The Virginia Company sermons will once again engage a critical London audience this September—at no less a cathedral than St. Paul’s.
The latest, local version of Xu Bing’s book made of tobacco leaves features one of the oldest surviving English texts on Virginia tobacco, from Ralph Hamor’s 1615 book, A true discourse on the present estate of Virginia:
When British Virginia was just getting started, we suggested the source to Bing and provided the transcript that he copied here with rubber stamps.
William Welby (who also published William Symonds’ 1609 sermon, available to your right) published Hamor’s original as a quarto, probably measuring no more than 20 x 15 cm. Working with tobacco leaves, and in the context of modern art galleries, Bing made his book six or seven times that size.
Xu Bing, Tobacco Book (Virginia version), 2011. Tobacco leaves, paper, cardboard, rubber-stamped with passage from A True Discourse on the Present State of Virginia by Ralph Hamor (1615), 53.75 x 39.75 x 3.875 in. (136.5 x 101 x 9.8 cm). Tobacco leaf courtesy of Marvin Cogshill; fabrication assisted by Jillian Dy, Yi Sheng, Sayaka Suzuki, and Yao Xin.
John B. Ravenal, Xu Bing: Tobacco Project (Richmond: Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, 2011), 74-75.
Our publication scheme relies on library catalogs to an unusually high degree. This is because the university library is one (or maybe even the) major goal for an academic publication to reach. So we publish directly to, and through, our university library. We gratefully rely on the catalogers at Cabell Library to write OCLC records for them, and get them on WorldCat, where people will be able to find them long after this weblog has gone down.
In December 2012, the Amherst College Library made headlines by announcing plans “to launch the first open-access, digital academic press.” It acknowledged a couple predecessors: Rice University Press, which switched to an all-digital, paid format before folding; and especially University of Michigan Press, for working with its Library to offer certain publications for free. Amherst College Press aimed to be the first exclusively open-access, completely digital academic press.
The announcement got a little attention at VCU, for a few reasons. British Virginia already had its first potential publication out to peer reviewers. We already had our publication mechanism in place at the library. In fact, since 2010, we had been working with VCU Libraries to design a publisher that already had all of the components that Amherst College Press was promising: British Virginia likewise publishes only open-access, digital, peer-reviewed publications in the humanities, with Creative Commons licenses. There are differences between the projects: we don’t see what use a digital publisher would have for a “press” exactly. The main difference now, though, is that British Virginia has actually started publishing.
This is not to complain that anyone at Amherst College overlooked British Virginia: we had decided to announce nothing until we had actually published something. The point, rather, is to ask what other publishers and projects we are overlooking. What other libraries are involved in publishing originally digital, open-access, peer-reviewed scholarship? Have any of the member institutions of the Library Publishing Coalition published anything that meets these criteria? Lots of libraries have digital repositories, or even a “press,” such as Ball State University Beneficence Press. Which of them involve blind peer review? Which of them use not just Creative Commons licenses, but “free culture” licenses? Please expose and eliminate our ignorance.
What’s the difference between the two British Virginia editions of the first sermon to the Virginia Company of London? Do these sample images clarify the distinction?
John Glover and Kristina Keogh of VCU Libraries have posted the Digital Pragmata videos that include my rambling thanks to the library staff and graduate students who helped launch British Virginia. These also feature proper presentations from the stars of the show, Ben Fino-Radin of Rhizome; Francesca Fiorani of University of Virginia Art History and the digital archive of Leonardo da Vinci’s treatise on painting; and Michael Poston of the Folger Shakespeare Library and, in particular, its Digital Texts project—and the question and answer session. To repeat (in readable text), thanks in particular to John Ulmschneider, John Duke, Jimmy Ghaphery, Sam Byrd, Lauren Boasso, Carver Weakley and, most of all, Kevin Farley and Neal Wyatt, for all of the work that they have done to make British Virginia happen. Thanks also, John and Kristina, for including British Virginia in Digital Pragmata.
At the Digital Pragmata event that coincided with British Virginia’s launch, Francesca Fiorani alluded to the laborious process of acquiring the outstanding images of da Vinci manuscripts and printed books featured on her fantastic site. British Virginia has so far had a much easier time with images and permissions, partly because we’re publishing one source at a time, but mostly because of the Virginia Historical Society. I expected images and permissions to take a while, so I started by producing an edition without images. But when Frances Pollard of the VHS saw me keep returning to the library to remeasure some of its oldest books, she politely introduced herself. Before long, she and Lee Shepard were offering high-quality digital images of all five Virginia Company sermons, plus the permission to publish them, free of charge. Not long after that, Jamison Davis was busy taking the photos and sending them to me. Because of their generosity and, especially in Jamie’s case, hard work (getting the images just right for me), we were able to publish an edition with images right alongside the smaller one without them. Libraries and publishers can charge high prices for access, images, rights, and publications. But in these British Virginia editions you see the benefits of exactly the opposite. The VHS has donated new images as well as the permission to use them. Just as freely, VCU Libraries is providing the digital equivalent of a printing press. And British Virginia is giving away peer-reviewed scholarly publications along with the freedom to reuse our work within the terms of our Creative Commons license. This license would qualify as a “free culture” license even if our partners had not given so freely of their resources. But since they have, they have demonstrated just how free culture can be.
On this date, 404 years ago, a 53-year-old newcomer to London visited the White Chapel just east of London to deliver a sermon. He knew that it would be a big one. He had moved from Lincolnshire to the city a few years ago, and had travelled from his parish church across the River Thames for this event. He had accepted the invitation to preach from the newly-formed, yet already troubled, Virginia Company of London. And he had prepared to address the company’s critics as well. Nevertheless, he could not have known how big the sermon would come to appear hundreds of years later. In retrospect, it has looked (to some of its readers) like the beginning of England’s first overseas missionary campaign; like the beginning of the Virginia Company’s attempt to use religion to promote the colony; and, therefore, even like an early chapter in the story that would end with the founding of the United States of America much, much later.
The sermon also now looks like the ideal place to begin digital, academic publishing at Virginia Commonwealth University. The people who had invited William Symonds to deliver the sermon would be the same ones responsible for sending English speakers up the James River, initially as far as the fall line, where VCU now sits. Some of those who heard Symonds likely contributed money to get English speakers here; others probably made the one-way trip on their own. Partly for these reasons, VCU’s pilot project in digital publication is taking its name from the sermon’s alternate title, “Virginia Britannia” – or, in other words, British Virginia. British Virginia is launching on the same date that Symonds preached, with two peer-reviewed, documentary editions of his sermon. One of these editions is a small-size, black-and-white, type facsimile: a retyped, reproduction of the original. The other edition is a color, photographic reproduction of the entire book – made entirely searchable. Both editions are free. Please follow the link on your right to download them, and please welcome others to do the same. Downloading and using British Virginia editions does not cost any money, but it does help us preserve our work on multiple drives. For helping us do that, we thank you.
British Virginia is a new series of scholarly editions of documents touching on the colony. These texts will eventually range from the 16th and 17th-century literature of English exploration to the 19th-century writing of loyalists and other Virginians who continued to identify with Great Britain. British Virginia editions appear principally in digital form, freely downloadable. The editorial offices sit appropriately at the research university nearest both the falls of the James River, and the site of the first English college planned for this side of the Atlantic Ocean, Henricus Colledge.
Original logo design: Bri Spicer