Chris Forster

From New Hampshire to Harlem, by Way of London

While I haven't been vocal about it, work has continued, in off moments and stolen time, on the online edition of Claude McKay's Harlem Shadows which I described some time ago. At the present moment, Roopika Risam and I have collected nearly all the textual variants and have marked them up in TEI; we added (as yet unproofread) versions of early reviews and other supplemental material (and still more is being hunted down and added); and there is enough XSLT and CSS to hold the whole thing together, more or less. It is very much still a work in progress, but you can see the current state of its progress here.

This process has also been an opportunity to understand the textual history of the poems of Harlem Shadows, including the relationship of the collection Harlem Shadows to McKay's earlier collection Spring in New Hampshire. The Jamaican poet who travels to rural Kansas in order to pursue a degree in agriculture and ends up being one of the early voices of Harlem Renaissance, manages to do so by passing through not only Harlem, but New Hampshire and, crucially, London. Spring in New Hampshire was how many readers first encountered McKay (including readers like Charlie Chaplin and Hubert Harrison), and the collection offers a valuable first draft of Harlem Shadows.

The collection Spring in New Hampshire was first published in 1920. Its "Acknowledgments" page notes two facts which underscore this volume's importance in the emergence of Harlem Shadows.

Acknowledgments are due to the Editors of The Seven Arts, the American Pearsons and The Liberator, where, as in the current issue of The Cambrdige Magazine a number of the poems included in this volume have appeared. An American edition is being published simultaneously by Alfred A. Knopf, 220 West Forty-second Street, New York.

First, when Spring in New Hampshire appeared, an American edition of was clearly imagined as immiment. But the American edition, purportedly "being published simultaneously by Alfred A. Knopf," never materialized. What did appear, two years later (published by Harcourt, Brace, and Co) was Harlem Shadows.

And if Harlem Shadows is substantially indebted to Spring in New Hampshire About one third of Harlem Shadows's poems appear in Spring, among them "Tropics in New York," "The Barrier," "North and South," "Harlem Shadows," "The Harlem Dancer," and "The Lynching"., Spring in New Hampshire in turn is less an origin than another gathering point for poems culled from elsewhere; this is especially the case of a large selection of poems which appear in the Summer 1920 issue of The Cambridge Magazine. This latter includes 23 of Spring in New Hampshire's 31 poems. And, with the exception of the dedication of "Spring in New Hampshire" (dedicated in Spring to "J. L. J. F. E."This would almost certainly be Dutch bibliophile, and the man in part responsible for McKay's trip to London, J. L. J. F. Ezerman (Gosciak 117).), there are no textual differences between the poems as they appear in CM and as they appear in Spring.

To secure the point I'm moving towards, compare these images, taken from the appearance of "The Tropics in New York" in Cambridge Magazine (top) and Spring in New Hampshire (bottom): My thanks to Nicholas Morris who takes no responsibility for this conjecture, but was enormously helpful in discussing its plausibility.

Comparison of 'Tropics in New York' in both SPRING IN NEW HAMPSHIRE and CAMBRIDGE MAGAZINE.

Do you see that imperfection in the 'I' of "I could no more gaze" in both versions. Does they look identical to you too? It seems reasonable to conjecture that the Cambridge Magazine poems and Spring in New Hampshire were both printed, if not from a single setting of type, then at least from a setting of type which likely included some of the same typeset material (in either monotype, linotype, or set by hand) from the Cambridge Magazine.In the interest of full disclosure, there is a similar imperfection in the Cambridge Magazine text of "When Dawn Comes to the City" which does not appear in the Spring in New Hampshire; but this does not vitiate the possibility, and evidence, suggesting the two texts represent something like a single setting of type.

The circumstances surrounding Cambridge Magazine likewise seem to confirm this possibility. Cambridge Magazine, at the time, was run by C. K. Ogden, with whom McKay spent time while visiting England in 1920. Ogden ran the magazine in collaboration with a number of his friends (among them, I. A. Richards). Of Ogden, McKay would write in his autobiography A Long Way from Home: "besides steering me round the picture galleries and being otherwise kind, [Ogden] had published a set of my verses in his Cambridge Magazine. Later he got me a publisher" (71). If McKay means that Ogden secured the publisher for Spring in New Hampshire (and that seems the most likely meaning here), it would certainly make sense that Ogden would go through the same publishing channels (including, perhaps, the same printer) as for the periodical for which he was responsible. The frontmatter of Spring in New Hampshire (published by Grant Richards), lists the printer as "The Morland Press." And while Ogden (according to Josh Gosciak) authored the prefatory note for the appearance of the poems in Cambridge Magazine, it was I. A. Richards (a friend of Ogden's, who regularly appeared in the Cambridge Magazine, including the Summer 1920 issue in which McKay's poems appeared) who wrote the note the Spring in New Hampshire (after, according to McKay, George Bernard Shaw declined to write such an introductory note, Long Way Home 55).

All of which is interesting and worthy of note insomuch as it suggests that Harlem Shadows, key document of the Harlem Renaissance, has its origins not only in Jamaica and New York, but in New Hampshire and London. This eclecticism was vital to Ogden's interest in McKay; Ogden was at this moment, working with I. A. Richards on what would emerge as "Basic English." In BASIC, "Ogden wanted a usable language that reflected the hybridity of the changing dynamic of cultures and languages in the Caribbean, Africa, the United States, and Asia" (Gosciak 102). And in McKay, Ogden believed he had found a uniquely valuable voice in the development of such a language—a language, Gosciak describes, which would "decolonize the dominant ideology that espoused war and imperialism" (103).

Yet, the way in which McKay and Ogden imagined this decolonization of English is somewhat surprising. McKay came to Ogden frustrated with what he perceived to be the limitations of his previously published poetry, in Jamacian dialect. Here is Gosciak again:

[McKay's] reputation was as the "Bobby Burns" of Jamaican folk wisdom, who could write persuasive "love songs" in a sonorous dialect. But an exasperated McKay explained to Ogden: "One can't express any deep thought to perfection in it, nor can it effectively bring forth the note of sorrow." Dialect was hackneyed, McKay concluded. "I've buried it and don't care to revive it again." Ogden was sympathetic to the poet's desires to internationalize his poetics, and he mentioned him in precision and exactness—de-emotionalizing his lyrics of the charged baggage of Harlem and race. (104)

This tension is manifest in a disagreement between Ogden and McKay over what to title the collection. Ogden was interested in developing an international English, Gosciak, drawing on material in the Papers of CK Ogden explains:

McKay was opposed to [the title] Spring in New Hampshire, and Other Poems; he believed the title conjured associations with New England, which he felt was "played out"... McKay preferred "a terse, simple thing" for a title, such as "Poems or Verse," which Ogden, too, appreciated. But McKay also had an eye for the New York—and Harlem—reading public. He suggested "Dawn in New York," invoking imagery that would ultimately give texture to Harlem Shadows in 1922. Ogden persisted in his claims for the high lyricism of Frost, and eventually McKay came around to that aesthetic ground. (The choice of title, Spring in New Hampshire, was, as McKay acknowledged, a bold move for a poet who would very soon reprsent the Harlem Renaissance.) (Gosciak 105)

There is sort of confusion of motivations here; McKay's frustration with dialect and Ogden's attempt to decolonize English both find expression of in the poems of Spring in New Hampshire—poems that rely on traditional forms—sonnets aplenty!—and frequently Victorian diction. Yet, Ogden's vision of de-colonizing English also involves de-racinating, with the effect that Ogden preferred to see McKay's verse avoid any allusion too direct to Harlem or race.

And so Spring in New Hampshire ends up being as notable for what it doesn't share with Harlem Shadows as what it does. The most famous poem of Harlem Shadows, "If We Must Die," had first appeared in The Liberator in 1919, but it was not included in Spring in New Hampshire. In A Long Way Home, McKay recounts bringing a copy of Spring in New Hampshire to Frank Harris, of Pearson's Magazine (who had wanted to publish "If We Must Die," though he lost out to The Liberator):

[Harris] was pleased that I had put over the publication of a book of poems in London. "It's a hard, mean city for any kind of genius," he said, "and that's an achivement for you." He looked through the little brown-covered book. Then he ran his finger down the table of contents, closely scrutinizing. I noticed his aggressive brow becoem heavier and scowling. Suddenly he roared: "Where is the poem?... That fighting poem, 'If We Must Die.' Why isn't it printed here?"

I was ashamed. My face was scorched with fire. I stammered: "I was advised to keep it out."

"You are a bloody traitor to your race, sir!" Frank Harris shouted. "A damned traitor to your own integrity. That's what the English and civilization have done to your people. Emasculated them. Deprived them of their guts. Better you were a head-hunting, blood-drinking cannibal of the jungle than a civilized coward. You were bolder in America. The English make obscene sycophants of their subject peoples. I am Irish and I know. But we Irish have guts you cannot rip out of us. I am ashamed of you, sir. It's a good thing you got out of Engliand. It is no place for a genius to live."

Frank Harris's words cut like a whip into my hide, and I was glad to get out of his uncomfortable presence. Yet I felt relieved after his castigation. The excision of the poem had been like a nerve cut out of me, leaving a wound which would not heal. And it hurt more every time I saw the damned book of verse. I resolved to plug hard for the publication of an American edition, which would include the omitted poem. (81-82)

McKay here ends up being caught between two white editors, and their respective ways of imagining a response to British colonialism. (This situation recalls that of McKay and his relationship to dialect poetry discussed in Michael North's excellent chapter in The Dialect of Modernism.)

That American edition that McKay resolves to publish after this encounter with Harris would, of course, be Harlem Shadows. Harlem Shadows, in McKay's depiction, is a version of Spring in New Hampshire and a repudiation of it. Elsewhere in his autobiography he writes, "I was full and overflowing with singing and I sang all moods, wild, sweet, and bitter. I was steadfastly pursuing one object: the publication of an American book of verse. I desired to see 'If We Must Die,' the sonnet I had omitted in the London volume, inside of a book" (116).

Yet, if McKay's comments encourage us to read Harlem Shadows as a re-politicized version of Spring in New Hampshire, "If We Must Die" itself, nevertheless, famously operates by abstracting the political violence of the "Red Summer" of 1919 into an unspecified "we kinsmen" against a "common foe." And, indeed, Harlem Shadows, like Spring in New Hampshire, does not include some of McKay's most explicitly political poetry of this period—poems like "To the White Fiends" or "A Capitalist at Dinner," which were initially published in the same period, and in the same venues, as poems like "If We Must Die," remain excluded.

All of which indicates the value of a comprehensive collection of all the contemporary poems and material which went into the making of Harlem Shadows—both through their inclusion and their exclusion.

Appendix: Tables of Contents Compared

Below I've preserved the original orderings of the tables of contents for both Harlem Shadows and Spring in New Hampshire and used color (a lovely salmon) to indicate which titles are shared.


Harlem Shadows Spring in New Hampshire
The Easter Flower Spring in New Hampshire
To One Coming North The Spanish Needle
America The Lynching
Alfonso, Dressing to Wait at Table To O. E. A.
The Tropics in New York Alfonso, Dressing to Wait at Table, Sings
Flame Heart Flowers of Passion
Home Thoughts To Work
On Broadway Morning Joy
The Barrier Reminiscences
Adolescence On Broadway
Homing Swallows Love Song
The City's Love North and South
North and South Rest in Peace
Wild May A Memory of June
The Plateau To Winter
After the Winter Winter in the Country
The Wild Goat After the Winter
Harlem Shadows The Tropics in New York
The White City I Shall Return
The Spanish Needle The Castaways
My Mother December 1919
In Bondage Flame-Heart
December, 1919 In Bondage
Heritage Harlem Shadows
When I Have Passed Away The Harlem Dancer
Enslaved A Prayer
I Shall Return The Barrier
Morning Joy When Dawn Comes to the City
Africa The Choice
On a Primitive Canoe Sukee River
Winter in the Country Exhortation
To Winter
Spring in New Hampshire
On the Road
The Harlem Dancer
Dawn in New York
The Tired Worker
Outcast
I Know My Soul
Birds of Prey
The Castaways
Exhortation: Summer, 1919
The Lynching
Baptism
If We Must Die
Subway Wind
The Night Fire
Poetry
To a Poet
A Prayer
When Dawn Comes to the City
O Word I Love to Sing
Absence
Summer Morn in New Hampshire
Rest in Peace
A Red Flower
Courage
To O. E. A.
Romance
Flower of Love
The Snow Fairy
La Paloma in London
A Memory of June
Flirtation
Tormented
Polarity
One Year After
French Leave
Jasmines
Commemoration
Memorial
Thirst
Futility
Through Agony

Works Cited

Somewhere in New Jersey...

In a previous post on a graduate course I taught last Spring, I mentioned the server I ended up using a way to try to establish some uniformity of access to software packages and tools. In this post, I'll try to add a few details.

Virtual Private Servers

The first thing to understand about "the server" is that I rented a VPS, a "virtual(ized) private server," rather than some shared space. If you don't know what that means, let me try to explain (if you do know what that means, you may want to move along to the next section).

The word server itself is one of the slipperier bits of our contemporary argot. It can name a number of different links in a relationship between one piece of software and another (to say nothing of the people on either end, or perhaps in between). This slipperiness is only compounded with the advent of virtual private servers.

Prior to virtualization, if you wanted to host a webpage, you could either run (or rent) your own dedicated hardware, or you go with a "shared hosting" option. For most folks who run their own blog, shared hosting remains the obvious choice. This blog is hosted on such a shared host. Shared hosting relies on a few facts:LAMP: that is Linux (an operating system to manage the hardware resources, to schedule processes... you know, to turn electricity, plastic, and rare earth elements into a computer), Apache (the most widely used web server), MySQL (the most widely used database; which has its own database server), and (usually) PHP (a scripting language).

The drawback to shared hosting is that you have very little control over the server. You usually can't, for instance, install new software, beyond packages of PHP scripts. Of course, for web hosting, that's no big deal; you don't really need to install anything beyond whatever CMS you want anyway. Anyone who has had problems with a web host's version of PHP, or similar issues, knows that this isn't quite true.

This compromise with respect to control over the server configuration is a function of cost (and of course, expertise; do you really want to have to worry about building that "software stack"?). To have complete control over a server would mean that you had a dedicated server (in this case, "server" means actual hardware), perhaps in your office (in theory it could be your laptop), in an IT closet, or rented in a server farm somewhere. With the advent of software virtualization, however, this changed. With virtualization, a single piece of hardware can run multiple "virtual machines"; the host system simulates another machine, on which you can then run software which itself doesn't really know the difference. (If you run Windows on a Mac with Parallels, this idea may be quite familiar.) You can do the same thing with a server. That computer that talked to the internet, and served web pages (or whatever), is not just a virtual machine. And such a virtualized private server (a VPS, as opposed to a shared host) reconfigures the costs involve, and makes it more affordable to give you more control over the software installed, without incurring the full cost of owning/renting/running an actual physical hardware server.

A virtualized server is (very significantly) cheaper than running your own hardware, but allows you many of the advantages of actually running your own hardware. It is still, in general, more expensive than shared hosting. To give you some sense of the cost, the lowest tier Linode VPS is $20/month. Digital Ocean's lowest tier is only $5/month.

A Customized Server

Because it is so customizable, I thought a VPS could offer a solution to the challenge of trying to make software uniformly available to students enrolled in the digital humanities seminar I was teaching. With such a system I could give everyone access to Python and the NLTK (and its associated corpora) without having to ask folks to install that software on their own machines. I could install MALLET and R (and relevant R packages) and Stanford's Named Entity Recognizer and an XSLT processor. This was also a relatively flexible solution; if someone wanted to try something else, perhaps something I'd never heard of, it was in many easy to install it on the server.

The easy in that last sentence is a function of Linux package management. If you're used to installing from .EXEs (or .DMGs) you download from the web, the world of package management can seem arcane. However, for large pieces of software, package management systems are wonderful and can be (deceptively) simple to use. While getting everything up and running is a bit of a trick (you need to first install an operating system—about which a little more below—and then some basic software to let you connect to the server), installing a piece of software, like the R language, is as simple as typing:

sudo apt-get install r-base

And then, you have R installed, and you're ready to go at the command line. In my experience, Linux package management is often easier than trying to handle software dependencies on other OSes (at least once you're familiar with conventions of your package management system).

Easy is also relative; if you're comfortable at the command line, using a package manager feels intellectually more intuitive and comprehensible than dragging a DMG into an "Applications" folder, or double-clicking an EXE. But if you're uncomfortable with the command line, this will likely feel as uncomfortable as navigating your filesystem or anything else.

Server Setup

Before you can install packages, though you need to first install a base, Linux operating system. If you're unfamiliar with Linux, this may not be the kindest or easiest way to get acquainted with it, though the good folks at Linode (hardly unbiased) insist "If you're looking to learn, there is no better environment. Experiment with the different Linux flavors, redeploy from scratch in a matter of minutes.". I have spent too much of my life playing with Linux distros, and so this part of the process felt quite natural. And yet, I still managed to make what I now consider a wrong choice in configuring the server. Linux comes in a wide array of flavors or distributions.Technically, "Linux" is not an OS, but an OS "kernel." This distinction, and what we call things, can get contentious. Of the options Linode offers (Ubuntu, Arch, OpenSuse, Gentoo, CentOS, Slackware, Debian, Fedora) I opted for Debian. Debian has a reputation for being a very stable distro; and so it would be a great choice for running a web-server. Of course, I wasn't running a web and so stability was not, in fact, my chief concern. I probably should have chosen a distribution which prioritized not stability, but the ease and availability of new and up-to-date software packages. Arch Linux, with its "rolling release" schedule (and the operating system I once loved with a passion I've not since been able to match) would have made more sense. It would have been easier with Arch to install the most update versions of certain Python packages, etc etc. Oh well. Maybe next time.

Once you're base OS is installed; it's time to install the basic packages you will need to do anything at all. But since you now are responsible for a computer somewhere in New JerseyI must say, the responsiveness of the Linode servers shocked me; that computer in NJ was consistently more responsive than my home media server. I regularly ran emacs sessions on the server and found them completely responsive. you need to worry about security. You don't want someone hijacking your VPS and using to send spam or whatever else. Linode offers some tips and I consulted this page for some advice as well. It wasn't nearly as scary as I imagined. I installed fail2ban (and left the default settings), turned off root log-in from ssh, and that was about it. I have (so far) had no problems.

Connecting and Interacting with the Server

I've sort of glossed over a pretty fundamental fact; with the exception of RStudio server (mentioned below), the only way to interact with the server as I've described it is through SSH; and so the only access you have to the server is command line access. For the most part, that was fine for the goals I had for the class. Command line access allowed people to experiment with Python and NLTK; they could run MALLET, and similar things. You couldn't run, say, Gephi on the server though.

And this limitation proved frustrating for folks working with film and images. For one thing, moving large movie/image files back and forth to the server would have proved unpleasant; moreover, software like ImageJ couldn't be installed on the server and had to be installed locally. (I did manage, though, to do some image manipulation with ImageMagick—here is every page of the Little Review in a single image (a larger, ~150M, image is available here):

Little Review Montage

A Close-Up of the Little Review Montage

For folks who were interested in using R, RStudio Server worked wonderfully; it allowed folks to connect to the server through their web browser and have an RStudio Session that looked something like this:

RStudio, Running

While I gripe about R, RStudio is really excellent. If there is comparable server project that will let folks run python and python packages (including matplotlib) through a browser in a similar way, please, please let me know. RStudio provides a great way to provide a standardized R environment with a common set of shared packages (and perhaps even data) available to all.

There are other things one could do with sort of set-up; if you wanted to run an old-school Bulletin Board System or MUD, you could do it (here are some ideas about running a BBS system). You also might look at The BBS Corner's Telnet & Dial-Up BBS Guide or Convolution BBS. As a way to offer certain pieces of software to people without requiring them to install them, running this server was very helpful. If you're doing tasks that can be scripted and which can often take a very long time to complete (such as topic modeling, or named entity extraction, or POS tagging)I would add certain types of image manipulation—as I did with the Little Review example noted above; though as I say, shuttling the images back and forth can be unpleasant; this unpleasantness is partially allayed if you're scripting your image acquisition with a script, "a little wget magic", or similar ought to work. you can set them going, disconnect from the server and then check on them later (using a program like screen to make this easy; it's really great to be walking to home, knowing that somewhere in New Jersey a computer is dutifully seeking 100 topics across 5000 documents).

I've skipped over some of the other unglamorous, sysadminy things one must do: creating user accounts for each person in the class; creating a shared directory that everyone could read and write to; and other things like that. For someone comfortable at the command line, and interested to learn, all of that stuff is entirely manageable.

On "Teaching" "Digital Humanities"

As this academic year warms up, some thoughts on the last one; last year I had the unexpected opportunity to teach a graduate seminar in the Spring.I was not as diligent as a blog coordinator, keeping up with summary posts, as I would have liked, but some summaries and links to student blogs are available here. I wavered between a theories of modernism course (think: Hugh Kenner, Peter Burger, Frederic Jameson, Susan Stanford Friedman) and an "Intro DH" class, settling on the latter simply because I thought it would be more valuable to graduate students (few of whom, in our department, have strong research interests in modernist studies).

The course benefited from a number of sources; one is Scott Weingart's excellent list of DH syllabi.He says syllabi; I say syllabuses; it is a battle that has raged for centuries. I should also thank a number of people who were kind enough to offer thoughts (and sometimes texts) as I put together the syllabus: Stéfan Sinclair, David Golumbia, and Brian Lennon offered suggestions. They were all more than generous; though, of course, they bear no responsibility for whatsoever for the syllabus. I also was fortunate enough to end up corresponding with a number of other folks during the semester, thanks to all of them.

If you're interested in seeing the syllabus, you can see it in [PDF], [HTML], or (heaven help you) on GitHub.In theory, the whole github syllabuses thing sounds promising; and for DH stuff, who knows? But really, just putting the stuff on the web is probably the best way to share teaching materials.

The syllabus includes, at least to some extent, basically all the texts that, a while back, Brian Croxall mentioned as the "usual" DH reading list:

I would have loved to use Jockers's Macroanalysis, but it was not out in time; I would certainly use it were I to teach the class again. Indeed, I could very easily imagine a class taught around Macroanalysis as its central text.

I imagined the course as centered by a basically epistemological perspective: does the "becoming digital of textuality" "becoming digital of textuality" is clumsy; but I think it gets at the thing I'm interested better than anything else. change the sorts of knowledge about literature and culture that scholars produce. Does it offer, to put it more polemically, a science of culture? (I avoided this polemical formulation in class; not least because of the definition of "science" that it assumes). This was the motivation for starting with C.P. Snow's "The Two Cultures," a text I would, in the future, however excerpt Snow; there are a lot more relics of the Cold War in that essay than I recalled, not all of which were directly relevant. which I sometimes see condescendingly referred to as if it were backward, outdated, or self-evidently wrong, when I find its core thesis remains provocative and at least partially compelling.

The course was then organized around questions of digitization and textual representationThe Latour and Lowe essay, from Switching Codes is a real gem, and one I don't see mentioned very frequently., and then a whole slew of things I called distant reading.

I'm not sure that there's anything in my life that I'd call an unmitigated success, and this class is surely no exception. I think though that it did the job of familiarizing folks with at least some of what "DH" is, particularly for folks in English departments.

I'm not sure if I'll ever teach such a course again. But here are some things I think I learned—things I'd change and things I'd do the same way again:

When I planned the syllabus, I was concerned to try to integrate criticism of "DH" into this class, to make it both a class about "digital humanities" as well as a digital humanities class. I wanted to leaven ambient excitement or "buzz" with skepticism, to use the tools but to do so with care and reflection, to balance the hacking with yacking (to invoke a short-hand that has produced much hand-wringing). I will say, however, that during class meetings, I generally found myself working harder to overcome the skepticism, rather than to contain the excitement; wanting there to indeed be a little less yack and a little more...

Typography versus Hitler—The Book Production War Economy Agreement

Book Production War Economy Standard Logo

This post is a summary of some things I learned trying to understand what the logo above means, after I discovered it on the copyright page of Introducing James Joyce (1942). Introducing is a brief selection of Joyce's works (including selections from Dubliners, Portrait, Ulysses, and Finnegans Wake) selected and introduced (very briefly) by T. S. Eliot.

"Introducing James Joyce" Dust Jacket"

The Book Production War Econcomy Standard

The British War Economy Standard was established as a way of saving paper during the Second World War and economizing book production. Indeed, even as the war drove up demand for books1, the supply of books was constricted drastically. This reduced supply of books owes to a number of factors (a reduced labor force as individuals enlisted; a shift in printing capacity to military projects, etc.), but chief among them was the rationing of paper.2 In England,

Paper was rationed, beginning in March 1940, when publishers were allowed only 60 percent of what they had used in 1938-39. The proportion fell to 37.5 percent by January 1, 1942, when the Book Production War Economy Agreement took effect. The scheme mandated smaller type, less white space, and inferior papers and bindings. It resulted in some remarkably ugly books, but it conserved raw materials. (Rose 351)

While rationing occurred in the United States, under the direction of the War Production Board, rules for paper use seem to have been comparatively liberal.3 In Britain, by contrast, a more severe shortage led to the Book Production War Economy Agreement—an agreement between the British government and publishers which apportioned paper among publishers (based on their 1938-39 usage4) and spelled out standards for paper conservation. Valerie Holman's Print for Victory tells the story of books in England during the second World War in detail, and includes extension discussions of the BPWEA. As an appendeix, she includes some of the details of the BPWEA. It is my chief source in this post; its a great work with truly excellent illustrations.

The BPWEA included a variety of measures for reducing, and rationalizing, paper use. For instance, as the war continued, a process evolved for prioritizing certain types of books over others (by affording an additional paper ration for books deemed "essential," see Holman 83ff). But it also included rules for making the most efficient use of each page: "Publishers decided to focus their attention on the printed page, looking at books not as they were, but as they might be if less white space surrounded the text and the type size was reduced so that more could be printed on less paper" (Holman 72).

Measuring Paper Use

The BPWEA established rules for the maximum weight of paper and boards for binding.The weights both are based on the weight of a ream of quad crown—40"x30"—sheets. Which is not an easy measure to imagine, unless you happen to have a paper factory handy. It also required:

For instance, this volume, USSR: Her Life and People, published in 1943 under the BPWAE, shows a chapter break that is decidedly not extravagant:

An Opening from "USSR: Her Life and People," showing a Chapter Heading

Additionally a book must meet one of two "typographical standards":

  1. Type-to-page Ratio and Maximum Type Size: "The percentage of type-area to the page-area (untrimmed) must not be less than 58 per cent" (Holman 268). Additionally, this provision specifices maximum type sizes and leading; thus a book measuring 8.75" by 5.625"—a demy octavo—or larger can have type no larger than 11 point, with 1 point leading. A small book (smaller than crown ocatvo, 7.5" by 5in") must have type set no small than 11 pt, with (!) no leading. (The agreement includes exceptions for Children's and Educational Books, as well as for books under 64 pages).

  2. Minimum Words per Page: Alternatively, one could meet the typographic standards by demonstrating a minimum number of words per page. The type-area must be a minimum of 55 (rather than 58) percent of the page; but one must also meet a minimum number of words per page based on format (e.g. 478 words per page for a page measuring 8.75" by 5.625"; 375 for a crown octavo volume, etc). It also includes a procedure for estimating words per page.

A book had to meet one of those two typographical standards—meaning, in effect, a publisher could choose to have wider margins but guarantee a certain number of words per page (the second standard), or a publisher could decide to have smaller margins (a larger type-area and type-to-page ratio) and stick with specified contraints for type size and leading.

Additionally, there were other exceptions: for works printed for export; for books printed as part of a pre-existing multivolume set or series, etc.

Did these contraints produce, as Rose suggests, "some remarkably ugly books"? The effects of these requirements were significant enough that one member of the Publisher's War Emergency Committee worried that the standard was making books unreadable: "We must at all costs study the eyesight of readers," he wrote in a letter to the Board of Trade at the beginning of 1943, "Already I have received complaints from our own Services and from the American Services that the type used in many of our books is too small" (qtd. in Holman 74).

What does this look like in practice? Here is a page from Introducing James Joyce:

Page 40 of "Introducing James Joyce"

One can feel the difference in the book: it is very thin; the boards are light (it has an unusual degree of bend for a book published in boards, feeling halfway between a hardcover and paperback). It has very little preliminary matter: the book has a blank free endpaper, a half-title page (with blank verso), and a title page (with copyright information and BPWEA statement on the verso) before the main text begins. The paper is indeed thin; if you look closely you can see through the page, to the type on the opposite side of the page.

One Inch Square of "Introducing James Joyce"

And what about the typographical standards? The page measures 7 inches by 4.75 inches. According to the BPWEA, it must have a minimum of 332.5 words per page. That calculation is made by multiplying the total area of the page by 10 words per square inch; the BPWEA specifices a slightly different requirement of words/in2 for other formats. Per the BPWEA, estimatation of the number of words per page for a volume must be based on a count of 10 consecutive lines, taken from 10 random pages. For Introducing Joyce I got an average of 106.5 words per ten lines; 35 lines per page, means an average of 372.75 words per page. This figure is well above the BPWEA requirement; I imagine that the excerpts from Finnegans Wake contribute to surprisingly large number (they have very few paragraph breaks or short lines, and so have consistently full lines).

Introducing Joyce also meets the type-to-page ratio. By my measurement, the type area is 62.5% of the page area.

For comparison, consider this page from Boot and Saddle in Africa, published in 1943 (when the BPWEA was in full swing), but published and printed in the US.

A Page of "Boot and Saddle in Africa"

It's copyright page declares that "This book has been manufactured in this form in compliance with orders of the War Production Board for the conservation of paper and other materials necessary for the prosecution of the War." Yet, these requirements were far less stringent than their British counterparts. The paper of this volume is heavier (obvious in the image below), and the leading is visibly greater; chapters are started on a new page. By my measurement the type-space takes up only 47% of the page, and so fails the type-to-page requirement. The pages measure 5.5" by 8", placing it in the same category of format as Introducing James Joyce—if published under the BPWEA, it should have 10 words per square inch, or 440 words per page. Using the estimatation formula descried in the BPWEA, however, Boot and Saddle has an average of 277.2 words per page.

Here are the pages side by side, with scale preserved.

Pages of "Introducing James Joyce" and "Boot and Saddle in Africa"

The type-area of Introducing is the same size as Boot and Saddle, even though the page itself is much smaller. The type is likewise much smaller.

Computing Paper Use

I was curious whether one could compare the relative amounts of ink per page; a little bit of Python can approximate this. We have images of pages; if we sort the pixels in each vertical column by color, we can compare the total amount of black on one page to another. You could also simply sort the pixels by treating the images as a one dimensional arrays—that is, as just lists of numbers—I found this less helpful because the margins makes it harder to compare the images as a glance.

Here is what the relevant bit of code looks like:

# We use the Python Image Library
from PIL import Image

# Open the image, in PNG format.
image = Image.open('introducing-james-joyce_page90.png') 

# Load the pixel data from the image into 
# a list we can manipulate.
pixels = list(image.getdata())

# Get the dimensions of the image; Image provides a tuple
(width, height) = image.size

# In order to sort by column, we will extract each column
# of the image separately and then sort it.
# First, loop through each "column" in the image's width.
for column in range(0, width):
  # We'll build a list for just this column.
  pixelColumn = []

  # This loop extracts the color values for a column 
  # by adding each pixel, for each "row" within the 
  # current colum  to a list.
  for pixel in range(0, height):
    pixelColumn.append(pixels[x*width+column])
    
  # Now we sort the list we just generated.
  # The "sorting" I leave to a built-in Python function.
  pixelColumn = sorted(pixelColumn,reverse=True)
  
  # Now our data is sorted, but its in a list, divorced
  # from the rest of the image. We need to load it back
  # into the image itself; we use the same loop as before
  # but moving the now re-ordereddata in the opposite 
  # direction.
  for pixel in range(0, height):
    pixels[x*width+column] = pixelColumn[pixel]

# And push that altered data back to the Image object, 
# which we can now show() or save().
image.putdata(pixels)

You can see this code, modified to take a command line argument, at github. (You'll need Python and the Python Image Library installed to run it though.)

Here are the output images for the page of Introducing James Joyce and Boot and Saddle:

"Introducing James Joyce" and "Boot and Saddle" pages, with Columns sorted of Pixels Sorted by Color

One could boil this down further to a single number using some sort of "average" to try to measure how much of a page is occupied by ink. For instance, using a function described on this StackOverflow thread, the page of Introducing James Joyce has a brightness average of 219.938548387, while Boot and Saddle is 225.179950898 Those values, I assume, are out of 255—where 0 is completely black and 255 is completely white.; that greater level of brightness represents the less crowded (or less efficiently used) page. Though the difference in number seems rather slight and certainly doesn't capture the difference in paper use the way the average words per page statistic does.

This is an an odd, and not entirely successful, way of looking at this data; the (admittedly unpleasant to perform) calculationsThe numbing image of some poor clerk or assistant counting blocks of ten lines all day...) the BPWEA recommends better capture the amount of linguistic information compressed into physical space; though the analyses of the brightness of the images do have the advantage of registering something that the typographical standards of the BPWEA calculations do not: the effect of the print bleeding through the thin paper, visible, for instance, in the middle-gray tones in the sorted Introducing image.

Book Formats and Reading

Of course, looking at these images, one realizes that book format and expectations have changed quite a bit; while Introducing James Joyce, seems cramped on the page, and the paper is clearly too thin, it is still far more recognizable than Boot and Saddle which feels like a brick beside it—its heft and liberal use of whitespace are actually relatively alien to a reader used to the formats of genre novels, Bantam paperbacks, and Norton Critical Editions. The Penguin paperback format (which, in my estimation, Introducing is far closer to than the older format of Boot and Saddle) emerged just prior to the period of these restrictions and so is certainly not a product of the war. One might hazard, however, that the requirements of the BPWEA helped cement certain expectations for our experience of the page. While, as Rose, contends, these standards produced some ugly books, they also may have improved book design overall. Holman notes, "Although books published in the Second World War are more often remembered for their typographical severity than for their visual richness, it was a period in which the need to convey information swiftly and succinctly placed a premium on good design" (112).

And indeed, Brandt suggests a very specific salutary effect of the US's own (more limited) paper rationing: Brandt's essay is a sort of ranty screed about how the United States is "culturally" "one of the backward nations of the world" (88), but I'll take his observations on book formats.

Publishers took as a first step, and a most desirable one, the making of thinner books. During the lush twenties publishers adopted the British practice of bulking books, on the theory that bookstore customers would feel that they were getting more for their money if the bulk were greater. The customer naturally was confused by seeing two books at the same price, one twice the thickness of the other; and, unless he were truly discriminating, he tended to buy the bulkier. The bulked book created a real space problem for libraries as well as for the individual collectors. Under weight restrictions, publishers had to yield to the use of lighter papers, with the result that the buyer who was accumulating a library could afford, on a space basis, to buy more books. (102)

(I wish I knew more about the extent to which "bulky books" were a "British practice," and what that history is.) Whether or not space was really the premium Brandt suggests, it does seem plausible that the restrictions of the BPWEA (and the milder American I, of course, have said nothing about continental book publishing, or publishing elsewhere in the British colonies, or in Japan, or North Africa, or the Middle East—all of which was, no doubt, affected. It is worth noting that because of the costs under the BPWEA, some British publishers moved their printing to India. regime) did affect our own present expectations for print formats.

Notes

Works Cited

Reading Finnegans Wake In Bed (Apparently)

I am, at the moment, trying to put together a relatively brief post typography during the Second World War. Reading for that post, I encountered this odd gem. Valerie Holman, in Print for Victory, notes the results of a 1942 Mass Observation survey, studying reading habits during the war. While people reported less time to read, they "still attached importance to good print, and that one of the most important qualities a book should possess was its suitability for reading in bed." And what were they reading in bed? The study also includes the answers to the question: "favourite reading since the start of the war." The list of the most frequent responses includes Austen's Pride and Prejudice, Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls, and... Finnegans Wake.

Holman offers a brief footnote, stately laconically: "The inclusion of this title is extraordinary, but it carries no further explanation" (Holman 53).

Works Cited

For older posts see the archive.