Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Dispersal of the Medieval Libraries of Great Britain

Movement of books from medieval libraries in the MLGB3. Medieval locations (red), Current locations (blue)

Today I'm teaching a workshop on using "screen scraping" in the digital humanities. No workshop is really useful without practical examples so last week I decided to try out my screen scraping chops on an exciting  new database of book history data. The Kislak Center at Penn (where I'm Scholar in Residence) is quickly becoming one of the most important sites for book and manuscript provenance research and I wanted to see what I could do to highlight the potential for making extant provenance data more useful through new visualizations.

Several years ago, a few of the scholars behind the monumental Corpus of British medieval library catalogues project (now at fifteen volumes) led by Richard Sharpe began working on an online database to update and provide access to the wealth of information on medieval manuscripts contained in Neil Ker's Medieval Libraries of Great Britain (1941, 1964, and 1987). These volumes include accounts of books and manuscripts known to survive today which once were owned within Great Britain before the mid-16th century. Recently, through grants from the Mellon foundation and others, the team has taken much of this information and made it available online in the MLGB3 searchable database. The site appears to be in beta mode at the moment and intermittently accessible but when it launches fully it will be an amazing resource and the culmination of a good deal of work by Sharpe and others. Looking through the database I was especially intrigued by the wealth of data on the current location of many of these medieval books and manuscripts. Given how comprehensive and detailed the project data is, even at this stage, I wanted to get a sense of what kind of picture would develop if we looked at the points of origin and current location of all these manuscripts in aggregate.

As of last week, the MLGB3's online database  included over 6,000 records for books and manuscripts owned by medieval libraries. In order to look at them in aggregate I used the ever-helpful wget utility to pull down each record in order. I was left with a gigantic mess of html with the useful data hidden within it. After extensive cleanup and parsing of the data I was able to throw the location names of the original medieval libraries as well as current owners against David Zwiefelhofer's geocoding service (which I believe uses the Yahoo API) to get longitudes and latitudes. This didn't go entirely smoothly as the names of ruined monasteries tend not to register very well in geo databases. Fortunately, there are a wealth of wikipedia entries providing detailed long./lat. information on a wide range of English historical sites and I was able to fill in the blanks.

Libraries in Medieval Great Britain (MLGB3)
Current Locations of Books from the MLGB3

Worldwide Current Location of Books in MLGB3
What most struck me from this preliminary view (I'll wait until the final MLGB3 release to make sure) is how much less movement there was than I expected. That is, if books owned by medieval libraries are any indication, the cultural patrimony of Great Britain has not moved far from its home. Over 93% (5900/6316) books from the MLGB3 data show up as being currently held in Great Britain leaving just 416 in other locations. This visualization of course elides the many movements of books between when they were cataloged or inventoried in the medieval period and when they reached their current place of residence. That being said, I wonder how a similar map of the dispersal of French or German monastic libraries would look? Are 93% still in their country of origin (loosely defined)? I doubt it.

Benedictine Abbey of St. Augustine, Canterbury
Benedictine Cathedral Priory of the Holy Trinity, Canterbury
Psalters in the MLGB3

When the data are finalized I look forward to examining in detail what mapping can tell us about the differential fate of manuscripts from certain locations, or even certain kinds of manuscripts. For example see above for the relatively similar dispersal patterns of two Canterbury libraries or right for the dispersal patterns of psalters. Likewise, in the future I would love to combine the MLGB3 records with those in the Schoenberg Database of Manuscripts (SDBM) here at Penn. For instance, manuscripts from St. Augustine's in Canterbury feature in over 100 transaction records in the database. Similarly, the database staff here has entered over 3,200 manuscripts based on entries from Ker. I can imagine also how the fantastic resources within the MLGB3 project could be linked with extant digitized copies of the manuscripts mentioned. The one Penn manuscript noted in MLGB3 (ID 316, formerly Phillipps 20547 and Lea 23) comes from the church of St. Deiniol in Bangor and it would be fantastic to display the digital facsimile of the ex libris inscription alongside the entry. In other words, there's no more exciting place to be for linked digital humanities data than provenance and book history!

UPenn Ms. Codex 75. Ownership inscription, f. 193v:  "Iste liber pertinet Ecclesie sancti Daniellis"

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Library Markings from Looted Books

Bookplate of the Komite zur Förderung Thoradienst Gemeinden in Palästina Frankfurt a.M.
Here at Penn, the rare books cataloging team has been working for the past several years to put images of bookplates, bookstamps, and other provenance markings online in order to facilitate identification of former owners and libraries.  Thanks to the project, I've become increasingly interested in how digital tools might help scholars reconstruct historical libraries and networks of texts.

I've long been interested in the mass movement of books that took place over the 19th and 20th centuries, whether as a result of the dissolution of monasteries, the increased economic and cultural resources of the United States, or the unprecedented tragedies of the World Wars. The wide-scale looting and destruction of books and cultural artifacts by the Third Reich in the 1930s and 40s has drawn an increasing amount of scholarly interest in the past few decades [1]. Even George Clooney is getting in on the action with his upcoming movie on the "Monuments Men" team that worked to locate and preserve works of art during the last months of the war. In reading more about the fate of books and libraries destroyed or stolen by the Nazi regime I was excited to see that the records kept by the central collecting point for looted books at Offenbach were available both in microfilm and (for a fee) online. These records were largely compiled and saved by Ardelia Hall (1899-1979) who was an adviser to the State Department with a tireless focus on returning looted WWII property.

Front Cover of Vol. II (Western) of the albums assembled at Offenbach
(this image: S.J. Pomrenze Papers, Center for Jewish History)

By mid-1946, U.S. and other allied forced had assembled more than 2 million books from Nazi repositories at Offenbach with the aim of returning books to rightful owners wherever possible. The records of this endeavor are voluminous and are available in some 13 reels of microfilm from the National Archives as NARA M1942. This microfilm series has been digitized by Fold3 and is available to subscribers of that service.

To aid their work of cultural restitution, officers at the Offenbach depot made several albums of photographed bookstamps and marks found inside books in their care, which they organized by apparent place of origin. They also created additional albums featuring markings from private libraries and owners which bore no readily identifiable geographic point of origin. All told the albums contain thousands of ownership marks, a perfect candidate for mapping. Feeling decidedly unqualified to tackle the album of markings from Eastern Europe or the vast number of miscellaneous private stamps,  I started with those from Western Europe. The Western European album compiled at Offenbach includes pages categorized by country, i.e. America, Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, the Netherlands, Palestine, Spain, and Switzerland, with by far and away the greatest number coming from Germany (344/514). In all there are more than 500 ownership markings present in this geographically sorted album [2].

Distribution of book markings in "Germany" volume from the Offenbach Archival Depot

Each page of the album usually contained many reproductions of book markings crammed together with a reference number but no textual caption. Wanting to create a database of individual library marks, I began by isolating each bookstamp or mark from the album, beginning with those from Germany. I wanted to see geographically where these likely-destroyed libraries and private collections were located and to be able to sort out different types of institutions which had been targeted by the Nazis. The results of this mapping can be seen above and are searchable at http://viewshare.org/views/mfraas/offenbach-bookplates/ [does not work in IE].

In all I mapped 289 library markings to 127 locations with 55 markings remaining unknown to me (images of each individual library mark including the 55 unknown are also available on Flickr). The very top of the list is not surprising, Berlin and Frankfurt virtually tied (32 and 31) for the cities with the most library markings recorded in the Offenbach album, but I was a little surprised that the relatively small city of Hildesheim had as many markings recorded as Hamburg.

It should be kept in mind as well that these figures only represent those library markings in the "Germany" Offenbach album, countless private and otherwise unidentified-by-place markings exist in the other albums. I faced more difficulty in coming up with vocabulary with which to categorize the types of libraries present in this album. The overwhelming majority of book markings of course came from Jewish institutional or private libraries but in my cataloging of the book markings I have largely reserved the "Jewish" library label for institutional libraries such as those of synagogues and communal organizations and not private libraries of those who have names that might suggest Jewish ancestry. As a result, a significant number of library markings are coded as "other." Nonetheless as the map shows below, there is still value in looking at the library markings by type:

Cluster of Jewish libraries near Koblenz

NARA M1942 (reel 12, frame 541)
These caveats pale in comparison though to one of the central problems with making conclusions about wartime destruction of libraries based on the Offenbach albums. The Offenbach team photographed all the provenance marks on a book they could find, which do not necessarily represent the library from which they were looted. This can be readily seen in the "State Library" category on the map. The stamp of the Bibliothek des Bayerischen Landtags in Munich (right) is included in the "Germany" album but this obviously does not mean that the library was looted by the Third Reich, rather that the book had once been in the collections of that library at some unspecified prior point. Thus without further investigation it is difficult to know from this evidence exactly which library owned a given book on the day it was seized by the Third Reich.

First Page of "Germany" in album II (marks 1-7)

(this image: S.J. Pomrenze Papers, Center for Jewish History)
Nonetheless, I think mapping out these places of origin is exceedingly important when done with a more nuanced set of questions in mind. Taking the markings as evidence more broadly of the location of Jewish and other libraries in the decades prior to World War II  provides both a kind of historical recovery and might eventually offer data that could be used by scholars to make new arguments about the diffusion of reading and book culture in central Europe as well as its subsequent destruction.

Obviously mapping just shy of 350 library markings is not going to accomplish this task and I'm excited to move forward to try and catalog all of the markings in the Offenbach albums. This can only be accomplished by a large number of participants with the knowledge and language skills to identify often hard-to-read reproductions [3]. Fortunately, the Center for Jewish History in New York has digitized copies of the albums owned by Col. Seymour Pomrenze, one of the American officers assigned to Offenbach. These albums are virtually identical to those in the National Archives and the CJH digitized images are of better quality than the NARA microfilm. Though I haven't cataloged or geo-located them yet I have used the CJH images to put online the remaining 174 library markings from the "Western Europe" album on Flickr. Melanie Meyers and others at the CJH are working on identifying a broad swath of Eastern European and other marks from the albums and I hope in time a more complete picture, usable for research and discovery, emerges.



This literature is large, a good introduction is the collection of essays The Holocaust and the Book: Destruction and Preservation (University of Massachusetts, 2001). Here at Penn, historian Kathy Peiss has been working for several years on the responses of the library profession to wartime looting and post-war book distribution/repatriation policies. See her "Cultural Policy in a Time of War: The American Response to Endangered Books in World War II," Library Trends 55.3 (2007), 370-386. For a specific example of work on the bookplates in the Offenbach collection see  Frederik J. Hoogewoud, "Dutch Jewish Ex Libris Found among Looted Books in the Offenbach Archival Depot (1946)” in Chaya Brasz & Yosef Kaplan, Dutch Jews as Perceived by Themselves and by Others. (Leiden, 2001), pp. 247-261 (a version is available online through the Clinton Presidential Library).


The "Western European" album (album II) can be found at the National Archives as NARA 260-LM-II-F and on microfilm as M1942 reel 12, frames 506-548. Another copy of this album is in the Colonel Seymour J. Pomrenze papers (P-933) at the Center for Jewish History  An additional copy of the bookplates can also be found at the University of Chicago (Codex Ms 1393). The NARA microfilm has also been digitized through Fold3 and is available online to members of that service at http://www.fold3.com/browsemore/hRyVVKV8Z_1/ .For the 344 "Germany" library markings mapped here I have used microfilm images from M1942 via Fold3, for the remaining 174 markings from album II on Flickr I have used digitized images from the Pomrenze papers at CJH.


Library markings from WWII-era books are already available online in a few forms outside of the Offenbach records. See for example the Brisman collection digitized at Washington University in St. Louis. The Koordinierungsstelle Magdeburg in Germany maintains a database at  Lostart.de which includes some descriptions and pictures of library markings in looted books.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Mapping pre-1500 Printed Books Today

Last week the Penn Libraries hosted a Rare Books School course on the 15th century European book in print and manuscript taught by Will Noel and Paul Needham. As someone interested in the history of libraries and the movement of books over time, I've long been impressed by the volume of detailed information available in digital form about early European printed books. Online catalogs like the Incunabula Short Title Catalog (ISTC) and the Gesamtkatalog der Wiegendrucke (GW) contain tens of thousands of entries about these books including the whereabouts of known copies today. In browsing both catalogs I had been surprised by the wide distribution of incunabula in libraries throughout the world and inspired by the work of the Atlas of Early Printing, I figured it would be interesting to see the global scope of these collections in visual rather than textual form.

Both the ISTC and GW allow users to browse by lists of libraries which hold incunabula but where the ISTC displays library abbreviations/codes (see e.g. this list), the GW actually lists geographic locations with libraries grouped by city. In addition, the GW provides helpfully detailed alternate spellings and names for locations which make them easier to geocode, for example:   "Alba Julia [Gyulafehérvár, Karlsburg, Weißenburg]/Rumänien." For that reason I decided to use data from the GW here, which in all contains listings for some 2,330 place names with institutions holding incunabula. 

I scraped the raw data from the GW web interface and then parsed it on my own which resulted in a few problems, namely while I captured all the place names accurately, some holdings libraries seem to have been lost in the shuffle. I've worked to manually correct these but would not be surprised if further corrections are needed. Likewise, the GW helpfully lists some libraries which formerly owned incunabula and which are now defunct or subsumed into other libraries.For example, for Philadelphia, I know that the number of holdings libraries listed (19) includes the former Mercantile Library of Philadelphia with 5 incunabula. All of these books are now in the Free Library of Philadelphia which means that the total for Philadelphia in my visualization includes one extra holdings location and 5 extra incunabula. In addition, and most importantly, my results from the GW are most useful in counting editions rather than actual physical books. That is, while there may be just over 5,000 separate 15th c. editions in Stuttgart, the Landesbibliothek there holds closer to 7,000 actual 15th c. books as a result of having multiple copies of the same edition (many thanks to Paul Needham for pointing this out). As a result, the exact numbers contained in the visualization should be taken with a grain of salt.

Top 15 cities by holdings of Incunable editions. Number of editions in center column, number of holdings institutions in a given city in right column.

So, despite these caveats, what does the data look like? The top 15 list is hardly surprising, Munich tops the list thanks to the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek and its massive collection, but thinking geographically rather than nationally, Rome would come out as the clear winner if Vatican City and its libraries were included. Likewise, if judging by number of libraries/institutions reporting incunabula holdings (admittedly a somewhat hazy category), London emerges as the extreme outlier. I found the numbers further down the list more surprising, I would not have guessed that Dallas (1013) holds roughly the same number of early printed editions as Zurich (1002) or that Copenhagen (4146) would have a more diverse collection than Venice (3464), one of the centers of early printing.

That being said, if anything the map hews more closely to the geographic origins of the books themselves than I fully realized (excepting the large holdings in the US of course!). The densest clusters of holdings institutions and indeed of incunabula themselves are in the homelands of early printing, German-speaking central Europe and Italy. Compare for example the two maps below, one from the current holdings data and the other from the excellent Atlas of Early Printing showing where incunabula were actually printed. The two pair up pretty well!

Current Incunabula Holdings in Europe (GW data)
Volume of Book Production by Place of Printing 1450-1500 (Atlas of Early Printing)
I expected that thanks to monastic dissolution and library centralization throughout the 19th century would have resulted in a fairly spread-out pattern of incunabula holdings with capital cities and regional centers being the big players with a few scattered libraries in between. This seems certainly to be the case in France and Spain where provincial cities and towns are less well-represented, but in central Europe, the big state and university libraries may have a large share of books, but there are still hundreds of small religious colleges, town libraries, and monasteries holding incunabula in the hinterlands. (If anyone is interested, the weighted geographic center of all current institutions holding incunabula is near the Atlantic coast of France outside of Nantes).

Incunabula holdings in the Adriatic Region
These maps also drew my eye to blank spaces which in turn highlighted borderlands between book-dense areas and those with relative scarcity today. The Adriatic seems to be one such area, with its string of Catholic and state libraries extending down the Croatian coast including Dubrovnik, Zadar, and Šibenik serves to highlight the lack of 15th-century printed books in the interior of the former Yugoslavia - perhaps reflecting the ravages of war, different book/manuscript cultures in Orthodox and Muslim regions, or just the simple lack of good library data.

Something similar struck me about the region to the east of Berlin and the west of Poznan, a seemingly "empty" salient stretching south from the Baltic sea (left). I know next to nothing about this area but would have thought expected a more even distribution of libraries.

Of course, scale is everything. While the views above are intended to highlight cities which possess truly significant incunabula collections, the map below is perhaps a fairer representation of the data - with the sizes of the dots scaled by quartiles. In this view, the truly broad range of holdings locations comes into play, as on this map the top quartile (largest dot) is reserved for any place holding 65 incunabula or more - a seemingly low bar which reflects just how many locations own a very small number of early European printed books.
Current Incunabula Holdings Worldwide - scaled in quartiles.

Finally, this world-view impressed on me the lack of reported holdings in North Africa and the Middle East generally. The fact that there are only four incunabula from Istanbul reported in the GW is somewhat shocking (for more see Les incunables de la bibliotheque des Musees Archeologiques d'Istanbul). Considering the place of the Ottoman Empire in Mediterranean and world history, the lack of greater numbers of early printed books in Turkish libraries begs an explanation (library destruction? lack of cataloging?). Likewise, the lack of reported holdings in Egypt prompted me to start searching library catalogs. I found six unreported in the new Bibliotheca Alexandrina but am sure there must be more in other Egyptian libraries as well.

I look forward to discovering more in the data over the coming weeks and I can't stress enough how important rich bibliographic databases like the ISTC and GW are for scholars. They are exceptional resources that took decades of work to put together. Given the amount of work that went into creating their data I hope that in the future there will be a way for both to offer machine interfaces which make the downloading of raw data simple and these kinds of visualizations second nature to researchers. 

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Expanding the Republic of Letters: India and the Circulation of Ideas in the Late Eighteenth Century

Today I'm presenting at the Society for the History of Authorship, Reading & Publishing (SHARP) annual conference which is being held here at Penn. Rather than giving a traditional conference paper I will be participating in the "digital project showcase" which features a number of really fantastic digital book history projects. I thought it would be helpful to post here some of what I will be showing today at the conference.

My project was inspired in a way by one of the most successful visualization projects of the last few years, Stanford’s Mapping the Republic of Letters project (ROL). The project uses data about thousands of seventeenth and eighteenth century letters to provide a powerful visual representation of how intellectual and correspondence networks functioned over the long eighteenth century. The visualizations that result from the project are quite powerful and illustrative and have immediate impact on students and others trying to get a sense of the geography of the Enlightenment. Taking as an example the 1751-1800 period below, one finds in the ROL visualization what one might expect: Paris, London, Edinburgh, Geneva, all show up
brightly as nodes of discourse and communication:

Without diminishing the ROL's achievements though, I was immediately struck by the absences encoded into this sweeping view of the Enlightenment. As a historian of 18th-century India, I was especially concerned about what it meant that it is visualized in the ROL as connected to the European Enlightenment in this period by just a single slender line: 

In my own research on legal culture in early modern India I had long been struck by the ways in which legal information and texts flowed in all different directions between and through India and Europe. For the SHARP showcase then I proposed a new visualization of the eighteenth-century, one which would focus on circuits of knowledge exchange in the form of textual movement between India and the rest of the world.

The resulting project is based on extensive research and data from wills, inventories, auction and library catalogs, as well as correspondence and other records. To be more precise, the visualizations below come from some 2,400 mentions of print and manuscript texts sent to India from abroad or which were produced or owned in parts of European-ruled India. Spelling out these sources I think makes clear the limits as well as the potential of the project. Records of book ownership and text circulation in 18th-century India are difficult to get at and since my goal was to show connections with the wider world, I necessarily focused on nodes of greatest contact, especially the East India Company port cities of Bombay, Madras, and Calcutta, as well as other European enclaves like Tranquebar and liminal zones like Lucknow. Much is obviously lost in this survey, especially the enormous body of Persianate literature that circulated throughout central and south Asia as well as those texts which moved between China, southeast Asia, and India. Yet for now, there is only so far I can go and I look forward to building on the project with the assistance of other scholars.

So what were the results:

Instead of that measly thin line connecting India with Europe in the 18th century we see a robust array of connections. The blue lines represent texts flowing from Europe/Americas to India and, perhaps more importantly, the red lines represent texts moving outward and within India. Though you can manipulate the visualization above as you chose I thought I would highlight some of the more significant questions that I think come out of this view. 

First is the need to look beyond print to see networks of circulation. In his impressive bibliography of printing in South Asia, Graham Shaw lists just 1,344 imprints from mainland South Asia before 1800 (Another 427 come from Dutch Sri Lanka). Many of these books were printed in extremely small numbers and are not known to have circulated particularly far. As a result, the print connections between Indian-produced materials pale in comparison to the inflow from Europe. If we select only flows of manuscript material however we remove much of those large blue print-lines from Europe and see a richer picture of the circulation of Indian texts:

Movement of manuscripts to and from India c. 1750-1800

In addition to showing the movement of texts in aggregate I also wanted to be able to say something about the nature of these texts. Thinking of the Stanford ROL project I decided to see what the movement of texts by authors whose correspondence is represented in that project (~40 or so including Adam Smith, Voltaire, Rousseau, and Locke). Their texts were some of the most popular in my records though notably, because of the nature of the data, most in English translation:

Flow of texts by "Enlightenment" authors c.1750-1800
This kind of geographic visualization also flattens different kinds of textual transmission. Should the fact that an English soldier in Calcutta owned a European-printed copy of Goethe's Sorrows of Young Werther be represented equally with the fact that a pirated translation was printed at Calcutta in 1792 (though no copy survives today)?

Though slightly disappointed with the informational value of the Enlightenment authors map, I was more curious about those texts which I labeled as being broadly scientific, algebra texts, accounts of experiments, journals of temperatures, Persian treatises on medicine, etc. :

The map to the right shows the interplay and diversity of transmission of these "scientific" texts. Rather than a homogeneous block of European science entering India, there was a robust interested in locally produced scientific and medical accounts by authors of all kinds.

Yet, perhaps the most well distributed exchange of ideas seems to have taken place in the realm of historical texts and the accounts of political structures produces in both Europe and India. Though scholarship on early Orientalism has often focused on religious and philological translation and collecting, perhaps more than anything else, 18th century Indian readers and collectors relished histories. These included texts from Europe like Paul de Rapin's History of England or those from India like the Alamgir-Nama of Mirza Muhammed Kazim both of which circulated widely:

"Historical" texts and their circulation c. 1750-1800

I'm just starting to take a look at these maps in an attempt to formulate further research questions and I do hope readers will play with the interactive features to ask questions of their own.

Geographic maps only go so far though in representing this circulation of texts. They tend to aggregate and obscure individual books and historical actors. For that reason I turned to another type of visualization in an attempt to understand which books and readers featured most prominently in my data.

To the right is the bewildering array of connections formed when one plots texts with common owners, that is, who is connected by shared ownership of particular titles and what can that tell us about the circulation of texts in India. This view is of course barely useful in its current state other than to show a central cluster of connected people and texts and at the bottom an array of people and texts who remain unconnected. To see the full network in PDF form see here.

A different view of the same data I think proves more instructive:
Books (black) by size according to number of connections in the data
red dots represent individual owners

This view shows the very center of that cluster above, this time however, the size of each node (dot) is determined by the number of connections it shares with its neighbors. In this case the black dots represent particular titles and the red dots particular owners. The large nodes here are the most popular texts, including the Bible, the Works of Jonathan Swift, Alexander Pope, and Shakespeare, Addison and Steele's Spectator, a variety of print and manuscript Persian dictionaries, Tristram Shandy, and the classic Persian prose work, Sa'di's Gulistan. Looking further afield from the classics though there are some interesting questions to be asked. I noticed in perusing the records that two Bengali men in Calcutta seemed to be purchasing a number of books at estate sales. One of these, "Gopee Tagoror [Tagore]" seems to have been especially interested in anti-onanism tracts. In fact in 1767 he bought a hot-of-the-press warning on the "Detestable Vice of Self-Pollution" [ESTC T207134] which is today only held in two libraries worldwide. Was he a bookseller? A fan of self-improvement literature? A committed anti-onanist?There is much to interpret here and I hope both at today's showcase and in future conversations to begin mining these connections for what they can and cannot tell us about the cultural world of colonial India in the late 18th century.
Gopee Tagore's books 1767

As a final coda, just hours away from the showcase itself, I'm completely humbled by how frustrating a task this proved to be. At the end of this stage of work I realize just how central absence and omission are to any visualization of historical information. No matter how much I tried to "fill in the gaps" my visualization remains constrained by data available and historical uncertainty and I've come away knowing that while I may have added a useful addenda to the vision of the Enlightenment that ROL offers, it is far from complete and perhaps offers its greatest value in forcing us to ask what is missing. 

Sources of records

966 records from
Inventories of Estates at Madras, 1768-1779 [3 volumes]
Inventories of Estates at Calcutta, 1764-1772 [7 volumes]
Sample of Madras, Bombay, and Calcutta wills 1750-1780

415 records extracted from provenance information contained in Graham Shaw's magisterial  South Asia and Burma retrospective bibliography (SABREB) (London, 1987). 

359 records from 1777-1800 (majority 1778-1782) taken from official lists of inventories sent to the East India Company in London. These were coded by Margot Finn and her team under the ESRC funded project: "Colonial possession : personal property and social identity in British India, 1780-1848" and are available as UK Data Archive: Study Number 5254.

255 records extracted from 28 major catalogs of Persian and other oriental manuscripts including those of the British Library, India Office Library, Oxford, Cambridge, Edinburgh, the Bibliotheque National, the Salar Jang Library, Harvard, Yale, Michigan, the Royal Asiatic Society, the Phillipps collection, The Danish Royal Library, the Khuda Bakhsh Library, and others. This work is ongoing.

234 records extracted from sampled newspaper advertisements in three Bombay and Calcutta newspapers 1782-1793

141 records based on notes from assorted inventories, library lists, and mentions of books contained in official East India Company Correspondence, printed reports of the Supreme Court at Calcutta (1774-1800), and other secondary sources.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Don't Believe that Imprint

Karakteristik der Quäker (Boston, 1792) [i.e. Heidelberg]

Title pages can be deceiving. Bibliographers have long learned not to trust colophons and other declarations of place and date. The image above, for example, declares that a book was printed at Boston in 1792 while in fact it was printed in Heidelberg Germany.

I've always been fascinated by these so-called "false imprints," those books which claim information on their title pages or other paratext which purposely misrepresents the circumstances of a book's printing. Most literature on false imprints has focused on their use to avoid censorship or sidestep national laws, for example the numerous books printed in 16th-century London which bore imprints of a variety of continental cities (see e.g.Woodfield's Surreptitious Printing in England). Bibliographers have also noted the use of false imprints to bolster the 'brand' of a book - if books from Germany are known for their quality and craftsmanship then as an English printer why not try to boost sales with a little deception? Recently though I've become curious about the use of false imprints as an indicator of how foreign locales are represented in the cultural imagination of a given place. In looking through bibliographies of books printed in America I noticed quite a few bearing the false imprint of European cities - not a particular surprise - surely a citizen of Philadelphia in the 1760s would recognize and understand the differing importance of a political tract bearing a London imprint versus one from one of the American colonies. The use of false imprints within the British Atlantic world seemed self-evident to me but I wondered about what valence the Americas had in the rest of Europe.

The map above represents more than 150 books published on the continent in French, German, and Italian before 1800 which bear the false imprint of a North American location.

False imprints are notoriously difficult to track down and I can't claim to have done the kind of painstaking material text work required to determine where a book was actually printed. This is especially tough given the fact that there were a number of French and German imprints published in North America, making any simple linguistic sorting useless. Instead, I drew from the main bibliographies on the subject, mainly Emil Weller's magisterial Falschen und Fingierten Druckorte, as well as Marino Parenti's Dizionario dei luoghi di stampa falsi, and the ESTC. There are of course many more false imprints to be discovered and I can't pretend my dataset is anywhere near comprehensive (most glaringly, Iberia and the Netherlands are not represented here).

Though a deep contextual analysis of the meaning of these false imprints will require more time, I wanted to point to a few things that stood out to me. First is the incredibly wide variety of European printing centers which produced books under false American imprints.

Actual Places of Printing for Continental Books bearing false American Imprints to 1800.

Paris is the clear winner on the European side with at more than fifty books printed with a variety of fictitious American place names. The vast majority being Philadelphia. Looking closer at just the French books, it's amazing to see the explosive increase in these false imprints around the American Revolution. In addition, though I found it too late for inclusion in the one of the charts below, I was surprised to find only one French imprint pretending to be from French Canada, a 1765 Paris edition bearing a "Quebec" place of publication.
Number of French imprints with false American places of publication - by decade.

This boom is closely related to the subject matter of the books. Many of those claiming American origin relate to the radical politics of the revolution, the nature of colonies, and the problems of empire. Adding "Philadelphie" to the title page was likely done not necessarily to fool readers but as part of the overall textual impact of the work. See for example (right) a 1779 tract on the history of the classical world and the problems of colonies.

French language imprints bearing American locations to 1800.

While French language printing was largely focused in just a few places on the continent (see map above), German language printing of this kind of imprint came from all over central Europe.
German language imprints bearing American locations to 1800.

Though Berlin and Leipzig both feature several of these imprints, there is no clear center like Paris. Likewise, while German language imprints also show a sharp increase with the onset of the Revolution, there is also an earlier trend toward American false imprints.

Number of German imprints with false American places of publication - by decade.

Ties between the German world and the Americas were of course strong thanks to the migration of German speaking peoples to the British colonies throughout the early eighteenth century. In addition, there was an active German language press in the middle colonies whose publications circulated in Europe, lending more familiarity to places like "Germantown" (under whose name 5 European German books were printed).

 The chart to the left shows the names of the false places of publication in North America. Philadelphia stands out again as the overwhelming leader. This data is however perhaps suspect given the multiple meaning of "Philadelphia." At least in the case of some of the earliest imprints of "Philadelphie" it seems that the an abstract city of brotherly love is intended rather than the nascent town in Pennsylvania. Regardless, the relative importance of Boston and Philadelphia and the relegation of places like New York is an interesting reminder of what was central and what was peripheral in conceptions of British North America.

False Imprint cities matched with true imprint cities by frequency (3+ imprints)

These purported printing locations provide a different kind of mental geography for how continental printers, publishers, and readers thought about North America. For that reason I found myself fascinated by the variety of, to my mind, obscure, American printing locations. Pittsburgh for example appears as the place of publication - "Pittburgo" - in a 1761-8 group of Italian volumes actually printed in Milan. Newly founded as a settlement and in the news for its role in the Seven Years War, Pittsburgh must have stuck out for the Italian publisher as an exotic foreign locale. Likewise, a 1784 German copy of a Pocahontas play, actually printed in Ansbach features a title page bearing a "Jamestown" imprint:

 I can only hope that researchers and bibliographers keep finding false imprints and adding to our knowledge of how they functioned in the marketplace of readers and publishers. I'm still at a loss to explain just what all those Philadelphia imprints, actually printed across the German states, would have meant to their readers and think there's the potential for some really insightful readings of this kind of paratext in the future!

Below I've included a less aesthetically pleasing version of the complete map but with a basemap layer and some interactivity:

View Larger Map

For no real reason see also this (poorly edited) books-over-time video showing the rise of false American imprint locations on European books. Begins 1700 end 1800.

Friday, May 31, 2013

First Editions of Whitman's Leaves of Grass

Following on last week's post which mapped books based on some longer-term research, I wanted to show what kinds of simple geographic visualizations are possible using data that's already extant and well-curated.

Given that today is Walt Whitman's 194th birthday I thought I'd post something related to the Walt Whitman Archive which is one of the longest-lived and most comprehensive digital projects out there.  Among its many virtues is the willingness to give users access to raw data as well as interpretive content. I have a soft spot for comparative bibliography and was really impressed by Ed Folsom's multi-year study of all 158  known copies of the 1855 first edition of the Leaves of Grass. The survey, published in the Walt Whitman quarterly in 2006, came with a downloadable data set recording bibliographic details on all known copies. The 1855 Leaves has a complex publishing history and many of the copies differ from each other. Perhaps the most remarked-upon difference between the copies, which Folsom's survey highlights, are the many states of the infamous portrait of Whitman which appears on the frontispiece - particularly, the size of his crotch.

So-called "flat" (left) and "bulging" (right) versions of the 1855 frontis. Figure 5 in Folsom's magisterial Whitman Making Books/Books Making Whitman: A Catalog and Commentary (Iowa, 2005)

The thoroughness of the survey can be seen in the detailed comments on the state of these frontispieces, for example this one on Library of Congress copy shelfmark PS3201 1855a c.1 - which might also be one of my favorite bibliographic descriptions ever:

"The crotch appears to be a version between the flat and enhanced crotch. There is considerably more shading to the left of the small bulge, but it is not yet fully enlarged. The bottom of the pants is differently engraved than any known version"

It's one thing to see all of this great detail in spreadsheet form but I thought perhaps Folsom or other Whitman scholars might be interested in seeing a direct visualization of the geographic dispersal of the physical artifacts of Whitman's work. Below I've mapped the known copies by their holding location showing their concentration by institution or private owner. The majority never left the original 13 states on the east coast.

For a full look at the visualization and data see http://geocommons.com/maps/169120

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Penn 100: Unique Early English Printed Material in a Research Library Collection

ESTC R179291 (Only known copy: Penn EB65.A100.689K)

In the fall of 2011 I asked the administrators of the English Short Title Catalog (ESTC) if they could provide me with a list of all the records in their database which reported holdings only at the University of Pennsylvania –  i.e. “unique to Penn” imprints. The ESTC has as its purview all printed material produced in the British Empire or in the English language from the dawn of printing to 1800.[1] The ESTC sent me back a list of 313 record numbers which they identified as having a holdings location only at the University of Pennsylvania. On and off over the intervening time, I’ve gone through the list, matching record numbers with titles and shelf locations and examining some of the records more closely.

Though ESTC imprint data has been collected and corrected by experts over many decades, I was well aware of the problems and possible errors inherent in such a dataset. To that end I looked carefully at the records and, in many cases, the physical books themselves to determine which were likely to be actually unique holdings.

Of the 313 imprints listed by the ESTC as existing only at Penn, I found clear evidence that 51 were also held by other libraries. A variety of factors explain these errors, some of which are instructive for users of the ESTC at large. In the majority of the cases simple cataloging aberrations caused mis-reporting.[2] Others were so-called “Wing Ghosts” i.e. listings in D.G. Wing’s bibliography that could not be identified in retrospect.[3]  In some cases, Penn had cataloged volume parts of a series individually creating “unique” records where entries for the series as a whole existed elsewhere.[4]  In other cases, as with the 1783 false London imprint Memorie sulla Bastiglia del celebre Sig. Linguet scritte, libraries outside the ESTC’s sweep proved to have relevant holdings.[5]

Examining the list of 262 remaining “unique” imprints with an eye towards understanding their survival in only one known institutional location is a larger project but I thought I would introduce the findings in aggregate first.


The earliest “unique” title found was printed in 1555 – a London second edition of a translation of Erasmus. This is the only 16th century imprint on the list and has unfortunately been missing from the library for some time.[6]

Taking the other 262 imprints a clear chronological theme emerges, representative of larger trends in book production. Of these, 26 date from the 17th century and 236 from the 18th century.
Chart showing number of "unique" ESTC imprints held by Penn grouped by five year intervals

Above you can see the near exponential increase of “unique” holdings by year of publication. Accordingly, the 5-year period 1795-1800 claims the highest number of imprints on the “unique” list with 29.


As one might expect London dominates the list by printing location. Given Penn’s collecting history however, there are also a number of western hemisphere imprints represented. One of my early finds from the list was a unique 1719 Jamaica imprint, which is the oldest example of Caribbean book printing extant in the Americas. Below is a list of the 262 "unique" imprints by place of printing. Detailed map here.


London: 155.
Elsewhere in England: 13. This includes two from Wolverhampton and one each from Reading, Rochester, Shrewsbury, Southampton, Tunbridge, Manchester, Newcastle, Lincoln, Eaton, Canterbury, and Bristol.

Ireland: 30 from Dublin, 1 from Armagh, and 1 from Belfast

Scotland: 6 from Edinburgh and 5 from Glasgow

The Continent: 3. One each from Amsterdam, the Hague, and Mainz as well as one false Florence imprint (likely London).
Colophon from ESTC N67272
Caribbean: 3. Two from Kingston, Jamaica and one from Antigua.

North America: 43
Philadelphia: 31, Boston: 3, as well as nine from elsewhere in the 13 colonies including one each from Lancaster, Pa.,Whitehall, Pa.,York, Pa., Peacham, Vt, Hudson, Ny., Hagerstown, Md., Exeter, N.H., Baltimore, Md., and Annapolis, Md.


While ECCO, EEBO, and Digital Evans contain a wealth of digitized content, only a small fraction (a little over 8%) of the items on the Penn "unique" list are available in online databases. This number would of course change significantly if one were interested in any edition of a text rather than the specific imprint held here.

Collections data:

Items like those identified here as “unique” to Penn don’t come around every day. In fact, a large number of these “unique” items come from collections carefully developed over many years by individuals and institutions around particular themes. The ESTC data do a nice job reinforcing the importance of focused and deep collecting. Within the data, the collection that really shines through is Penn’s excellent Singer-Mendenhall collection of English fiction to 1820. A whopping 32 of the imprints, all novels, come from this collection, began in the 1920s by Godfrey Singer, a Penn student. Other focused collections represented in the "unique" list are the Horace Howard Furness Collection, with nine imprints, nine also from the Curtis Publishing Company Collection of Franklin Imprints, seven from the Teerink Swift collection.[7], four from the Edwin Forrest Library Collection, three from the Yarnall Library and three held at the Biddle Law Library. Interestingly, an additional four “unique” items come from an artificial collection we call “Founders” indicating books that were present in the University of Pennsylvania library before 1829. Contrary to the focused collecting of rare material made by later collectors, the four “unique” books imprints in this collection were purchased for mundane use by the students of the early University and include a (likely pirated) 1762 Dublin reprint of Hume's multi-volume history of England. These texts, which were likely readily available at the time have not survived elsewhere likely thanks to years of library weeding and the purchasing of the latest available editions.

The Penn 100:

At the very bottom of the page I have provided a link to the spreadsheet containing all 262 “unique” items I identified, but I wanted to go further to locate those works whose integral text exists nowhere but Penn. After filtering out translations where foreign language versions exist, books with other extant editions, and any sort of reprinting, I was left with just 100 items and a list spanning 1659-1800, only 14 of which have digital surrogates. These truly unique texts might be some of the most fruitful to examine in detail in the future:

What might we say about survival and the circulation of print publication based on this group? Surprisingly only 13 of these 100 are single sheet broadsides. Given how ephemeral these publications are I expected them to dominate the list of wholly unique items. Likewise, only four of the 100 are related directly to the University of Pennsylvania. Instead, many of the publications on the list are substantial works. Foremost amongst these, and the clear leader on the list, are the 23 novels dating from 1765 to 1797 which do not appear in any known institutional collection. Take for instance the 1787 novel Lord Winworth; or, the memoirs of an heir, the copy surviving at Penn is noted as the second edition but though an advertisement survives announcing the publication of the first edition, no copy seems to exist. Further proof that distribution and reprinting of texts doesn’t necessarily lead to their survival. Going forward, I’m eager to see the Early Novels Database project and its students shed some more light on these rare novels.

Also of interest on the list are the 10 imprints which are textbooks, guides, or conduct manuals. These include such scintillating titles as “An essay on a method of finding the solid contents of packages, by an easy addition of three numbers only.” Textbooks and school manuals were commonly used by the hundreds but due to the nature of their use, relatively few have survived to this day. Not all of these 100, though printed in British-controlled areas, were printed in English. In addition to a few Pennsylvania German imprints, perhaps my favorite in this category is the unique 1795 Le Chansonnier républicain a book of French revolutionary songs printed in Philadelphia for the émigré community.

Any of these “unique” works would make an excellent research project for a curious student or scholar and I hope providing these lists helps launch a conversation about the nature of library collecting and the place of bibliographic data in print history.

[For the complete list of all 313 imprints listed as "unique" to Penn by the ESTC with my notes and comments see CSV file here (filter by the field "Likely Unique" to see the final 262)]

I’d like to thank Ginger Schilling and Brian Geiger at the ESTC/UC-Riverside for being incredibly helpful in providing the data for this survey. Also note that the data in the ESTC is constantly being changed and updated. I would love to know of any additions or subtractions to these lists as appropriate – I’m sure it’s not the final word! 

[1] For more on the ESTC and plans for the future see their blog at: http://estc21.wordpress.com/
[2] See the example of  N31145 which was perhaps not caught because of a slight misspelling in the title. This imprint seems to actually be T132866 held by several libraries.
[3] For an example see R180866 which is actually held at Penn as R231132.
[4] For instance Penn’s volume of the Merry Wives of Windsor from 1734 [N475057] which is actually just one volume from the larger set of Shakespeare’s works held by many libraries as T54097.
[5] I was able to locate a copy at the University of Mannheim which apparently has never sent in its holdings to the ESTC:   Broadly speaking, the ESTC is only as good as the records which libraries chose to submit to it. For an example closer to home see W20303  Which mentions a copy in the College of Physicians of Philadelphia in the notes field but includes no holdings for that institution in the list of libraries.
[6] This Erasmus volume is ESTC S92484. It has been missing since at least 1974. See John Fleischauer, "A New Sixteenth-Century Translation of Erasmus," Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America, 68 (1974), pp. 164-6. [7] For more on this collection of material relating to Jonathan Swift see Daniel Traister, "The History of the Herman Teerink Collection of Jonathan Swift at the University of Pennsylvania Library," Swift Studies, 10 (1995), 80-88.