Hello 18th-Century Reading Room readers! This weekend both Rebecca and I will be out of town, so there will be a hiatus in Items of the Day until Tuesday. My mother and I will be meeting up in Philadelphia, which is the reason for the past two days of Franklin blogging. He's on my mind.
In the meanwhile, I would love to receive some feedback about this resource, either in the comments or by email. As we envisioned it, this weblog would be a way to broadcast the experience one has in the physical Reading Room. In addition to having specific items that a researcher might be looking for, the Reading Room serves as an excellent place to immerse oneself in the cultural milieu of the period. While the collection does contain some one-of-a-kind letters and standout pieces, its main strength is that it represents, to some degree, what broadminded eighteenth-century British and American people might have owned and read, including texts from other eras and languages.
When I choose items for the blog, I tend to represent introductory passages, since these tend to demonstrate the frankest prose of the authors, the thesis and warrant of their subject matter, and the relationship the author is attempting to build with the reader, all of which are primary interests of my own research.
I also like to show connections between various items, such as those by the Wollstonecraft-Godwins and by Paine. While coursework in the period usually depends on a student gleaning all she wants to know about a particular author or subject from a single work and then moving on to another, this is certainly not how one collects books for one's own library, and it is also not how a reader of the period would have chosen materials. Both then and now, we pick up a thread, watch a conversation between authors, and trace similar themes throughout a number of works.
Lastly, I particularly enjoy representing the physicality of texts. Many are examples of document validation -- numbering, signatures, seals, formatting, etc. -- especially in the early American republic, when proving authority and authenticity, both to Americans and to the rest of the world, was a source of great anxiety. Typefaces are of interest to me, as I've spent some time doing commercial and academic textual design. Handwriting, too, is fascinating. While scholars new to the period struggle with eighteenth-century typefaces and hands, I still find most Renaissance hands perfectly illegible.
My goals, as you see, are completely idiosyncratic and guided by my own whims and research interests. When I have commentary to make on the pieces themselves, I tend to place it in the comments, so as not to crowd this blog with my ramblings on various pedagogical and theoretical issues. I am, however, greatly interested in learning how you, as either an academic or a curious reader, interact with historical texts. What do you look for? What interests you? What draws you to early editions or maps or engravings?
And, as always, how can the Reading Room better serve you?
Have a lovely weekend, everyone.