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2004-2005 Visiting Fellows

Jacqueline Reid-Walsh
McGill and Bishop's Universities

I would like to thank Meg Rich, the Friends of Princeton University Library and the Cotsen Children's Library for the Library Research Grant that enabled me to come to Princeton and see a small section of your superb collection. In the brief two weeks that I was at Princeton I was able to scrutinize a number of early moveable books and supporting materials in a way I have not been previously able to do. I saw about 30 primary texts from the Cotsen collection, mainly British materials but also some American, some French books and one Dutch text. The fellowship enabled me to have the luxury to immerse myself in your materials, and indeed to transcribe most of the harlequinades. As well, your library provided the ambience of a congenial scholarly community for I was able to meet with and talk to several of your scholar-curators who not only acquainted me with new materials but also due to their breadth of knowledge have nudged my thinking in new directions.

I wish to thank all the staff of the rare books and special collections who supported my work in a myriad of ways. Andrea Immel and everyone in the Cotsen collection provided me with a superb set of materials and cheerfully shared ideas about moveable books with me, as I dashed by every day to share my revelations. Through Andrea's sophisticated knowledge of early children's materials I was given a guided view of materials relating to harlequinades, paper doll books, pagnions, peep-show, slot books and other moveable texts that draw the reader/viewer into an active engagement with the material. In immersing myself in these primary texts and also by seeing some early board games and reading some of the secondary research in the area, I was able to realize how interactivity has been a key element of progressive educators' ideas since the 18th century. At the same time, as I began to read secondary material about pantomimes and puppet theatre-- the popular culture of the period-- I came to realize that early publishers could adapt interactive features to theatrically inspired texts and produce 'play' texts or entertainments both for a general public that included children, and then specifically for children. I was also able to gain a sense of the contemporary visual culture of the late 18th century materials by viewing a number of metamorphosis prints from the Graphic Arts collection, thanks to the curator Rebecca Davidson. In terms of connections between the past the present, I became acquainted with research in pre-cinema studies thanks to Stephen Ferguson, Curator of Rare Books.

Moveable books and related texts are a new area of research for me. As a result of my brief stay at Princeton, I have re-framed my original assumptions about the prevalence of the idea of interactivity in the late 18th century, refined my ideas about the quality and variability of early moveable books design, and am thinking of links between the past and present in more precise ways. Because I was able to focus on harlequinades, I will now approach them as texts of performance in some cases using the flap transformation as a way to create an illusion of motion. I look forward to writing a series of articles in this area on different types of moveable books as well as incorporating my research into future conference presentations on early children's literature and culture. Indeed, I will be immediately drawing on some of my work at Princeton at the conference entitled "Women and material culture 1660-1830" at the University of Southampton and Chawton House Library, July 14-15, 2004. My paper is entitled "Jane Austen's juvenilia as Virtual toy theatre? : Jane Austen's early writings in the context of early theatre texts for children."

In my daily reading in the rare books room I was supported by the good will of the reading room staff who not only created a friendly and congenial atmosphere but let me stay until the last possible minute of summer hours! It was thereby possible for me to focus absolutely on my work. My process of discovery was enthralling-each time I opened a carefully preserved text I met with materials that challenged my pre-conceptions and opened new areas of thought. Indeed, my process of reading was not unlike the effect of the well-made flap book or harlequinades itself -each set of materials was a surprise and delight!

At the talk which I gave near the end of my stay, I was interested to meet some of the Friends, and to talk to Ann Montanaro who is a specialist in moveable books herself. Other people who attended the session were those who had assisted me on a daily basis and still others came out of interest. It is gratifying to see such a vibrant rare books community! I look forward to coming back to Princeton to further my work.

Again, my thanks to the Friends of the Princeton University Library and the Cotsen Children's Library.


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