2014–15 RBS-UVA Fellows

The RBS-UVA Fellowship provides undergraduate and graduate students at the University of Virginia with scholarships to attend RBS courses that substantially inform year-long projects (viz., a Distinguished Major’s thesis, an article, a dissertation chapter, an exhibition) that they submit to RBS upon completion. The 2014–15 cohort of RBS-UVA Fellows includes:

  • Nora Benedict – Ph.D. student, Department of Spanish
  • Mary Draper – Ph.D. student, Department of History
  • Christina Kilby – Ph.D. student, Department of Religious Studies
    **Recipient of the 2014–15 Betsy and Stuart Houston Prize — click here to see Christina’s project**
  • Ben Lee – Ph.D. student, Department of English
  • Ethan Reed – Ph.D. student, Department of English
    **2014–15 RBS-UVA Fellowship Project Honorable Mention**
  • Allison Wolf – CLAS ’15, Department of English
  • Gretchen York – Ph.D. student, Department of English

Nora Benedict
Ph.D. student, Department of Spanish
Fervor de Buenos Aires, the University of Virginia collection

As many scholars know, the Jorge Luis Borges Collection housed in the Special Collections library at the University of Virginia is one of the most important places in the world to trace the development of Borges’s writings from youth to maturity. Seeing as the holdings are, without question, nothing short of a treasure trove, many scholars have often been curious as to why the largest collection of writings, papers, and manuscripts of such an important Argentine writer would be held in Virginia. As one of the most influential South American writers of the twentieth century, Borges’s work is a natural extension of the Americana collection at the University of Virginia. Learning English before Spanish as a young child, Borges drew from a number of North American authors throughout his lifetime, and these writers would, in turn, look to his labyrinthine writings for inspiration. For that reason, in my RBS project I took a closer look at a select group of manuscripts within the Borges collection in an effort to reflect on fundamental questions of publishing, distribution, and preservation. My main goal in producing this current edition (of sorts) is to provide readers, on a global level, with the opportunity to analyze several original manuscripts from Fervor de Buenos Aires with the hopes of encouraging more scholars to understand the value of these documents and their presence at the University of Virginia. In my project, I first provided an overview of the UVa collection alongside the content and presentation of the Borges manuscripts, and then moved on to their diplomatic transcription. Following these two studies I created a descriptive biography of the six manuscripts and concluded with a catalogue of any variants between these documents and their corresponding poems in the first print edition of Fervor (1923).

This current project, and also that of my dissertation, would not have been possible without the help, guidance, and continual support of the Rare Book School. Having the opportunity to take Michael Winship’s course, The American Book in the Industrial Era, 1800–1940, allowed me to think more deeply about the exchange of ideas and materials during the early part of the twentieth century when Borges was just beginning to publish his first works. It also helped me reconsider the all too common divide between North and South American literature. Even though I had taken two courses dedicated to the study of the book (David Vander Meulen’s “Books as Objects” and “Scholarly Editing and Textual Criticism”), Mr. Winship’s course allowed me to understand many of these concepts on a much more global level. It goes without saying that this course exposed me to a great community of scholars who share similar interests and will undoubtedly help foster conversation and collaboration in the future. In addition, Mr. Winship’s interest in the question of publishers’ archives has led me to enroll in a second RBS course for the summer of 2015 that will directly inform my dissertation.


Mary Draper
Ph.D. student, Department of History
Seeing Cities, Civilizing Islands: Seventeenth- and Eighteenth-Century Views of Caribbean Ports

My paper, “Seeing Cities, Civilizing Islands: Seventeenth- and Eighteenth-Century Views of Caribbean Ports,” is excerpted from one of my dissertation chapters on visitors’ perceptions of Caribbean cities in the early modern era. While this excerpt focuses solely on the images that visitors produced, the larger chapter examines how visitors to the region reconciled Caribbean port-cities such as Bridgetown, Port Royal, and Kingston with their islands’ plantation hinterlands through an examination of natural histories, travel narratives, broadsides, and manuscript sources. Prior to arriving in the Caribbean, many travelers presumed that the region lacked the refined characteristics of other territories and especially metropolitan Britain. Instead of inherently backwards and underdeveloped, however, these travelers recognized Caribbean ports as urban places and understood the larger island through them. These visitors’ accounts betrayed a set of shifting assumptions—rooted in European debates about social improvement—about what constituted an ideal city. By analyzing the materials visitors produced, my dissertation examines how Britons imagined the reproduction of civility in the American tropics.

The Rare Book School course The Illustrated Scientific Book to 1800 equipped me with the skills to understand the production and reception of published accounts of these port-cities. I learned to identify the differences between woodcuts and engravings, studied the process of creating and publishing both forms, and discussed at length the relationship between text and image in published books. Because of this knowledge, my time in the archive was more fruitful. I was able to examine these sources with a better understanding of their origins, production, and circulation.


Christina Kilby
Recipient of the 2014–15 Betsy and Stuart Houston Prize
Ph.D. student, Department of Religious Studies
The Past Lives of Tibetan Letters: Tracing the Transformation from Manuscript to Woodblock Print in Several Eighteenth-Century Tibetan Letter Collections

My dissertation investigates Tibetan letter-writing culture during the long eighteenth century and its importance for the growth of the Geluk school of Tibetan Buddhism during that formative period. The printed letter collections I study reveal much about early modern Tibetan epistolary life, yet at the same time obscure the history of their own “past lives” of production and reception. In my fellowship project I trace the physical, textual, and social changes at play when manuscript letters from this period were redacted and printed in edited collections. Most significant is my discovery that Tibetan letters to religious superiors are actually textual representations of prostrations. Because the script style, spacing, and lay-out that illustrate these textual prostrations are lost in the print editions, the only way to reconstruct their original form in the manuscripts was to read backwards with the help of epistolary manuals from the period.

From my engagement with the Rare Book School course on the History of the Book in China, led by Soren Edgren, I gained tools to analyze Tibetan Buddhist letter collections as physical as well as social artifacts. What scribal and editorial decisions are underway in the transition from manuscript to print? How should I interpret those decisions in light of the technology and economy of book-making in Tibet and China? What is the untold reception history of Tibetan letters? How did religious values and devotional orientations to the written word influence Tibetan Buddhist letter-writing culture?


Ben Lee
Ph.D. student, Department of English
The Manufacture of Books and the Making of Robert Frost

Poets have long recognized that they are “made” by their books. When Chaucer said “go little book,” he knew that books were the physical vehicle that had to be entrusted to carry his work, and his fame, out into the world. The word “poet” also comes from the Greek word for “maker,” someone who crafts and constructs from materials. My project explores how a poet like Frost is a bookmaker, not only by writing the poetry that makes up the book but also crafting in the medium of the book itself, artfully organizing the book’s content, arranging paratextual elements like titles, dedications, and tables of contents, and even caring about bookmaking details like typography. Frost recognized that books were “manufactured,” that is, both made by hand and also mass-produced goods, and they therefore were the key to manufacturing his own career, both in a financial and creative sense. Thanks to the RBS Fellowship, I was able to take a class in 19th- and 20th-century typography and printing, which gave me a perspective very similar to Frost’s. Frost was not himself a book artist, but he spent his whole career trying to work more closely with the typographers, illustrators, and fine-press owners who, he said, made him the “best-printed American author.” At RBS, I met typographers and printers and even got first-hand experience in typesetting and printing by hand. I became more informed and more sensitive about the possible ways for Frost to collaborate with book artists, especially given his long career that witnessed rapidly changing print technologies and the height of the fine-press movement in America.


Ethan Reed
2014–15 RBS-UVA Fellowship Project Honorable Mention
Ph.D. student, Department of English
Reading Books by Their Covers: Dos Passos’s U.S.A., Design Features, and Histories of Literary Reception

For this project, I produced a conference-length paper analyzing the design features of the most recent American edition (by Mariner Books) of John Dos Passos’s U.S.A. trilogy. I engage in two strands of scholarship, the branch of textual studies concerned with design features and readers’ responses to those features, as well as a sociological approach concerned with how works are valued (or de-valued) in an institutional setting, with a particular focus on how histories of reception play into this— particularly relevant given Dos Passos’s long, complex history of reception. My paper argues that the design features of this most recent publication participate in this history in a unique way that only physical objects can, calling upon Dos Passos’s literary legacy while also trying to re-present it in a new light to an ever-changing public.

At Rare Book School this previous summer, I took Michael Winship’s course The American Book in the Industrial Era, 1820–1940. The nature of my project necessarily involved getting a better sense of what, exactly, is out there in terms of the publication history of Dos Passos’s work, and what this history might mean. This, in turn, meant archival work in the Papers of John Dos Passos collection at the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library here at UVA. Professor Winship’s course was my first serious exposure to bibliographical scholarship in any real depth—the kinds of things to look for in a book made in the beginning of the 20th century, the things relevant to their production, distribution, and readership, as well as the problems research of this nature often encounters. Though the U.S.A. trilogy was published only at the end of this period, and many of the publications I consider occurred decades later, an understanding of the fundamental issues proved invaluable to my work on the history of Dos Passos’s literary reception, and how he is read today.


Allison Wolf
CLAS ’15, Department of English
Virginia Woolf as Printer & Publisher

My thesis looks at Virginia Woolf’s role as printer and publisher with the Hogarth Press and the integral affect of that role on Woolf’s writing. I argue for the necessity of the press as a form of creative order in Woolf’s world, allowing her to process and create with freedom as a female intellectual in the early 20th century. Through an analysis of Woolf’s autobiographical novel To the Lighthouse and an analysis of her own understanding of the Hogarth Press, I suggest that Woolf’s idiosyncratic relationship to printing embodies a form of creation, production, and reproduction that is inherently domestic and relational, and that through the Hogarth Press specifically Woolf reclaims the intellectual capacity of women as creators.

The Rare Book School course The History of 19th- & 20th-Century Typography & Printing, taught by Katherine M. Ruffin and John Kristensen, provided me with insight into the process of printing as an act of self expression. The course provided me with a greater understanding of the history and method of the printing process as well as invaluable hands-on experience with the press and access to examine rare first edition products. What I learned at Rare Book School unequivocally influenced my own understanding of the printing process, provided insight into Woolf’s experience with the press, enlivened Woolf’s descriptions of the printing process, and helped me to historically situate the Hogarth Press in 20th-Century printing.


Gretchen York
Ph.D. student, Department of English
Rhyme and Metrical Pointing in the N-Town Manuscript

In the N-Town Fall of Man, Adam encounters God for the first time after his sin and laments a change in his experience of the divine: “I here thi voys but I se thee nought.” With his fall, Adam undergoes a change in perception that divides his senses from one another; the postlapsarian condition only offers Adam the certainty of God’s voice amidst radical uncertainty and division within himself. Focusing on the moment when postlapsarian Adam confronts God to discover his eyes both newly opened and permanently clouded, my dissertation explores the theory and practice of vernacular biblical adaptation in the late Middle Ages and Renaissance through the lens of the Adam and Eve narrative. The project finds that amidst Tudor debates about both images and vernacular biblical translation, the Fall narrative becomes a touchstone for poetic art’s attempts to articulate its status as simultaneously a product of and a remedy for the fallen senses.

My RBS-UVA project examines the manuscript context for Adam’s lament in N-Town, finding that this unique collection of fifteenth-century plays thematizes the complex interplay of unity and division on the level of layout and compilation as well as in its text. It is my contention that the manuscript’s physical features help scholars read medieval drama as a genre more consciously varied, unstable, and dynamic than heretofore acknowledged. Such a perspective also helps scholars better understand the sixteenth-century collectors who preserved the codex. The codicology class I took at RBS introduced me to the features of early books—layout, quire structure, catchwords, &c.—that have helped me interpret scribal choices and the compilation history of N-Town. By learning conventions of books’ appearance in the late fifteenth century and reading particular features of the N-Town manuscript in light of those conventions, I have been able to assess how the manuscript deploys instability and uncertainty to engage with readers both in its time and afterwards.