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Archive for August, 2014

Shakespeare’s Desk

Last spring, Professor Anston Bosman and I led a seminar on “Shakespeare and the History of Books.” Our seven intrepid Sophomores explored a wide range of readings and primary sources around that topic, much of which they documented in the course blog: https://blogs.ats.amherst.edu/colq-231-1314s/

Over the summer, several of our students worked on an exhibition that will be on display in the Archives & Special Collections for the whole of the fall semester. They took the title for their exhibition from an essay by Peter Stallybrass that we read for class: “Shakespeare’s Desk: Authorship as Material Practice.” This passage appears in the opening paragraph:

The plots of Shakespeare’s plays, like those of his fellow-dramatists, were drawn from his reading. It is extraordinary how little this simple fact seems to have impinged upon Shakespearean studies: Shakespeare’s writing developed out of his reading.

Although the Archives & Special Collections holds a respectable teaching collection of early modern printed books, including nearly 500 books and manuscripts created before Shakespeare’s death in 1616, the exhibition moves from a consideration of what Shakespeare might have read to explore how Shakespeare has been packaged for the desks of other readers over the past 400 years.

A fuller web-version of the exhibition is currently under construction, so I will use this post to highlight just a couple of items.

Illustrated editions of Shakespeare’s works are a fascinating topic, and this exhibition features two fine examples.

Caliban (detail) Boydell, 1852.

Caliban (detail) Boydell, 1852.

This detail of Caliban in “The Tempest” is taken from the large folio copy of The American Edition of Boydell’s Illustrations of the Dramatic works of Shakespeare by the Most Eminent Artists of Great Britain, which was published by Shearjashub Spooner in New York City in 1852.

A volume from our set of The Dramatic Works of Shakspeare (1791-1802), edited by George Steevens and published with illustrations that match those published as Boydell’s Graphic Illustrations of the dramatic works of Shakspeare. Here is the rendition of Caliban from that edition:

Caliban. Boydell, 1802.

Caliban. Boydell, 1802.

The complete history of John Boydell’s Shakespeare Gallery is a fascinating story. The Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC mounted an exhibition titled “Marketing Shakespeare: The Boydell Gallery (1789-1805) and Beyond” in late 2007. The online version of their exhibition contains images of some of the original paintings Boydell commissioned for his Gallery and explores the printmaking process, among other things.

These two illustrations were selected for a different reason that ties them into the theme of Shakespeare’s Desk. “The Tempest” is generally regarded as a response, in part, to European exploration of North and South America. One of the cases in our exhibition features books representative of the information Shakespeare might have encountered about the “New World.”

Frontispiece from Ogilby's America (1671).

Frontispiece from Ogilby’s America (1671).

Although our copy of John Ogilby’s book America: Being the Latest, and Most Accurate Description of the New World (1671) was written long after Shakespeare’s death, it is the best example in our collections of an illustrated work of exploration. One goal of this exhibition is to suggest some ways that examining early books can open up new paths of research. Clearly, these three images suggest there may be something very interesting going on here. Deeper exploration of representations of Caliban as they relate to illustrations of “New World” inhabitants would require a visit to a library like the Folger.

Installation of this new exhibition will wrap up later this week. In addition to the works shown here, visitors will be able to see our copy of Shakespeare’s Second Folio, along with published books ranging from the sixteenth century to the present.

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These last few weeks before the College is back in session are quiet around town with most of the camps finished for the summer and few students milling about.  Not like it was at the turn of the 19th Century.  Back then, and for nearly 25 years, summers in Amherst were home to a bustling and vibrant summer school of languages and one of the first schools in the country for librarians.

langprogram002

 

The Normal School of Languages

Dr. Lambert Sauveur founded the Normal School of Languages at Amherst College in 1877.  Sauveur was one of the first teachers in America to employ the natural method for teaching languages.  Now a common method for teaching and learning foreign languages, at the time the natural method (where all instruction is conducted in the target language) was considered a breakthrough innovation.

The Normal School was intended for but not limited to teachers.  Tuition for the six week course was on average $16 and the school attracted about 200 students a year.

(more…)

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Initial AA Mellon-funded Five Colleges digitization project began last fall; its goal is to digitize and catalog the manuscripts (created prior to 1600) held by our institutions. The digitized versions will eventually be available through Digital Scriptorium, a database that currently provides access to more than 6,000 manuscripts held at more than 30 institutions.

Later this month, the images of the 24 manuscripts owned by Amherst College will also be accessible via ACDC. You can read a brief overview about these manuscripts here in Lisa Fagin Davis’ blog Manuscript Road Trip. For additional information about several of Mount Holyoke and Smith College’s holdings, check out Brittany Osborne‘s blog Mysteries in the Margins.

So here’s a little sneak preview:

 

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