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Marginalia in Books 


Course convenor: Dr Christopher Ohge 

Guest tutors and lecturers:

  • Alessio Antonini (Open University)
  • Francesca Benatti (Open University)
  • Jacqueline Broad (Monash University)
  • Matthew Fay (Institute of English Studies, University of London)
  • Cynthia Johnston (Institute of English Studies, University of London)
  • Steven Olsen-Smith (Boise State University)
  • Bill Sherman (Warburg Institute, University of London)
  • Matthew Symonds (University College London)
  • Shafquat Towheed (Open University)

Standard £680 / Student £550

This course introduces students to the history and study of marginalia, or annotations and markings made in books and other forms of printed material. The course surveys, in chronological order, forms of marginalia beginning with the medieval period, and concludes with a demonstration of a digital reading experience database. Marginalia studies will also be demonstrated by new research in print and digital, including the Archaeology of Reading project and case studies of Mary Astell, John Keats, Herman Melville, and the actor Frank Fay’s marginalia to W. B. Yeats’s plays. The impact of digital methods will also figure into several presentations. 


Much of the teaching will be based upon examinations of material objects or digital surrogates of those objects. In order to showcase world-leading expertise in the subject, some guest lectures will be delivered over Zoom to accommodate lecturers as far away as the United States and Australia. All students will be attending classes in-person. 


Recommended preliminary reading 

  • Antonini A., Benatti F., Blackburn-Daniels S. ‘On Links To Be: Exercises in Style #2’, 31st ACM Conference on Hypertext and Social Media (July 2020): 13–15.  
  • Grafton, Anthony. Worlds Made by Words : Scholarship and Community in the Modern West (Harvard UP, 2011). 
  • Jackson, H. J. Marginalia: Readers Writing in Books (Yale UP, 2001). 
  • –––. Romantic Readers: The Evidence of Marginalia (Yale UP, 2005). 
  • Ohge, Christopher and Steven Olsen-Smith. ‘Computation and Digital Text Analysis at Melville’s Marginalia Online’, Leviathan: A Journal of Melville Studies 20.2 (June 2018): 1–16. 
  • O’Neill, Helen, Anne Welsh, David A. Smith, Glenn Roe, Melissa Terras, ‘Text mining Mill: Computationally detecting influence in the writings of John Stuart Mill from library records’, Digital Scholarship in the Humanities 36.4 (December 2021): 1013–1029, 
  • Sherman, William. Used Books: Marking Readers in Renaissance England (U of Pennsylvania P, 2008). 
  • Spedding, Patrick and Paul Tankard. Marginal Notes: Social Reading and the Literal Margins (Palgrave Macmillan, 2021). 

Course tutor