Inspecting the Material Afterlife of “Sailors’ Narratives”

As I delve further into details surrounding Sailors’ Narratives of Voyages Along the New England Coast, 1524-1624, I have found various online facsimiles of the book available through remediated paper copies and ebooks. Websites such as Amazon, HathiTrust, and Google Books have their own, edited versions of the book. These sites reproduce the work’s texts and contents in full. This Pet Book entry serves to explain how online remediations of this book affected its overall identity and altered the ways audiences navigate through it.

With the development of eBooks and accessible PDFs, many of Winship’s copies of Sailors’ Narratives transitioned from print to the Internet. Today, digitized adaptations of Winship’s work are on websites such as Amazon, HathiTrust, and Google Books. Navigating through these sites, various book marketing sites, such as Scholar’s Choice labeled Winship’s work as culturally important and “part of the knowledge base of civilization as we know it” (Sailors’ Narratives of Voyages Along the New England Coast, 1524-1624 – Scholar’s Choice Edition). The labels that site vendors place on Winship’s book indicate that the work remains historically and culturally relevant today.

It seems that the only two readable, online facsimiles are from Google Books and HathiTrust. Both were digitized from the same original paper copy, as evidenced by the fact that they have the same bookplate, pen edits, and page numbers. The facsimile was first digitized on September 28, 2007, for Google Books, and again on October 19, 2014, for HathiTrust.  

Many of the original qualities found in paper copies such as ruled paper, page numbers, and summaries at the beginnings of chapters are in the readable facsimiles. The retention of these characteristics likely help authenticate the book further and may give readers the impression that they are reading accurate editions of the original copies.

Harvard Law School bookplate (Google Books and HathiTrust facsimiles)

The digitized facsimiles on Google Books and HathiTrust present us with additions that are not present in Colby’s Special Collections paper copy of Sailors’ Narratives. Both facsimiles include a bookplate that states the original copy of the facsimiles belonged to Harvard’s Law School in 1913. The book was brought there by John Chipman Gray, a Law Professor at the school that collected various classical and historical works. Gray served as a professor at the school from 1895 to 1915 and likely purchased a copy of Winship’s work soon after it was some years after its publication in 1905. He likely purchased a copy of this book because of its historical merit and to analyze and disseminate its contents to his students. This addition found in the online facsimiles from Google Books and HathiTrust not only give us more details on this book copy’s provenance but also help authenticate that the facsimiles were digitized from early copies of Sailors’ Narratives.

The links for individual chapters on the facsimiles for Google Books and HathiTrust serve as ways of helping readers navigate through the book’s contents. Although these links may take away from the aesthetic appeal of the texts, they likely make navigating through these facsimiles easier than doing so through the original paper books.

Table of Contents page with the markings (seems to be a date with a Professor’s name)

While Google Book’s and HathiTrust’s online facsimiles of Winship’s work provide some new, intriguing additions (such as the Harvard bookplate), they also contained several flaws. Many of these facsimiles’ pages were off-centered (picture provided) and awkward to view. Furthermore, many of the pages, particularly in the beginning of the book, were left blank. These empty, likely meaningless pages may confuse readers and add nothing to the book’s overall contents.  There is one pen inscription on the Google Books and HathiTrust facsimiles located on the Table of Contents page. While this pen inscription may give us some additional clues about the facsimiles’ provenance, it may take attention away from the main contents of the Table of Contents page and work as a whole.

Example of a fold-out page with an illustration that was cut out from digitization

Digitizers also made several mistakes in digitizing illustrations for Sailors’ Narratives. Many of the fold-out pages for illustrations were cut out (picture provided) and not fully displayable on the facsimiles for Google Books and HathiTrust. Other illustrations are on full display but are relatively low-quality digitizations. These flaws not only damage the ways readers may analyze the book’s contents but also show how poor additions through digitization can affect the meanings of texts. The failures of digitizers in producing illustrations properly for facsimiles shows us that, although illustrations provided readers with useful information in paper copies of Sailors’ Narratives, digitizers likely deemed them as unimportant to the core contents of the book when scanning it. Most of the book’s contents lie in its words, and less so the illustrations, which likely led to digitizers taking less time to scan its illustrations fully. After visiting Colby’s Special Collections digitization facilities, I can conclude that the digitizers of Sailors’ Narratives glossed over the fold-out illustrations, as digitizing images is not difficult and only requires a simple scanner. This inconsistency leads me to believe that these digitizers had no excuse on scanning illustrations incompletely.

As a whole, navigating through online facsimiles of Sailors’ Narratives of Voyages Across the New England Coast, 1524-1624 offer readers and me interesting additions and flaws. I feel that the various additions such as the Harvard Law School bookplate gave me valuable insight into the provenances and digitization processes of accessible facsimiles for this book. However, flaws such as incomplete illustrations, markings, and empty pages make these facsimiles lose appeal in my eyes and sever the connections between readers and the materials they are viewing. All in all, these facsimiles provide some very intriguing details about the current state and formats of Winship’s book.