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Blind Impressions

Methods and Mythologies in Book History

By Joseph A. Dane

Publication Year: 2013

What is a book in the study of print culture? For the scholar of material texts, it is not only a singular copy carrying the unique traces of printing and preservation efforts, or an edition, repeated and repeatable, or a vehicle for ideas to be abstracted from the physical copy. But when the bibliographer situates a book copy within the methods of book history, Joseph A. Dane contends, it is the known set of assumptions which govern the discipline that bibliographic arguments privilege, repeat, or challenge. "Book history," he writes, "is us."

In Blind Impressions, Dane reexamines the field of material book history by questioning its most basic assumptions and definitions. How is print defined? What are the limits of printing history? What constitutes evidence? His concluding section takes form as a series of short studies in theme and variation, considering such matters as two-color printing, the composing stick used by hand-press printers, the bibliographical status of book fragments, and the function of scholarly illustration in the Digital Age. Meticulously detailed, deeply learned, and often contrarian, Blind Impressions is a bracing critique of the way scholars define and solve problems.

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press

Series: Material Texts


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pp. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. 1-8

To write on print culture, one might start by selecting a monumental book from the presumed history of that culture: it might be the Gutenberg Bible; it might be an edition of Aldus Manutius, Shakespeare’s First Folio, the French Encyclopédie. We might choose less grand things as well: a run-of-the-mill edition of an Elizabethan play, ...

Part I. What is Print?

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Chapter 1. Paleography Versus Typography

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pp. 11-36

In 2011, in an introductory section entitled “No Leaners,” I made a simple observation regarding the distinction between type and script. However we define type, it is distinguished from script by the discrete nature of the typecase: a typesort either is or is not in a type compartment of a typecase; ...

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Chapter 2. "Ca. 1800": What's in a Date?

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pp. 37-57

When Rabelais and others characterized their own period as involved in “la restitution des bonnes lettres,”1 they created what we now know as the Middle Ages, a period between two points of interest, Roman classical times and contemporary times, with both periods romanticized through a Renaissance or Early Modern perspective. ...

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Chapter 3. Bibliographers of the Mind

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pp. 58-72

One of the most influential articles written on bibliography in the past half century is D. F. McKenzie’s “Printers of the Mind.”1 It is likely the compelling nature of the title and the implied thesis that have prevented me from reading or re-reading it as closely as I should, and I assume I am not alone in this. ...

Part II. On The Making of Lists

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Chapter 4. Herman R. Mead's Incunabula in the Huntington Library and the Notion of "Typographical Value"

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pp. 75-91

The Huntington Library catalogue of fifteenth-century books was produced by Herman R. Mead in 1937.1 The catalogue and collection were to be organized according to the Proctor system, also the basis for a number of contemporary incunable catalogues; items are organized under country, town, printer, and date of printing within each printer, ...

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Chapter 5. Catchtitles in English Books to 1550

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pp. 92-105

A little-noted feature of early sixteenth-century English books is what Victor Scholderer refers to, in reference to fifteenth-century Italian books, as the “catch-title.”1 Catchtitles are abbreviated forms of the book title printed on the direction line, that is, the line used for printed signatures and catchwords just below the text block. ...

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Chapter 6. An Editorial Propaedeutic

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pp. 106-124

Bibliography as understood or defined by Anglo-American bibliographers has always been closely associated with editing, and the following chapter focuses on what appears to be the most basic function of traditional editing—organizing and evaluating extant variants (a set of facts) in such a way as to indicate an original reading, ...

Part III. Ironies of History and Representation: Theme and Variation

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Playing Bibliography

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pp. 127-129

Most of the scholars I know settled into their fields by accident. As a would-be medievalist, I found myself, through no doing of my own, in Los Angeles. Medieval resources there, primary and secondary, could not compete with those of New York or large European libraries, but materials in book history and bibliography were abundant. ...

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III.1. Book History and Book Histories: On the Making of Lists

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pp. 130-138

Most of us have at some point been commissioned or required to compose a “Survey of Scholarship,” perhaps as a free-standing monograph, perhaps as an introduction to a scholarly article, or even in the opening meetings of a class. On the one hand, the allure is irresistible: that perfectly designed lecture or schema, ...

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III.2. Meditation on the Composing Stick

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pp. 139-148

The composing stick is an essential piece of equipment in traditional printing. It is the basis for most of what Moxon says about the “Compositor,” who in turn is the basis for much of modern bibliographical discussion, both in analytical bibliography and in the textual criticism related to it. ...

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III.3. The Red and the Black

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pp. 149-155

With that, I am pretending to concede that I have given up methodological strictures and shifted to the personal. In fact, that concession is a gambit. I am conceding this in order to enforce the argument I have made all along: that bibliographical arguments must be made in the context of particular problems, particular settings, ...

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III.4. Fragments

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pp. 156-164

Bowdoin College Library has what I call a run-of-the-mill early sixteenth-century psalter in a cheap contemporary binding.1 Bound in as an endpaper is an equally routine sheet of another nearly contemporary psalter or breviary. ...

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III.5. The Nature and Function of Scholarly Illustration in a Digital World

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pp. 165-173

A recent scholarly book I reviewed has a number of illustrations, twenty-eight by my count.1 Of these, most have the requisite permissions, all written in formulaic phrases, “Reproduced with the permission of the President and Fellows of Saint John Baptist College in the University of Oxford.” ...

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III.6. Art of the Mind

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pp. 174-182

A recent Getty Museum project involves the restoration of a Roy Lichtenstein piece, reported in the Los Angeles Times in “Lichtenstein’s Three Brush Strokes gets a Brush Up.” 1 The project is a poster-child for restoration. The artist/restorer is James DePasquale, “a longtime Lichtenstein assistant who manages the late artist’s studio in Southampton, NY.” ...


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pp. 183-208

Principal Sources

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pp. 209-214


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pp. 215-218

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pp. 219-228

An earlier version of Chapter 4 appeared as “Herman R. Mead’s Incunabula at the Huntington Library and the Notion of ‘Typographical Value’.” I thank the Bibliographical Society of Australia and New Zealand for permission to reprint the revised version here. ...

E-ISBN-13: 9780812208696
E-ISBN-10: 0812208692
Print-ISBN-13: 9780812245493
Print-ISBN-10: 0812245490

Page Count: 232
Illustrations: 9 illus.
Publication Year: 2013

Series Title: Material Texts
Series Editor Byline: Series Editors: Roger Chartier, Joseph Farrell, Anthony Grafton, Leah Price, Peter Stallybrass, Michael F. Suarez, S.J. See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 867739366
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Blind Impressions

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Bibliography -- Methodology.
  • Bibliography -- Methodology -- History.
  • Printing -- History.
  • Printing -- Historiography.
  • Type and type-founding -- History.
  • Type and type-founding -- Historiography.
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