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

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

Introducing Dr Liira

A cat on the desk inspecting an open notebook.

Dr Aino Liira’s two-year stint as a postdoctoral researcher begun in January 2022. In this interview, she tells us more about her research interests and work for EModGraL.

How did you first become interested in graphic literacies?

The combination of visual and linguistic aspects of texts is what got me interested in academic research in the first place. I have previously mainly worked with paratexts, that is, elements such as titles or indices which surround or even overlap with the “main text” but are not quite part of it. I’m likewise interested in other phenomena regarding textuality, such as the intersection of the physical and the abstract, and the different roles played by the producers and the readers of texts in shaping the book. When working with paratexts, practical tools like tables (of contents) and indices grabbed my attention. I find it particularly fascinating when text producers modify these elements for new editions (or manuscript copies), and/or give instructions to readers on how to use them.

It’s early April and we have almost as much snow as back in January when I started working for the project! (Photo & caption: Aino Liira.)

What is your main area of responsibility in EModGraL?

I’m currently working together with the rest of the team, collecting data and immersing myself in the complexities of analysing and classifying the various types of graphic devices we come across! Later on, I will be in charge of one of the “work packages” focusing on graphic devices in their material context of the page. In practice this means that we will, for example, study the metadiscourse surrounding the elements (how the devices are referred to in the text) and the technological aspects of producing graphic devices, such as choices made by printers. I’m also interested in handwritten additions or notes left by readers, and hoping to find evidence of this by looking at physical copies of books.

What are you most excited about regarding the project?

The chance to familiarise myself with new research material and to encounter new, exciting types of graphic devices. This is also my first time in participating in a larger research project – working as part of a team is exciting and rewarding in itself! The first workshop we had with our collaborators in November was extremely stimulating, and I enjoy our weekly meetings with the team members where we often take a look at problematic cases and interesting findings together.

Working from home during the pandemic: eager assistants always around, ready to inspect my notes or to interrupt my Zoom calls… (Photo & caption: Aino Liira.)

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

I’m more excited about the chance to see a variety of domains and genres, and potentially discover differences between them. My PhD revolved around a single work, a universal chronicle titled the Polychronicon, and I admit I’m curious to see what kind of graphic devices can be found in other books of history. I’m currently working together with PI Matti Peikola and Prof. Marjo Kaartinen to examine visual representations of time or chronological events in late medieval and early modern English books.

Why is studying early graphic literacies important?

Research on graphic devices gives us insight into various aspects of early modern book culture: print technology, textual practices (for example, how the structure of information is made visible through the use of certain graphic conventions such as braces), variation and patterns of change within genres, and so forth. Prose text is not always the most effective way of conveying information. It’s interesting to see what kind of solutions authors and book producers have come up with to transmit complex information that requires visualisation, for example when the reader is expected to identify relationships between concepts. Studying the distribution and variation of graphic devices increases our understanding of early modern reading culture and how a vernacular like English gained ground as a language suitable for transmitting specialist knowledge.

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

Interview with the PI

A yellow two-storey building with autumnal trees in the background

Matti Peikola is Professor of English at the Department of English, University of Turku. He is also the PI of Early Modern Graphic Literacies. In today’s blog post, Matti tells us more about the background and aims of the project.

A yellow two-storey building with autumnal trees in the background.
Team members currently work in the Rosetta and Signum buildings of the campus (built in 1899). Photo: Mari-Liisa Varila.

How did you first become interested in graphic literacies?

In the mid-2000s, I was working on Middle English tables of lections that are found in many manuscripts of the Wycliffite Bible. Although I was at that point primarily focusing on the textual transmission of these tables, my interest was piqued by the long opening rubrics (canons) of some of the tables that inform and instruct the reader about how information is structured and visually presented in them. In some of the tables, however, no such rubrics occur, which made me wonder about possible ‘graphic literacy’ -related reasons for their inclusion/omission.

Whose graphic literacies will the project investigate?

In practice, the project investigates early modern book producers’ and writers’ ideas about graphic literacies of their vernacular audiences and readers. In the project, we assume that these ideas are conveyed by book producers’ and writers’ adoption of different kinds of graphic devices in their books and their discussion of such devices in text and paratext.

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

It will be challenging to arrive at a classification of the early modern graphic devices that is not anachronistic and too reliant on modern typologies. We should approach the devices from their historical context(s) and take into account technological factors that constrain their use in early modern printed books. The classification also needs to be amenable to quantitative data analysis.

What kinds of material will the project explore?

We examine digital facsimiles of all books published in English in twelve sample years from 1521 to 1796 (at 25-year intervals). The materials are primarily accessed via the EEBO (Early English Books Online) and ECCO (Eighteenth Century Collections Online) databases. The purpose is to record all books published in these years that contain graphic devices like tables and diagrams, and then investigate this dataset and its subsets quantitatively and qualitatively in various ways.

Why is studying early graphic literacies important?

Early modern graphic devices have so far been largely examined in Latin scientific writing by historians of science. In this project we examine texts of multiple domains and genres and focus on how graphic devices were accommodated to different kinds of vernacular audiences. The linguistic and philological dimension of this historical process is particularly important for us, and it has not been systematically addressed before. We are essentially looking for traces of different kinds of early multimodal literacies and how they were communicated by book producers and writers.

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