Nouvelles Pod #4 - Mark Rankin - OSU's Rare Book Collection and Book History

Nouvelles Nouvelles Podcast #4 - Mark Rankin

Interviewer: Gillian Zhang (GZ); Interviewee: Mark Rankin (MR)

Time: October 1, 2021; Location: Digital Media Studio (142 Hagerty Hall)


Interview Transcript

GZ: Hello, this is Gillian Zhang with the Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies at The Ohio State University. I'm talking today with our guest speaker, Dr. Mark Rankin, who will present a talk later this evening, entitled "Accuracy and Error in the Production of John Foxe and John Day's Acts and Monuments." Dr. Rankin’s talk will be the first lecture in our 2021 to 2022 lecture series, and also held in honor of Professor John King, who was designated Distinguished University Professor at OSU in 2004. Dr. Rankin was an advisee of Professor King, and they have collaborated on a variety of projects. After completing his PhD at OSU, Dr. Rankin has been teaching at the Department of English, James Madison University until present. He has also obtained many prestigious scholarships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, Huntington Library, Folger Shakespeare Library, just to name a few. So today, we are going to be talking about Dr. Rankin’s research experience in the field of Medieval and Renaissance studies, about some of his memories of OSU, working with Professor King, and about the university's Rare Book collections. So welcome, Dr. Rankin. Welcome back to OSU. It's a pleasure to talk to you today.

MR: Thank you for having me.

GZ: Before we delve into more specific questions, can you tell our listeners more about yourself? When did you first become interested in Medieval and Renaissance studies or English literature?

MR: Sure, I've always loved reading and the story goes back a long way. I became interested in Renaissance studies through the Reformation actually. And in my upbringing, in the Anglican/Episcopal world, I became interested in the ways in which the Church of England and different versions of Christianity came out of the Reformation. And the story of that attracted me a great deal in terms of the literary side more than the historical side per se, because of the creativity involved in representing the events of the Reformation. That's why I gravitated to literature, and I decided to specialize in that area when I came here to OSU, after having previously studied novels and some other things.

GZ: I see. So you're interested in the Reformation, like back to high school?

MR: I think so. I took a Western Civilization Advancement class in high school, and the teacher had the PhD in Reformation Studies. He inspired me to think about the complex,  including the players, the actors, the events, and the personalities, and how the ways that books during the Reformation affected the spread of ideas, the way that books circulated, and the ways that authors attempted to influence people's thinking, and translations of the English Bible as well.

GZ: When you entered college, did you study English literature?

MR: I started actually far afield in engineering. I made the switch to English literature and education. I spent some time studying 19th-century novels, but then I made the switch to the Renaissance.

GZ: Wow! It's like a big decision, right? To change your major from engineering to English literature.

MR: I hated engineering. I just did it and didn't like it, and I came to what I love. You were asking about how I came to study the Renaissance here at OSU. Is that right?

GZ: Yes, like what drew you to this specific program?

MR: The story is that I did my MA at Ohio University about 80 miles southeast of here. I had a professor there who knew about OSU, and he encouraged me to apply when I was looking at the PhD, so I did. I came to OSU and saw it as an ideal opportunity for me to really delve deeper into my interest in Reformation Studies. The Renaissance and early modern became my natural home. By the same token, Professor King’s research was a natural draw for me because of his pioneering work in that field.

GZ: I noticed that you and Professor King collaborated on a lot of co-writing articles and you co-edited a monograph. What is your first collaboration?

MR: Right. They all happened almost the same time. When I was finishing up my dissertation, John invited me to collaborate with him on several projects. We did an article together, in The Yearbook of English Studies, on translations of Reformation works, English translations of continental reform. That was a project that I believe John had proposed as a special issue, and he asked me to co-author the piece with him. Also, the edited collection, Henry VIII and His Afterlives, was published in time with the 2009, 500th anniversary of King Henry VIII's accession to the throne, so it seemed a great time to look at how Henry  VIII was represented in different kinds of literature and historical texts. That was the subject of my dissertation research. I don't know who first came up with the idea. Chris Highley as well was involved, and the three of us approached Cambridge, and we were able to do the collection, so that was another big collaboration. Then I also collaborated with John on five separate National Endowment for the Humanities summer seminars. The sixth will be offered here at OSU in 2022.

GZ: That’s next year.

MR: Yes, next summer.

GZ: There are so many collaborations.

MR: Right, and I think that I was very fortunate. I understand that not every doctoral student enters into such rich collaboration with the advisor. John invited me to collaborate with him, and I've always taken opportunities to collaborate with other scholars, if the product is something that I can't produce myself that if the end result is better than anything any of us could do individually. That's been my philosophy in collaboration, and that's what guided my work with Professor King.

GZ: Yeah, I think this is not that common, but as you said, teamwork is really important. In science fields, they have a lot of collaboration, but in humanities, I think we should have more.

MR: We should! John also offered me friendship fairly early on. I did my due diligence, but there was a time when the relationship became more of a colleague relationship, probably soon after I graduated from OSU. I really put a lot of the thanks on him, because the collaboration wouldn't have happened if it were not for his generosity and his gracious willingness to provide me with opportunities to advance my career. That's really what it was about. I just simply took the opportunities that he offered.

GZ: As our listeners may also know, the OSU library has a very good collection of rare books. I think Professor John King also helped to make our collections the finest John Foxe collections, right? And we have the unparalleled collection of books printed by John Day. So is there one particular book that you think is extremely interesting or remarkable?

MR: Can I tell the story of some of those collections being built first? Is that possible?

GZ: Of course.

MR: Jim Bracken was the librarian here for many years, and he and John collaborated beginning when John arrived at Ohio State in the late 1980s. They began to purchase copies of Foxe's Acts and Monuments. The early editions were printed by John Day who was the premier printer of 16th-century England and Queen Elizabeth I's reign. There was a bookseller in Ireland. OSU sent deaccessioned duplicate copies of ordinary books across the ocean to this Irish bookseller, in exchange for copies of Acts and Monuments. This was built up over a period of years in the late 1990s and early 2000s, being finished right when I was here from 2001 to 2007. The result of that collaboration has made Ohio State one of the finest John Foxe collections in the world. There are only two or three other institutions in North America whose collections rival Ohio State's. There was also a very fortuitous arrangement made between the libraries and the football program. In 2002, Ohio State won the national championship in football and the money that came to the University was divided up in different piles, and a huge pile of that went to the library. When that happened, there was several hundred thousand dollars in cash. At that same time, the University made an offer for something called the James Stevens-Cox STC collection. Stevens-Cox was a rare book collector. He had a collection of books that is so rare that the Standard Catalog of rare books, the Short Title Catalogue, or STC, lists him as a named collector. Most of the time, this catalogue only lists institutions, but if the book is rare enough, it would list individual owners as well. Well, the estate, when Stevens-Cox passed away, wanted to sell the whole collection to an institutional library in one piece, and it happened that Ohio State had the cash to make that purchase. This is extraordinary because these books survive in only one, two or three copies anywhere.

In addition, John King and James Bracken built on the John Day collection as well, using various funding and arrangements similar to what I have described. It has really made Ohio State a destination for the study of printing in the first century or so after Caxton. I think that the Foxe collection is my favorite for various reasons. Foxe’s Acts and Monuments is such an extraordinary book. It's the most complicated book printed in England during this time. I'll talk more about this tonight at the CMRS lecture. However, for this discussion, I'd like to mention one of the Stevens-Cox books by the English preacher Francis Rous. It's called the Mystical Marriage. In the front, on a blank page is a note that the book was owned in the 17th century by a parish church. In the front are instructions for the book to be circulated as part of an early lending library, to parishioners. It also has three or four names of people who signed out the book and the date, and then the date it was returned, and then the next borrower. This kind of thing is extraordinary, and these are the kinds of discoveries that can be made only by looking at collections of this kind. So that's a real gem.

GZ:  Was that a very rare discovery?

MR: Right! Because you know, if there's no written record, then there's no knowledge that had happened. And so this book tells us that it was part of this library, and the evidence is in the book. And so this is why, for example, the individual physical book matters. The internet and online books are wonderful and have changed the way we do research. But there is knowledge preserved within the physical copy of the book sitting on your desk. There may be no other copy of that book. Plus, the Mystical Marriage is from the collection of extremely rare books, there may only be one or two copies that survive, or very few in any case.

GZ:  I am also interested in book history, and I noticed that recently book historians not only pay attention to the contents of the book, but pay more attention to the materiality of the book, and also the various stages of a work’s life, like from author to publisher, to printer and bookseller, and also readers. So I'm curious about your methodologies.

MR: Great question. For me, the history of the book is the story of the relationship between a book's physical features, and the contents of the text or texts that it contains. The physicality of a book evolves in relationship to the contents in ways that can be described. And that actually illuminates the contents in several possible ways. For example, if a printer designs a book in a certain way, that could tell us something about how that work was intended to be received. For example, now, you mentioned the lifecycle of a book. There is a scholar who has developed an idea called the “communication circuit,” which you might have in mind, where you have authors, printers, distributors, publishers, readers, binders, and it's sort of a circuit that's been very influential in book history. For me, my approach is to look at as many copies of a book of any given title as possible to try to find some things out about the book that may be unique in the copies that are in front of me. So for example, my talk today is going to be looking at John Day, the printer’s approach to correction in Foxe's book. Among other techniques, he glues in little pieces of paper with text printed on top of incorrect text. He doesn't do this in every copy. You have to look at as many copies as possible to see how Day approaches the problem of error. And so I'm very entrepreneurial. I think of my work in some ways as the Indiana Jones of rare book research, that is, I go beyond the major archives, you know, the Folger Shakespeare Library, the British Library, the Bodleian. I go to those places, but I also tried to go off the beaten path, because every book tells a story. And in a way, my approach is to follow the story. I think that the best book history goes beyond the nuts and bolts of signature markings and, you know, gatherings and collation and all that to tell a bigger story about ideas. For me, the history of the book allows researchers to explore ideas, and the history of thinking; you know, we can learn about patronage, for example, from dedications, but also from the way a book is made. Are its illustrations hand colored? Is it bound in a special way?

GZ: Yeah, excellent! I think that's very interesting that you track different copies and different versions of a book to see how the texts or contents changed.

MR: Right! We have to understand that printers in the period did not leave records of their business operations, by and large, in England, especially. Or if they left them, they've been lost. So there's no diary that tells us that this is John Day’s approach to the problem of error. He simply worked on the fly. And so to recover that, you have to look at the artifact and deduce what he's doing from the evidence in front of you. Do we have time for another story?

GZ: Yes, of course!

MR: I would like to give another example of this. Some of my work has dealt with a man called Richard Topcliffe. And Topcliffe was a despicable man. He was a torturer. And yet he was also a reader. He worked for Queen Elizabeth's government. He confiscated books from the houses of English Catholics. As he read them he wrote in the margins, reacting to the ways in which the book in front of him conformed to existing statute law against things like royal assassination and allegiance to a foreign power. Remember it wasn't illegal to be Catholic, but it was illegal to pledge allegiance to a foreign power, like the Pope. Topcliffe collected evidence that Catholics were seditious, and that they were breaking the law so that the government would have evidence to prosecute them. And he did this in the margins of his books. And so this is a great example of how the study of a reader can get into issues concerning police brutality, and issues concerning how books are controversial. And so I always try to, whether it be Foxe or English Catholic books, or other kinds of printed books, I always try to find that story. Because that's really what legitimizes the history of the book, within the broader humanities.

GZ: That's a fascinating story. I noticed that you pay a lot attention to readers. I know that readers are really important, but sometimes it's not easy to find them, right?

MR: Right! For sure. It can be very hard, but William Sherman in Used Books: Marking Readers in Renaissance England, argues that by definition the reader is impossible to recover, and that reading leaves no sign of its having happened. And so if a reader has written something down about the reading, then they are writing, not reading. And so immediately, the question of readers really becomes, like sand falling through your fingers. And so often, what readers write down in the margin isn't the kind of thing that we would be interested in seeing. It can be very difficult. One of the things that I do is I look at as many copies of a book as possible, as I mentioned, to see what kinds of readers do write things in the margin. Also, the study of the history of reading now, is evolving rapidly toward representations of reading, and different kinds of reading, reading aloud, for example, or hearing versus reading because hearing something read isn't the same phenomenon as reading something aloud. It gets very, very interesting in terms of sort of how you talk about the history of reading. There are also visual representations of reading in this period. In some ways, it's all of these categories of evidence working together at the same time that helps me tell the story I'm looking for.

GZ: Have you written about readers?

MR: One of the things I'm doing right now with Foxe is a census of surviving copies of the first four editions, those that Foxe worked on with John Day. And that census has reached 189 copies out of about 250 total. Now, as I approach the 250 mark, my plan is to look at authors who themselves read Foxe, and to go beyond existing work, mostly by John King, actually, on the history of the reading of Foxe to compare the things that readers are putting in the margin of their copies of Foxe with what authors are saying about Foxe who have read him and are writing about him. In this way, I hope to tell a broader story about precisely how the Book of Martyrs or the Acts and Monuments was understood. By looking at all of those copies, I can add to the conversation in ways that would not otherwise be possible. Remember that the Acts and Monuments went into nine additions down to 1684, but I'm only looking at the first four, those of 1563, 1570, 1576, 1583. Those are the four that Foxe himself edited. I'll leave it to someone else to look at the later editions.

GZ: I also have a question about the term "edition." I know in Chinese book history, edition is a very complicated term. Most Chinese pre-modern books were published by woodblock printing technology. An edition means the whole number of copies of a book that are printed from the same set of blocks. If a book is published in a later time period but using the same set of blocks, it is still the same edition.

MR: Right, so in early printing, bookmaking is an industrial process. And type is not a verb. It's a noun. Type is something that you hold in your hand. It is a piece of metal that has a letter on the end and is made through a casting process. And these individual letters on pieces of type were assembled in order in what's called a form on a flat surface, and then tightened all together and rolled under the printing press for bookmaking. Now, if a work is so produced, and then the type is disassembled, and returned to the case, and then re-reassembled, you have a new edition. So when you assemble type into your printing process, and you print your book on a hand operated press, as long as you keep the type together, it's the same edition. Now very rarely in England was type ever held together after a book was made because there was not enough type to go around for other jobs. And so I suppose that if, you know, let's say if it was something like an ABC that was held together and then printed again two years later, that would be a new edition. For the most part, it is the idea of assembly and disassembly that marks an edition.

GZ: I see. That makes sense. And so for each edition, the printers will make some change, because he or she would notice that there's maybe some mistake.

MR: Possibly, it depends really. Foxe is a special case, because each of the editions that he worked on was different. Compared to the first edition, the production of the second edition was more complicated. He's bringing stuff into the printing house as it's being printed, which forces John Day to resort to all kinds of creative techniques in order to fit material in. Most authors are usually not so ambitious, they're usually not so driven. And oftentimes, they're not even present in the printing house. In those cases, an edition could be reprinted from a previous printing, with no changes. And in effect, the changes that would result would be errors introduced in the printing process, for example. If there was the wrong letter in the wrong place, and the compositor or the printing workman who puts the letters together, if he grabs the incorrect letter, then you have an error in the resulting text. This happens often in the printing of Shakespeare's plays, for example. But in the case of Foxe, you have an author who's continuing to compile and continuing to produce during the production process. That's a very unique case, or a rare case I should say.

GZ: Thank you Mark very much for sharing your research and your experience with us.

MR: Thank you. It's been a pleasure.