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Annotations Research Guide

In Annotation (2021), Remi Kalir and Antero Garcia write that “annotation is a way that readers talk with their texts, to their texts, about and beyond texts, and within and through texts” (xii). Annotation is particularly useful for studying nineteenth-century recipes. Because publication pathways were limited for anyone operating out of the domestic sphere, annotations are some of the only textual traces of authorship that may exist for some of these writers. We hope that this research guide will provide you with some preliminary information about annotation as a form of writing and authorship as well as equip you with the tools necessary to begin diving into research. 

Typically, archival collections focused on annotation are primarily interested in the annotations of figures of historical significance. For example, the library of John Adams has been entirely digitized by the Boston Public Library and is freely available, with a focus on John Adams’ annotations within those books as the collection’s central feature. While many nineteenth-century cookbooks housed in institutional collections have many annotations in them, locating these annotated volumes can be difficult. 

In the nineteenth-century, for women in particular, publication pathways were extremely limited. For working-class women, women for whom “waking hours are all struggle for existence” (Olsen 10), locating traces of their making in the form of writing is extremely difficult. In the margins, however, as scholars such as Wendy Wall have argued, women have been using recipes as a site of reading and writing since at least the early modern period. Scholars of feminist rhetorical practice have argued that the act of revision allows writers to “respond to texts in ways that invite those texts’ authors to respond in turn” (Jung 28). Similarly, scholars of recipes have long remarked that “like a narrative, a recipe is reproducible, and, further, its hearers-readers-receivers are encouraged to reproduce it and, in reproducing it, to revise it and make it their own” (Leonardi 344). However, in collecting annotated recipes, we hope to bridge both of these scholarly conversations to consider the ways in which the iterative process of cooking is often reflected in the reading and writing practices of nineteenth-century cooks in the tangible revisions they make to the text of the recipe.

In recent years, the study of marginalia has exploded. While scholars have long since acknowledged the prevalence of marginalia in medieval manuscript writing, the study of marginalia has generally shifted to consider the trajectory of marginal practices from antiquity to today. In her groundbreaking study of marginal writing, Marginalia (2001), Heather Jackson argues for the value and usefulness of treating marginalia not as the defacement of a book, but as integral parts of a book’s history. In many ways, Jackson’s study of marginalia carved out a pathway for scholars to take marginalia seriously. As Jackson points out, even with some of the earliest printed books in the sixteenth-century, writers, book sellers, and even the government were concerned about the level of freedom that proliferating printed books to the general public would bring. The solution was to introduce printed marginalia in the form of marginal glosses and endnotes in order to help guide a reader’s interpretation of the text (51).

Previous scholarship focused on textual additions like Anthony Grafton’s study of the footnote, have mostly focused on the ways in which writers use marginal spaces--and the footnote in particular--to perform a high level of literary artistry. However, as Jackson demonstrates, by the eighteenth-century, annotating printed books became a social practice in and of itself, readers writing notes in their books and then circulating those books among their close circles of friends. These annotations also became far more critical of the printed writing, readers more willing to overtly evaluate writing in the margins (Jackson 54-55). The movement from guided marginal glosses to more miniscule footnotes from the sixteenth to the eighteenth century helped to establish the writer, editor, and reader as independent agents, opening the book up to interventions by each of these actors (Jackson 56). By the mid-nineteenth-century, reading became less social and more a private activity. As a result, annotations, themselves, became more private. Rather than writing annotations with a particular audience in mind, annotators instead began to write more obscure annotations without keys or glosses to assist in the interpretation of them. It became more common for annotators to develop their own personal systems of annotating (Jackson 72). Spedding and Tankard in Marginal Notes: Social Reading and the Literal Margins (2020) build off of Jackson’s influential study to argue that annotations challenge the common assumption that reading is a passive activity. Rather, annotations offer a mediation of a book that transforms its interpretation forever. 

The study of marginalia and annotation opens the study of recipes up to consider the different ways readers intervene and personalize their cookbooks. Jackson writes:

When the reader takes on the role of a writer and leaves traces in the book, the communication between reader and text necessarily involves not only their two speaking parts but also the silent audience that will sooner or later witness the performance. It becomes a semipublic occasion on which annotators have an opportunity to show what they can do. (94) 

In this instance, the annotator occupies a space in between reader and writer with the intention of some future reader--even a future version of themselves--becoming aware of the traces that they leave behind in their books. While marginalia has a long and rich history, with the growth of public book-lending infrastructure such as the public library system in the 1850s, annotation shifted from being considered an essential part of reading to being discouraged. 

However, that readers were discouraged from personalizing books does not mean that the personalization of books stopped. While Jackson considers the golden age of annotation to be the long eighteenth-century, other scholars of marginalia such as Andrew Stauffer have pushed the study of marginalia to consider annotation to extend into more contemporary history. In Book Traces (2021), Stauffer traces a thread of nineteenth-century readers writing in books currently held in library collections. Attending to these marginal notes, Stauffer argues, allows for a methodology that he calls “micro-reading,” which means examining what an individual text meant to an individual reader (3). In this way, these marked-up books help us to not only reconstruct a single book’s past, but also helps us better understand how books mark us in return. Stauffer also expands Grafton and Jackson’s considerations of marginalia to attend to pressed flowers in books of poetry, marginal notes that are dated, names inscribed on front covers, and even damaged books. 

The damage and abuse of books are points that Jackson and Stauffer address alike. There is no clear consensus on whether or not marginalia are damaging or enhancing. It is clear, however, that especially in the case of nineteenth-century books printed on wood pulp paper, that damage can be easily done via an annotation even while the annotation increases the book’s sentimental value as an object (Stauffer 120). Annotations inscribe particular meaning upon a text that binds it to an individual’s way of understanding with and through the text. Even dust, Leah Price argues in How to Do Things with Books in Victorian Britain (2012), is a mark made upon the page by a reader or user that is evidence of an active interaction with the object.

While much scholarship and institutional archival collections have addressed the importance of cookbooks and recipes in the nineteenth-century as evidence of women’s reading practices, the Texts of Taste project hopes to expand current conversations and practice around cookbooks and recipes to consider the ways in which annotation is a form of author and contribution to the text, in its own right.

Suggested Reading:

Jackson, H. J. Marginalia: Readers Writing in Books. Yale University Press, 2001.

Jung, Julie. Revisionary rhetoric, feminist pedagogy, and multigenre texts. SIU Press, 2005.

Kalir, Remi H., and Antero Garcia. Annotation. MIT Press, 2021.

Leonardi, Susan J. "Recipes for reading: Summer pasta, lobster à la Riseholme, and key lime pie." Publications of the Modern Language Association of America (1989): 340-347.

Olsen, Tillie. Silences. Feminist Press at CUNY, 2003.

Price, Leah. How to Do Things with Books in Victorian Britain. Princeton University Press, 2012.

Stauffer, Andrew M. Book Traces: Nineteenth-Century Readers and the Future of the Library. University of Pennsylvania Press, 2021.

Spedding, Patrick, and Paul Tankard. Marginal Notes: Social Reading and the Literal Margins. Springer Nature, 2020.

Wall, Wendy. Recipes for Thought: Knowledge and Taste in the Early Modern English Kitchen. University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016.