as opposed to a documentary that is claiming to be objective. However this is still not an individual subjectivity but a collective subjectivity that represents the visual attitude formed by the visual culture of the era.

In this project, cinematography was used as a tool of navigation within the miniature environment. The whole scene was divided into layers considering the iconographic narration of the miniatures. A virtual camera travels within the 3D layered space, occasionally focusing on the sub narratives of the celebration. In these sub narratives, a user/viewer can examine the points of view of figures through cinematic visual grammar.

Surname movie (20MB-~ 5-15mins download time)

The Book of Ingenious Mechanical Devices

“Kitab-al Hiyal (The Book of Ingenious Mechanical Devices) documents the mechanical description of various hydraulic machines, written in 1206 by Al Jazari, an irrigation engineer who was employed in the palace of the Artuklu Sultanate in today’s south-eastern Turkey. The book contains approximately 300 automated devices including their construction and usage information — all illustrated with technical drawings in the style of miniature painting.
One of the most important aspects of this book is its visualization techniques such as showing the important parts of mechanisms separately in a bigger scale, constructing mechanisms step-by-step from parts to whole, and cross sectioning for depicting inner layers. Another characteristic of this manuscript as an interface archetype is the attention given not only to the explained mechanisms with their functional structure but also to the outer layer that creates and enhances the illusion of artificial life. The fairytale figures on the outermost layers of the mechanisms further serves the purpose of entertaining the guests of Artuklu Palace.”

Starter Links: Water Pouring Automaton | Elephant Clock


Web site devoted to various contemporary writing and alphabetic systems.

This site contains details of most alphabets and other writing systems currently in use, as well as quite a few ancient and invented ones. It also includes information about some of the languages written with those writing systems, and multilingual texts.” (From the web site.)

Starter Links: Omniglot | A review of Omniglot

Les Tres Riches Heures du Duc du BerryTransliteracies Research Report

Ornate book of hours from the 14th century.

Les Tres Riches Heures du Duc du Berry (“The Very Rich Hours of the Duke of Berryâ€?) is one of the most sumptuous and costly books of hours. The calendars in Les Tres Riches Heures were painted by Paul, Hermann and Jean Limoges, three brothers from Flanders. Later additions were carried out by the late 14th- century artist Jean Colombe. The original manuscript is at the Condé Museum in Chantilly, France. (From Donna Beth Ellard’s research report.)

Starter Links: Resources for Further Study:
http://humanities.uchicago.edu/images/heures/heures.html | http://members.tripod.com/~gunhouse/hourstxt/hrstoc.htm | http://sunsite.lib.berkeley.edu/Scriptorium/index.html | Les Tres Riches Heures du duc de Berry, CD, Réunion des musées nationaux, 2004

Transliteracies Research ReportTransliteracies Research Report By Donna Beth Ellard


“A design cut in relief on a block of wood, for printing from; a print or impression obtained from this; a wood-engraving.â€? (from the OED. n.)

Starter Links: [under construction]


“1. a. Antiq. An instrument made of metal, bone, etc., having one end sharp-pointed for incising letters on a wax tablet, and the other flat and broad for smoothing the tablet and erasing what is written. 1. Also applied to similar instruments in later use.â€? (From the OED.n.1,a)

Starter Links: [under construction]


“A writing-room; spec. the room in a religious house set apart for the copying of manuscripts.” (from the OED.n.)

Starter Links: [under construction]


“A writer; one whose business is writing. In various specific or limited applications; 3. Used as the official designation of various public functionaries performing secretarial duties. 4. a. One who writes at another’s dictation; an amanuensis. Obs. 5. A copyist, transcriber of manuscripts; now esp. the writer of a particular MS. copy of a classical or mediæval work.â€? (From the OED.n1.1, 3-5)

Starter Links: [under construction]


Tool used to remove ink from a manuscript.

Starter Links: [under construction]

Ruthwell Cross

7-8th century stone cross in Ruthwell, just south of Dumfries, Scotland. Latin and Runic inscriptions as well as pictorial images on each face of the cross.

Starter Links: [under construction]


“I. 1. The Book of Psalms, as one of the books of the Old Testament b. A translation or particular version (prose or metrical) of the Book of Psalms c. A copy of, or a volume containing, the Psalms, esp. as arranged for liturgical or devotional use.â€? (From the OED.n.II.1, b-c)

Starter Links: [under construction]


“1. a. A piece of animal skin, esp. from a sheep or goat, dressed and prepared as a surface for writing; a scroll or roll of this material; a manuscript or document written on this.â€? (From the OED.n.I,1)

Starter Links: [under construction]


“1. Paper, parchment, or other writing material designed to be reusable after any writing on it has been erased. b. In extended use: a thing likened to such a writing surface, esp. in having been reused or altered while still retaining traces of its earlier form; a multi-layered record.â€? (From the OED.n.A,1-2)

Starter Links: [under construction]


“1.The book containing the service of the Mass for the whole year; a mass-book. 2. A Roman Catholic book of devotions, esp. when illuminated; an illuminated book of hours, etc.â€? (From the OED.n1.I,1-2)

Starter Links: [under construction]


“6. Illuminated matter or work; a picture in an illuminated manuscript, an illumination. In early use also: the action or process of rubricating letters or of illuminating a manuscript.â€? (From the OED.n.6)

Starter Links: [under construction]


A book printed using moveable type prior to the year 1501 AD.

Starter Links: [under construction]


“6. a. The embellishment or decoration of a letter or writing with bright or luminous colours, the use of gold and silver, the addition of elaborate tracery or miniature illustrations, etc.: see ILLUMINATE v. 8. b. with pl. The designs, miniatures, and the like, employed in such decoration.â€? (From the OED.n.6,a-b)

Starter Links: [under construction]


“A word inserted between the lines or in the margin as an explanatory equivalent of a foreign or otherwise difficult word in the text; hence applied to a simliar explanatory rendering of a word given in a glossary or dictionary. Also, in a wider sense, a comment, explanation, interpretation. Often used in a sinister sense: A sophistical or disingenuous interpretation. b. A collection of such explanations, a glossary; also, an interlinear translation of, or series of verbal explanations upon, a continuous text. 2. A poetical composition in which a stanza of some well-known poem is treated as a text for amplification, each of the successive stanzas of the ‘gloss’ being made to end with one of the lines or couplets of the text.â€? (From OED.n.1-2)

Starter Links: [under construction]


A manuscript from which another is copied.

Starter Links: [under construction]


“A leaf of paper (in OE. called bóc, BOOK); a legal document or ‘deed’ written (usually) upon a single sheet of paper, parchment, or other material, by which grants, cessions, contracts, and other transactions are confirmed and ratified.â€? (From the OED.n1)

Starter Links: [under construction]


“3. A sheet of paper printed on one side only, forming one large page.â€? (From the OED.n.)

Starter Links:[under construction]

Book of Hours

An illuminated manuscript used primarily from the 13th through 16th centuries; a personal prayer book for the laity to abide by the Christian church’s daily protocol of devotional prayer.

Starter Links:[under construction]


“A book containing a set or collection of antiphons.â€? (From the OED.n.)

Starter Links: [under construction]

Medieval Writing WebsiteTransliteracies Research Report

Online tool that provides its users with a broad overview of types, styles, and information on the culture of medieval writing from 400-1500 A.D.

“Medieval Writing” showcases images from many types of documents including manuscripts, legal, administrative and papal documents; the website provides an in-depth analysis of each type of document and its uses during the medieval period. Secondly, “Medieval Writing” offers paleography lessons so its users can become proficient in the various book hands and document hands used from the 6th to the 16th Centuries. (From Alison Walker’s research report.)

Starter Links: Medieval Writing Website

Transliteracies Research ReportTransliteracies Research Report By Alison Walker

Electronic Beowulf ProjectTransliteracies Research Report

Searchable multimedia version of Beowulf.

”’The Electronic Beowulf Project’ is an image-based CD-ROM edition of Beowulf, the great Old English poem, which survives in only one manuscript: British Library Cotton Vitellius A. xv. The CD is a full-color digital facsimile of Beowulf, its associated texts, and glossaries. Future editions will include illuminations from contemporary manuscripts and external links to medieval and Anglo-Saxon resource sites.” (From Donna Beth Ellard’s Research Report.)

Starter Links: The Electronic Beowulf Project

Transliteracies Research ReportTransliteracies Research Report By Donna Beth Ellard

The Exeter AnthologyTransliteracies Research Report

Searchable, digital facsimile of the Exeter Book.

“Digital images of the Exeter Book were produced in 1996, and from these images, a “virtual manuscript” has been produced. “The Exeter Anthology of Old English Poetry” is edited and compiled by Bernard J. Muir and Nick Kennedy. This program is a CD set that is scheduled for production in March 2006. The CD will contain interactive facsimiles, a page viewer, codicological report, historical and cultural materials, and audio readings of the poems. (From Donna Beth Ellard’s Research Report.)

Starter Links: EVellum’s description of the project

Transliteracies Research ReportTransliteracies Research Report By Donna Beth Ellard

Marey’s Graphic MethodTransliteracies Research Report

Considers the implications of Marey’s graphic method as a part of the greater discourse of signification and writing systems.

“The discourse of graph may be considered to be a micro-discourse, a series of signifying practices that loosely–perhaps even unconsciously–organizes meaning not from the standpoint of a unifying discourse such as science or theology that organizes knowledge from the outside in but rather signifies a particular episteme from the inside out. The word and suffix graph appears in the names of many new technologies in the middle and late nineteenth century: photography, cinematography, cardiography, phonautograph, graphophone, heliography, telegraphy, ideograph, phonograph, seismograph, myography, etc. ...Marey’s graphic method modernized the study of physiology by helping to displace quasi-mystical theories of vitalism with a positivistic understanding of the human body. As writing, the indexical traces produced by means of the graphic method evidence a radical cultural transformation of the status of writing from transcendent signifying practice to the machinic writing of life based not upon a higher power but rather the movements of the body as machine. The graphic method takes part in a larger cultural and epistemic project of the scientific secularization of writing and inscription.” (From James J. Hodge’s Research Report.)

Starter Links and References:
Marta Braun’s. Picturing Time: The Work of Etienne-Jules Marey (1830-1904) (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992) | François Dagognet’s Etienne-Jules Marey: A Passion for the Trace (1987), trans. Robert Galeta with Jeanine Herman (New York: Zone Books, 1992).

Transliteracies Research ReportTransliteracies Research Report By James J. Hodge

Medley PrintsTransliteracies Research Report

Mixed-media objects, similar to a contemporary collage, that enjoyed an indeterminate period of popularity in the visual culture of eighteenth century England.

“One of the intriguing aspects of medley prints is that so little information survives about them and correspondingly little contemporary scholarship has been published about them. An exception is Mark Hallett’s “The Medley Print in Early Eighteenth-Century London.” Although there is little scholarship on medley prints, there are a number of surviving examples.” (From Gerald Egan’s Research Report.)

Starter Links and References:
Mark Hallett’s article, “The Medley Print in Early Eighteenth-Century London,” in Art History

Transliteracies Research ReportTransliteracies Research Report By Gerald Egan

Mechanics’ InstituteTransliteracies Research Report

History and Description of the Mechanics’ Institute

“The Mechanics’ Institute sprang up in 19th century England for the ostensible purpose of imparting upon the working class mechanic knowledge of the sciences, literature, and arts. In actuality, a myriad of purposes shrouded the creation of these institutes, which were ultimately appropriated by the middle class when it became apparent that the working class was not as receptive as had been anticipated. Some scholars conjecture that they were really formed as a means of control and indoctrination of the working class, allowing only as little real knowledge as needed for them to improve as workers, but little else. As the middle class began to move in, the working class retreated to the Institute’s libraries and reading rooms, where they were free to discuss topics that interested them.”

Starter Links or References: “Funding communal culture: opportunism and standardisation of funding for mechanics’ institutes in colonial Victoria,” Donald Barker’s article in The Australian Library Journal | “Culture and Wealth Creation: Mechanics’ Institutes and the Emergence of Political Economy in Early Nineteenth-Century Britain,â€? Ann Firth’s article in the History of Intellectual Culture

Transliteracies Research ReportTransliteracies Research Report By David Roh


15th-18th century chidren’s primers made of paper, a transparent sheet of animal horn, and a wood base.

“It may not look like one, but a hornbook is really a book. Paper was pretty expensive once and hornbooks were made so children could learn to read without using a lot of paper. A hornbook was usually a small, wooden paddle with just one sheet of paper glued to it. But because that paper was so expensive, parents and teachers wanted to protect it. So they covered the paper with a very thin piece of cow’s horn. The piece of cow’s horn was so thin, you could see right through it. That’s why these odd books were called ‘hornbooks.’” (From Blackwell’s History of Education Web Site.)

Starter Links: Blackwell’s About the Hornbook | Definition of the Hornbook on Bartleby.com

The Codex Transliteracies Research Report

Invention and adoption of the codex book:

The codex form of book — a “sheaf of bound pagesâ€? — became prevalent in Europe over the previously popular format of the scroll sometime around the fifth century A.D. In its inception and subsequent technical improvements, the codex revolutionized modern thought to include, among other things, a new understanding of individual and informative portability — through space, likewise through time. Increased efforts at portability of the codex not only directly added to the spread of literacy to different economic classes, but also contributed to changes in the format of writing towards the use of academic research and towards general “user-friendliness.â€? Notably, such technical developments mirror, or at least relate to recent concerns and trends in personal computing, including but not limited to the size and appearance of computer hardware, the layout and graphic design of web pages, and interface design of computer software.

Starter Links or References: Carter, John. ABC for Book Collectors. Revised by Nicholas Barker. 7th ed. Delaware: Oak Knoll Press, 1995 | Chappell, Warren. A Short History of the Printed Word. Edited by Robert Bringhurst. Vancouver: Hartley & Marks Publishers, Inc., 1999.

Transliteracies Research ReportTransliteracies Research Report By Robin Chin

Bob Brown, Readies machineTransliteracies Research Report

Avant-garde project described and planned in the early 1930s to create a reading machine that would use cinematic technology to make words move across a reading surface.

Note: The article describing the “Readies” was published in transition (1930) and in the stand-alone publication The Readies (Bad Ems: Roving Eye Press, 1930). It also inspired a collection of short works created for the machine, Readies for Bob Brown’s Machine (1931), which included poems by Gertrude Stein, William Carlos Williams, and Filippo Marinetti.

“The written word hasn’t kept up with the age. The movies have outmanoeuvered it. We have the talkies, but as yet no Readies. I’m for new methods of reading and writing and I believe the up-to-date reader deserves an eye-ful when he buys something to read. I think the optical end of the written word has been hidden over a bushel too long. I’m out for a bloody revolution of the word” (1). (from Bob Brown’s The Readies (Bad Ems: Roving Eye Press, 1930, UCLA Special Collections.)

“Writing must become more optical, more eye-teasing, more eye-tasty, to give the word its due and tune-in on the age. Books are antiquated word containers…. modern word=conveyors are needed now, reading will have to be done by machine; microscopic type on a moveable tape running beneath a slot equipped with a magnifying glass and brought up to life size before the reader’s birdlike eye, saving white space, making words more moving, out=distancing the flatulent winded ones and bringing the moment brightly to us” (13). (from Bob Brown’s The Readies (Bad Ems: Roving Eye Press, 1930, UCLA Special Collections.)

Starter Links or References: The Readies (Bad Ems: Roving Eye Press, 1930) | Readies for Bob Brown’s Machine (1931)

Transliteracies Research ReportTransliteracies Research Report By Jessica Pressman


Interactive educational game offers different levels engagement in order to focus on the processes of textual analysis and exegesis.

“Ivanhoe is suited to any discipline in the humanities concerned with textual and visual hermeneutics. The game promotes self-conscious awareness about interpretation and seeks to encourage collaborative activity in fields such as literature, religious studies, history, and other humanities disciplines. Ivanhoe facilitates the imaginative use of electronic archives and online resources in combination with traditional text-based and visual research materials. The game’s rules and conditions are adjustable to different player levels and interests, from secondary school classes to advanced projects undertaken by established scholars. ” (from the SpecLab web site)

“IVANHOE has been in development at the University of Virginia – first as a theoretical approach to humanities interpretation and later as a multi-user digital environment – since early 2000. It was initially conceived by Jerome McGann and Johanna Drucker as an exercise in revealing, through deformance, the multivalent narratives embedded in literary works like Walter Scott’s famous romance novel Ivanhoe.” (from the Applied Research in Patacriticism (ARP) web site.)

Starter Links: Ivanhoe | SpecLab | ARP

H. J. Jackson, Romantic Readers: The Evidence of Marginalia (2005)

Book that studies the practices of annotating or writing in the margins of books in Britain, 1790-1830:

“When readers jot down notes in their books, they reveal something of themselves–what they believe, what amuses or annoys them, what they have read before. But a close examination of marginalia also discloses diverse and fascinating details about the time in which they are written. This book explores reading practices in the Romantic Age through an analysis of some 2,000 books annotated by British readers between 1790 and 1830.” (from publisher’s blurb)

Starter Links & References: Yale Univ. Press, 2005 (ISBN 0300107854) | Publisher’s Blurb | Chronicle of Higher Education review (requires Chronicle subscription)


Rubrication from the age of manuscripts to that of digital search “highlighting”:

[under construction]

Starter Links or References:


The invention of word spacing and punctuation:

”... the earliest hieroglyphic and alphabetic inscriptions had no punctuation symbols at all. No commas to indicate pauses and no periods between sentences. In fact, there weren’t even spaces between words. Nor did the early Greek and Roman writers use any form of punctuation. Knowing exactly how to read the words, where to put the intonations, pauses, etc., was an art, and one that required practice…. The use of spaces ( ) for interword separation didn’t appear until much later, roughly 600-800 AD. By the seventh century, the convention was quite common. In some early medieval manuscripts, two vertically aligned dots represented a full stop at the end of a sentence. Eventually one of the dots was dropped, and the remaining dot served as a period, colon or comma, depending on whether it was aligned with the top, middle, or base of the lowercase letters.” (from “History of Punctuation,” Complete Translation Services, Inc.)

Starter Links or References: Alberto Manguel, A History of Reading (New York: Viking, 1996): 47-50 | Complete Translation Services, Inc. article on “History of Punctuation”(article on site)

The Alphabet

The historically unique invention of the phonetic alphabet and its later evolution:

[under construction]

Starter Links or References:

Tatjana Chorney, “Interactive Reading, Early Modern Texts and Hypertext: A Lesson from the Past”

Article comparing Renaissance-era reading practices, both individual and collective, to today’s online reading practices:

“Renaissance reading habits and those fostered by the hypertext environment (which has become synonymous with the Internet), are similar with regard to four broad issues: 1. non-linearity; 2. a protean sense of text and its functions; 3. affinity with oral models of communication, and 4. a changing concept of authorship.”

“Interactive reading in the Renaissance was part of the characteristic model of learned reading based on the intellectual technique on collecting ‘commonplaces.’ A reader read texts in order to ‘extract quotations and examples from them, then note down the more striking passages for easy retrieval or indexing,’ or for later use either in writing or in speaking. The ‘reference’ style of reading is symbolized in the reading wheel, ‘a vertical wheel turned with the help of a system of gears permitting the readers to keep a dozen or so books, placed on individual shelves, open before them at one time.’ â€? (from article)

Starter Links: Tatjana Chorney, “Interactive Reading, Early Modern Texts and Hypertext: A Lesson from the Past,” Academic Commons, 12 Dec. 2005

Franco Moretti, Graphs, Maps, Trees: Abstract Models for a Literary History (Verso, 2005)

Book demonstrating Moretti’s quantitative, “distant reading” (rather than close reading) approach to novels:

“Professor Franco Moretti argues heretically that literature scholars should stop reading books and start counting, graphing, and mapping them instead. He insists that such a move could bring new luster to a tired field, one that in some respects is among “the most backwards disciplines in the academy.â€? Literary study, he argues, has been random and unsystematic. For any given period scholars focus on a select group of a mere few hundred texts: the canon. As a result, they have allowed a narrow distorting slice of history to pass for the total picture. Moretti offers bar charts, maps, and time lines instead, developing the idea of “distant reading,â€? set forth in his path-breaking essay “Conjectures on World Literature,â€? into a full-blown experiment in literary historiography, where the canon disappears into the larger literary system. Charting entire genres–the epistolary, the gothic, and the historical novel–as well as the literary output of countries such as Japan, Italy, Spain, and Nigeria, he shows how literary history looks significantly different from what is commonly supposed and how the concept of aesthetic form can be radically redefined.” (from publisher’s blurb)

Starter Links & References: Verso, 2005 (ISBN: 1844670260) | Publisher’s blurb for the book | Inside Higher Ed review