Here at the Blake Archive Northern Division we have found ourselves thinking a lot about marginalia. There really hasn’t been much else to do this winter with the constant snow, so in fact we have found ourselves thinking and talking, and then thinking and talking some more about marginalia over the past few months.

When we at BAND use the term “marginalia” we are talking about more than just marginal writings. We are considering how best to present and transcribe all of Blake’s annotations of the given text. This includes issues like underlining, marginal comments, in-text comments, etc.

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Some of the questions that arise when thinking about how to tackle marginalia include:

  • How to clearly transcribe what we see on the page?
  • Should we transcribe only Blake’s contributions to the page, or the entire page with Blake’s comments and the original text not by Blake?
  • When we transcribe underlining and marginal comments, is there a way to do so without suggesting a relationship between the two? Ie. where we position the marginal comment transcriptions in relation to the original text might suggest we are inferring a relationship between that particular part of the text and that specific annotation.

We have been looking at various other digital projects that deal with marginalia in order to better tackle some of these questions. What we have found is that some of these projects transcribe everything on the page, some transcribe only the marginalia and some just include pictures without any sort of transcription. Each projects seems to present a different way of thinking about digital form and book history/book as disappearing object – all to varying degrees of success. A project that provides transcriptions of marginalia without the original text seems to privilege digital accessibility over “book as object” thinking. A project that provides images without digital transcriptions on the other hand seems to privilege the material object of the book over accessibility in a new digital format.

As we think about marginalia at BAND, we are thinking about how we can make these material objects the most accessible to people, while still keeping their integrity as objects. Some combination of image and transcribed text, in addition to transcribed marginalia, seems key; as it is the only way to make the work searchable and accessible for a wider audience.