Collators and Colloquia

As classes (and my undergraduate degree!) finish up, I’ve been struggling to find time to research for, and write, my blog posts. To make the whole time thing even worse, I’ve spent a lot of this week doing things that aren’t even course-related, but are so in line with my research interests that I couldn’t turn them down.
So, instead of writing an educational post, I thought I’d just write about the exciting book history-related things I’ve done in the past few days.

First, Randall McLeod gave me a personal demonstration of his Portable Collator. Who is Randall McLeod, you ask? What is a collator?

You can read about Randall McLeod’s achievements here. As for the collator:

The McLeod Portable Collator [is] a stereoscopic device for comparing texts as images. A dozen and a half models have been placed with private scholars and in research institutions on three continents (including the universities of Oxford, Cambridge, and London; the National Library of Wales; Università di Udine; New York Public Library, Pierpont Morgan Library, etc.).
Don’t you just love copying and pasting?

Put in normal-people terms: The collator lets you look at two seemingly-identical texts or images at the same time through a series of special silver-lined mirrors. The machine tricks your brain into combining the two texts/images, so that any differences between them will appear to you in 3D. Sounds awesome, right? It is. What’s also really cool is that you can trick your brain into doing this without the help of a collator – you just need to cross your eyes, which ultimately tricks you brain into thinking that depth is involved, even though it’s not. (Did that make sense? I don’t think that made sense.)

Randall McLeod, using the Randall McLeod Portable Collator.

Now, let’s get one thing straight: McLeod did not invent the collator. The first modern collator was made by a guy named Charlton Hinman, but it was a bulky and electric-powered beast that could too-easily damage the books under inspection. McLeod’s collator requires no electricity. It’s fully adjustable, weighs only about 30 pounds, and can be folded up nicely to about the size of a briefcase. It is, in short, quite an improvement on Hinman’s invention. Unfortunately, Randy mentioned to me that he no longer builds his collators. Never fear, though! He quickly added that people can still buy collators from his competitor, Carter Hailey (who has named his product the “Hailey’s Comet” – I like this guy already). Be warned: they’re expensive. Those mirrors don’t come cheap.

I’m going to stop talking about the collator for now, since I eventually want to do a more detailed post on the field of “un-editing.” On to the second exciting book history-related thing I did this week!

One of my instructors co-hosted the annual Book History and Print Culture Graduate Student Colloquium (sponsored by the Toronto Centre for the Book) this weekend, and invited all of her students to attend. Of course, I ended up being the only undergraduate there, but my instructor helped me meet enough people to make it not-so-awkward.

I couldn’t stay for the whole Colloquium, but I managed to catch two amazing panels that made me wish I could cancel my plans and stay until the end of the day. The first panel featured Odourless Press‘ Bardia Sinaee (who looked like a shorter, thinner, less-bearded Kahl Drogo), The Porcupine’s Quill‘s George Walker (who was wearing a fabulous hat and an even more fabulous bow tie), and Coach House BooksStan Bevington. I’ll admit that before the panel I had no idea who Bardia or George were – I was there for my boy, Stan, whom I’ve admired for so long but have never had the opportunity to see speak.

Bardia and George, though, ended up dominating the conversation. I didn’t care about these guys before the panel, but I sure as heck cared about them as soon as they started talking. They made me forget that I had come just for Stan. Yes, I wish that Stan had spoken more, but I didn’t mind so much once I realized that Bardia and George actually had so many interesting things to say.

My favourite part of the panel’s discussion was towards the end, when the three men were talking about preserving the books they make. Stan mentioned that Coach House was so popular when it started because it was – and still is – one of the few publishing houses in Toronto that produces physically both high-quality and aesthetically-pleasing books. To that, George pointed out that, in an environmentally-friendly world, we purposefully make things (books included) that will return to the earth. When our books begin to disintegrate, however, we “no longer have the evidence.” Then Bardia chimed in, with an opinion that is rarely voiced in the book history world. “I think there’s a poetic justice in disintegration,” he said. “It’s a good thing.” Bardia admitted to printing his chapbooks on acidic paper. He noted that his books are “part of the ephemeral culture that’s right now,” and that he didn’t make them to last.

Good on you, Bardia Sinaee. In case you didn’t notice, you made the entire room of book history scholars go completely silent for a good couple of seconds. That’s hard to do. Scholars tend to never shut up.

The second panel that I attended featured four graduate/post-graduate students, who presented their theses. I won’t go into great detail on this one, since I feel like they should have the honour of telling you about their findings and thoughts themselves. All of the presentations, though, were inspiring. Francesca Facchi spoke about the significance of the book cover colours of Italian crime/mystery novels (particularly Il Giallo Mondadori), Christopher Laprade spoke about the history of the University of Toronto bookstore, Jordan Patterson spoke about the significance of the various covers of William S. Burroughs’ Junk(ie/y) in light of the idea of paratext, and Matthew Schneider spoke about bibliographical traces in the development of digital texts (read: games) written in assembly language.

It was, all in all, a good day. I wish I could have stayed longer to watch the final panel and the keynote speaker, but the Print Room beckoned.

And, now, coursework beckons. This post has ended up being longer than most of my educational posts. Go figure.


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