Marginalia is the term for the jottings, scribbles, doodles, annotations and notes readers make in the margins of their books. Though ranging from the mundane to the insightful (and sometimes even entertaining), these markings provide evidence of books’ use and readers’ interactions with a given text. For some antiquarian books there may even be evidence of marginalia from multiple readers or owners over time. Scholars of marginalia aren’t just interested in the very old books, either; many studies have been undertaken of marginalia made by famous modern figures like T.S. Eliot or Jack Kerouac.

Though the HBLL highly discourages new marginalia in its circulating collection, here are some highlights of marginalia made by readers centuries ago, waiting to be discovered in Special Collections. We’ll share a few more next week!

One common marginalia sign is the manicule, a pointing hand which calls attention to important text. This manicule appears in the 1497 edition of Hartmann Schedel’s Liber Chronicarum:



This copy of Lucan’s Pharsalia printed in Venice in 1477 features extensive notes in Spanish:



A cat and mouse face off in the margins of Aldus Manutius’ Institutionum Grammaticarum (1523).


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