Stretched or Cropped Margins? Annotation Studies between the Disciplines

AHA Session 45
Thursday, January 3, 2019: 3:30 PM-5:00 PM
Hancock Parlor (Palmer House Hilton, Sixth Floor)
Nigel S. Smith, Princeton University
Ada L. Palmer, University of Chicago
Earle Havens, Johns Hopkins University
András Kiséry, City College, City University of New York
Sara Miglietti, Warburgh Institute, University of London
David Norbrook, University of Oxford
Renee J. Raphael, University of California, Irvine
Anthony Grafton, Princeton University

Session Abstract

Annotation is vital to the disciplines of both history and literature, but by the traditional definitions of each discipline in radically different ways. Annotation is key in historical studies to the history of the transmission of thought, how the biblical, patristic and classical traditions of knowledge are passed down in time, It is the backbone of intellectual history, and also the other side of this coin: the study of attempts to interfere with the elaboration of knowledge through censorship and expurgation.

Systematic study of annotations by historians was begun by medievalists, who found that they provided new insights into the way in which biblical commentators, philosophers, and erudite mendicants understood texts and developed their own writing: Beryl Smalley’s The Study of the Bible in the Middle Ages (1941) and English Friars and Antiquity in the Early Fourteenth Century (1960) were among the pioneering works. After World War II, with the turn in intellectual history to practices of knowledge-making and the rise of book history, they became a central interest of early modern scholarship. Jardine and Grafton’s study of Gabriel Harvey (1990) marked a new effort to connect annotations to political thought and action. In recent scholarship on early modern theology and resistance theory, annotations have been the subject of fierce dispute.

By contrast annotation in literary studies is the center of the fundamental scholarly procedures of the discipline, annotation providing explanatory apparatus attached to text editions: the starting point for literary interpretation. Here annotations help readers understand the meanings of the words of a text and how such texts might have begun in other, older texts. Worry about excess or leading the reader astray runs through this tradition: ‘To pursue such possibilities of wordplay opens up vast potential for hitherto undiscovered resonances, but can do so irresponsibly.’ (David Bevington (SQ, 68 (2017)). Nabokov’s Pale Fire (1962) is the hilarious apotheosis of the anxiety attached to literary annotation.

There is also a branch of annotation study in literature, focused largely on the earlier periods, entertaining the idea of annotations as an evolving work of authorship in a given text, and concerned with the impact of technology change: how print and digital technology changed or are changing the nature of annotation. The work of Alastair Minnis in the medieval field is seminal; so too Peter Stallybrass’s important investigations of commonplacing, Kathryn Rudy’s examining of dirt and wear on manuscript pages and Jane Griffith’s 2014 study of ‘experimental glossing in manuscript and print’ proof of evolving interest.

Customarily annotation studies in the two respective disciplines have had little to say to each other until the relatively recent rise of book history and materiality studies. What have the disciplines learned from each other with regard to annotation study and annotation practice, and what is still to be gained from interdisciplinary dialogue in these fields of learning? We offer a roundtable discussion featuring both older, established field leaders and very accomplished younger historians and literary scholars in order to demonstrate the fertility of interdisciplinary dialogue.

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