This is my online home, containing my best work on Shakespeare and the eighteenth century, as well as translations, forays into Shakespeare’s vocabulary, programming and sundry other items. Contact details and other links are available on the about page.
After a lot of tripod-wrestling, glass-posing, page-turning, camer-adjusting and much, much more, some volunteers and I have finally managed to publish a readable, open digital edition of a book on archive.org.
The book in question is Charles MacKay’s collection of Jacobite Songs and Ballads, published back in 1861, and thus very much in the public domain. Thanks go to the English Faculty Library of the University of Cambridge who let us use our primitive digitisation methods on it.
Mackay was born in Perth, Scotland, on 26 March 1812, though – oddly – he always gave his birth date as 27 March 1814. With a father engaged abroad in the royal artillery, he lived with a Royal Artillery veteran named Threlkeld who was settled as a tailor in Woolwich, and whose wife, Grace Stuart, of Perth, taught the young Mackay a huge repertory of Scots songs, including – one suspects – many in this collection. Mackay went on to publish his own poetry throughout his life, and also wrote as a sub-editor for the Morning Chronicle, beating none other than Thackeray to the post. Exhausted by the demands of the newspaper he returned to Glasgow and its literary culture, before leaving for a tour of America. In the rest of a very eventful life, he reported on events in New York, met many leading literary figures of his day and published on the influence of Celtic languages in Europe. He died on 24th December 1889, his Poetical Works, published thirteen years before his death, ran to 626 closely printed pages.
As well as finding out about Mackay, digitising his collection of Jacobite ballads and songs also taught us a great deal about book-scanning. Including:
- The most important thing is to maintain the camera parallel to the page, orientation on the other axes is nowhere near as important and can be corrected later.
- Archive.org, wonderfully, will OCR any PDFs you upload to their repository! This saved us a great deal of time, and means that high-quality OCR is not just restricted to expensive programs.
Our next aim is to survey the English Faculty Library’s holdings more thoroughly and identify other books to reproduce. This may be made a bit more complicated by next term’s exams…
For the last three weeks, I’ve been leading the beginnings of a book-scanning group here in Cambridge. It all started with a cycle ride through the snow to a glazier’s on the outskirts of the city, where I picked up a few sheets of glass before heading back to our meeting at the English Faculty Library, carefully avoiding every piece of icy ground as I went, as you really do not want to fall off a bike when you have glass strapped to your back.
Our method, at least so far, has been very simple. It was inspired by the great DIY Book Scanner website (www.diybookscanner.org/), and needs only a desk lamp, a digital camera, a tripod and some book supports. As we were meeting in a library, the staff kindly lent us some foam book supports and enough extension leads to plug in the lamp. We then propped up a rare copy of a burlesque Hamlet from 1801 in our makeshift cradle, and began, laying the glass sheet on and then photographing each of the right-hand pages, before doing the same with the left.
We then put our collection of 80 or so jpegs, suitably renamed and ordered into ScanTailor (http://scantailor.sourceforge.net/), which polished our efforts into something fairly respectable. All that was left was to OCR the images, stitch them all into a single PDF and upload to the Internet Archive (http://archive.org/details/texts).
- Our images were far from perfect, often distorted due to the slight curvature of the page or the misalignment of the camera on its tripod.
- Current solution: short of building a rig, we are trying taking photos from above the book, which at least makes it easier to be parallel.
- Our file sizes were enormous, and this made conversion really time-consuming
- Current solution: use the university’s copy of Adobe Acrobat to compress the images into B&W PDFs, although it pains me that there seems to be no open-source alternative. Does anyone know of one?.
- Big file sizes and slightly skewed images do not a good OCR make: we couldn’t get tesseract to run on windows, so resorted to using a web-based version (), with all its limitations.
- Current solution: again, Adobe to the rescue; but are there any open-source projects out there for this?
And with that list of problems and solutions, you now have a fairly good idea of where we are. If you’re in the area of Cambridge, do get in touch, as we’re always eager for new volunteers. Future plans include: surveying the English Faculty Library for other books that are out of copyright and not yet digitised (not as numerous as you might think), proposing a collaboration with the Engineering Department for help constructing a standalone book scanner, and investigating what there is to be scanned in the College libraries of the city.
Just a quick message to say that I’ve decided to save some money on my hosting costs, so have moved the Verb Gymnasium from verbgymnasium.com to a subsection of this website.
In other news, all the Verb Gymnasium code is now on GitHub. Feel free to share, reuse and adapt as you wish.
I’m going to the NorthEastern American Society Eighteenth-Century Studies conference (NEASECS) very soon, and on the off-chance anyone reading this will either be there or be interested in what I’m talking about, I thought I’d blog the proposal I submitted. Without further ado:
“Le Corneille Anglais”: The Role of French Criticism and Culture in Shakespeare’s Eighteenth-Century Reception
Michael Dobson, Jonathan Bate and many others rightly argue that a resistance to French cultural dominance in a period marked by the Seven Years’ War contributed to Shakespeare’s status of “national poet”. This paper contends, however, that French culture and criticism played more than a purely adversarial role in the process. To show this, I will reread writings by two figures prominent in the establishment of Shakespeare as an English national icon: Elizabeth Montagu and David Garrick.
Although clearly a rejection of the writings of Voltaire, Montagu’s Essay on the Writings and Genius of Shakespeare (1769) also displays, through extensive cross-reference and translation, its author’s mastery of French critical theory and culture, harnessing them to meet Voltaire on his own ground. Similarly, although Garrick hired a Voltaire-clown for the Stratford Jubilee, he too was no stranger to French stagecraft, and this paper will trace in his correspondence and adaptations of Shakespeare, an attitude to the future national poet that echoes the work and ideas of Garrick’s many French acquaintances: Diderot, Ducis, Patu, Noverre and others.
With its analysis of the cross-Channel roots of an English phenomenon, I will also shed light on a larger problem, revealing some of the foundations upon which the later ‘romantic Shakespeare‘ could become both an icon of Englishness and a European figurehead by the early decades of the nineteenth century.
Unfortunately, with the time allotted to papers cut down from what was originally announced, I am now only going to be talking about Montagu and not Garrick. The only look-in the actor gets is thanks to this fantastic poem he wrote about the Queen of the Bluestocking and Voltaire:
I saw arm’d all in brass with haughty air,
Stalk forth a mighty Chief, the bold Voltaire,
The Gallic God of literary War!
A Giant He, among the sons of France,
And at our Shakespear pois’d his glitt’ring Lance.
Out rush’d a Female to protect the Bard,
Snatch’d up her Spear, and for the fight prepar’d:
Attack’d the Vet’ran, pierc’d his Sev’n-fold Shield.
With Laurel crown’d, away the Goddess flew,
Pallas confest then open’d to our view,
Quitting her fav’rite form of Montagu.
Of late, I’ve had to study many books that have been out of print for a hundred years of more. Some I can find in the reserves of libraries close to me, others have been digitised. However, in neither case is it really possible, I feel, to get to grips with the volume: scribble on it, mark its pages, leave it on your bookshelf until you have a revelation…all this is only possible with a printed edition of your own. Thanks to the wonders of the internet, the personal, bespoke republication of an out-of-copyright book is now very easy, This guide will show you how.
For this example, I intend to republish Volume One of Charles Collé’s memoirs on the reign of Louis XV. Any book no longer bound by the copyright laws of your country can be used for this process. To check the copyright status of a book, I recommend asking a librarian or using the Public Domain Calculators.
1 – Go to lulu.com and click on the ‘My Lulu’ tab to create an account.
2 – Click ‘Start a New Project’ on the left, under the ‘My Projects’ headline, then select ‘Hardcover Book’ from the options that appear.
3 – On the next screen, fill in the form using the title and author of your chosen work, then select how visible you wish the final product to be.
4 – Select your preferred Paper Type, Size, Binding and Colour. I recommend ‘Black and White Printing’ for both cost and visibility reasons. Click ‘Save and Continue’.
1a – Check to see if the text you wish to publish is online, either after being scanned (which allows a facsimile to be reproduced) or after being treated with an OCR program. I can recommend the following sites for this:
- The Internet Archive
- Project Gutenberg
- Google Books – although downloading a PDF is often not allowed
1b – Download it either as a PDF or as a format you can convert to PDF here: http://www.convertfiles.com/.
2a – If your chosen text is not online, find a library that has it:
- Some libraries will be able to produce PDFs for you for a charge
- Others will only photocopy the work for you
2b – If you have a photocopy of the work, you can convert it to PDF as follows:
- Either use another photocopier that photocopies to PDF
- Or, much more laboriously, scan each page, setting the output format to PDF
In order for the PDF to be used as the proofs for a book, the page size must be altered to match the format required by lulu.com at step I.4. In my case, this is 15.24cm x 22.86cm.
1 – Download the free program Primo PDF and install it.
2 – Download Acrobat Reader, if you do not have it already.
3 – Open the PDF of your chosen work in Acrobat Reader, and select File > Print…
5 – In the ‘Document Properties’ window, go to the Paper/Quality tab and change Color to ‘Black & White’, then click ‘Advanced…’
(7b – Optional: Back in the ‘Advanced Options’ window, change the ‘Print Quality’ to 96dpi. This prevents the finished PDF from becoming too large.)
8 – Click ‘OK to close ‘Advanced Options’ and click OK to close ‘Document Properties’.
(8b – Optional: If you wish to remove certain pages from the PDF, like the scan of the book cover, use the ‘Pages to Print’ option to create a selection once you’re back in the ‘Print’ window. Note that Adobe Reader’s page-numbering can be confusing: use the preview function and the page numbers inside brackets as a way of guiding you.)
9 – Click Print. This may take some time, and may ask too much of your computer. If the latter is the case, try closing all other programs, and, if the problem persists, consider altering the print quality of the PDF as outlined in step 7b.
10 – When Adobe Reader finishes, Primo PDF appears. Click on the Custom icon.
11 – In the ‘Custom PDF Setting’ window, select ‘Average’ in the Downsampling drop-down menu, and then make sure all images above 70PPI are downsampled to 50PPI (the higher this last number is, the larger the final file).
14 – Make sure to check how readable your new PDF is: if the text is too blurred, you may have to increase the resolution by reversing steps III.7b and III.11.
15 – Once you have a legible, properly-sized PDF, you’re now ready to republish…
There are numerous print-on-demand services available online, and this guide has been using lulu.com simply because the service is extremely simple and familiar to me. It also has frequent sales, during which time printing costs can drop by 15% or more.
1 – Return to lulu.com, log in and navigate to the ‘Upload’ screen of your project.
2 – Click on choose file and navigate to your prepared PDF. Then click upload. Once again, this may take a moment. If your file is too big, consider following lulu’s instructions about using FTP.
3 – The rest of the lulu process is fairly self-explanatory, so I’ll finish with a few tips:
- Make sure you use high-resolution images for your covers. If you need to edit the dimensions of an existing image, consider the freely-available GIMP editor.
- When publishing the work give as many keywords as possible; if you can, use a CC BY 3.0 Creative Commons licence too.
And that’s everything! If you follow this guide and publish something, do let me know about it. Either by commenting or by telling me on twitter.
Here are a few of my efforts: