February 2021

Wilson Walker Cowen's pioneering Harvard dissertation, Melville's Marginalia, is on course to be digitized, mounted, and searchable at Melville’s Marginalia Online

The editors and staff of MMO are pleased to announce that Wilson Walker Cowen's pioneering Harvard dissertation, Melville's Marginalia, will be digitized, encoded for searching, and mounted on this website. The digitizing work (nearly 5,700 images) is currently in the active queue at Harvard Library’s Imaging Services department, which has already done outstanding work in support of our efforts to present Herman Melville’s marginalia in many dozens of volumes in Houghton Library’s collection. The Cowen imaging work is scheduled to be finished by late spring. This dissertation, completed in 11 volumes in 1965 and now part of Harvard University Archives collections, remains crucial to Melville studies because not all the volumes from which he transcribed Melville's marginalia have as yet been digitized and mounted on our site or any other. Commercially printed or print-on-demand versions of Cowen's work are either not widely available or no longer offered. Those clumsy print options, not easily come-atable (a Hermanism), do Cowen's work no justice in the digital age.

MMO is particularly grateful to Charles Wilson Cowen for permission to mount his father’s original, ground-breaking dissertation online. Harvard University Archives, Houghton Library, and Harvard Library Imaging Services have once again been generous and supportive partners in MMO's efforts to document Melville's active, pencil(usually)-in-hand engagement with other writers' texts.

MMO will pursue grant and private funding sources for the encoding and mounting of Cowen's work and its integration with digital analysis and visualization tools now in development.

MMO continues to explore partnerships and permissions/licensing agreements with other copyright holders of works important in documenting and understanding Melville’s marginalia, sources, and reading.

This first phase of the Cowen project was proposed and implemented by our retiring Bibliographical Editor, Dennis C. Marnon, former Administrative Officer, Houghton Library, Harvard University. The imaging is being supported by private donations.

In the fullness of time, Harvard will also link complete digital files to the Cowen dissertation's entry in Harvard's HOLLIS catalog, though those files will have limited searching options.

Progress reports to follow.

January 2021

Data Visualization is Coming to Melville's Marginalia Online

With support by The Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation, Boise State University, and private donors, Melville's Marginalia Online will soon offer a variety of data visualization tools for the study of markings and annotations in books from Melville's library. First up: the project's integrated adoption of Voyant Tools, which will enable users to generate word clouds, tables, and trends graphs that quantify and display key terms and collocates (word pairings) according to their frequency within passages marked by Melville. The dynamic character of the integration will make it easy for users to navigate smoothly from the data graphics to search results and high-res facsimile images of holograph marginalia in the project's page viewer. For timely reports on the availability of these new tools, follow the project through Facebook or Twitter in the left sidebar. Make your own tax-deductible donation to Melville's Marginalia Online through the "Support" page at upper left, or by clicking on the mug icon.

October 2019

Kathleen Reilly, Supervisor of the Local History & Genealogy Department in the Berkshire Athenaeum and Major Friend of Melville Studies, Retires

On September 6, Kathy retired from her position at the Berkshire Athenaeum in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, after forty years of dedicated and highly productive service. She is known primarily to Melvilleans, amateur and professional alike, as the curator of the Melville Room, one of the three richest research resources for students of the author of Moby-Dick. Founded by Henry A. Murray in the old Athenaeum building and moved to the new facility in 1975, the handsome Melville Room and its collections boast real treasures--artifacts, artworks, association volumes, and family letters, documents, and furniture. Many of these items belonged to Herman Melville and came to the Athenaeum directly from Melville descendants. These artifacts and research materials warrant (and get) first-rate curatorial care, from preservation to access to reference services. Kathy's name appears in countless acknowledgments in monographs and articles on Melville in recognition of her expert curatorship on behalf of that collection. One of the most recent such volumes is Melville in His Own Time (2015), edited by our general editor, Steven Olsen-Smith. Kathy's professional scope and successes, however, ranged far beyond work on a single titan of American literature. Kathy joined the Local History & Genealogy Department in 1979 and became supervisor in 2000, succeeding the remarkable Ruth Degenhardt, another acclaimed Melville curator. In this leadership role, Kathy was, like Ruth before her, responsible for all administrative duties in the department, as well as for specialized reference work on Berkshire authors, local history, and genealogy. She oversaw preservation planning, conservation, and digitizing for the department's printed and archival collections. As part of her role in collection management, she wrote and then supervised four successful Library Services and Technology Act grants in support of the Athenaeum's archival collections. She regularly conducted workshops and training sessions for teachers and genealogists and offered lectures on various topics for visiting groups ranging from young students to lifelong learners. Based in part on these outreach efforts, she published numerous articles in Archival Anecdotes and The Berkshire Genealogist. Outside her home institution, she served on the Pittsfield Historical Commission and the Board of Directors of the Berkshire Historical Society. In broader service to her home institution, she helped with database development and access for the library and, from 2006 to 2008, played a major role in the redesign of the first floor of the Athenaeum, creating for the LH&G Department a technologically sophisticated research and archives facility.

As a crucial working partner of Melville's Marginalia Online, Kathy arranged, with our editors, the digitizing of Melville association volumes in her collection—ten titles in twenty-three volumes, with condition issues calling forth her expertise and informed decision-making--through the Digital Library, Villanova University, and she provided much clarifying provenance information for entries in MMO's catalog.

Kathy and her husband are leaving the Berkshires to move to Florida to be near their daughter and to welcome their first grandchild. The editors of MMO wish Kathy and her family the best in the future, and we salute the legacy of service and support that she has continued and advanced at the Athenaeum. His Most Excellent Purple Majesty of Greylock, MMO editors are sure, has tipped His crown to her many times in recognition of the successes He has witnessed from on high during Kathy's exemplary career in Pittsfield.

August 2019

Melville's Marginalia Online Saluted in NN13

The publication of the final volume in the Northwestern-Newberry edition of The Writings of Herman Melville is being celebrated in the current issue of Leviathan: A Journal of Melville Studies (June 2019) with a special section on the history of the edition, as well as a lengthy review essay on the final volume itself, "Billy Budd, Sailor" and Other Uncompleted Writings.Typee and Omoo volumes (titles 1 and 2 in the edition) were published in 1968, and editors and associates concluded their impressive work when the final volume came out in 2017 (volume 13 of a total of 15, with many volumes published, as happens with such large-scale editorial projects, out of numerical sequence). For more than a half century, the NN edition, as it is known in the field, has played a crucial role in establishing Melville's texts, in providing informative Historical Notes on the circumstances and contexts of these writings, and in demonstrating sound editing standards for presenting Melville's (or any author's) published and unpublished works.

A final section of this final volume focuses on Melville's marginalia, its importance to the study of the author, and a history of various attempts to capture and convey these markings and annotations in print-based formats over the years. The most substantial—in many ways—work in earlier generations on the marginalia was Wilson Walker Cowen's massive eleven-volume Harvard dissertation, submitted in 1965 and later photographically reduced and reprinted by Garland in 1987 in two large folio volumes, with four Cowen pages to the Garland page. But as the editors of NN13 firmly state, in keeping with the times, "the best way to present marginalia along with the passages annotated is in electronic form." The NN editors go on to point out that MMO provides improved access and contexts for Melville's marginalia by reproducing in digital images the entire content-bindings, blanks, texts, and Melville's markings—of the actual volumes from the author's library, not just the marked sections of text presented in typescript, with marginalia inserted in quasi-facsimile, as in Cowen. MMO also expands coverage in this field, the editors stress, by reproducing digitally many important titles, often with extensive marginalia, from Melville's library that have been recovered since Cowen's work was completed in 1965. As noted by the NN editors, MMO has been especially successful in establishing highly productive working relationships with the many and scattered institutions and individuals who own marked books from Melville's shelves.

The editors of NN13 generously conclude, "The scholarly world is fortunate to have Melville's Marginalia Online, which provides a well-conceived and well-managed clearinghouse for information about Melville's reading and annotating." A final salute in the final volume for which we are most grateful.

July 2019

Newly Surfaced: Melville's Copies of Juvenal, Persius, and Euripides, with Samuel Johnson's "The Vanity of Human Wishes"

Herman Melville's copies of writings by the Roman satirists Juvenal and Persius (bound together in one volume) and the Greek playwright Euripides (vol. 3 only, of three) have recently been discovered and will be offered at auction this fall in New York.

These two volumes are the only ones known to survive from the 37-volume set of the Harper Classical Library purchased by Melville on 19 March 1849, following publication of his first major work Mardi and shortly before the composition of Redburn and White-Jacket in the summer of that year. Melville began writing Moby-Dick in 1850, and many of the marginalia correspond to conceptions of human experience developed in his masterwork, though it is not clear that they contain any specific material or topical evidence dating to the period of composition. The Classical Library set was likely the primary source for Melville's mature readings in Greek and Roman literature. Front inscriptions "C. H. 2" (in Juvenal and Persius, vol. 35 in the Classical Library set) and "C. Horn" (in Euripides, vols. 15-17 in the set, with vol. 17 now recovered) reveal that he brought these books with him aboard the Meteor, captained by his brother Thomas, in 1860 for a projected voyage around the world and prolonged study of poetry (the ship was re-routed when it reached San Francisco, and Melville returned home to Massachusetts via Panama). As with other books in his library, Melville's volumes from the Classical Library set may have been reread at wide intervals, and the marginalia here may have been added or amplified at different times. Of particular note are Melville's annotations to "The Vanity of Human Wishes" (Samuel Johnson's "imitation" of Juvenal's Tenth Satire), which is included in this edition. The style of Melville's autograph in the Juvenal volume resembles versions that date to the mid-1850s and later; apart from his Cape Horn inscription, the Euripides volume is not signed or dated.

The volumes are unique for their connection to an important multivolume set (Sealts/MMO 147) owned by Melville that is otherwise lost, and the marginalia are remarkable for the nature of the subject matter marked and for the rigorous and lively nature of Melville's annotations. The images displayed are provided by the owner and Swann Auction Galleries.

Spring 2019


Join us virtually in spring 2019 as Melville's Marginalia Online and Boise State University's Hemingway Literary Center observe the bicentennial of the birth of Herman Melville (1819-1891). To keep informed of upcoming events and video feeds, follow the project's social networking streams at left. Watch and listen to selected 2018 lectures at Melville@200.

June 2018

Special Section in Leviathan: A Journal of Melville Studies on Computation and Digital Text Analysis at Melville's Marginalia Online

The June 2018 issue of Leviathan: A Journal of Melville Studies (20.2) features a special section on digital text analysis of Melville's marginalia, including the following articles by MMO editors, associates, and student interns:

  • Christopher Ohge and Steven Olsen-Smith, "Introduction: Computation and Digital Text Analysis at Melville's Marginalia Online" (1-16).
  • Tony McGowan with Marcus Blandford, Cyrus Garner, Kenzington Price, "Melville's Hand in Chapman's Homer: A Poet's Pagan Education" (17-36).
  • Christopher Ohge, Steven Olsen-Smith, Elisa Barney Smith with Adam Brimhall, Bridget Howley, Lisa Shanks, Lexy Smith, "At the Axis of Reality: Melville's Marginalia in The Dramatic Works of William Shakespeare" (37-67).
  • Peter Norberg with Anna Lendacky, "'If not Equal all, Yet free": Political Freedom and Theological Doubt in Melville's Reading of Milton" (68-89).

The essays contribute new information and insights about Melville's reading and about the roles of literary influence in his thought and craft. Methodologically, they offer a preview of analytical approaches and tools currently under development at Melville's Marginalia Online. Here is the opening paragraph of the section introduction by guest-editors Ohge and Olsen-Smith:

"In an erased marginal comment on Shakespeare's character Parolles, the dissembling rogue in All's Well That Ends Well, Herman Melville invoked the most unexceptionable of mathematical formulas to reflect darkly on the abiding nature of human depravity:

As 2 & 2 made 4 in Noah's time, as now,
so man [?figures] ever. Here we have a
character very common in the Rail Road
Car of the [?most mighty] nineteenth century (Shakespeare's Dramatic Works 2.406).

Roughly forecasting the subject of Melville's tenth book, The Confidence-Man, the recovered annotation also reveals a seemingly incidental but nonetheless significant penchant on Melville's part for quantification. Quantities appear frequently in Moby-Dick and in other writings by Melville, whose fascination with numbers was demonstrated recently in the pages of this journal by Zachary Turpin. Numbers are not scarce in the author's marginalia either. "There are 75 folio volumes in that," Melville observed of Jaques's words in As You Like It (2: 284.26–27). In light of this predisposition to unite the quantifiable with the profound, the Melville's Marginalia Online (MMO) staff offer in the following essays digital text analyses of Melville's marginalia in his surviving copies of Homer, Shakespeare, and Milton. Methodologically unprecedented, and conducted in an integrative spirit, the essays combine distant with close reading, exploring hitherto unknown or under-appreciated evidence of Melville's engagement with these three major predecessors . . ."

Support the development of new functionality and analytical tools at Melville's Marginalia Online by making a tax-deductible donation to the project at Subscribe to Leviathan at the web site of the Johns Hopkins University Press.

June 2018

In Memory of William Sherman Reese

Melville's Marginalia Online has lost a true friend, an important, influential longtime supporter, and a cohort. With condolences to his family members, colleagues, and friends, the editors of MMO mourn the loss of Bill Reese on June 4 in Havre de Grace, MD, as reported by the Baltimore Sun. A great rare book dealer, collector, and steady benefactor of Melville scholarship, Bill was particularly devoted to the study of the author's library and reading. The 1988 revised and expanded edition of Merton M. Sealts's Melville's Reading listed a single book owned by Bill: Obed Macy's The History of Nantucket, inscribed "Herman Melville from his friend Thos Macy 7 1/m 1852." In 2004, as documented by Sealts and Steve Olsen-Smith in "A Cumulative Supplement to Melville's Reading" (Leviathan 6.1), the number of titles with Melville family associations in his collection had grown to thirteen. Today, MMO's Online Catalog lists twenty such titles in the Reese collection. This tally does not include the complete run of Melville first editions he acquired early on, some with extraordinary associations. Bill's acquisitions and intentions are recounted in his Grolier Club lecture, "Collecting Herman Melville." His astonishing success in assembling that archive, nearly 100 years into the period of Melville's posthumous fame, is testament to the admiration and commitment Bill felt for the author's life and writings. Numerous Melville scholars have been direct witnesses and beneficiaries of his devotion, with Bill's determination as a collector matched only by his eagerness to see the unique holograph evidence in his collection carefully examined and disseminated, and by his creation of fellowships and other forms of support for original research—including important gifts to Melville’s Marginalia Online. For apt examples of his collection and his open sharing of those riches, look no further than the digital copies of books lent by Bill to MMO for imaging and editing: Melville’s marked and annotated copies of Henry Cary’s translation of Dante's Commedia (under the title The Vision) and of William Hazlitt's Criticisms on Art and Lectures on the English Comic Writers and the English Poets. On behalf of everyone deeply indebted to your many acts of encouragement and generosity, thank you, Bill Reese, and farewell.

August 2017

Congratulations to Heather G. Cole

Heather G. Cole is the new Curator of Literature and Popular Culture at the John Hay Library, Brown University, a position she begins on August 21st. From 2007 to 2017, Heather served as Assistant Curator of Modern Books and Manuscripts at Houghton Library, Harvard, and in 2012 took on the additional role of Curator of the library’s Theodore Roosevelt Collection. Since 2008, Heather has been the principal contact for Melville's Marginalia Online in the digitization of annotated volumes from Melville’s library in Houghton’s collections. Under the direction of Curator of Modern Books and Manuscripts, Leslie Morris, she has coordinated the imaging of more than five dozen volumes from Melville’s library (supported primarily by the Robert G. Newman Fund), and in her final months at Houghton, she and Leslie put in place a program for the continued prioritized digitization of more than forty of Melville’s books, some of which require considerable conservation work in advance of imaging and special handling for studio work. For the entire existence of MMO, Heather has been a thoughtful, productive, and sophisticated partner. We applaud her new appointment, celebrate her many Houghton accomplishments (of which MMO work is only a small part), and value her contributions to our ongoing project. We salute Heather with admiration and gratitude and wish her well going forward. As Herman himself might say of Heather's advancement: What can be finer?

April 2017

Beta Test Version of Marginalia Search Tool Launched at Melville's Marginalia Online

Trace key words and expressions in Melville's annotations and in the printed text marked by him in his 7-volume set of The Dramatic Works of William Shakespeare (Sealts No. 460). The project's new search tool associates text and markup with pixel coordinates on page images to highlight and outline terms and expressions submitted through its search interface. Review the "Marginalia" and "XML Encoding" sections of "Guidance for Searching" for an explanation of XML encoding practices. Additional digital copies of Melville's books will be made searchable as markup progresses, with additions announced through the site's Facebook and Twitter pages.

June 2016

"Update on Books Owned and Borrowed by Melville" in Leviathan: A Journal of Melville Studies

"An Update on Books Owned, Borrowed, and Consulted by Melville" in Leviathan 18.2 provides updated information on books with Melville family associations that have been recovered or redescribed at Melville’s Marginalia Online since Steven Olsen-Smith and the late Merton M. Sealts's "Cumulative Supplement to Melville's Reading" appeared in Leviathan in 2004. Subscribe to Leviathan at the web site of the Johns Hopkins University Press.

July 2015

Special Section on "Melville's Hand" in Leviathan: A Journal of Melville Studies

Under the editorship of Samuel Otter and Brian Yothers and the auspices of the Johns Hopkins University Press and the Melville Society, Leviathan: A Journal of Melville Studies has featured a special section on "Melville's Hand" in its June 2015 issue (17.2). Focused on erased marginalia recovered at Melville's Marginalia Online, the special section features essays authored or co-written by Dawn Coleman, Dennis C. Marnon, Peter Norberg, Steven Olsen-Smith, and Joshua Preminger. Special thanks to Mr. William Reese, the New York Public Library, and Princeton University Library for the access and digital services that made these discoveries possible.

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