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. https://doi.org/10.1080/13825577.2013.755006
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