[DIGITAL AFTERLIVES] Abbott’s “The Young Astronomer” (Shaw’s Pet Book)

It’s interesting to think of how for all of these blogposts I’ve created about Abbott’s “The Young Astronomer,” there’s no way to truly verify what I’ve said without looking at the book. There’s a Google Ebook that comes up with a quick Google search, yet it is nowhere near the same experience as I had with my physical copy.


Obviously, there are a plethora of elements that don’t carry over to this most easily accessible digital version of this text. Just from looking at the image of the Ebook version’s cover, we can see much more damage and staining, along with a different gold-stamped vignette on the front. By holding it we get a sense of its scale and exactly how strong it is. With the digital version, it could come from a printing of much larger size and could not even be properly bound anymore for all we know. There’s no way to tell if the Ebook’s pages are speckled red like so many other books like “The Young Astronomer” were in the 19th century.


While there’s no image of the spine in the Ebook, we can tell from glimpses of the binding on pages throughout that it may not be in very good shape. There’s an additional page of advertising in the digital version too, along with a signature of what seemed to be the former owner that I couldn’t fully decipher. It seems to read Mr(s?). L _____ with a date at the end that could read 16/2/72. Assuming this date means 1872, this would put this version 3 years before the edition held at Colby. This edition does not have the corrections made by Barbara Bartlett or at least any corrections made in this edition were uncredited, as her name is not listed on the title page in this version. Looking through the text and table of contents, I couldn’t find any direct alterations by Bartlett, although I’m sure they would definitely become apparent with more looking. Observing this made me aware that in the original there’s no mention or evidence of what was corrected. We see mentions of alteration in more modern texts, but I suppose it may not have been a common practice in the 19th century to inform customers what had necessarily changed between editions.

More minimal than its physical counterpart are the signature marks throughout, although there are definitely many more kinds of marks total in the digital version. After the title pages is a handwritten cataloging code. There’s a stamp of the British Library at the start and end of the text, what I assume to be the holders of the original text. Beside some of the questions at the end of each chapter are numbers and tiny scribbles. This version of “The Young Astronomer” is much different from the archived copy I looked at. It seems like it was used for its actual initial purpose: teaching astronomy. The wear and tear doesn’t mean as much considering it’s a 146-year-old book that was created to be used consistently.

I couldn’t find any major errors in scanning. The image quality is obviously not perfect and there is the slight blurring and unevenness that comes with scanning pages from a physical book. The illustrations are seemingly the same, just not as sharp as in real life. The Google Ebook interface is pretty good as it loads fast, gives you download options, and gives you three prime options for viewing pages and navigating with either the mouse or keyboard. The site stresses the fact that this Ebook is free, while also providing links to purchase the text on other sites (regardless of whether or not these sites actually have copies for sale). I couldn’t find evidence of who scanned this digital copy. All it says is “Digitized by Google.”

This Ebook being part of the Google system, it’s naturally linked to Google’s social media and technological platforms. However, it’s abundantly clear that people aren’t looking up or studying this book (besides me) because there are no reviews or stars for it or even a general discussion in comments somewhere about it. It becomes harder to study who the audience of the text is currently if there’s no evidence. From as far as I can tell, the audience of this book is predominantly people who’ve read my blogposts or seen the book in real life before, and not much else. Despite it being a very readable text and a glimpse as to what people perceived as space in the 19th century, it doesn’t physically have the gusto to pull in a crowd from the internet or be the next best book

Despite the wear and tear of the version I examined, it will still live on digitally. Perhaps it will last even longer than the original version that was still in such high-quality today. Or perhaps digital formats as we know them will fade out or Google will clear their servers, losing everything. Both versions are theoretically unreliable. This is why it’s important to have both as back-ups to each other and as a means to compare the data between them to understand the growth and changes. Codex and text culture will continue to evolve, it’s just a matter of what becomes the most practical.


Works Cited

  • Abbott, John S. C. The Young Astronomer, Or, the Facts Developed by Modern Astronomy: Collected for the Use of Schools and the General Reader. , 1858. Internet resource.