Marginalia from the stacks

mar·gi·na·lia – noun pl \ˌmär-jə-ˈnā-lē-ə\:  marginal notes or embellishments (as in a book)

We have all seized the white perimeter as our own
and reached for a pen if only to show
we did not just laze in an armchair turning pages;
we pressed a thought into the wayside,
planted an impression along the verge.

– Excerpt from the poem “Marginalia” by Billy Collins

Occasionally, when working with materials in the Walter Havighurst Special Collections, I run across a book that has a little something extra – marginalia. While I am certainly not trying to encourage patrons to write in library books, it can be fascinating to open up a book and find a lot more than you were expecting to see. The contrast of handwritten notes and drawings with the uniformity of the printed text never ceases to jump off the page, instantly grabbing my attention. Perusing the notes and comments of readers that came before me brings a new level of interaction to my reading experience.

Marginalia has a long history and has been around for centuries. The oldest form of marginalia is referred to as scholia, meaning an explanatory note or commentary, and is often found on Greek and Latin texts. Despite its long history, not all marginalia is welcome. While marginalia can add to the value of an association copy of a book, it can just as easily detract from that value, depending on the author of the marginalia and on the book.

Diagrams and notes hand drawn on the book's endpapers

The first recorded use of the word marginalia to describe marginal notes or embellishments was in 1819 in Blackwood’s Magazine. In the 1840’s Edgar Allan Poe titled some of his reflections and fragmentary material “Marginalia.” Even today the importance of marginalia continues, with many e-book devices equipped to allow a limited form of marginalia.

Handwritten notes surrounding a printed illustration

One of my favorite examples of marginalia from the Walter Havighurst Special Collections are found in two textbooks from the 1850’s – Smith’s Illustrated Astronomy (1852) and Smith’s Atlas of Modern and Ancient Geography (1857). Both volumes come from the personal library of Ohio Governor, 1865-1866, Charles Anderson and it is assumed that the notes and drawings found in the books belong to him.

Charles Anderson was born near Louisville, Kentucky on June 1, 1814. He attended Miami University from 1829 until his graduation in 1833. Anderson went on to become a lawyer, opening his own firm in Dayton and then later, Cincinnati. Anderson’s foray into politics began in 1844, when he was elected to the Ohio Senate as a Whig. Anderson advocated granting African Americans civil rights and argued, unsuccessfully, that Ohio should repeal its “Black Laws”.

By the time the Civil War broke out, Anderson had moved with his family to Texas. Anderson was not very popular due to his vocal support of the Union and, fearing for his and his family’s safety, fled to Mexico, but he eventually ended up back in Dayton.

Hand drawn map on the left, printed map on the right

After a brief stint in England, where Anderson was sent by President Lincoln in order to seek support for the Union war effort, Anderson returned home to Ohio and received a commission as a colonel in the Ninety-Third Ohio Volunteer Infantry. He resigned his commission after being severely wounded at the Battle of Stones River and chose to once again enter the political arena. In 1863 Anderson was elected Lieutenant governor and served under Unionist governor John Brough. After Brough died in office on August 29, 1865 Anderson became Ohio’s twenty-seventh governor. Anderson only served from August 1865 until January 8, 1866, when Brough’s term officially ended. After completing his term as governor Anderson returned to his law practice in Dayton. He retired in 1870 and moved to Kentucky, where he  died on September 2, 1895.

The two textbooks from Anderson’s library are filled with notes, drawings, maps and diagrams providing a glimpse into his interest and knowledge of the subjects.

Ashley Jones
Preservation Librarian

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