Just a Small Old Book, Living in a Digital World…

Previous blog posts: introduction, origins, audience, illustrations

It’s been really fun exploring the life of my book,¬†Ghesneden figveren vvyten ouden testamente naer tleuene met huerlier bedietsele, that I found in the Special Collections section of the Colby College library, but it has also been interesting to explore its digital history too. As we explored in one of my earlier posts (origins), the copy of the book that I have is two books that were bound together at a later date. The first is the Old Testament and the second is the New Testament; they were originally published separately. I was unable to find a digital facsimile that combined the text in the same way that my book is, but I have found a Google Books listing for both texts individually. The Old Testament can be found here¬†and the New Testament can be found here. Not only was it difficult to find a digital facsimile because of the post-publication binding of my book, but it was also hard due to the different spellings of the title of my book. Across all the resources I’ve looked at the word ‘vvyten’ has been spelled differently, either as ‘vvyten’ or ‘vuyten’ and there is no consistency in the digital cataloging of the book. The worldcat listing emphasizes this the most as the book is cited with both spellings of the word. When looking at the book (or the title page) yourself, you can make the decision about how to interpret this word. But the digital formats do this for you, and instead suggest that this text has been interpreted in a particular, and therefore correct, way.

Not only was it difficult to find a digital facsimile because of the post-publication binding of my book, but it was also hard due to the complicated spelling of the title of my book, as it can be spelt in multiple ways. However, this problem is not unique to the digital world and has cropped up at other points when I’ve been trying to research the text.

I think it is a completely different experience viewing a digital text than having the physical one right in front of you. My initial thoughts about differences between the physical and digital copies are just the general differences that two books have: the markings. I have become accustomed to the library tags and the small amount of marginalia that mark my book as being distinct and the Old Testament facsimile obviously comes from a different library. There is only a small line of marginalia and there is no bookplate (unlike the Colby edition) but there is a library barcode which reads ‘UNIVERSITEITSBIBLIOTHEEK GENT’ a quick Google search directed me to the Ghent University Library. Ghent University is in Belguim, which, when I think about it, seems like a much more logical place for a sixteenth century Dutch Bible to turn up in rather than in Maine! According to the WorldCat listing there are less than ten editions of my book registered as being held by WorldCat member libraries around the world. So it is even more amazing that I’ve been able to access two copies of this text. On the other hand, the digital copy of the New Testament has no marginalia or library markings. I think this is because there are no digital copies of the excess pages at the start and end of the book. The digital facsimile starts at the title page and ends at the printer’s mark, obviously the people in charge of digitizing this piece gave no merit to pages without text. This is especially interesting because the New Testament digital facsimile has a printer’s mark (the same one as the Old Testament) whereas my copy of the book doesn’t. The physical book only has printer’s mark in the middle, at the end of the New Testament. This verifies my idea that maybe some pages from the end of the New Testament were lost when the two books were bound together. This also really emphasizes that the physical book has had a completely different journey than its digital counterparts.

The Colby College bookplate.
The Ghent University library barcode.












The biggest difference I’ve noticed is that when looking at the texts online, the Google Books platform adds a contents system which allows readers to jump to different portions of the Bible. This makes navigating the book digitally a lot easier than reading it physically, however the system is not fully developed as the chapters (they are referred to as ‘sections’) are not labelled (probably because they were not a part of the original text) and do not always correlate to the start of the Bible book. This also highlights the intent of the book to be read in short spurts and not in one whole sitting. It’s interesting that the digital format alters the way the book is absorbed. Not only can you not flick through it, but you can now only look at your intended pages. The audience is much less likely to peruse the book casually and get pulled in by a particular phrase or illustration. To me, it feels less enjoyable this way. It doesn’t feel like a genuine way to enjoy this book and feels like a manufactured system which acknowledges that the text is a Bible and so should be split up into books.

I have mixed feelings about the digital facsimiles of my book. On the one hand, I think it’s incredible that I’ve been able to look at a 450 year old book, which currently resides in Belgium, on the internet. But if I hadn’t of seen the physical book I don’t think I would have realized how incredible it actually is. The digital facsimile loses so much of the actual sensibility of the book. There was no idea about the delicacy of the paper, how the book fits in your hands, or a sense of how it’s worn over the years. Ultimately, I feel that accessibility is always a positive thing and it was amazing to be able to view two copies of my book. However, I do not think you can study the history of the book without the physical book in front of you. If everything was moved to the digital sphere then we would lose some of our wonderful history!

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