Centre for the History of the Book

Dr Lindsey Eckert

Dr Lindsey Eckert's symposium presentation is called "Reading Against the Interface: British Almanacs and Hacking Practices, 1750-1850".

Dr Lindsey Eckert

Assistant Professor

  • Georgia State University

Contact details

Lindsey Eckert specialises in British Romanticism and Digital Humanities. She is currently working on a book project that explores how the cultural value of familiarity shaped the production and reception of semi-autobiographical literature in the Romantic period. Her research on British literary annuals formed the basis of an online exhibition of and introduction to the genre; the website is now used as an open access resource for courses in Romanticism and Book History. Most recently, Dr Eckert won the 2014 North American Society for the Study of Romanticism and Romantic Circles Pedagogy Competition for her course entitled ‘Romanticism and Technologies of Information’.

"Reading Against the Interface: British Almanacs and Hacking Practices, 1750-1850"

Almanacs were one of the most pervasive print mediums in Britain throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. More so than novels, periodicals, and newspapers, almanacs framed the daily lives of diverse individuals by providing them with a variety of materials including calendars; information about sunsets, sunrises, and tides; charts representing the distance between major cities; dates of prominent historical events and upcoming festivals; and predictions about weather and politics. For many readers, almanacs also offered a place to record personal, political, and even agricultural events.

This talk outlines the cultural importance of almanacs and explores how their bibliographic codes attempted to shape their reading practices. However, drawing on examples of readers’ marginalia, I also explore how readers resisted this shaping by pushing back against the almanacs’ interface and its seeming authority. In examining the diverse ways in which readers “hacked” almanacs I present two arguments. First, the material interface of the almanacs is, to borrow a term from Johanna Drucker, probabilistic. It influences but does not determine use. Second, the variety of ways that readers used the almanacs demonstrates the impressive adaptability of the almanac interface as well as readers’ innovative, creative interactions with it.

My approach reframes lines of inquiry associated with bibliography and reader reception with recent work on new media theory and, in particular, graphical user interfaces. Focusing on British almanacs, I model how we can read old media through new (media) lenses, and I outline the productive outcomes of reading print from a digital perspective by describing at the end of my talk The Almanac Archive, a collaborative digital project currently under development at Georgia State University and the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library at the University of Toronto. Ultimately, I suggest that recovering the diverse and curious ways in which almanacs were used helps us rethink almanacs—and more generally the codex—as interfaces that, through user engagement, become spaces of dynamism rather than strict bibliographical determinism.