Scholarly Markings: Notes, Diagrams and ‘Active Reading’

or some Renaissance scholars it was not enough simply to read a book. Only through the addition of marks and annotations alongside or within the printed text could they expect to internalise ideas and act on them. It was with this in mind that the Elizabethan poet Geoffrey Whitney averred that ‘The use, not the reading, of books makes us wise’.

Material evidence of this conception of learning is widely prevalent in Queens’ books, examples of which are on display in this case. Here ‘active reading’ takes various forms, including underlining that highlights important passages, keywords that summarise paragraphs, and comments that reflect a reader’s thoughts on a particular text. In the extensive cross-referencing to be seen in Leonhart Fuchs’ De historia stirpium commentarii insignes, we see an interaction between three separate readers who at different times had engaged with this ground-breaking botanical study.

In addition to words and marks, annotators sought to realise their interpretation of texts through the interpolation on the printed page of graphic forms. Hand-drawn diagrams of the ‘mnemonic hand’ and ‘tree of knowledge’ to be seen here recall the ongoing currency of methods of learning whose roots can be traced back to the Middle Ages and antiquity. Inscribed fingers and branches help to summarise and itemise complex passages in easily remembered points thereby bringing to light the learning techniques employed by the Renaissance scholar.

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