Reading Rudé II First Steps

ConceptI sketched out the concept for ‘Reading Rudé’ in Simplemind on my iPad. I’ll discuss the project plan in more detail in a later post, but the first thing I did was to head for the Boole and see if it looked feasible:- I guess you could call this ‘Initial Hypothesis Testing’ but I’m happy with calling it ‘having a rummage in the data’

People in my university already think I’m a bit crazy, so finding me reading 4 copies of the same text sitting on the floor in front of 944. 04 passes without much comment. Comparing student annotations across multiple copies of a text isn’t everyone’s idea of fun, but it amuses me.

What I found suggested it was worth scanning some of our copies and doing a rough run over some chapters. I knocked out a Table of Contents in a Google sheet, and starting doing a quick count of how many student annotations, mostly underlining, were in each chapter and if there appeared to be the work of more than one reader.

So what do we see from this?  Some chapters are very popular with the underliners; mainly ‘Paris on the eve of the Revolution’ and ‘The Fall of the Monarchy’. These map to some very common essay titles and exam questions on the origins or the course of the Revolution. In some copies, the five chapters describing the key interventions of the crowd into politics were underlined but in some they were ignored and in most the concluding chapters where Rudé gathers his argument were bare of any mark up.


The different editions were probably bought at different times: there is one of the old red paperback, some of the red paperback which were so heavily used that the library had to rebind them, and several of the later grey paperback edition. I gave each a rough ‘name’ which is easier for me to recall than the individual library item number; and I need to add to each the full metadata for the edition and binding state.

What does the underlining look like? Well, here are the same pages from two different copies. The first is the old ‘Red Paperback’ which didn’t require rebinding. I think this represents the making of two different students – one neatly inline and one ‘sideliner’ although it could be one student who decided to get serious on page 21.


The most obvious point to my eye here is that the underling focuses on the ‘hard data’ – names of groups, prices and wages – and ignores the sources – Hardy’s journal and the much later academic works of Rouff and Labrousse who introduce the price data. The interest is on the facts, and not the evolution of the debate.

How does this compare with the same part of the text in another copy?


Here, the summary of Rouff’s argument is underlined, as is the key figure of 50% of wages going on bread, but everything else is skipped. While the ‘Red Paperback’ reader at least sidelined the section on pg 20 about the frequency of violent outbreaks over food prices, the ‘Grey Paperback’ reader completely ignored that page (as did many other annotators). If this translates to essays, it could produce a very different reading of the role of the crowd in the years leading up to the Revolution.

It would be really nice to have the outputs of these readings, either essays or exam answers, but even if they still existed, it would be impossible to match them to the markings on the book – but it would be possible to construct an experiment which tracked that relationship.

Meanwhile, the next problem is transferring this information from the page images to the actual text in a meaningful way. It is not too hard to take a plain text file of a particular chapter and mark up which sections have been annotated, but once you combining this for every copy of the text in one library will rapidly produce a mess of overlapping markup.

I thought I might use Omeka to put this online because it is a ‘One Click’ Install on Reclaim Hosting which we make all our students use, but I’m also thinking about the OSF framework now; or some combination of Omeka and Jupyter Notebooks.  Since we can’t dump the entire text online (copyright, fair enough), I need to commit to a chapter for the open project. In fairness, I think one chapter will be enough to make explore the issue.

However, right now what I am thinking about is the start of term; and, among other things, the early reading assignments where I’m going to require students to submit their annotated pdfs of readings in various courses as we explore how learners read scholarly texts.

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