A March Back to Oxford

Earlier this month, I was pleased to return to Somerville College to gather further data from the John Stuart Mill Collection and to present at the Annual John Stuart Mill Seminar.

Over the course of a week, I took 5480 photographs of just over 2000 individual pages in 224 volumes that, collectively, comprise 59 new titles for a future update of Mill Marginalia Online.  With roughly 80% of the collection now photographed, the end of the project’s data collection phase is gradually coming into focus.  I estimate that three more trips will be sufficient to capture images of all remaining pages with marginalia.

This year’s Annual Seminar featured introductory remarks highlighting the ongoing marginalia census being continued by Jane Macintyre, as well as papers from Dr. Jeremy Fix of Keble College, Somerville Emeritus Fellow Julie Jack, and myself.  Philosophy was the unifying discipline this year, with Mill’s Utilitarian consequentialism contrasted with  Kantian deontology as the basis for identifying moral agents and patients (Fix), his solution to Zeno’s paradox in the System of Logic (1843) reconnected with its Aristotelian roots (Jack), and Mill’s marginal responses to Henry Home, Lord Kames’s Elements of Criticism (1762) revealed for the first time and in the light of Mill’s subsequent publications on their shared subjects of perception, memory, and cognition (Pionke).

The following slide captures Mill’s generally critical reaction to Home’s Elements of Criticism:

Unmentioned by title anywhere in Mill’s published works, Home’s Elements nevertheless prompted Mill’s unpublished attention, which is, of course, precisely the point of digitizing his marginalia.

This effort at digitization gained a new collaborator in late 2022, as my longtime Oxford partner Anne Manuel retired and was succeeded by Sarah Butler as Somerville Librarian.  We met for the first time in person in March, when Sarah organized the Annual Seminar, generously listened to my rhapsodies about the importance of nonverbal marks, and generally created a welcoming and productive atmosphere for a frenzy of photographic work.  Here we are, taking a brief breather amidst Mill’s books:

Just beyond Sarah’s left arm are the works the Jules Michelet, the last author whose books I photographed on this March 2023 trip.

Albert D. Pionke, Project Director