Endless Spreadsheets and Specific Names

Before I get into the details, a little about me: My name is Carissa Schreiber.

Carissa Schreiber, former Research Assistant at the University of Alabama.
Carissa Schreiber, former Research Assistant at the University of Alabama.

I love football and food. I graduated from the University of Alabama this May (2016) with an English major, and I currently live in New York. When I joined the project in August 2015, I had taken three consecutive courses with Dr. Pionke, so I was very excited about the opportunity to work with him on such an interesting research endeavor.

My most significant task involved filling spreadsheets with information about each example of marginalia.

The marginalia I transcribed came from Dr. Pionke’s photos, many of which had multiple marks on them. This came out to about 1400 individual examples. This seemed daunting at first (what if I missed one? what if I couldn’t read his writing?), but over time, I was able to get into a rhythm and get more familiar with the examples present.

I fell into a language of annotation, so much so that my own notes in books became suspiciously similar to Mill’s—somehow I assumed that I would remember my own meanings behind scores, dashes, and checkmarks. The jury’s still out on whether this was actually useful for me.

The data in the spreadsheets included basic information about the volumes, such as title, edition, publisher, etc. so that the marks can be traced back to the text they correspond to. This was the easy part—for each text, I could use Excel’s “fill” feature to copy endless lines of text.

The more complicated part was recording details about the writing instrument, location, and, of course, the actual transcriptions. As you can imagine, this wealth of information made for an intimidatingly large spreadsheet.

Screenshot of the spreadsheet documenting Mill's annotations on one of his texts by Thomas Carlyle.
Mill and Carlyle by Spreadsheet. Picture courtesy of Carissa Schreiber.

The marks varied from simple dashes to extensive notes about the content, and every mark meant a new line of information. There were pages with only faint marks, which took quite a while to notice and identify, and there were pages with several marks, which made me feel like I was getting a lot more done. I identified the type of writing instrument (Mill favors pencil), the type of mark, and counted lines of text so I could cite exactly where to find the mark. It was always nice to remember that my work meant the lack of work for final project users—and I’d imagine the sort of conclusions they could draw by analyzing Mill’s exclamation point and check mark usage throughout de Tocqueville volumes.

The transcriptions were generally fairly simple, but sometimes included distinguishing between very similar marks, such as these varying types of scores (dotted, tailed, corrugated, double, normal).

Examples of the four different types of marginal score listed by Carissa above (dotted, tailed, double, and corrugated).
Keeping Score: Mill’s various marginal scores, picture courtesy of Albert Pionke and Carissa Schreiber.

The naming of these specific marks also caused problems sometimes, going through several iterations—the corrugated score began as simply a “curved score,” then became “scalloped,” and finally “corrugated.” While I usually took the lead on these names, I always confirmed them with Dr. Pionke. The corrugated score in particular was so problematic to name that even he conferred with other members of the English department to create the perfect title.

Those 1400 marks were an adventure, a journey through the inner workings of J. S. Mill’s (very sassy) mind. I can’t wait to see what people are able to draw from such information, and I’m so glad I got to be a part of it.

Carissa Schreiber, former Research Assistant to Professor Pionke at the University of Alabama.

Upcoming Posts

The coming weeks will see a series of posts from project team members working on different components of Mill’s Marginalia. Carissa Schreiber, former Research Assistant to Professor Pionke at the University of Alabama, will start us off with a series of posts about her work gathering data and establishing appropriate descriptive terms to capture Mill’s nonverbal marginalia.

We will also be hearing from Professor Pionke about the project’s Advisory Board, and as he, Anne Manuel, and Hazel Tubman, newly-appointed Research Assistant at Somerville College, will all be in Oxford in July, we may hear some updates of their in-person work, too. On all fronts, from metadata to digitization to the latest from Mill’s sharpest marginal judgements, we will keep you posted! Please keep checking in on the blog for our latest work.

Emma Annette Wilson, Digital Scholarship Librarian, University of Alabama.

First Post From Somerville

Somerville College is proud to possess the library of John Stuart Mill and his father, James Mill. Whilst the collection has been at Somerville since 1905 when Helen Taylor, Mill’s step-daughter, gave the books to the college for its newly-formed library, it is only in recent years that a major campaign has been launched to promote, preserve and research the books and the marginalia contained therein.

Displaying commemorating the gift of Mill's library to Somerville College.
Displaying commemorating the gift of Mill’s library to Somerville College.

On May 20th 2016,  the 210th anniversary of John Stuart Mill’s birth, Somerville College marked the occasion with an evening of lectures, networking and conviviality and the launch of its newest venture, Friends of the John Stuart Mill library.

Professor Alan Ryan presenting.
Professor Alan Ryan. Picture courtesy of Anne Manuel.




The renowned Mill scholar Professor Alan Ryan delivered his talk on “Drudges, Blue-Stockings, and Fallen Women: John Stuart Mill on Sex, Suffrage and Education”, whilst historian Dr Frank Prochaska talked about Mill and American Democracy which featured his fascinating findings from the marginalia in De Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, one of the treasures of Somerville’s collection.


Professor Frank Prochaska presenting.
Professor Frank Prochaska. Picture courtesy of Anne Manuel.

With more than one hundred in the audience there were plenty of questions, including those on Mill’s feminism and his varied and various  attitudes to women  and the validity of Mill’s views on a country (US) that he had never visited.  As ever, Mill’s thinking and writing seemed particularly relevant no more so than now in the run-up to the US Presidential election. The multi-disciplinary, multi-sector audience had plenty of opportunities for catching up over drinks both before and after the lecture and the Friends group had swelled in numbers by the end of the evening!

The lectures will be available to members of the Friends group through its annual newsletter to be published in the summer.  All enquiries about the collection, the Friends group or the project to preserve, promote and research the library should be addressed to anne.manuel@some.ox.ac.uk, College Librarian and Archivist.


— Anne Manuel, Somerville College Librarian and Archivist.

Mill Marginalia blog open

I am pleased to declare the Mill Marginalia blog open for business.  Fuller descriptions of the Mill Marginalia Online project, its scope, goals, sources, and contributors, are available on the static pages of this site.  This more dynamic space will be dedicated to providing updates and in-process explanations.  The first of these will come from Carissa Schreiber, whose early work with Mill’s marginalia helped to establish the project’s metadata schema, to populate that schema with copious amounts of hyper-efficiently transcribed data, and to edit the initial set of photos of Mill’s handwritten marks and annotations into a coherently labeled and visually pleasing set of page images.  We also anticipate upcoming messages from Anne Manuel, Somerville College librarian and a most felicitous institutional collaborator, as well as ongoing research and presentation reports from Albert Pionke and Emma Wilson.