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The Collation

One way of looking at many books

Last week I wrote about two students who worked on (two different copies of) the same book. But looking over the 64 texts that the 66 students I’ve taught over the last five years (in eight different seminars), I’m struck by the wide range of works that students have been drawn to. 1 In general, I require students to work on a book printed before 1700 (though I sometimes make exceptions to that rule depending on their research interests) and written in a language that they can read. And given that they have to read the entire work, students tend to shy away from very long works, unless they have read them before. Those parameters explain why the bulk of the books they choose are published in England and in English, and why there aren’t so many epics and epic-length works. But even within those confines, there’s a great range of books that they explore. 

  1. In addition to the two students who worked on different copies of the same edition of More’s Utopia, there were two students who, in different years, both worked on the same copy of the same book: John Ogilby’s 1651 edition of Aesop’s Fables. I really can’t explain quite how that happened, since I steer students away from working on the same book that someone else has studied before, both to avoid overuse and possible stress to the physical book and to encourage the process of discovery that’s central to their research.