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Uncommon Sense

By oieahc · February 20, 2019

Digital Sources, Analog Citations

books 12 min read

Today’s post is by Andrew Newman, author of Allegories of Encounter: Colonial Literacy and Indian Captivities, published in January 2019 by the Omohundro Institute with our partners at the University of North Carolina Press. It is available in paperback.

by Andrew Newman

The image on the right is a copper engraving from a 1725 Amsterdam edition of François de Salignac de la Mothe Fenelon’s celebrated Les Aventures de Télémaque (1699, 1717). In the sixth chapter of the newly-published Allegories of Encounter: Colonial Literacy and Indian Captivities (Omohundro Institute and University of North Carolina Press), I speculate that this edition is the one that the English merchant Thomas Ridout refers to in his narrative account of his 1788 captivity among Shawnee Indians, who captured him on the Ohio River, and confiscated his goods, including a substantial traveling library. According to Ridout, Kakinathucca, the chief who held him for ransom, later brought him books to read: “To divert my solitary hours my Indian friend used to bring me books to read, some which had belonged to me.” One book Ridout took special notice of was “the first edition of Telemachus in French, printed in Holland, with notes marking the living characters for whom the imaginary personages in that excellent work were intended.”[i]

I found it fascinating to think about Ridout reading Télémaque, an allegorical critique of the reign of Louis XIV that over the eighteenth century had been widely repurposed in England and Anglo-America, in captivity among Native Americans. Most especially, the account of Telemachus’s captivity in the Egyptian desert furnishes extraordinarily parallels and resonances with Ridout’s account of his own experience, including Ridout’s experience as a captive reader. I imagine Ridout’s emotions when he read Telemachus’s soliloquy on his deprivation of reading material:

Happy are those who find amusement in search of instruction and take pleasure in cultivating their understanding with science! Wheresoever they are thrown by adverse fortune, they still carry along with them a fund of entertainment; and that chagrin that preys on other men even in the midst of pleasures, is unknown to those who can employ themselves with reading. Happy are those who love reading, and are not, like me, deprived of books!

Immediately after this pronouncement, the Egyptian priest Termosiris hands Telemachus a book, just as, according to Ridout, his “Indian friend” Kakinathucca handed him a copy of Télémaque.[ii]

Allegories of Encounter, then, is about readers’ experiences in conditions of severely restricted access. It investigates the significances of reading and writing to colonial captives, as cultural practices, as well as the contingent meanings of particular books.

In ironic contrast, I carried out my research in conditions of increasingly open-access. I spent hardly any time in archives or rare book rooms. A great deal of my primary (and secondary) source material was available to me online, either in open-access repositories or through subscription databases.

For example, Ridout’s captivity narrative is available through The Internet Archive. Here’s a screenshot of the passage where he itemizes the books that the Shawnees confiscated from his boat:

Perhaps the rarest of my sources was Phillipe Alegambe’s Mortes illustres et gesta eorum de Societate Jesu (1657). It contains the Jesuit martyr Isaac Jogues’s 1643 letter from Rensselaer, in its original Latin. I had wanted to check it against the widely-available nineteenth-century translation by John Gilmary Shea, but I was discouraged to see on WorldCat that the nearest edition was 3,500 miles away from my Brooklyn home, in Madrid. Yet there it was, on Google Books.

The use of such reproductions raises an issue of attribution. In preparing my manuscript for publication, I didn’t necessarily care about giving credit to Google, although I did want to recognize the contributions of initiatives such as the Internet Archive, Electronic Texts in American Studies, and the EEBO Text Creation Partnership. I also wanted to alert my readers to readily accessible editions of my primary sources. Moreover, I wanted to own up to a furtive use of electronic resources. I know I’m not the only researcher, for example, to use an electronic edition and then find a print one to cite (sometimes by searching in or Google Books). Such citation practices convey a tacit disapprobation of digital sources.

In the terminology of Allegories of Encounter, research and citation practices express language ideologies, or value judgments about language and media. In much historical scholarship, there is a prestige hierarchy that arguably elevates scribal archival material over print and definitely values books over digital media. Archival research connotes discovery, intensive labor, expensive travel, exclusive access, fellowship awards; it positions the scholarly author not simply as interpreter but as mediator. (This valuation plays into the tensions within early American studies between historians and literary scholars, whose work consists largely of the reinterpretation of a shared set of published texts.) Citations of rare books similarly evoke the foam supports and weighted strings that protect them, temperature control, and lunch breaks with fellow scholars. Increasingly, however, such citations may amount to a gratuitous suggestion of academic cultural capital.

The prevalent practice, in scholarly publishing, is to forego acknowledgment of digital repositories. This omission is continuous with predigital conventions; typically, scholars acknowledge archives but do not identify the libraries for cited books. Although a digital facsimile is a different object than a printed work, it’s true that for most purposes it doesn’t matter whether one sources the text from a hard copy or from a repository like EEBO, or from a digital edition like those in Project Gutenberg. Yet as Jonathan Blaney and Judith Siefring point out in The Digital Humanities Quarterly, the broad pretense that we are using physical books instead of electronic ones drastically underrepresents the impact of e-resources and may have negative consequences for both subscription-based  services and open-access initiatives.[iii]

I shared this argument with my editors and proposed to cite online sources directly. I understood and accepted the counterarguments, though.  Ungainly and possibly unstable URLs would clutter up my footnotes. Moreover, the purpose of a stylesheet was to ensure consistency, and the approach to this emergent yet pervasive issue should be determined with the whole program in mind.

We agreed on a work-around. My footnotes are clean, but a brief appendix includes a “Note on the Sources” (from which this blog post is adapted), as well as a list of electronic repositories (with URLs), as well as a list of e-texts. I’ve also made the bibliography available online: through a Zotero group library, and, using the excellent WordPress plugin ZotPress, on the Allegories of Encounter website, which is hosted by the Modern Language Association’s Humanities Commons. So any reader who wishes to track down my sources can recreate my experience of reading about captives reading, on a screen.


Figure 1. Engraving from Les avantures de Télémaque, fils d’Ulysse (Amsterdam, 1725). Courtesy of the Rare Book Collection, Kislak Center, University of Pennsylvania.

Figure 2. Screenshot from Thomas Ridout, Ten Years in Upper Canada in Peace and War, 1805-1815 (1890) p. 346. The Internet Archive.

Figure 3. Screenshot from Philippo Alegambe, ed.  Mortes illustres et gesta eorum de Societate Jesu (1657). Google Books.

[i] Thomas Ridout, Ten Years of Upper Canada in Peace and War, 1805-1815: Being the Ridout Letters, with Annotations by Matilda Edgar. Also an Appendix of the Narrative of the Captivity among the Shawanese Indians, in 1788, of Thos. Ridout, Afterwards Surveyor-General of Upper Canada; and a Vocabulary Comp, ed. Lady Matilda Ridout Edgar (W. Briggs, 1890), 356.

[ii] François de Fénelon, Telemachus, Son of Ulysses, ed. Patrick Riley (Cambridge England ; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994) 21.

[iii] Jonathan Blaney and Judith Siefring, “A Culture of Non-Citation: Assessing the Digital Impact of British History Online and the Early English Books Online Text Creation Partnership.Digital Humanities Quarterly 11, no. 1 (2017); see also Diana Kichuk, “Metamorphosis: Remediation in ‘Early English Books Online’ (EEBO),” Literary & Linguistic Computing 22, no. 3 (September 2007): 291–303,


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