Project news!

As an EModGraL post-doc, I have lately been working on research into the visual devices of English sixteenth-century military manuals. I am interested in the information transmission devices of these works, the arrival of different types of visual tools to the English print, and the availability of these visuals to the English readership. The material is very fruitful, and during the last few months, while working on an article on the topic, I have published a blog post and held several talks on the various side tracks the materials inspired.

The blog post, titled Renaissance diagrammatics and the English Tartaglia, was published in Ramus Virens, a medieval studies blog of University of Jyväskylä. In the blog, I explore the practices of reproduction of Tartaglia’s image-diagrams in the 1588 English translation, focusing especially on the copying of the diagrammatic sections of the diagram-images.

Speaking at the Humboldt Kolleg in Helsinki, May 15, 2024.

In March, I spoke at the Humboldt Kolleg, an event intended for the dissemination of information across disciplines organized by Alexander-von-Humboldt-Club Finnland. The presentation, titled “Graphicacy and the Military Revolution in sixteenth-century England” discussed the influence – or the lack thereof – of the military revolution on the practices of military publishing in sixteenth-century England.

Text: Sirkku Ruokkeinen | Photo: Antti Ijäs

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Classifying early modern graphic devices

We are delighted to announce the publication of our team-authored article “Developing a classification model for graphic devices in early printed books” published in Studia Neophilologica (open access, online, ahead of print).

In the article, we discuss our methodology and introduce our model for classifying graphic devices in historical materials. This classification is the foundation for our ongoing quantitative survey of the use of graphic devices in early modern books.

We also discuss previous taxonomies and models which have been presented for classifying graphic elements in various fields, ranging from geography to semiotics and education psychology, for example. We explain why none of these existing models is suitable for our EEBO and ECCO materials, and what steps we have taken to devise our own classification model.

A diagram showing the classification model of the Early Modern Graphic Literacies project. Graphic devices are divided into four main categories: General image; Diagram; Table; and Unclear. Each main category is divided into subcategories. General images are classified into general images and general images which contain text. Diagrams are classified into Diagrams, Arithmetic notation, Braces, and Musical notation. Tables are classified according to their size: large, medium, and small. Tables have a separate subcategory for calendars. Unclear items have one subcategory: Unclear tables.
The EModGraL classification model. Visualisation: MLV/EModGraL

In short, we divide graphic devices in three main categories: general images (G), diagrams (D), and tables (T). All categories have subcategories for certain distinctive types, such as calendars (Tc) and musical notation (Dn). Additionally, any unclear items (unclear due to reasons of damage, or because they combine characteristics of more than one category, for example) are placed in a separate category (U). Tagging unclear items separately allows us to exclude them from the quantitative analyses while keeping them easily accessible for further examination in qualitative research articles.

Ruokkeinen, Sirkku, Aino Liira, Mari-Liisa Varila, Otso Norblad, and Matti Peikola. “Developing a Classification Model for Graphic Devices in Early Printed Books.” Studia Neophilologica, 2023.

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Halfway milestone

September marked the halfway point of our four-year project. Let’s look back into the past academic year and see what we have been up to.

Thousands of graphic devices

We completed the sampling of the EEBO data, i.e. the years 1473-1500, 1521, 1546, 1571, 1621, 1646, 1671, and 1696. From these years, we have analysed all books printed in English that are contained in EEBO. Altogether this amounts to ca. 4,300 books and 510,000 pages! The overall number of graphic devices we have found and classified in this material is ca. 25,300. We are eager to do further statistical analyses and publish the results.

Out of curiosity, it could be mentioned that the highest number of graphic devices encountered in a single book is 1,353 devices! The book in question is Samuel Jeake’s arithmetical work Logistikēlogia, or Arithmetick surveighed and reviewed published in 16961 (the full title is monstrous enough to be hidden in a footnote). As you can probably guess, this book mostly contains arithmetical notation.


Our team has been busy working on publishing the research results. In February, we announced the publication of Matti Peikola and Mari-Liisa Varila’s article on late medieval English calendars; in the meanwhile, another article by them, discussing reader instruction in Middle English tables and diagrams, has been accepted for publication in the Journal of Historical Pragmatics. Our team-authored article on the EModGraL classification model has likewise been accepted and is forthcoming in Studia Neophilologica. The edited collection Graphic Practices and Literacies in the History of English (with chapters written by EModGraL team members as well as collaborators) is in progress and will be submitted to the publisher later this autumn.

Our team members are currently working on articles addressing topics such as captions (Varila), braces (Peikola & team), graphic devices and paratextual matter (Sirkku Ruokkeinen & Outi Merisalo), and metatext associated with tabular devices (Aino Liira & Wendy Scase), to name a few.

…and presentations

The ICEHL-22 conference took place in the Diamond building in Sheffield.

The EModGraL team members have attended various conferences and other events to present and discuss their research. In January 2022, Aino Liira attended the first national Research Symposium for Early Career Historians on the History of Science and Learning, where she presented the results of a study co-authored with Matti Peikola and Marjo Kaartinen on ‘visual chronologies’ in Early Modern English books (to be published in the Brepols volume). Later in February, Aino and Matti also discussed this topic in a Studia Generalia lecture hosted by TUCEMEMS. In July, the EModGraL team (along with some other Turku colleagues) travelled to Sheffield, UK, for the 22nd International Conference on English Historical Linguistics. Of course, our researchers have also participated in smaller but still important events and meetings throughout the academic year. For instance, Aino and Sirkku presented their research at the Research Day of the School of Languages and Translation at the University of Turku in the spring.

Research visits, collaboration and teaching

Last autumn we were happy to host James Titterington’s two-month research visit to Turku, funded by the Turku University Foundation and the EModGraL project. The collaboration on a research article continues after his visit. Around the same time as James arrived, Aino started her three-month visit to London and the University of Birmingham.

In the spring term, we offered a team-taught course ‘Early Modern Multimodal Practices’, available for students at the Department of English and other language departments. We had a small group of students but all of them were highly enthusiastic. The course included classes on early modern printing, the use of online databases such as EEBO and ECCO, paratexts, and multimodality in different domains and genres, such as science, religion and handbooks. We also paid visits to the University of Turku Library and the Donner Institute Library where our students had the chance to see and handle rare books. Our students enjoyed these practical, hands-on sessions tremendously, and they were a rare treat for the teachers as well!

Onwards to the second half of the project

At the moment we’re looking forward to a second workshop with our collaborators, to be held on Friday 3 November. Based on our good experiences from the first workshop, we’re expecting a day full of invigorating discussions. Time will be reserved for discussing article drafts and presenting on-going research as well as discussing the current stage of our quantitative survey of graphic devices.

Plans are also underway for an international conference on the themes of graphic devices and graphic literacies in 2025 – stay tuned for more information!

Text: Aino Liira & Matti Peikola | Photos: Aino Liira

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1. Jeake, Samuel. Logistikēlogia, or Arithmetick surveighed and reviewed: in four books. Viz. 1 book 1 part intergers. 2 part fractions. 2 book 1 part geodæticals. 2. part figurals 3 book 1 part decimals. 2 part astronomicals. 3 part logarithmes. 4 part coffics. 5 part surds. 6 part species. 4 book 1 part ratios. 2 part proportions disjunct. 3 part proportions continued. 4 part Æquations. Wherein the nature of numbers absolutely abstract, generally and specially contract, with their simple and comparative elements, are plainly declared, and fully handled. Every part furnished with such necessary rules, cases, theoremes, questions, observations, and varieties of operation, as principally to them belong, ... and delivered in so familiar a style, as may befit mean capacities, and if practically applied, become more than ordinarily useful both in mechanical and mathematica arts and sciences. By Samuel Jeake senior. London: printed by J.R. and J.D. for Walter Kettilby, 1696. Wing J499.

Analysing the Man of Signs

Writing an EModGraL-themed MA thesis | Text: Saara Kaltiomaa

Deciding on the topic

Back when I was a fourth-year student at the University of Turku I was planning on writing my master’s thesis about fluency measures and SLA (second language acquisition) related themes. But in the Spring of 2022 I took a course called Texts and Contexts 1 where I was first introduced to Early Modern Graphic Literacies. I was mesmerised by the illustrations we analysed in the classroom, and I knew I had to look further into the themes of woodcut illustrations in prints and the textual elements surrounding them, especially the Zodiac Man figure found in many Early Modern English (EModE) printed almanacks.

The lecturers, Matti Peikola and Mari-Liisa Varila (who both actually guided me through my writing process), were very supportive with my choices of themes and provided me with additional literature to help me approach the topic. We discussed that exploring the EModE printed almanacks would be a great place to start, as they can be found fairly easily in online databases. I myself used Early English Books Online (EEBO) which I found to be handy and easy to use.

Zodiac Man woodcut in the German almanack of Petrus Slovacius, Allmanach auff das 1581 jar. Breslau (Wrocław): Johan Scharffenberg, [1580]. Wellcome Collection, public domain.

Analysing almanacks

The sheer amount of the EModE printed almanacks I found was astonishing: back in the day the publication was found in basically every household. As the printing press was developed and paper slowly replaced parchment, mass producing texts became way faster. Most importantly, printed publications were more affordable to the common folk (vs. manuscripts). These printed almanacks were also written in English instead of Latin or French, which made the publications accessible to many. Not to mention the more practical size: compared to handwritten manuscripts, printed almanacks were often sort of smaller, portable versions of them.


In short: I looked into the language, contents, and visual elements surrounding the Zodiac Man woodcuts in these EModE almanacks in order to trace the development of said features throughout the sixteenth century. I was trying to look for patterns and diachronic development in the aforementioned categories. The results of my research pointed to a relationship between verbal and visual elements: the contents of the almanacks determined the visual themes presented in them. In terms of language choices (the use of English, French, or Latin) and linguistic features (e.g. astrological vocabulary) there were, however, few patterns or traces of development detectable during the time period.

To summarise a few interesting findings I made: many of the 48 almanacks that were analysed contained the same terminology in different languages (and often even inside the same specific almanack), highlighting some undecidedness in the choice of terms before the standardisation of the English language. It is also unclear whether certain printers used only specific woodcuts but there were certainly some styles of woodcuts more preferred than others. The themes and topics of the texts surrounding the illustrations also had an effect on what kind of a Zodiac Man image was used in the publication. For example, a certain type of image was preferred depending on whether the text was more informational or whether the image served more of an aesthetic purpose separate from the surrounding text.

Looking at the research process now I realise there is a lot more to look into when examining EModE printed almanacks: besides the Zodiac Man image there are many other interesting illustrations and features to be examined. Perhaps one could even write a doctoral dissertation in the field of Early Modern Graphic Literacies?

The author (MA) graduated in the Summer of 2023 and is currently doing smaller translation tasks as a freelancer along with her day job in customer service. She is currently considering postgraduate studies at the University.

Kaltiomaa, Saara. 2023. Analysing the Man of Signs: A Study on the Changes of the Linguistic Elements and the Contexts of the Zodiac Man Figure in Early Modern Almanacks (1537–1603). Master’s Thesis, Department of English, University of Turku. Available online:

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Multimodal, multilingual calendars

The first peer-reviewed publication associated with EModGraL is out!

In ‘Multimodal and Multilingual Practices in Late Medieval English Calendars’, Matti Peikola and Mari-Liisa Varila examine a selection of late medieval (ca. 1300–1550) manuscript calendars.

Calendar of saints (June). A medieval manuscript fragment, ca. 1340–1360, National library of Finland, F.m.VII.1. This Latin calendar, dating from the same period as the calendars studied by Peikola and Varila, has been used by the Dominican convent of Turku, Finland. Image via Doria (public domain).

Calendars were a specific type of table that was perhaps the most familiar to late medieval readers. They provided information about saints’ days and other liturgical feasts but also contained a variety of other kinds of information, often in a highly condensed form.

In their study, Peikola & Varila found differences between the contents and presentation of calendars in religious manuscripts vs those in e.g. astro-medical manuscripts. They suggest that these may be viewed as distinct subgenres, although they also found hybrids. Language choices reflected genre conventions and specialised functions, and calendars produced in the latter half of the period studied were more likely to be multilingual. Finally, the authors note that the potential influences of print technology on the generic properties of calendars should be examined in the future. This study is currently under preparation.

Peikola Matti & Mari-Liisa Varila. “Multimodal and Multilingual Practices in Late Medieval English Calendars”. In Multilingualism from Manuscript to 3D: Intersections of modalities from medieval to modern times, edited by Matylda Włodarczyk, Jukka Tyrkkö & Elżbieta Adamczyk, 93-118. New York: Routledge, 2023. DOI: 10.4324/9781003166634-6. (Open access)

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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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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. Carroll Ruth, Matti Peikola, Hanna Salmi, Mari-Liisa Varila, Janne Skaffari & Risto Hiltunen 2013. Pragmatics on the page: Visual text in late medieval English books. European Journal of English Studies 17(1), 54–71.
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.
7. Peikola Matti & Birte Bös (eds) 2020. The Dynamics of Text and Framing Phenomena. Pragmatics & Beyond New Series 317. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
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.
9. Ruokkeinen Sirkku & Aino Liira 2019. Material approaches to exploring the borders of paratext. Textual Cultures: Texts, Contexts, Interpretation 11(1–2), 106–129.
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.