Society for History of Authorship, Reading, and Publishing Conference Recap
For example, in one session I heard a fascinating paper presented by Katherine Grandjean from Wellesley College about her textual research into Cotton Mather's description of Hannah Dustin's story. In March 1697, while living in Haverhill, MA with her husband and eight children, Hannah was kidnapped by Abenaki American Indians. Her newborn daughter and neighbors were murdered. Eventually she escaped after convincing two other victims to help her kill her captors. Her story was retold by Nathanial Hawthorne, John Greenleaf Whittier, and Henry David Thoreau and was a sensation at the time. She is the first woman in the U.S. honored with a statue, and six of them now dot the Massachusetts and New Hampshire landscape. The use of those stories to create "geographies of fright" was an interesting journey into the use of texts to illuminate life in early colonial times.
In another conversation I chatted with an established scholar, Dr. Tara Penry, who is Associate Professor of English at Boise State University and director of the Hemingway Western Studies Center at BSU and past president of the Western Literature Association. She and her colleagues are involved in two core projects, the Western Print Culture Online and the Western Writers Online. The WWO project is about to launch in October 2013 and will "publish peer-reviewed articles and reprints, which illuminate the lives and works of authors of the North American West. Both projects aim to enhance public awareness of print, literacy, and literary activity in a region best known for iconic landscapes and global brands."
BSU also has a digital humanities initiative which includes Melville's Marginalia, a website publishing marginal notes of Herman Melville in the books he owned and marked. Scholars like Tara bring intelligence, wit, and passion to this exploding field and give us all a glimpse into why this conference is so interesting and relevant. Without History of the Book scholars like Tara and her colleagues, we wouldn't know that Herman Melville had a copy of Thomas Beale's Natural History of the Sperm Whale in his library. The half title page is inscribed with Melville's signature and the note: "New York, July 10, 1850." And the contents of the book enumerate chapters with information about the habits and nature of sperm whales. Will the real Moby Dick please stand up! Moby Dick is another one of my favorite books, in fact I own a copy of every book Melville wrote, but it was instructive to know the origins of that astonishing tale.