Simon Burrows and Glenn Roe’s edited collection, Digitizing Enlightenment: Digital Humanities and the Transformation of Eighteenth-Century Studies, is a necessary reminder of the huge strides made by the field of eighteenth-century studies when employing the transformative tools of digital humanities. Impressive in its breath, this volume offers an in-depth view of several institutional projects, as well as sample DH applications to the study of the period. Ambitiously arguing that “the eighteenth century may … offer the perfect laboratory for applying digital technologies” (11), the editors have gathered contributions on major digitization efforts and DH projects undertaken in the past decade, many of them interrelated or involving transnational and cross-disciplinary collaborations, that have transformed in a relatively short period of time our understanding of the Enlightenment.
At first, the move from in-person instruction to an online Zoom classroom seemed like it would hit us particularly hard in Dr. Matt Kirschenbaum’s “BookLab: How to Do Things with Books” course. The course focused not only on the theoretical affordances of reading textual materiality, but also on getting our hands dirty with the physical production of material objects: using clay tablets, making paper, playing with a 3-D printed type matrix and punch, collation exercises, bookbinding, letterpress printing. On our last day of class, the same day our university announced its plans for a campus closure, we were all huddled around one of the presses pulling prints of Walt Whitman’s “A Font of Type” on the paper we had made only a few weeks prior.
In Fall of 2019 I took a class at the University of Maryland from Professor Tita Chico entitled “The Postmodern Enlightenment.” In this class we read and compared contemporary works and 18th-century works. As a companion to the Yorgos Lanthimos movie The Favourite, we were assigned to read The Secret History of Queen Zarah of the Zarazians, Being a Looking-Glass for —– ——– in The Kingdom of Albigion by (probably) Mary Delariviere Manley. This satirical roman a clef is an attack on Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough leveled by a woman no less ambitious than Churchill was.
The Women’s Print History Project is a database that collects in one place information about British women’s writing, editing, publishing, printing, bookselling, and other contributions to the print trade in the “long eighteenth century” (in this case, 1750-1830). Built by a team of more than twenty people under the leadership of Michelle Levy and Kandice Sharren and funded by an SSHRC Insight Grant and Simon Fraser University, the database pulls together extensive bibliographical information from print, online, and developing sources. It is thus a much-needed centralized search for a territory that has been enriched in recent years by specialized projects covering different aspects of this historical archive.
“Until well into the 19th century typographical craftsmanship was passed down from generation to generation in the workshops where printing was practised, in the printing houses,” argued Frans A. Janssen in his monumental 1982 edition of David Wardenaar’s Beschrijving der Boekdrukkunst (1801), the oldest Dutch printer’s manual. Apprentice typographers learned the trade on the job; instruction manuals were wasted on them. That such books were made all the same is owing to “the relative small number of the most educated and ambitious master printers and overseers” (Janssen, ed. Wardenaar, 11). One such man was Joannes Josephus Balthazar Vanderstraelen from Antwerp who, in 1784–5, wrote an instruction manual explaining how to place type for different formats into the forme in the correct manner. In 2006 the Grolier Club managed to acquire the manuscript containing Vanderstraelen’s “Overslag-Boek.” Eugene S. Flamm, president of the Club from 2010–14 and author of the foreword to this facsimile, is understandably proud of the acquisition and of the present edition by Janssen – the expert par excellence in the field of typesetting and printing in the Low Countries. ☛ ☞