Introducing Dr Ruokkeinen

We currently have two postdoctoral researchers working for the project. Sirkku Ruokkeinen started her research stint in July 2022. In this interview, she tells us more about her contribution to the project and her thoughts on graphic literacies.

Portrait of Sirkku Ruokkeinen.
Photo: Sirkku Ruokkeinen.

How did you first become interested in graphic literacies?

I have always been interested in liminal spaces, especially paratextuality. My interest lies in managing the reader, their expectations, interpretations, and the ways the text is used. The relationship between text and graphic elements is reminiscent of that between text and paratext. What is expected of the reader? What different ways of reading does the author prepare for? How are errors and subversive readings prepared for? How is the reader instructed?

What will be your main area of responsibility in EModGraL?

I will look into how graphic devices are used in paratextual material – whether they were used to promote the work, advance its sales, if the paratextual matter was used to instruct in their use. This analysis will contribute to an overview of the expectations book producers had relating to the graphic literacy levels of the English readership.

What is, in your opinion, the most challenging aspect of the project?

At this stage, given that I have only just worked at the project for a few months, choosing and refining topics of research seems most difficult. There is plenty that could be taken up for study.

Is there a specific domain or genre you look forward to investigating? Why?

I’m especially interested in seeing how the Playfair graphs1 (late 1700’s) and other new graphic elements were framed on title pages and other paratexts, how they were discussed and presented to the audiences. I’m curious to see if there was an expectation of understanding, especially if any of these graphs made it to texts which were intended for non-expert audiences.

Why is studying early graphic literacies important?

It informs us on the ways in which our thinking may have differed from that of late medieval and early modern readers. Models for representing information influence our thinking and understanding of the world.

Sirkku Ruokkeinen & Aino Liira | Twitter: @proemium, @penflourished

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1. William Playfair (1759–1823) is considered the inventor of several types of statistical graphs, the pie chart among others. Playfair’s 'The Commercial and Political Atlas' (3rd ed. 1801), with references for further reading, is available at: https://archive.org/details/PLAYFAIRWilliam1801TheCommercialandPoliticalAtlas/page/n75/mode/2up

A look into the 1st year of EModGraL

September marks the beginning of the second year of our Early Modern Graphic Literacies project. During the first year of EModGraL, our major research tasks were to develop a classification system for the early graphic devices we examine and to proceed with data collection for our sample years.

Thanks to a wonderfully collective and co-operative process that included weekly data sessions and daily interaction between project members on chat, we established a threefold classification (with subcategories) that is applicable to our dataset. The system and some preliminary results were presented by project members and key collaborators in several conferences during spring/summer, most recently at the 12th International Conference on Middle English  in Glasgow in August.

Jacobus de Voragine, The Golden Legend (Westminster: William Caxton, ca. 14831484). University of Glasgow Archives & Special Collections, Hunterian Bg.1.1. Photo: MLV

Our data collection has progressed very well: the fifteenth- and sixteenth-century datasets are already complete, and we are expecting to complete our sampling for the seventeenth century this autumn. A major question we are trying to find a solution for at the moment has to do with the ‘harmonisation’ of the text category classifications between EEBO and ECCO. This is important to enable us to map the distribution of the graphic devices in different kinds of texts from the late fifteenth to the late eighteenth century.

We already have several publications underway, including a team-authored article in which we introduce our classification model and an edited volume for Brepols, provisionally entitled Graphic Practices and Literacies in the History of English.

We are looking forward to a stimulating, thought-provoking and productive second year of the project!

Matti Peikola & Aino Liira | Photos: Mari-Liisa Varila

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1. William Playfair (1759–1823) is considered the inventor of several types of statistical graphs, the pie chart among others. Playfair’s 'The Commercial and Political Atlas' (3rd ed. 1801), with references for further reading, is available at: https://archive.org/details/PLAYFAIRWilliam1801TheCommercialandPoliticalAtlas/page/n75/mode/2up

Interview with the Vice-PI

Decorative image: A large number of books stacked on top of each other.
Photo: Martin Vorel – https://martinvorel.com, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The first-year mark of EModGraL is fast approaching. Dr Mari-Liisa Varila, the Vice-PI of the project, has recently completed her postdoctoral research stint. We interviewed her about her past and future work for the EModGraL project.

A portrait of Dr Mari-Liisa Varila
Photo: Mari-Liisa Varila

Dr Varila, your research stint in the project has recently come to an end. What have been some of your main tasks or responsibilities in EModGraL?

I participated in designing the EModGraL data collection procedure, and I collected data from incunabula and 16th-century books. Much of my time was spent on research and writing, but I also taught a three-session MA module on the project theme. I’m also the vice-PI of EModGraL and lead the work package focusing specifically on medical texts.

Your work as the vice-PI of the project continues and a part of your working hours as lecturer will be devoted to the project. What are some of the things that you will continue to work on?

I’ll continue to work on the medical texts work package. This autumn I’ll be focusing on an article on graphic devices in printed medical texts in 1500–1700, co-authored with our collaborators Jukka Tyrkkö and Carla Suhr. I’ll also continue to work on some other aspects of the project, as well as publications, including an edited volume and an article on our project methodology.

What has been most exciting about the project?

I’d say the most exciting part thus far has been getting to go through thousands of facsimile images of early printed books (including e.g. all incunabula on Early English Books Online) in search of graphic devices. It’s always exciting to consult primary sources, be it in situ or via a digital surrogate. I’m also very much looking forward to the results of our diachronic survey of graphic devices up to 1800 and to finding out more about the discursive strategies of book producers in presenting graphic devices and instructing the reader in using them.

Did anything unexpected or surprising come up? Did the project provide you with new research ideas regarding graphic devices or graphic literacies?

I’m not sure I would use the word ‘unexpected’, but it has definitely been interesting to see the distribution of different types of graphic devices in our data thus far, and I’m looking forward to finding out more about the relationship between graphic devices and genre / target audience. It’s also been fascinating to see some examples of devices that do not quite fit in with present-day conventions and definitions of graphic devices, and I’m hoping to take a closer look at some of these in the future.

Do you have any reading recommendations related to early graphic literacies and/or graphic devices?

This is such a multidisciplinary field that it is difficult to give just a few recommendations – it would have to be a lengthy reading list. But I would say one benefits from reading widely and being open-minded. One article I enjoyed reading last year was Elizabeth Rowley-Jolivet’s study on ‘The emergence of text-graphics conventions in a medical research journal: The Lancet 1823–2015’ (ASp, 73). Although both the medium and date of Rowley-Jolivet’s primary materials are outside the scope of EModGraL, I found that the analysis was very relevant for our interests. Since I usually focus on late medieval and early modern materials in my own work, I might not even have spotted this paper were it not for the project.

Mari-Liisa Varila & Aino Liira | Twitter: @mlvarila, @penflourished

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1. William Playfair (1759–1823) is considered the inventor of several types of statistical graphs, the pie chart among others. Playfair’s 'The Commercial and Political Atlas' (3rd ed. 1801), with references for further reading, is available at: https://archive.org/details/PLAYFAIRWilliam1801TheCommercialandPoliticalAtlas/page/n75/mode/2up

A word from our research assistant

I started working as a research assistant in Early Modern Graphic Literacies in November 2021. Almost four months have gone by since then – surprisingly fast – so it is high time for me to introduce myself.

I am currently finishing my master’s degree in Finnish Language at the University of Turku. The Department of Finnish and Finno-Ugric Languages in Turku has a long tradition of historical linguistics, so I got acquainted with the early forms and development of literary Finnish already during my bachelor’s studies. I ended up writing my BA thesis on the language of Mikael Agricola, often called “the father of literary Finnish”, using data from the Morpho-Syntactic Database of Mikael Agricola’s Works created at our department.

Last summer, I did an internship at the Institute for the Languages of Finland, working on the digitisation of the Postilla of Ericus Erici Sorolainen, a book of sermons published in the 1620s. The digitisation project is based on AI-powered text recognition and it is part of the work of the Dictionary of Old Literary Finnish and its related corpus, the Corpus of Old Literary Finnish. You can read more about the project in a blog post (in Finnish only) I wrote at the end of my internship and find a short English introduction to Old Literary Finnish at the Institute’s website.

With a background in Finnish instead of English studies, it has been fascinating, at times challenging, but ultimately very rewarding to jump into a project in a neighbouring field. My previous experience being mostly language-focused, working in the EModGraL project has also drawn my attention more to the material aspects of books. It has been a delight to see the range of genres in the project data as well – Finnish texts published before the 19th century tend to be either religious works or legal translations.

One of my favourite aspects of working with early modern texts is the perspective you gain into the historical and cultural context of the time period along the way. So far, I have completed classifying the data from the year 1596. The ongoing Long Reformation in England can be seen in anti-Catholic works, e.g. in the ex-Catholic priest Thomas Bell’s The suruey of popery, in which poperie is turned vp-side downe. The European exploration and colonisation of the Americas is evident in books such as Sir Walter Raleigh’s famous The discouerie of the large, rich and bevvtiful empire of Guiana, an account of his El Dorado expedition in 1595.

“A priuie in perfection” from John Harington’s The Metamorphosis of Ajax. Source: The Metamorphosis of Ajax, a Cloacinean satire: with the Anatomy and Apology … To which is added Ulysses upon Ajax / [Sir John Harington]. Wellcome Collection. Public Domain Mark.

Perhaps the most interesting work in the 1596 data is Sir John Harington’s A nevv discourse of a stale subiect, called the metamorphosis of Aiax. In this work, Harington describes his brand-new invention, the flush toilet. It is a bit of a wild ride, with plenty of biblical and classical references, and it caused quite a stir after its publication due to its coded political messages. The book can be conveniently found and read on the Ex-Classics website for anyone willing to take a look.

I’m now working on data from year 1696. In a hundred years, the number of works in the data has exploded: from about 250 (excluding duplicates and reprints) in year 1596 to over 1400 in year 1696. I look forward to seeing what surprises the project data still holds!

Otso Norblad

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1. William Playfair (1759–1823) is considered the inventor of several types of statistical graphs, the pie chart among others. Playfair’s 'The Commercial and Political Atlas' (3rd ed. 1801), with references for further reading, is available at: https://archive.org/details/PLAYFAIRWilliam1801TheCommercialandPoliticalAtlas/page/n75/mode/2up

Data workshop 26 November

On Friday 26 November, the EModGraL research team and our key collaborators gathered together in wintry Turku (in person and via Zoom) to discuss the tentative typology of graphic devices we are developing for our materials.

There are several modern typologies used for graphic devices that offer a helpful starting point for us, but we have not yet found a classification that would be directly applicable to our early printed materials. We are therefore working on developing a typology for the purposes of the project. In the first stage, the typology will be rather simple, consisting of a few main categories that enable us, for example, to distinguish between diagrams, tables, and pictures. In the first stage of data collection, our research assistant will categorise graphic devices in our dataset according to this typology. In the next stage, we will develop a more nuanced categorisation of the data based on what we find in our materials.  

The image shows participants of the data workshop in a classroom, with two participants on the screen.
The workshop begins. Photo: Outi Merisalo

Workshop sessions

Our workshop was organised as a one-day intensive event with three sessions focused on different aspects of the tentative typology. In the first session, we introduced the project and our data collection procedure. We also discussed the various categories we intend to exclude from our dataset. The second session focused on the categories of figures and tables, while the third session was concerned with ‘general images’ or pictures.

The discussion was lively throughout the day, and we received plenty of useful comments and feedback on our tentative typology. After the workshop, we had dinner together in the 17th-century cellars of a local restaurant.

Tricky cases

Our discussion was mainly based on samples of material from 1596 and 1696. The books from these years form the core of our pilot dataset, and we expect them to contain enough material to provide us with a workable initial categorisation.

While it has thus far been relatively easy to categorise most of the graphic devices in our data from the first pilot year, 1596, some cases have proved tricky. For example, while we exclude tables of contents from our quantitative dataset, what should we do with a table of contents that is organised as a horizontal tree diagram?1 In other words, when collecting data, should we prioritise function (a table of contents should be excluded) or form (a horizontal tree diagram should be included)? This question is at the core of many of the problematic cases we discussed in the workshop. There are no easy solutions, so we will have to find compromises that are good enough for the purposes of our project.

The data workshop took place at exactly the right time considering the timeline of the whole project. We expect that our tentative typology will change and develop during the project, but it was very useful to compare notes at this early stage to ensure that our data collection procedure is feasible and that the tentative categories are helpful in terms of the later stages of the project. We are grateful for the expert advice and insightful comments provided by our collaborators!

Mari-Liisa Varila | Twitter: @mlvarila

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1. William Playfair (1759–1823) is considered the inventor of several types of statistical graphs, the pie chart among others. Playfair’s 'The Commercial and Political Atlas' (3rd ed. 1801), with references for further reading, is available at: https://archive.org/details/PLAYFAIRWilliam1801TheCommercialandPoliticalAtlas/page/n75/mode/2up

The beginnings of EModGraL

Old map of Europe

In a way, the Early Modern Graphic Literacies project begun two years ago when our first research plan for this project was written. But our team has been interested in the interaction between the verbal and visual elements on the page for longer than that. This post takes a look at a selection of our previous work that led to the EModGraL project.

An engraving showing the path of comets.
Astronomy: diagram of the path of comets. Engraving. Credit: Wellcome Collection. Public Domain Mark

The verbal and the visual

Together with a team of colleagues, Matti Peikola and Mari-Liisa Varila examined copies of the English Polychronicon in manuscript and print in an exploratory paper testing our ‘pragmatics on the page’ approach (2013).1 This pilot study compared the varying visual forms of text employed in different copies (or utterances) of the same work. We explored four different strategies of highlighting text: “changing its colour, increasing or reducing its size, using a different style than that of its immediate environment, and positioning it in a location where it stands out from the body text” (Carroll & al., p. 57). We also looked at the use of initials, borders, and paraphs.

The pilot study inspired us to organise a workshop in Turku called ‘Linguistics meets book history: Seeking new approaches’ in 2014. The workshop brought together an international group of scholars interested in the intersection of linguistics and book history as well as the interaction between the verbal and the visual on the manuscript and printed page – and beyond. The workshop led to the publication of a themed edited volume in 20172 with an introduction by the editors examining the vocabulary used to study visual and material features.3

Individual team members have also discussed the interplay of verbal and visual elements in different kinds of primary materials. For example, Peikola (2011) discusses the transmission of Middle English tables of lessons and explores the spatial challenges of copying texts formatted as tables.4 Varila’s PhD dissertation on the transmission of scientific and utilitarian writing (2016) also touches upon copying tables and diagrams.5 Aino Liira conducted a thorough survey of the verbal and visual presentation of the Polychronicon in her PhD dissertation (2020).6

These previous explorations of the transmission of graphic devices and the interaction between the verbal and the visual partly inspired the Early Modern Graphic Literacies approach. Another important starting point for EModGraL is the team members’ work on paratext and metadiscourse.

Paratext and metadiscourse

Together with Prof. Dr. Birte Bös, Peikola recently edited a volume focused on paratext, metadiscourse and framing7 in which Varila also contributed a chapter on 16th-century book producers’ comments on text-organisation.8 Sirkku Ruokkeinen and Aino Liira’s recent article (2019) highlights the importance of material practices for paratextual theory.9 The team members’ joint article (2020) on Christopher St German’s Doctor and Student examines the changes and continuities of the paratextual frame of a single work in editions published 1528–1886.10

In EModGraL, the team will study metadiscourse related to graphic devices, for example captions and other instructions for the reader/user. Our previous work on paratext and metadiscourse inspired this line of questioning and will help us identify and analyse such passages.

…and beyond

Our previous work gives us a starting point, but we have a lot to learn. In addition to historical linguistics and book studies, insights from fields such as diagram studies, digital humanities, and history of science (to name a few) will inform our work. We look forward to discussing the history of graphic devices with scholars from different fields as the project progresses!

Mari-Liisa Varila | Twitter: @mlvarila

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1. William Playfair (1759–1823) is considered the inventor of several types of statistical graphs, the pie chart among others. Playfair’s 'The Commercial and Political Atlas' (3rd ed. 1801), with references for further reading, is available at: https://archive.org/details/PLAYFAIRWilliam1801TheCommercialandPoliticalAtlas/page/n75/mode/2up
2. Peikola Matti, Aleksi Mäkilähde, Hanna Salmi, Mari-Liisa Varila & Janne Skaffari (eds) 2017. Verbal and Visual Communication in Early English Texts. Utrecht Studies in Medieval Literacy (USML 37). Turnhout: Brepols.
3. Varila Mari-Liisa, Hanna Salmi, Aleksi Mäkilähde, Janne Skaffari & Matti Peikola 2017. Disciplinary decoding: Towards understanding the language of visual and material features. In Matti Peikola et al. (eds) 2017, Verbal and Visual Communication in Early English Texts. Utrecht Studies in Medieval Literacy (USML 37). Turnhout: Brepols, 1–20.
4. Peikola Matti 2011. Copying space, length of entries, and textual transmission in Middle English tables of lessons. In Jacob Thaisen & Hanna Rutkowska (eds), Scribes, Printers, and the Accidentals of their Texts. Studies in English Medieval Language and Literature 33. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 107–124.
5. Varila Mari-Liisa 2016. In search of textual boundaries: A case study on the transmission of scientific writing in 16th-century England. PhD dissertation, Turku: University of Turku. The lectio praecursoria of the doctoral defence was published in Neuphilologische Mitteilungen 117(2), 443–448.
6. Liira Aino 2020. Paratextuality in manuscript and print: Verbal and visual presentation of the Middle English Polychronicon. PhD dissertation, Turku: University of Turku. https://www.utupub.fi/handle/10024/149454
7. Peikola Matti & Birte Bös (eds) 2020. The Dynamics of Text and Framing Phenomena. Pragmatics & Beyond New Series 317. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. https://benjamins.com/catalog/pbns.317
8. Varila Mari-Liisa 2020. Book producers’ comments on text-organisation in early 16th-century English printed paratexts. In Matti Peikola & Birte Bös (eds), The Dynamics of Text and Framing Phenomena. Pragmatics & Beyond New Series 317. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 209–229.https://research.utu.fi/converis/portal/detail/Publication/50044955?lang=fi_FI
9. Ruokkeinen Sirkku & Aino Liira 2019. Material approaches to exploring the borders of paratext. Textual Cultures: Texts, Contexts, Interpretation 11(1–2), 106–129. http://dx.doi.org/10.14434/textual.v11i1-2.23302.
10. Varila Mari-Liisa, Sirkku Ruokkeinen, Aino Liira & Matti Peikola 2020. Paratextual presentation of Christopher St German’s Doctor and Student 1528–1886. In Caroline Tagg & Mel Evans, Message and Medium. English Language Practices across Old and New Media. Topics in English Linguistics 105. Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton, 232–252. https://research.utu.fi/converis/portal/detail/Publication/46820715?lang=fi_FI