Pet Book # 3: The Benefits and Downsides of Digitizing

While exploring Iani Grtueri Pericula, I have been lucky enough to have a digitized copy to study in times that I cannot make it to the Boston Public Library. Previously I have thought that this digitized copy was merely only something convenient for my studies, but after this week of discussing the digitalization of print, I began to look at my digitized copy in a new light. Rather than it being a surrogate, this digitized copy is an extension that can provide further information on my book. What does this digitized copy offer that studying the material in person may not?

There are positives and negatives to the digitization of early modern works. “One of the first things that people focus on is the amazing access to early modern works that digital tools have given us “(Werner). While this in itself is amazing one leads to wonder though what is missing in the digitized copy in reference to anything other than the text. The materiality of the book is something that is difficult to ascertain from the scanned copy of my book. The first thing being chain lines and paper quality. Although the scanned copy offers every page within the book, the quality of paper is felt and studied. From my in person investigation, I was able to discover that my book had hand-made paper by finding the chain lines with a flashlight, but also that the first two pages and last two pages belonged to a different piece of paper. While all the middle pages have chain lines that are vertical down the page, the first and last two pages of the book have horizontal chain lines. The quality of those four pages are also much thicker than the other pages and are the only pages that have a watermark. It is important to keep in mind these four pages have no printed words on them and only have handwritten ownership marks.

From being able to touch and feel my book, I was able to discover that this book’s binding had been repaired, and I believe that those four pages were added when the binding was fixed. The watermark itself is cutoff and in the top left hand corner of the page. From what I can ascertain from the partial image it appears that there is roman numerals xvi, a star, and wings that look like they are part of an angel. After some research, which came from digitized copies of pages, I was able to figure out that this watermark appears similar to those that were used in Italy during the 16th century, but without the whole image it is difficult to fully grasp this watermarks history. These are all qualities that could only be found by studying the book in person, but this may say more about the quality of my digitized copy instead of digitization itself.

The current trend “has resulted in digital methods in which the source text retains a distinct existence within the electronic edition, rather than being consumed and ultimately effaced by the editing process”(Flanders). While my digitized copy could have been improved by adding details about the paper and scanned photos of the partial watermarks, it still does its best to represent the original source text by being a scanned copy. With this comes some positives and some negatives. While I am unable to search the document using keywords, I am still able to ascertain the way this book was originally formatted. Because these are simple scanned copies of the pages, what is still present within the book are the catchwords, the signatures, and the original state of the page numbers. From these markers and the chain lines, I can ascertain my book is folio and has pretty standard signatures according to Gaskell. They are every four pages and located on the recto side, while the catchwords on the verso side. The pattern they follow, which can be seen in the digitized copy and in person copy, is B, By, Biy, Biiy. The changing letter is of course the capital and goes until the letter N. The upper hand the digital copy has though is the notes included about the signatures that come with my copy. Rather than having to go through the whole entire book looking for irregularities in signatures, my digitized copy has a note letting me know that L4, a3, and b2 are missigined for M4, N3, and O2.

This is work that could have taken hours to figure out, but with external information being provided, I am able to gain better understanding of my book. One thing that many tend to forget about digitized copies is “ the chain of human labor that led to their present existence” (Cordell 39). A librarian at the Boston Public library catalogued those signatures and made sure that note was included. This is something that I could not find out, without a considerable amount of effort, in person. Another upside to this digitized copy is the cataloguing of the former owners within this book. Instead of doing painstaking hours of research and guessing on which John Mitford owned this novel, the digitized copies provide links to other works featuring this person and led me to find the author. This digitized copy has not only given me information on its format, but on other parts of materiality that we often only found in person. It made the research more efficient and offers another layer to my pet book, rather than a surrogate.

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