In the Archives: Bibles and Other Books

Figure 1: Picture of Original Leaves from Famous Bibles (photo credit: Susan Falciani Maldonado)

I’m so glad that we took a trip to the archives for this assignment. It felt extremely comforting to move from working with material that I feel uncomfortable and out of my element interpreting, i.e. the actual text of the Bible, back to space I feel relaxed, i.e Berg Special Collections. Since my first foray in the archives Fall semester of my junior year, I have become something of an archive-a-holic, not only pulling archival materials into my classwork and professional projects, but also going to local archives in my free time.

I love the intimate act of deriving meaning from archival material, especially marginalia. This particularly stood out to me while I was exploring our copy of “A Week at the Fair,” in which the books the previous owner used the opening pages as a sort of pseudo-diary. Their notes provide a smattering of details about the places they went to at the Chicago Worlds Fair, the things they saw and the people they went with. Peppering pre-published material with writing makes it nearly impossible for readers to experience the text with any type of continuity, in regards to the original text, but it provides rich material that would otherwise be inaccessible today as these people are no longer here.

The version of the bible that I explored in the library was also impossible to explore with any sort of continuity, in regards to its original text. As seen in Figure 1, it was not one single text. It was a collection of “collectible” bible clippings that were brutally torn out of there homes and sold at an elevated price. This raises important questions of; What pages get cut out? and  Who picked these pages/ decided they were worthy of permanent displacement?

 Notably, as I flipped through the pages, languages, texts, sizes, and chronology, I realized that this system of “book box” lies somewhere in the middle of the book -> scroll continuum because once you flip a leaf over it is hard to go back and find it because it gets buried in a pile of subsequent leaves.

Additionally, the actual content of the pages was mostly impossible for me to interpret as they were written in vastly different languages/scripts from the Haikian and Greek alphabet, see Figure 2, to English and Vulgate Latin.

Figure 2: Leaf from Pickering “Diamond” Greek Testament (1828 AD)

This forced me to rely of other textual material such as pictures, which were only present in a few of the Leafs, in order to interpret any of the original text’s intended meaning. This transported me back to Jesmyn Ward’s picture interpretation focused childhood reading of the Bible that she described in her article, “I Was Wandering. Toni Morrison Found Me.”

Ultimately, this trip to the archives only succeeded in tending my passion for navigating archival material, and I’m excited to return later in the semester.  

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