You Should Learn Descriptive Bibliography

By editor Erin Schreiner

This summer, I spent a week at Rare Book School at the University of Virginia doing something new and I loved it. I was a newcomer to a group of Lab Instructors guiding students through a weeklong intensive course, the Introduction to the Principles of Descriptive Bibliography, otherwise known as Des Bib boot camp.  Through the course of the week, students spend a solid six-to-eight hours each day in lectures, curated museums of printing, typography, and paper, and in something of a trial by fire: homework and “lab” sessions. In the last two students go to battle with books, writing collational formulas and statements of signing and pagination that describe, in a language codified by Fredson Bowers, the book’s structure. In the lab periods, students sit down with an instructor to see if the descriptions they wrote actually represent the book at hand.

It’s this last bit that’s the trickiest part of learning to write coherent, accurate, and concise bibliographical descriptions, because in order to describe a book you’ve got to understand why it looks the way it does now, how and when it got to be that way, and the questions to ask and the sources to consult to figure all that stuff out. Determining book format – folio? quarto? octavo? duodecimo? 32mo or 24mo? – requires not just an understanding of what those words mean, but also a substantial knowledge of historical printing, papermaking, and binding techniques. In other words, competent bibliographical description depends upon competent bibliographical analysis, and students learn to do both in this course at Rare Book School. It’s a lot to teach, but students catch on fast and many have a lot of fun with it.

Most students in this course fall into three categories: rare book curators, library catalogers, and booksellers. Academics, typically historians of English literature, have also been a fixture in the course and in years past their numbers have grown, particularly thanks to Rare Book School’s Mellon Fellowship Program. Curators and booksellers must know how to read and write descriptions because their reputations, their livelihood, and the collections they help to build depend on it. The value of a book depends upon whether or not it is complete, and the place it holds within that text’s publication history. The edition, issue, or state of a specific copy of a text impacts its monetary and scholarly value, and parties on both ends of the transaction must carefully examine the book at hand in order to know precisely what is on offer. Catalogers, too, must learn to read and write descriptions so that they can accurately represent the book in their institution’s collection to the reading public consulting its catalog.

51ru7s8cail-_sx334_bo1204203200_For curators, catalogers, and booksellers, the need to read and write detailed, Bowers-style bibliographical descriptions brings them to Charlottesville for the week. And this, in part, explains why fewer academics (even academics who work in bibliographically oriented areas of study like the history of books and reading) typically take the course: reading and writing Bowers-style formulas is not an essential skill for their scholarship. But after a week of living and breathing the Rare Book School curriculum – which relies heavily on Bowers’ Principles of Bibliographical Description and Philip Gaskell’s A New Introduction to Bibliography – I want to urge academics to consider how learning the basics of descriptive bibliography can benefit your work as scholars and teachers.

At Rare Book School, students learn to write collations for what’s known as the ideal copy of the text, which Bowers defines as “a book which is complete in all its leaves as it ultimately left the printer’s shop in perfect condition and in the complete state that he considered to represent the final and most perfect state of it.” (Principles, 13) Perhaps the stickiest wicket in all of bibliography, ideal copy addresses what G. Thomas Tanselle describes as “a central truth that affects everything a bibliographer does… the fact that books are not meant to be unique items and are normally printed in runs of what purport [my emphasis] to be duplicates.”


Studying a forme of type on the bed of a Vandercook Press at Rare Book School.

But bookmakers and book buyers have many marvellous ways of interfering with the consistent reproduction and distribution of a text. In the print shop proofreaders stop the press to correct errors they’ve discovered during production, pieces of type break or fall out of place, and pressworkers lose focus and sheets are mislaid on the press. In the bindery, gatherings might be bound out of order, sheets from one book can be bound into another, or all together left out by accident. Readers, of course, do all kinds of things to their books – they tear leaves out and add leaves in, bind one book with a text to which it is completely unrelated as far as publication is concerned, and leave inked notes about the text or anything else in the margins and on blank pages. Analytical bibliography is the practice of discovering and diagnosing these kinds of issues; descriptive bibliography is the practice of synthesizing analytical observations and recording them accurately from copy to copy and across an edition.


When thinking like a descriptive bibliographer, one must consider such changes with respect to their impact on ideal copy, and with every book in hand one asks, “what do other copies look like and how many can I get my hands on?” This develops an essential scholarly habit of mind, specifically one in which the concept of ideal copy as it relates to a specific edition drives the very close examination and analysis of that text in multiple copies. By comparing a book in multiple copies and making sense of what one finds, the scholar bibliographer establishes a well researched and materially based context for their research. Understood in these terms, intellectual historians and historians of books and reading in particular can turn to analytical and descriptive bibliography to uncover the material context that defines a historical reader’s experience of a text on the micro- and macro- levels. This is particularly true when one’s use of descriptive bibliography incorporates the theoretical and practical approaches of scholars like Don McKenzie. His “Printers of the Mind” and Bibliography and the Sociology of Texts cleared a new path for the discipline by articulating some of the pitfalls of the method when used exclusively, without the kinds of archival and secondary sources that book historians rely upon to establish historical context for their reading of a text. A printer’s relationship with an author or bookseller, for example, might impact the printed text, and that relationship might be revealed in the author’s letters or booksellers ledgers. A careful analysis of bibliographical clues will aim to uncover such details, and an accurate bibliographical description will record those facts alongside a description of the printed traces of those contextual details with precision.

Close readers will have noticed that I’ve often used the word accurate in reference to description. An accurate description might seem like obvious necessity for the scholar bibliographer, but it is not often easily achieved. As a teacher of descriptive bibliography, I aim to provide students with the tools they need to make well reasoned decisions about what they know they can say about a book at hand, and how to communicate conjecture. At the copy specific level, this type of description is a useful tool for scholars as they study a text in multiple copies because it is helpful to have a tool handy for consistent notetaking about the books you see in far-flung libraries. But more broadly, it’s also a useful tool for teaching students how to build a strong argument (or recognize a weak one) using material and textual evidence, which in part depends upon one’s ability to recognize what one does not or cannot know.

When I talk to my students about writing collational formulas, I tell them that they are writing a condensed argument about the way this book is, and they can explain how that happened in longer form areas of their descriptions. In our lab sessions, we bounce from book to collation and back to book to see how the two match-up, studying the evidence and understanding what it can lead us to conclude – or not – about that object. And while we look to Bowers for guidance on how to write all this stuff out clearly and concisely, learning descriptive bibliography is not an exercise in slavish adherence to the rules of a system of notation devised by a scholar of Elizabethan drama, nor is it an applicable only to books of the handpress period. Learning descriptive bibliography is about learning to look at as many instantiations of a text as possible, and knowing how to identify, synthesize, and interpret the material evidence presented in each copy.

Those of you who have followed my writing for JHI Blog will know that I’m not particularly interested in handpress era books. I started collecting Whole Earth Catalogs some years ago because I found The Last Updated Whole Earth Catalog in a bookshop and read the “How to Make a Whole Earth Catalog” section as a guide to the bibliographical analysis of 20th century counter-culture books. I applied what I learned there to all kinds of twentieth-century printed matter I encounter in my personal and professional life. Without a background in descriptive bibliography, I wouldn’t have read it that way, or started seeing so much in a set of books that I was naturally curious about. Studying bibliography taught me to see more and more clearly, and I’m not the only one. There might be a whole new set of questions under your nose, just waiting for your to learn how to see them. As we tell our students in Des Bib, start reading Gaskell and see what you’ve been missing.

The New Bibliographical Presses at Rare Book School

by editor Erin Schreiner, and guest contributor Roger Gaskell


The Rare Book School Replica Copperplate Press, in the Albert & Shirley Small Special Collections Library, University of  Virginia

In the inaugural issue of the Journal of the Printing Historical Society (1965), Philip Gaskell defined the bibliographical press as “a workshop or laboratory which is carried on chiefly for the purpose of demonstrating and investigating the printing techniques of the past by means of setting type by hand, and of printing from it on a simple press.” Just a few weeks ago, we had the honor and pleasure of inaugurating the bibliographical pressroom and exhibition space at the University of Virginia, in the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library. Thanks to a collaboration between the University Library, Rare Book School, and the bookseller Roger Gaskell, UVa is now home to two bibliographical presses for use in public demonstrations, bibliographical instruction, and scholarly research. One is a common letterpress, used for printing text and images from type and relief blocks; the other is a rolling press, used for printing from intaglio plates. This is the first and only bibliographical rolling press, and it is a significant step for scholars not only of the history of printing, but also of the history of art, science, cartography, and other disciplines which rely on historical texts printed from intaglio plates, either exclusively or in combination with letterpress text.

Roger Gaskell, a scholar and bookseller, designed the new bibliographical rolling press, a replica based on the designs published in Diderot and d’Alembert’s Encyclopédie in 1769. As an antiquarian bookseller specializing in natural history and science books, Roger has always been interested in the production history and bothered by the lack of rigorous bibliographical language for the description of illustrated books. In 1999, a fellowship at the Clark Library in Los Angeles allowed him to study intaglio plates inserted into letterpress printed books, and he formed the idea then that building a replica wooden rolling press was essential for a better understanding of the mechanics and workshop practices of intaglio printing. Six years ago, Michael Suarez invited him to teach at Rare Book School and over dinner, Roger pitched to Michael the idea that Rare Book School should commission the building of a wooden rolling press based on a historical model. Some years later they discussed this again. But what to build? A press based on the design published by Bosse in 1645? That has been done: there is a fine replica in the Rembrandt House in Amsterdam that is frequently used for public demonstrations. A copy of an existing press? Gary Gregory was doing this for his Printing Office of Edes and Gill in Boston. It was the inspired suggestion of Barbara Heritage to build a press based on the Encyclopédie engravings. By good fortune Roger had seen a surviving press of very similar design on display in the print shop of the Louvre in Paris some years earlier. This made the Encyclopédie the perfect source as its accuracy, as well as a number of constructional details, which could be verified by examination of a contemporary press. The Chalcographie du Louvre press is now in storage at the Atelier des Arts, Chalcographie et Moulage at St Denis to the North of Paris where Roger spent a day photographing and measuring, in preparation for his new press.

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Robert Bernard (b. 1734) after Jacques Goussier (1722–1799). Imprimerie en taille-douce, Développement de la Presse, in Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, vol. 7 (plates). Paris, 1769.

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The Chalcographie du Louvre press at the Atelier des Arts, Chalcographie et Moulage at St Denis. Photograph by Roger Gaskell.

The use of working replicas gives students and researchers access to the technologies of book production that shaped the transmission of texts and images. Traditionally, the production of literary texts has driven the development of bibliography, bibliographical teaching, and the bibliographical press movement. But it has also long been understood that the ability to print images in multiples was as revolutionary for the development of other disciplines, including medicine, science, technology and travel literature, as the printing of texts has been to religious movements and imaginative literature. At UVa and Rare Book School, students and researchers can now work with the two – and only two – printing technologies responsible for all book production before the nineteenth century: relief and intaglio printing. There we can develop the habits of mind necessary to understand the implications of the extraordinary synergy of mind, body and machine which shaped the modern world in the west. Presses like these were used to print engravings and etchings for collectors, popular broadsides and ballads, indeed all kinds of ephemera as well as printed books.


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Erin Schreiner, the rolling press, and prints in the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library, UVa

As a discipline, bibliography has been shaped by its leading scholars’ interests in English drama, poetry, and fiction, and in incunabula. Scholars working in the history of art and science, and anyone working with books on travel and exploration, are at a bibliographical loss – it’s hard to understand why an illustrated book came to be the way it is because bibliographical literature (with a very few exceptions) does not address the problems raised by printing in non-letterpress media. What’s more, this problem extends beyond rolling press printed matter and the handpress period and into twentieth century non-letterpress materials made on mimeograph, ditto, and Xerox machines. Much of the work by media historians is rightly viewed with skepticism by the bibliographical community, yet this community has not yet figured out how to think about printed matter that isn’t made from folded sheets of letterpress.

Printing is the work of the body as much as it is the work of the mind; it’s time to roll up our sleeves. Particularly in the absence of substantial archival records of rolling press printers and intaglio plate artists, we must get our bodies behind the press to confront the constraints of printing for books from intaglio plates. We need to print images and put them in books, we need to confront the reality of doing this in multiples (and probably also in debt), and in coordination with the production of letterpress text. Doing this work will make way for the kind of grounded thinking about print that makes for good scholarship.


Megan McNamee, RBS Mellon Fellow & A.W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts at the National Gallery, pulls a print on the Rare Book School Copperplate Replica Press. 

Roger Gaskell is a scholar and bookseller, now living and working in Wales. He teaches The Illustrated Scientific Book to 1800 course bi-annually at Rare Book School, and teaches a regular seminar, Science in Print in the Department of History and Philosophy at the University of Cambridge.

Melville’s Scrivener: Elizabeth Shaw Melville, Bibliography, and Literary History

by guest contributor Adam Fales

Who, in short, authored Congreve? Whose concept of reader do these forms of the text imply: the author’s, the actor’s, the printer’s, or the publisher’s? And what of the reader?

D. F. McKenzie, Bibliography and the Sociology of Texts (1986)

When Herman Melville died in 1891, he was hardly the literary giant we read today. He spent the end of his life working as a customs inspector and writing poetry that few read. His unacknowledged death made his posthumous recovery more dramatic, when literary critics like Raymond Weaver, Carl Van Doren, and Lewis Mumford brought him back to scholarly attention thirty years later, in what we now call the “Melville Revival.” However, recent scholars like Kathleen Kier, Elizabeth Renker, and Jordan Stein have shown how the dominant narrative of Melville’s singular “Revival” erases the contributions of homosexuals and women to Melville’s legacy. These debates reconsider what and whose labor scholars acknowledge in the historical narratives they tell.

Bibliography—the study of books as material and cultural objects—is the approach most attuned to this labor. Philip Gaskell’s A New Introduction to Bibliography (1972) shows how scholarly interpretation of a text relies on an understanding of the conditions in which it was produced. Through bibliography, Gaskell and his student D. F. McKenzie show the need to understand texts as a series of material changes, which are subsequently reabsorbed and reinterpreted by readers whose relationship to the printed word changes over time. McKenzie’s approach to bibliography also attends to the multiplicity of actors that intersect in the production and circulation of any given text. Whereas these analyses often focus on the printing-house, bibliography also complicates the way scholars understand the creation, copying, and correction of a manuscript. Following McKenzie, I use the case of Herman Melville to reconsider how we segregate the labor of “authors, actors, printers, and publishers.” Bibliography’s perspective shows that these various agents are actually collaborators, whose contributions make up the printed text, as we know it. If we ask, “who, in short, authored” Herman Melville, we must look beyond Melville himself for the answer.

Divisions of bibliographic labor imprinted themselves on the life of Herman’s wife, Elizabeth Shaw Melville. She describes his literary production in a May 5, 1848 letter to her stepmother:

I should write you a longer letter but I am very busy today copying and cannot spare the time so you must excuse it and all mistakes. I tore my sheet in two by mistake thinking it was my copying (for we only write on one side of the page) and if there is no punctuation marks you must make them yourself for when I copy I do not punctuate at all but leave it for a final revision for Herman. I have got so used to write without I cannot always think of it. (quoted in Renker, 139-40)


Elizabeth Shaw Melville: copyist, editor, and wife of Herman Melville. Wikimedia Commons.

Written while she copied her husband’s manuscript for his third novel Mardi, this letter documents not just Elizabeth’s unacknowledged labor but also how that labor impacted her life. Herman’s practice of having Elizabeth copy without punctuation affects her writing style, as she proceeds through long, winding, unpunctuated sentences. For many Melville scholars, this letter illuminates Herman’s writing process, but it also illustrates Elizabeth’s own intimate involvement in the production of these texts. She was Melville’s closest reader, deciphering his messy script, clarifying his corrections, and making the other changes necessary for his work to be consumed, first by a printer, and then by a reading public. Her letter notes that the text underwent a “final revision” by Herman, but Elizabeth’s labor frames scholarly understanding not just of Melville’s textual history but of much of his life’s work as well.

Elizabeth was the first Melvillean. Beyond copying Herman’s work in his life, she maintained his literary reputation after his death. Her labor exhibited itself in the subtlest ways. On the back flyleaf of the Melville family’s copy of The Piazza Tales, someone (likely Elizabeth) wrote the original publication dates of all the stories collected in the book. This book by Herman, annotated by Elizabeth, illustrates the intertwined nature of their shared bibliographic production, and the importance of this shared labor in the reception and study of Herman Melville. This book shows how Elizabeth’s labor exists in a tradition of note-taking and information management that bibliographic scholars like Ann Blair and Richard Yeo recognize as intellectual work in its own right. Considered within these histories, Elizabeth’s labor is a cumulative practice, in which textual copying establishes an expertise that she draws from to edit later editions of those texts. While Elizabeth had no monographs, scholarly editions, or novels of her own, her labor made those that would come after her possible.

Kathleen Kier shows how Elizabeth made deals, prepared texts, and supplied biographical information for the posthumous editions of Herman’s early novels Typee and Omoo that Arthur Stedman would publish. Even though scholars like Merton Sealts give Stedman the majority of the credit for this initial revival, Kier calls attention to correspondence that illustrates the financial and editorial support that Elizabeth put into this project, which ultimately failed due to a lack of reciprocal support from Stedman. Drawing from her invaluable knowledge as Herman’s copyist, Elizabeth edited the text of Typee, “so that the United States Book Company’s edition might better be called Stedman’s and hers” (Kier 76). Kier notes that this edition was Melville’s most widely read work prior to his scholarly revival, but Elizabeth’s role in its creation went largely underappreciated until much later.


Part of a manuscript page for Typee. Credit: Digital Humanities Quarterly.

Scholars have largely misconstrued Elizabeth’s role in Herman’s life and work. Following the work of Merton Sealts’s Melville’s Reading (1948-50), Wilson Walker Cowen sought to transcribe every known instance of marginal notes in books owned and borrowed by Melville for his Harvard dissertation Melville’s Marginalia (1965). Contributing to the ongoing recreation of an archive of Herman’s life and work, Cowen’s scholarship resembled Elizabeth’s information management. Rather than recognize their shared project, Cowen came into conflict with Elizabeth, when he encountered some erased marginal notes. Concluding that “[p]ersonal feelings and reactions to women make up the balance of the erased material,” he leverages this “balance” to conclude that one of Herman’s female relatives was the culprit (xix). He blames Elizabeth. In this way, Cowen notes Elizabeth’s destructive force in the Melvillean archive, but he hardly acknowledges her productive contributions. For example, Elizabeth Renker considers how Elizabeth protected Herman’s posthumous reputation through erasing this same marginalia. Considered this way, erasure was an act of preservation.

Herman’s reputation was rebuilt after his death, whether through Elizabeth’s “revival that failed” or the later, scholarly revival that receives credit. This posthumous scholarship frames how authors like Herman Melville are approached, studied, and discussed. Renker and Kier not only recover Elizabeth’s forgotten role but also reclaim that role’s positive contribution, as they reconsider the role of labor in literary history. Their approach aligns with the insights of bibliography, in a similar manner to Barbara Heritage’s recent work. Heritage shows how bibliography enhances literary analysis “with a focus on the actual, historical copies of books being read,” but bibliography also reveals the invisible labor that produces those “actual, historical” books. Elizabeth’s labor not only preserved her husband’s legacy in print but also provides the material basis for Melville studies. The scholars we consider responsible for the “Melville Revival” depended upon Elizabeth’s lifelong efforts to organize, edit, and transcribe her husband’s life and writing. As the unacknowledged precursor to mid-century Melville scholars, she not only did the same work of copying and information management that made the careers of Sealts and Cowen (the first experts on Herman’s handwriting, after Elizabeth), but she also made the editions from which Weaver, Van Doren, and Mumford would draw in their initial revival of Herman Melville.

It’s hardly a coincidence that the figures erased from literary history resemble those that have also been excluded from the academy (this account elides the people of color traditionally excluded as well). Bibliography shows the contribution of everyone involved in the production, circulation, and reception of texts, recovering those erased from traditional scholarly narratives. Elizabeth’s fate resonates with the recent #ThanksForTyping, which notes the unnamed women “thanked” in acknowledgements sections for typing their husbands’ manuscripts (but whose work, like Elizabeth’s, often went beyond mere copying). Cowen thanks his unnamed wife, who “helped with everything” (iv). But when his dissertation was revived and revised as the ongoing Melville’s Marginalia Online, the staff page lists sixty-seven names. Elizabeth is just one figure we can recover, in the ongoing transformation of academic practices fomented by the Digital Humanities. An approach from bibliography hardly provides clear-cut divisions between author and scrivener; it messes up neat narratives of singular American authors recovered by mid-century scholars. However, bibliography calls attention to the labor that produces these texts. If the answers from that perspective are not straightforward, they might instead be more just.

Elizabeth left Herman’s manuscript without punctuation. Perhaps, then, our labor begins where we fill in the question marks.

Adam Fales grew up in Kansas and graduated from Fordham University. He is currently a digital scholarship intern as well as a manager at Book Culture in New York City. You can find him on Twitter @SupplyanddeMan. He typed this article himself, but couldn’t have done so without the support of friends, instructors, and his editor Erin Schreiner at JHIBlog

Please Return to the Stenographic Department


Press photograph of disembodied hands holding a heavily annotated script for The Lady Eve (Paramount, 1941) by  Hal McAlpin. From the Collection of Robert M. Rubin.

Like a literary manuscript in a publisher’s office, screenplays face rounds of revision and annotation in the motion picture studio.  In the photograph above, someone holds a draft script for The Lady Eve, marked up with notes in several hands. Screenwriter and director Preston Sturges initialed a note in ink to “test… [lead actress Barbara] Stanwyck’s scream,” which a typed stage direction notes should sound like a steam whistle.  Penciled notes in at least two other hands highlight facts to be checked, details about props and costumes, and mark stage directions that risk violating the Hays Code. This photograph  – taken by still photographer Hal McAlpin and marked up for print publication – highlights the role of print in the transformation of a fictional narrative to a motion picture.

The disembodied hands are almost certainly script supervisor Claire Behnke’s (1899-1985), and their presence symbolize the relationship not only between the film script and the script supervisor, but the whole of the Paramount Stenographic Department. During the pre-production and shooting phases of motion picture making, script supervisors, clerks, and typists – typically women but sometimes male secretaries to screenwriters and directors – coordinated the changes made daily to the ur-text of the Hollywood picture. As drafts circulated among the specialized departments within a studio, script clerks and typists in the Stenographic Department collated these changes and produced new drafts in multiple copies as the entire team worked toward the completion of a final master-scene shooting script.

Book historians and bibliographers know well the analogous journey from manuscript to print.  In the early modern period, bookmen like Aldus Manutius collaborated with editors, type designers, and compositors with specialized skills to transform the manuscript texts of authors living and dead into stable and faithful printed texts in multiple copies for wide distribution. This often required substantive correction of the original manuscript and proofs of the printed text, often to a living author’s great surprise and dismay. The role of editors, illustrators, and type designers have evolved since the introduction of industrialized printing technologies in the mid-nineteenth century, but the importance of their relationship to the writers they work with and more generally to the production of printed works of scholarship, fiction, and poetry, has not diminished.  And as Leah Price and Pamela Thurschwell have pointed out in a co-edited collection of essays, Literary Secretaries/Secretarial Culture, typists have played an important role in the creation and consumption of literary (and non-literary) texts, too.

Like literary manuscripts, draft film scripts are complex artifacts of the process of correction and collation, but the end product is arguably much more complex. The motion picture relied not only on actors and directors, but specialist technicians who worked with sets, props, cameras, lighting, and sound equipment to craft a coherent, continuous narrative. Histories of film and screenwriting have thus focused on the way the text and format of the script evolved to coordinate this effort. Scholars Janet Staiger, Marc Norman, Tom Stempel, and Steven Price have described the evolution of the screenplay from the silent to the sound era, with a special focus on the development of the scenario, continuity, and master-scene scripts and the kinds of information contained therein. But in doing so, they’ve neglected the roles of the stenographic departments and the technological specialists employed by film studios and their relationships to the scripts they produced.

Three drafts of The Lady Eve survive today in independent curator Robert M. Rubin’s collection of scripts and other artifacts of the film production. Two date from October of 1940; the third, and earliest, contains a combination of material from an early draft dated December 1 and 2, 1938 with later revisions dated September 23, 30, and October 4, 1940. Revisions for Sequences A and B of the film accompany this script in a separate stapled packet dated August 26, 1940. Citing materials in the Preston Sturges Papers at UCLA and the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Library, Turner Classic Movies notes that Sturges was forced to draft- and re-draft the play between 1939 and 1940 after criticisms from producer Albert Lewin, and after the Motion Picture Academy determined that “‘the definite suggestion of a sex affair between your two leads’ which lacked ‘compensating moral values.’” While the 1938-1940 draft in the Rubin collection is not the earliest surviving screenplay for the film (UCLA holds two earlier drafts), it’s an important record of the evolution of the text.

A bibliographical analysis of these drafts and others by Sturges shows how the Stenographic Department worked.  At the top left corner of nearly each leaf of text (which appears on rectos only), the typist’s initials trace each sheet back to man or woman who typed it.  For example, the initials “is” throughout Sequence A probably refer to Isabelle Sullivan, Sturges’ script supervisor for Sullivan’s Travels, which opened in 1942. The initials JA, EVG (probably Sturges’ personal secretary Edwin Gillette), LRR, and others appear on the pages in later sequences. At the top right corner, a system of hyphenated letters and numbers ordered the typed leaves within each sequence, and the script as a whole, respectively. The hyphenated number shows the leaf order within the Sequence, while numbers in parentheses below track the leaf count through the entire script. Dates were also typed at the bottom left to track the revision history of each leaf of the script across multiple drafts. The image below shows this system at work. In a draft of Sturges’ The Great Moment under it’s early title, Triumph Over Pain, leaves 6-8 in Sequence D (leaves 47-50 in the screenplay), are dated April 9, 1942, showing that two leaves of text were cut from a previous draft. Other pages in the same sequence are numbered 13a and 13b, indicating the addition of text, and dates show that these revisions were typed on April 13, four days after the D-6-7-8 revisions.


Revised draft script of The Great Moment under it’s original title, Triumph Over Pain. From the Robert M. Rubin Collection.

Typists and secretaries in the Stenographic Department were thus responsible for collating previous drafts and tracking changes throughout the development of the screenplay as document, and they relied and expanded upon centuries-old bibliographical systems to do so. Including their initials on each page recalls the use of press figures in English hand-press printing. The use of letters to distinguish one sequence of the film from the next also recalls the use of signatures in hand-press printing. Sturges omitted the letter J when numbering sequences, just as hand-press printers did when organizing a sequence of text. What’s more important, however, is that typographical evidence shows that drafts (or, proofs) of The Lady Eve screenplay were circulated in sections or small numbers. Just as a hand-press printer would issue a proof of a printed text for correction by an editor, a member of the stenographic department would type a limited number of copies of an individual sequence for distribution to the screenwriters, producers, and other crew for review. How do we know? The 1938-1940 draft of The Lady Eve is comprised of sheets printed in three different media. Portions of Sequence A initialled “is” are top-copy typescript, while most of the remaining sequences were produced on a mimeograph machine.  The August 26, 1940 draft of Sequences A and B are carbon copy typescripts.

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Above: Scripts in three different media. Clockwise from top left: The Lady Eve (typescript, top copy), Sullivan’s Travels (typescript, carbon copy) and The Lady Eve (mimeographed copy).

Unlike early printers, specialists in the Stenographic Department of a Hollywood studio had a range of technologies to choose from to most efficiently produce the requisite number of copies of a text at any given stage of the editorial process.  A top-copy typescript functions much like a manuscript; the typewriter produces a unique copy of the text for distribution to just one person. Carbon paper was used to create up to five copies, for circulating the same text to a small number of people. If more than five copies were needed, or if a text had been stabilized to the point that it would be reproduced again and again for incorporation into subsequent drafts, a mimeograph stencil created a master copy of the text; one stencil could produce up to 1000 copies and, like standing type in a print shop, printed over and over again.

Typists were not simply taking dictation, or printing up a screenwriter’s handwritten notes on a text.  They were skilled technicians who operated a variety of complex mechanical systems for producing texts, much in the same way that sound engineers operated a range of specialized equipment on the set.  An in-depth knowledge of machinery and supplies, in addition to graphic standards and the distribution requirements of the printed document, were required to produce an acceptable script. (Even with the advent of modern word processing technologies, many of us struggle with setting tabs and margins; imagine doing this on a typewriter in a room full of click-clacking machines with carbon and onion skin paper.)  It is also clear that members of the Stenographic Department worked closely with screenwriters and directors, though as yet I haven’t been able to nail down the copy editing skills required of someone working with screenplays rather than printed publications or personal communications.

Unfortunately, secretarial manuals and narrative accounts of Hollywood studios document not only the technical skills of female typists and secretaries, but also the extent to which they faced sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace. Manuals often prioritized social skills for female typists, underplaying their specialized technical and linguistic prowess. Scripts, however, show the extent to which they engaged with the texts they produced. Tracking changes across multiple drafts and collaborating with individuals across departments within the studio required a deep knowledge not only of a film narrative and its development over time, but also of the work done by so many other specialists. Like the editors in a publishing house, or compositors in an early modern print shop, typists in the 20th century Hollywood studio were deeply engaged in rigorous, technical, creative, and mentally stimulating work.


On the set of Sullivan’s Travels, script supervisor Nesta Charles or Isabelle Sullivan sits below screenwriter/director Preston Sturges. Images courtesy of the wonderful Script Supervisor Tumblr.




Cavendish’s Daughters: Speculative Fiction and Women’s History

by guest contributor Jonathan Kearns in collaboration with Brooke Palmieri

Nor is the empire of the imagination less bounded in its own proper creations, than in those which were bestowed on it by the poor blind eyes of our ancestors. What has become of enchantresses with their palaces of crystal and dungeons of palpable darkness? What of fairies and their wands? What of witches and their familiars? and, last, what of ghosts, with beckoning hands and fleeting shapes, which quelled the soldier’s brave heart, and made the murderer disclose to the astonished noon the veiled work of midnight? These which were realities to our fore-fathers, in our wiser age —

— Characterless are grated

To dusty nothing.

— Mary Shelley, “On Ghosts,” London Magazine, 1824

Literary canon in general, and the canon of weird or speculative fiction in particular, is haunted by half-remembered absences. We think we know the details of all of the high points: Frankenstein (1822), The Vampyre (1819), Varney the Vampire (1847), Dracula (1897); the works of Edgar Allen Poe (1809-1849), or Sheridan Le Fanu (1814-1873). But in reality, we’re just glossing over all the places where we weren’t paying attention: namely, the vast catalogue of stories written by women over the centuries that play a formative role in the creatures and creeping feelings of horror that we take for granted as canonical. An important chapter worth writing in women’s history, and in the history of women writers, is that which considers the particularly feminine perspective that has imagined into existence some of the weirdest works of literature.

For example, there are stranger early modern alternatives to Shakespeare than Virginia Woolf’s portrait of his sister Judith. Margaret Cavendish (1623-1673), Duchess of Newcastle, scientist, philosopher, poet, patron of all things strange, was the first woman to attend a meeting of the Royal Society and get annoyed with Hooke, argue with Hobbes, and raise an eyebrow at Boyle.
In 1666 she published two works together: Observations upon Experimental Philosophy, which argued against the most popular scientific worldview of its time, mechanical philosophy; and The Blazing World, equal parts utopia, social satire, and straight-up weird fiction. It’s a masterpiece of fish-men, talking animals, and submarine warfare—written significantly earlier than Jules Verne, despite including a journey to another world, in a different universe, via the North Pole. Should we not describe his works as Cavendishian? Scholarship more frequently cites Ludvig Holberg’s Niels Klim’s Underground Travels in connection with Verne, although that too bears clear hallmarks of Cavendish’s influence. Cavendish’s dual publication of a work of natural philosophy with a work of speculative fiction have arguably only met their synthesis in the twentieth century, when scientists admit the influence of science fiction in their research, and “hard science fiction” like that of Kim Stanley Robinson has fully blossomed as a sub-genre. In other words, re-conceiving the canon of science fiction, speculative fiction, horror, and weird fiction begins with reconsidering their muddled origins in works like those of Margaret Cavendish, the foremother of so many strange ideas, imagined and real.

The industrious half-beast, half-human characters populating Cavendish’s Blazing World—the bear-men philosophers, the jackdaw-men orators, the spider-men mathematicians—translate the myths, the folk tales, the monstrous births and miraculous occurrences of a declining world of superstition into new centuries, with new narrative possibilities. Alongside their afterlives in the realms of science fiction, their hybrid forms are also a starting point for horror and considerations of the supernatural.

The immovable object of women in speculative fiction is obviously Frankenstein (1818), first imagined two hundred years ago this past June at the famous Villa Diodati. Nobody nowadays really argues with Mary Shelley’s pre-eminent position as the mother of all reanimated corpses. John William Polidori (1795-1821), also present at the first telling of the story, probably features fairly strongly in the role of medical advisor, especially with his experience in the dissection theaters of Edinburgh and considering his academic preoccupations. Taking the staples of weird, speculative, horrifying, and supernatural fiction as a whole, most of the major tropes were the product of female authorship. Frankenstein’s Monster—scientific aberration, stitched-up King Zombie, vengeful revenant—is only one such pillar: a hybrid in the style of Cavendish’s Blazing World, yet a ghost in his own right, ruthlessly haunting his creator.

And ghost stories too have a place in women’s history: Elizabeth Boyd’s Altamira’s Ghost (1744) describes a disputed succession adjudicated over by a spirit. Although supernatural in content, it is essentially a commentary on social injustice narrated by a ghost and dealing with the famous Annesley succession case, in which an orphan’s inheritance rested upon proof of his legitimacy. One peculiarity of the case is that a maidservant named Heath, claiming James Annesley illegitimate, was found guilty of perjury on one occasion, then acquitted on another, effectively allowing James to be ruled both bastard and not bastard simultaneously. Boyd was primarily a paid “hack” of notable skill, but it should be mentioned that her openly supernatural works (“William and Catherine, or The Fair Spectre” (1745) being another) fall thematically into the fantastically interesting category of female apparition narrative, in which female ghosts appear in order to provide insight into male wrongdoing and most notably domestic violence. A ghost woman can talk about things a live woman may not, and thus assist in the administration of justice. At one time an accepted literary device in its own right, this seems to have been forgotten along with Boyd and her contemporaries.

The pattern has a tendency to repeat. But the women of nineteenth-century weird fiction after Mary Shelley were more interested in giving their ghosts a body, much like the monster of Dr. Frankenstein. In 1828, only ten years after Frankenstein, Jane Loudon produced The Mummy! Or A Tale of The Twenty-Second Century (published by the piratical Henry Colburn, who published Polidori’s Vampyre under Byron’s name in 1819). Both of Loudon’s parents were dead by 1824, when she was 17, and she was forced to find some way to “do something for [her] support”:

I had written a strange, wild novel, called the Mummy, in which I had laid the scene in the twenty-second century, and attempted to predict the state of improvement to which this country might possibly arrive.

Already well-traveled and with several languages under her belt, Jane Loudon was clearly not without either smarts or skills. Her husband-to-be sought her out after writing a favorable review of the novel, believing her, naturally, to be a man. Once the shock of her femininity had worn off, they were married a year later.

Loudon’s resurrected Cheops is a sage and helpful corpse, granted life maintained by a higher power rather than by human error and hubris. Loudon’s twenty-second century is an absolutely blinding bit of fictional prophecy, on par with William Gibson’s Neuromancer for edgy prescience. The habit of the time was to view the future as the early nineteenth century, but with bigger buildings and with the French in charge, but Loudon’s 2126 AD goes for women striding about independently in trousers, robot doctors and solicitors, and something that’s not too far from an early concept of the internet. Her strange, wild story, in which corpsified Cheops helps rebuild a corrupt society, addresses much of the underlying horror of Shelley’s Frankenstein with a more redemptive take on the reanimation of dead flesh. It was also a definite influence on Bram Stoker’s better-remembered “Jewel of The Seven Stars,” published in the 1890s, and possibly even on Poe’s “Ligeia” in 1838, in which a man painstakingly wraps his dead wife in bandages prior to her burial.

There’s an argument for suggesting that writing weird fiction, at least in the form of ghost stories, became something of a fashionable exploit for nineteenth-century ladies. The Countess of Blessington (“A Ghost Story,” 1846), Mrs. Hofland (“The Regretted Ghost,” published in The Keepsake in the mid-1820s) are just two examples. On one hand, they might be seen as a natural evolution of the legacy of the Gothic giants Clara Reeve and Ann Radcliffe, alongside Jane Crofts’ hugely successful (and frequently necessarily anonymous) forays into the profitable world of Gothic novels and chapbooks (“The History of Jenny Spinner, The Hertfordshire Ghost,” 1800) and C.D. Haynes (“Eleanor, Or The Spectre of St. Michaels,” 1821). On the other, there is something innately rebellious, hinting at manifest destiny, in the feminine colonization of weird fiction as a form in which women can express themselves.

cavendish1Women who were already making a living as authors of anonymous romances and social sketches bent their efforts to the weird and supernatural with no apparent intent of turning a profit, but apparently more as an endorsement of the genre as something inherently theirs. Mrs. Riddell, Mrs. Oliphant, the Countess of Munster and Mrs. Alfred Baldwin were all successful, comfortable women with no particular need to deviate from a working formula, but they all ventured into what they clearly considered a darkness to which they had a right, and produced some of the very best weird stories of the nineteenth century.

cavendish2Mrs. Riddell’s (1832-1906) Weird Stories, published by Hogg in 1882, is one of the rarest and most beautifully written collections of supernatural stories of the last two hundred years.

cavendish3Mrs. Margaret Oliphant (1828-1897) wrote an incredible body of work—numbering over 120 published novels, historical works and collections of short stories—from the 1840s until the late 1890s, spanning almost the entire Victorian age in all its manifold weirdness.

The Countess of Munster, Wilhelmina FitzClarence (1830-1906), Scottish peer and illegitimate granddaughter of William IV, only became a novelist later in life. She published her Ghostly Stories in 1896, displaying a tremendous talent for the weird.cavendish4

Florence Marryat’s (1833-1899) The Blood of The Vampire, published the same year as Stoker’s Dracula and now shamefully almost forgotten, is a nuanced and complex (albeit erratic in execution) look at nineteenth-century male-dominated societal norms, race, sexuality, gender, and xenophobia, couched in the terms of the supernatural. Its mixed-race heroine is exploited by men and rejected by other women; the fact that she might be infected with vampirism is a secondary (and never cavendish5actually resolved) possibility when placed alongside how she is treated, regardless of supernatural influence. Marryat wrote over seventy published works, toured with the D’Oyly Carte company, had her own successful one woman show, ran lecture tours preaching female emancipation, and, during the 1890s, ran a women’s school of journalism.

It’s almost inconceivable that the “stuff of extrapolation” has preserved Klim, Polidori, Stoker, Le Fanu, Rymer and their legions of successful cohorts as the manifest summits of weird fiction in the nineteenth century, and yet rarely even mentions Jane Loudon, Mrs. Riddell, or even Mrs. Oliphant, who had a body of work larger than that of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Mary Shelley’s 1824 essay “On Ghosts,” which began this post, had at its heart two main questions: “What have we left to dream about?” and “[I]s it true that we do not believe in ghosts?” The catalogue of weird fiction produced by Shelley and those after her shows that women had a great deal left to dream about. Female weird fiction frequently deals with minorities and outliers: wronged gypsy women, beaten wives, revenant witches, overly prescient children, the occasional voodoo priestess, and a preoccupation with the righting of wrongs, the application of a certain balancing justice. Unlike in the masculine variants, the menaces and threats are more often laid to rest or propitiated, or indeed left to float off on an ice floe—rather than being chopped up, burned up, stabbed up, or staked up by a gang of bros armored by either science or God, the two being interchangeable when fighting darkness.

One thing is for certain: the influence of women writers, whether anonymously, writing under male pseudonyms, or under their own names upon the landscape of the weird is not only significant, but momentous. If one can identify a trope or a device, the chances are that if one goes back far enough it originated somewhere in the untended and rarely-visited forest of female writers of the irresistibly odd and disturbing. As for Shelley’s second question, it is now their ghosts which haunt literary history and which must be remembered. Yet to believe them, requires that they be seen.

Jonathan Kearns has been working in the book trade for over twenty years and is the proprietor of Jonathan Kearns Rare Books & Curiosities. He is also a faculty member at the York Antiquarian Book Seminar.

Hippie Bibliography

by contributing editor Erin Schreiner

Hippie Bib_Image 1

The endpages of Brand’s copy of Spaceship Earth, reproduced in the 1971 Last Updated Whole Earth Catalog and every catalog that followed (Reproduced from the author’s collection.)

The story of the Whole Earth Catalog begins with an annotation. During the flight home from his father’s funeral in March of 1968, Stewart Brand (b. 1938) covered the endpapers of the economist and writer Barbara Ward’s recently published Spaceship Earth with notes on how he hoped to help friends starting “their own civilizations hither and yon in the sticks.” What did he think his friends needed? Knowledge – how to raise goats, preserve summer fruit, build their own dwellings. And how was he going to get it to them? He was going to compile a bibliography and sell it, along with books and other tools, out of a truck. “Prime item of course,” he scrawled, “would be the catalog.”

Brand was a Stanford graduate, Army parachutist, a legal scientific experimenter with LSD, Merry Prankster, and a member of the media art collective USCO. In 1968 he was working for the Portola Institute, a one-year-old educational non-profit. During his first six months on the job it sounds like he put together a few failed projects (one was called E-I-E-I-O), visited bookstores, and read a lot. His major influences were Buckminster Fuller, cybernetics theorists Norman Weiner and Heinz von Foerster, and Marshall McLuhan.

The first issue of Brand’s bibliography, the Whole Earth Catalog, appeared in the fall of 1968 and a revised and expanded catalog appeared annually, with supplements in January and March that included corrections, longer form articles, and reader correspondence. This is Brand’s description of the project, which appears inside the front cover of every Whole Earth Catalog:

Hippie Bib_Image 2

Page 1 of the 1974 Last Updated Whole Earth Catalog. While the table of contents changed from issue to issue, the “Function” and “Purpose” statements always appeared as they did in the first issue in 1968. (Reproduced from the author’s collection.)

The catalog is an “evaluation and access device,” promoting tools that support the individual wishing to “conduct his own education, find his own inspiration, and share his adventure with whoever is interested.” Yet while the catalogs do list a lot of things that aren’t books ­–the fall ’69 issue lists a Jawa motorcycle, Craftsman bench vises, Royal Signet typewriters, the HP 9100A desk-top calculator/early computer, and a Curta calculator – bibliographical notices followed by brief book reviews fill up far more than half of its pages. From the beginning of the project, the book (or perhaps more aptly, the codex) was understood as a tool, a material object used for the storage and access of information.

Bibliographical notices in the Catalog consist of a short review printed in italics, complete bibliographical and ordering information in bold, excerpts printed in roman, sometimes including illustrations and almost always a picture of the book cover. In the early catalogs the reviews were Brand’s unless noted otherwise, and all were in the hip, casual style that characterized the underground press of the same period with a slightly more serious tone. His review of Dear Dr. Hippocrates by Eugene Schoenfeld (primary care physician to Hunter S. Thompson, Timothy Leary, and folk-rocker David Crosby, he also worked with Albert Schweitzer) reads as follows:

Long-hairs are doing new stuff with their bodies and nervous systems that occasionally needs medical attention or perspective. Communication was blocked, however, by the social understanding that they aren’t supposed to be doing that stuff. Dr. Schoenfeld and his medical advice column in the underground press cut through the blockage, and here came a spout of information as weird as it was useful. Good answers made the questions good. (WEC, 1970 p. 84)

And here is his review of Hannah Arendt’s The Human Condition:

At the end of the peyote meeting, in the morning, food and water are brought in by a woman designated to be Peyote Woman. Indian women are not supposed to speak up much on general subjects, and during a meeting the women are silent participants. But at dawn Peyote Woman has the floor and the power. She speaks of fundamental things like water and birth and nourishment with all the authority of the Earth and with awesome perception.

Hannah Arendt does the same thing in this book. Her subject is the elements of the human condition. Her perspective, the threshold of travel away from the Earth.

These two reviews do not resemble professional criticism, but they do speak to the huge range of coverage of the Whole Earth Catalog, which in turn represents the wide-ranging interests of hippie readers in the nineteen sixties and seventies. Schoenfeld’s book is a practical purchase for anyone experimenting with sex, drugs, and other (possibly risky) alternative lifestyle behaviors, especially “hither and yon in the sticks” where the nearest doctor might be in another county. Arendt’s book, on the other hand, is arguably useful to people trying to “build a new civilization.” The Whole Earth Catalog also listed ancient sources like the I Ching and the Kama Sutra, books that weren’t exactly unheard of but not always easy to obtain, particularly in suburban and rural America. By promoting goods that were easily accessible by mail and also operating a store in Menlo, CA, the Whole Earth Catalog evaluated and turned people on to a huge range of tools for thinking and living that had limited exposure in the mainstream media.

Hippie Bib_Image 3

The Whole Earth Truck Store, so-called because the store first operated out of a truck that drove from commune to commune, selling books and other goods. (Reproduced from the author’s collection.)

The communal movements of the late sixties and seventies weren’t especially successful, and in that respect the Whole Earth Catalog wasn’t really, either. But the Catalog did succeed admirably both as a tool for accessing information and as an artifact of a cultural movement that was as curious about books and learning as it was about LSD and rock and roll. The Last Whole Earth Catalog was distributed by Random House and reached a larger number of readers than ever before. In 1972, the Catalog won a National Book Award (so did Flannery O’Connor and Allan Nevins) and sold 1.5 million copies nation-wide. In other words, in 1972, a million and a half people in America spent $5 (a relative value of $28.30 in 2014) on a bibliographical tool. In other words, in 1972 the National Book Foundation not only nominated but actually awarded a prize to a book that recommended Robert E. Brown’s Psychedelic Guide to Preparation of the Eucharist.

There’s a lot that can (and should) be said about this, but I’d like to focus squarely on the bibliographical and book historical implications of the Whole Earth Catalog’s success. As Brand’s annotations in Spaceship Earth show, the project was a bibliographical one from the very beginning. In the “How to Do a Whole Earth Catalog” chapter of the 1971 Catalog (it appeared in every updated Catalog thereafter) the first three sub-headings describe the Researching, Reviewing, and Editing processes in catalog production. Editorial work was serious, and there were strict standards for bibliographical description. The Supplement was published, in part, as an errata sheet, with updates and corrections to entries that had changed, or were incorrect in the previous catalog. On the next page he covers layout, and subsequent smaller articles cover book acquisitions, the business of starting running a truck store, with a thorough and honest article on the capitalization (a dirty word in the hippie dictionary) of the entire operation. It’s not so different from the kind of treatment that D.F. McKenzie gave to the Cambridge University Press in his pioneering bibliographical study of its history, published in 1966.

Brand also used books like a Winthrop, and arguably for the same reasons. As we’ve seen, he’s an annotator. His reviews and writing in the Catalogs constantly reference other books, sometimes with page numbers. Both wanted to build new civilizations in America, and made books their guides in that endeavor. The success of the Catalog, particularly in 1972 suggests that a whole lot of Americans could have been doing the same things with their books. Many readers went on to publish their own catalogs; in my collection I have copies of The First New England Catalog and Rainbook: Resources for Appropriate Technology. Both focus mostly on books but also list other types of tools, with a narrower range of focus than the Whole Earth Catalog. Both mimic the Catalog in bibliographic detail, and recommend a variety of tools that ranging from books to games to boats.

The Whole Earth Catalog is a rich record of American culture and civilization at one of the most complex and turbulent times in our history. Brand, and by extension, the Catalog’s community of readers, were sophisticated users of books: tools for information storage and access that had been in use for almost a millennium. Much like the Byron quoting coal miners in Jonathan Rose’s Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes (p. 241), the creation and success of the Whole Earth Catalog shows just how integral books are in the lives of people across all walks of life.