The joy of indexing

In the TLS recently, there was a review of a book on reading habits in early modern England. The author, Heidi Brayman Hackel, examined the marginalia of 151 copies of Sir Philip Sydney’s Arcadia. The reviewer, Maureen Bell, observes that although it’s not surprising that the work was frequently annotated,
… the elaborate and various nature of the annotations, indexes and other personal apparatus supplied by male and female readers is impressive evidence of a wide variety of ways of reading and using the text.
Among other things, that “wide variety” suggests that the heavy breathing heard in some quarters about the brave new world of tagging, social bookmarking, &c. may be unwarranted. Reading has always been interactive and social. I use deli.cio.us, wists, and Library Thing; I think of them as making easier things I could do in other ways. Perhaps there is something new in the automation of word-of-mouth or in “tagsonomies”. But in my view the great idea here, already discovered by Amazon, is that you don’t need AI to classify things in ways that people will find useful—you let people do it themselves; string manipulation takes care of the rest.
There is, in any case, a quiet pleasure to be had in indexing. If it’s your own work there’s the pleasure of revisiting your thoughts (indexing comes at the end of the publication process, months after the manuscript is turned in), of finding threads, sometimes unexpected, whose fibres are words or names, of noticing connections that as you were writing you hadn’t thought of.
I’ve added an index to Philosophical Fortnights, following the example of Balles de match and Poezibao. At the moment it covers only entries before 1 Jan of this year. The link is in the left column.
Maureen Bell, “Her book not his”, TLS (18 Nov 2005) 32 (review of Heidi Brayman Hackel, Reading material in early modern England).

LinkNovember 27, 2005 in Bibliography · Web/Tech