Book Traces with Dr. Andrew Stauffer

The presentation both in class and in the library by Dr. Stauffer was pretty incredible. The amount of history that can be extracted from notes within the marginalia of Victorian-era books is very deep and thanks to modern technologies like google, able to be explored. He estimated that 12.5% of Victorian-era books contain significant historical marginalia. Dr. Stauffer’s process of looking up who people were and their relationships based on their marginalia so many years later almost seems like science-fiction.

The frequency of physical artifacts found within the books was also something really unusual that caught my attention. Sewing needles, locks of hair, and dolls as well as botanical insertions are all common within these older books. The botanical insertion portion was especially interesting as we were able to follow how a habit or action by people (inserting a flower into a book) became practice by publisher’s incorporating printed flowers and other botanical designs into the margins and illustrations where people normally would press one in. This practice evolved into layers of images being incorporated into the works of writer’s like Wordsworth. Images in works like that were connected to other images that sprawled over pages in a psychedelic style. I guess they could be considered meta-illustrations.

The social-historical aspect of the event was immense as well. The social function and form of annotation as a type of communication similar to a modern day email was very cool. Notes to lovers and friends were scrawled on pages or passages that reminded people of each other. Following the Victorian-era books also came pre-annotated in a sense as a result of the practice. Life stages (specifically those of women) were included in books with parts left blank for a mother to fill out for a daughter as she grew up.

The major role of books within peoples lives during the Victorian-era was put into perspective as a result of Stauffer’s work. Books were not just educational, religious or recreational, they were major social tools as well.  Book traces open-source accessibility is a wonderful layout for a really intriguing project.

The Book Traces Event

Dr. Stauffer visited Stevenson, with books in hand, ready to discuss not only the 19th century texts, but also the various former owners as well. He explained how many books during that time period weren’t just used for reading alone. According to Dr. Stauffer, while books were considered valuable, they weren’t seen as precious heirlooms or artifacts yet. So, many people would annotate within the margins, doodle on the pages, etc. There were even books that would be passed back and forth between multiple people and they would write out conversations on the pages like a primitive form of text messaging. But, people didn’t stop there when it came to utilizing a book.

Many owners would leave personal objects in their books such as flowers, photographs, paper doll clothes, and locks of hair. There was even a book that Dr. Stauffer brought in that contained a sewing needle with a bit of thread that had been “stuck” in one of the pages (I’d love to know how they were able to do that without ripping the paper). During his presentation, Dr. Stauffer went into greater detail about the botanicals that were discovered within those books. Apparently, it was a very common practice within the 19th century to press flowers and leaves between the pages of a book. It was usually for sentimental reasons or for a decorative purpose, particularly if the book contained poetry or some flowery type of language. The poets of the day soon caught on to the idea and would write with the flower-pressers in mind. Publishers and editors reflected the practice by having flowers already printed on the page. But, I wonder if people appreciated that initiative?

The main idea behind Book Traces is to not only manage books from the 19th century, but to recognize that these physical copies have a historical purpose. They are artifacts from that time period. They don’t just reveal what was popular to read at the time, but what the personal histories were of the people who held those books. Dr. Stauffer’s project holds great evidence of how people would communicate not only with the text they were reading, but also with the other people in their daily lives.


Book Traces Event

The book traces activity and event was a very good experience, as it not only gave us information and an idea on past cultures, it also gave us insight on individuals. Books are very powerful as they have the ability to help us learn, find new perspective, and relate to the reader. Many, if all the writing we came across in the old books were things the writer was going through at the time; and the story or poem spoke exactly to their situation.

During the introduction of last class, one of the writings was in a poetry book. Throughout the book, we could see texting before technology as a woman and a man were having a conversation with one another and taking pieces of poems to tell how they felt about each other. They had a system of passing the book back and forth. unfortunately, it didn’t end happily ever after as we were able to see the relationship crumble and not in a way the public needed to see. That however is was makes it fascinating is that many of the books had sentimental value to the owner. Whether it was something passed down in the family, a gift from a friend or loved one, or just a personal scrape book. At the time of writing whatever came to mind at that moment, there was no thought of having random eyes on it. These books ended up having strangers read them because the owner has passed and now there belongings are sold and given away.

Some other material we came across during the hands on activity was a book called “Reveries of a Bachelor.” The notes we found were from an older gentleman wishing for the old days of being a bachelor. The end of the second Reverey was a poem he wrote about being a sad man with no one to care for him. The end of the book had notes of the man talking to other men who had the same feelings. Another book had writing on every page as they changed the story into a satire.

During the event, a lot of what Andrew Stauffer presented was share in class like the amount of hair and flowers were left in books. Placing locks of hair in books was a common practice in the 19th century. It could have been a bookmark, or just a place to store a piece of life. Flowers were also assumed to be forgotten bookmarks. Others were botany samples as the 19th century was very floral; used on covers of most anthologies. Some new information was they found was a memorial for Annie Dearing of the John Dear family where they botanical insertion and notes from a religious text. Another book discussed was called “Songs of Seven” which is about a woman’s life every seven years until age 49. The book was given to a child at the age of seven and was marked up by the person that gave it to her to indicate the next stage of life. What was also cool to find out was it gave a voice to women who weren’t able to publish during that period.

“Books have an afterlife and changes the future culture. Material books will always be relevant.”          Andrew Stauffer

Book Traces – Stauffer

The book traces event held by Dr. Stauffer was enjoyable and piped my interests as an archivist. The event was well described by Dr. Stauffer as he outlined his goals to us in the class. The goals were to use texts dating from the 1800’s up to 1929, the age of copyright, to find annotations written by their original owners and to interpret the meaning of these annotations and what the book represented in the 19th century. He explained how books back then were shared possessions and that they often switched hands. People used to communicate using books and was a common form of messaging, such as how we have electronic texting and emails today. His books were host to a variety of materials, love letters, lecture notes, analytical satire, physical  we can better understand 19th century culture and values. The class event went really well, with each of us receiving a copy of one of his historical books from his library in Virginia. He was incredibly excited to share his findings and for us to interpret them.

He gave me a book that was heavily transcribed by the original owner. It seems as if he was making fun of the book by adding lines of his own and adding his own form of humor between the pages. It seemed like this copy was meant to be passed to a friend because of the way it is written. Its a lot of language devices to make the text humorous and more enjoyable for the next reader. The book is a book of poems and are very sappy and romantic in nature. Its possible to believe that this person hated that form of writing and wanted to make light of it and belittle the lesser known author.

The lecture after class was a little less comprehensive due to time constraints and topics he was focusing on. the presentation regarding flowers in books was somewhat shaky towards the end and I felt that he got really nervous presenting to the large group that appeared. Every teacher from the history department was there and there felt like a pressure from the back of the room. He wasn’t a 100% confident on the flora in the books which also lead to a rough patch in his lecture since it was focusing on that exact flora he couldn’t name. The flora is often symbolic as he describes in his speech and is used to mark a passage often in memory to the life of a loved one or to add depth to a poem or piece of scripture. It seems like an easy fix with some identification help and I could be misinterpreting the situation at the end of the lecture. In comparison to his class lecture, I felt that he was much more enthusiastic and dealt with the smaller group on a personal level and a fluidity that you couldn’t find in his group lecture. I left the class feeling inspirited to help with archival work and better prepared to keep an eye out for annotations in books. They provide insight to that era’s thoughts, feelings, and culture. To me these things are irreplaceable and once we lose them, they’re gone forever to history. understanding the feelings of an era allows us to better understand our future. Another reason history and culture need to be respected and observed.

-Review by Cory Price

Book Traces with Andrew Stauffer was SO COOL!

Last class, we had the honor of having Andrew Stauffer conduct a lecture about his project on book tracing. We were also able to attend his talk in the library. Both talks were extremely eye opening and informational. Throughout the paper I will discuss types of materials that were often stored in books, the content of marginalia, the purpose of further research and what I found most interesting from the talk.

First and foremost I appreciated Stauffer’s passion for his project and movement because it made me more inclined to learn about it and ways in which I could be involved. Stauffer began his presentation by showing the audience pictures of artifacts that he and his students found in books. A common practice in the 1800s was storing locks of hair on the inside of books. Some stored locks of hair to remember their child’s first haircut, or as a memento from one distant friend to another. There was a needle and thread found in books that once belonged to a seamstress. Flowers and other botanicals were mostly found in books of poems. It dawned on me that, although it seemed strange to me, people stored personal items in books because it was always with them. Sort of how our phones are always with us- it is like an extension of ourselves. It was common for people to adventure on their day-to-day lives with a book in hand. It is not as common today, as social media has become our source of entertainment, and the access of books is now at our finger tips.

Before books were simplified to an app on our cell phones, physical books were a convenient way for people to interact and communicate with one another. Books served many purposes for soldiers in war. For instance, Stauffer showed pictures of written memories between two veterans, a soldier’s geometrical calculations of what angle he should point his missile to successfully shoot a target, and even one troop’s location on an unfinished sketch of a map. It was interesting to see the differences in content and use of marginalia in specific books. Like the love notes written back and forth between two lovers in a book of poems, or the thoughts of a grieving mother who just lost a child, or son to war. Often found in personal books were meanings of what lines in the poem meant to the owner, along with how he/ she identified with the content. Some owners even crossed out parts of the text and wrote it in their own words, which I found to be hilarious. It displayed humor, self-pity, and sense of self in a society. Shauffer showed us one example of a young woman who questioned her faith in God, herself and “mankind” who did everything to stifle and suppress her. I found this very interesting because despite my passion for empowering women, I always had this misconception of what women were like centuries and decades ago. Many assume that because women were suppressed and kept from gaining higher education that we would not find many traces of them in books, but we did- and they had a lot to say. Many of the traces found today were written by women. This information was the biggest take away piece for me. I would love to find out if there are book traces of famous women leaders and if they have personal, case by case information leading up to historic events such as women gaining the right to vote and furthering their education. For this very purpose, book traces is a movement built upon more than sentimental value.

There is significance in knowing to whom books once belonged to, and the content of their annotations because it gives us an understanding of what people were like and how they interacted with each other. We also see how books have evolved from physical to a digital form with textual-like characteristics to simulate the real thing. For instance, instead of finding an imprint of flowers in today’s books, we would find digital illustrations of a flower pinned on a page, or leaf designs around the trim of a picture. Techniques of book markers or imprints of flowers are still used today, in this way. These little details are still important to us because we still hold on to them even as we evolve into a more digital way. There is much meaning to be found in book traces that we will never discover until we look beyond the pages.


Book Traces event with Andrew Stauffer

The Book Traces event was enlightening. Andrew Stauffer brought a handful of books to our class from the time period of 1800-1923. These books, which he gave to each of us, were special because they contained authentic marginalia from that time period. In my book–a book of poetry from the 1800s–someone had underlined various lines of sad content. There was only one written marginalia in the book–a date, which Professor Stauffer explained was most likely the date things went wrong with the writer’s relationship.

Professor Stauffer explained the marginalia in the other books as well. For example, Ryan’s book had marginalia which effectively tried to alter the story printed in the book. So funny and extensive were the alterations that the class joked the writer must’ve been an SNL writer before SNL existed. Another book, called Reveries of a Bachelor, had written in it notes from the reader who clearly found the book relatable.

Next, Professor Stauffer pulled up a slideshow of images of books with marginalia. He read the marginalia to us and subsequently told us the stories of the writers based on his and his students’ research. We learned that a lot of the books that had been donated to UVA were sent from homes of Confederate families. The most touching marginalia recounted how the writer, drunk and feeling sentimental, purchased a book which reminded him of the past with his friend. This marginalia was in letter form and was gifted to the recipient with the book.

At the actual Book Traces speech, Professor Stauffer covered much of the same content, since more students and staff were present. However he also included new information. For example, he talked about why books older than 1800 weren’t included in his research (because they were stored away in vaults due to their fragility and rarity). He also talked about flowers as marginalia–often left in books to commemorate loved ones or to illustrate excerpts dealing with flora.

This all deals a lot with the content of our course because we have been learning about how ancient, or simply old, practices are carried over in today’s publishing/technology. Professor Stauffer made a profound statement about how the marginalia between two lovers in the same book was much like how we may text each other today.