Tea with Mill, Punch with Newton

I have just returned from my thirteenth data gathering trip to Somerville’ College’s John Stuart Mill Collection, as well as my sixth March Mill seminar, most recently entitled “Tea with Mill (and Taylor).”  At the latter it was my pleasure to announce both that the Somerville College Library staff had completed the marginalia census (with a provisional count of 49,296 items that is almost certain to rise as photos are processed and marks and annotations transcribed) and that, earlier in the week, owing to an absence of marginalia in Mill’s German and Italian works, I had caught up with them.

Tea with Mill 2024

Also announced was the rediscovery of one of the lost volumes of Mill’s copy of Francis Bacon’s collected works, which will itself need to be accessioned, surveyed, and subsequently photographed.  And so, one more trip, at least, will be needed to claim that the digitization of all handwritten marks and annotations in Mill’s library has been completed.  Nevertheless, these two marginal milestones still merited a toast of finger sandwiches and miniature scones.

Evidence that the collection continues to serve as a primary source for new research was provided by Polish doctoral student Elżbieta Filipow, who presented on “Harriet Taylor Mill and Other Women: Inspirations of John Stuart Mill’s Feminist Sensitivity.”  With a comprehensive list of female authors, female relatives and acquaintances, and texts purporting to offer “words of weight” about the Woman Question—all with a presence in Mill’s library—Filipow showed how it might be possible to reconstruct a richer family of influences at work upon Mill’s thoughts, words, and deeds concerning women than has yet been acknowledged by his biographers.

That more work waits to be done was also perceptible to me in the midst of the rush of photography.  Mill’s copy of the 1819 Renouard edition of Voltaire’s collected works (66 volumes), for example, is extensively and unevenly marked.  Volumes 24 (Mélanges Historique), 29 (Philosophie Tome I) and 39 (Romans Tome I) all show expansive evidence of Mill’s thorough attention.

Thoroughness, although not always of the sort one might expect, is also apparent in Mill’s 1739 copy of Isaac Newton’s Principia Mathematica.  Obviously owned by a succession of meticulous pupils, the text contains at least four palimpsestic layers of marginalia in various pencils and inks.  These often appear alongside one another, nowhere more amusingly than on p. 395 of volume I, where a lesson in spherical geometry becomes an opportunity for cartoonish doodling:

Isaac Newton, Principia Mathematica, vol. 1, p. 395

By adding a ladle to Newton’s hemisphere, an eighteenth-century reader has converted the lesson into a “Punch bowl with 2 lemons,” to be served by “old Waiter Isaac” to one fully inked gentlemen who appears to have imbibed before (“Waitarre! Punch for two here”) and his half-inked companion (“Punch for Ever say I”).  On the bottom half of the page are two more figures whose style and location suggest that they may have been added later.  Was a young John Stuart, who was “observed twice when he came out of a room where he had been shut up with Newton’s principia” (Mill, CW I: 564), in October 1817, aged 11, perhaps inspired to indulge in an inutile moment?

Albert D. Pionke, Project Director

Adventures in Digital Annotation

My first introduction to annotation was learning how William Shakespeare’s annotations of new words contributed to the English vocabulary and had a huge impact on the standardization of the English language. Whilst several annotations from earlier times were done using pencils, pens, ink, and print media at some point, I find it intriguing that today, annotations can now be made timeless through digitization. Digitizing Mill Marginalia is such an adventure for me, as I have experienced the impact of technology as a gateway across spaces.

Digital annotation is not merely about going through historical books. However, the act of engaging with the historical content is discourse and is also rhetorical. Every (annotated) text in English, French, German, Greek, or Latin and every marking whether a “score”, “bracket”, “circle” or even an “idle mark” is a statement, building on the ongoing conversation. Although I am here now in the 21st century, as I engage with a wide range of Mill’s thoughts, I feel like an active contributor to Mill’s 19th-century discourse.

I am excited to play this role in shaping the discourse of this digital age by making accessible discourse across centuries to contribute to the intellectual and digital landscape of humanities.

Reliance Enwerem, Research Assistant

. . . and New

Mill Marginalia Online could not progress without the careful, creative, and dedicated work of its undergraduate and graduate Research Assistants. Brought on board in August of 2023, Reliance Enwerem has been alacritously processing data from my May 2022 visit to Somerville. About to shift from processing the over 5000 photos to transcribing their pixelated marginalia, Reliance offers a summative visualization and accompanying verbal explanation of the results still to come:

Cleaned using MS Excel, and then analyzed and visualized on PowerBI, these 5303 raw page images from 72 distinct titles (130 individual volumes) come from books written between 1800-1849 (3845 marginalia in pages) and 1750-1799 (530 marginalia in pages). Based on this data, I would say Mill found the works of Erasmus Darwin, Jonathan Swift, and Thomas Bruges Flower particularly significant.

Reliance Enwerem, Research Assistant

Visualizations Old . . .

Recent users of the site will have noticed changes to its functionality and visualizations. The latest update, undertaken with essential assistance from Tuscaloosa’s own local code ninja (thanks Shelbybark!), pushed the site to over 31,000 examples of marginalia and 20,000 associated page, author, and spine images. The sheer amount of data has begun to spawn errors and slowdowns indicative of a platform at the edge of its capacity and so I have, reluctantly, replaced the Author, Library, and Volume views with a pared down View Marginalia interface. You can now download the project metadata, manipulate it however you wish on your own machine, and then search for individual page images that are of interest (for file names, see column O). I have begun the lengthy process of applying for external funding to support the development of Mill Marginalia 3.0, which will, ideally, be able to support the roughly 20,000 examples of marginalia and associated 15,000 photos that have yet to be digitized.

In the meantime, work on the marginalia continues, with my most recent RA, Reliance Enwerem, hard at work on the May 2022 data, as you’ll soon see.

Albert D. Pionke, Project Director

Closing the Circle

May 14-19 saw me back at Somerville to photograph further marginalia in the John Stuart Mill Collection.  I took roughly 6400 pictures of 5500 individual examples of marginalia found on 2500 pages in 91 bound volumes that, collectively, account for 21 new titles, all French.  It was a return to the beginning of the project in some ways, as I advanced to within only two three-volume novels of Alexis de Tocqueville’s De la démocratie en Amérique, which was the very first book I photographed back in July 2015.  Both John Stuart and James Mill’s hands were evident, along with others whose identities may never be known.  Only a handful of books in French and Italian, along with Mill’s collection of German literature, remain.

Albert D. Pionke, Project Director