Book Traces: Readers Marks in Books

How did readers annotate, mark, and customize their books in an age when the book was king? And what are we to make of those unique volumes now? The Book Traces project is an attempt to answer those questions by looking at individual copies of 19th and early 20th-century books on the shelves of libraries. Over the past two years, here at the University of Virginia, the Book Traces team has examined over 100,000 books from Alderman and other libraries on Grounds, looking for evidence of use by their original owners. This exhibition offers highlights from that search.

In these books, we find that readers left behind many traces of themselves and their interactions: inscriptions, notes, lists, poems, anecdotes, letters, flowers, locks of hair, drawings, and photographs. And these in turn bear evidence of the full catastrophe of our human compulsions, triumphs, and bereavements: courtship, marriage, war, childbirth, aspiration, friendship, and death, all in dialogue with reading and the life of the book.