I knew the day of reckoning was coming. As my son’s math homework became more complex and we had to add columns and rows to the multiplication tables we used for finding mnemonic patterns, long division loomed on the horizon. I’m not arithmophobic. I aced second-year Probability and Statistics, got through Calculus 201 (albeit barely), enjoyed Analytical Chemistry, and researched early modern account books and reckoners for part of my dissertation. Even in my career as an English/DH professor, I happily populate spreadsheets, devise complex formulas for norming and analyzing grades, and crunch through encoding whenever I get the chance. But I missed the unit on manual long division in grade 5, and never did master that dark art. Not until yesterday, that is.

I skipped an entire year of the BC elementary school curriculum. My school’s solution to a bored kid in Grade 5 was to move her abruptly to Grade 6 after Christmas. Whether or not the academic benefits outweighed the dire social consequences remains an open question. But one thing is certain: I was hopelessly confused by this process that all my new peers seemed to have mastered, ignorant of its purpose, and too shy to ask for help. Somehow I compensated—first by working out the answer laboriously in my head and then by resorting to a calculator as soon as we were allowed to bring one to school—and got all the way to my late 40s without needing the skill. But now my 10-year-old son is halfway through the very bit of the curriculum I skipped.

When he asked for help with his math homework on Tuesday, I scanned the page and saw the symbol I’d been dreading: that alarming combination of closing parenthesis with a long bar. (Apparently, ⟌ has no name. No wonder I’ve been filled with nameless dread for nearly forty years! It’s some consolation that Unicode thought to include it. Look up U+27CC if you ever need to insert the glyph into a document.)

Geeky asides aside, I had to confront my fear of long division (a phobia that, like U+27CC, lacks a name). My first move, though, was avoidance: “Hey, honey, how about if I cook supper tonight and you help with homework?” I thought my son would be happy with this arrangement, but it transpired that he prefers my partner’s cooking. So I had to confess my true motives.  With my phobia outed and my culinary skills in question, humility was really the only option.

I listened in on the lesson and heard my own confusion and resistance in my son’s voice. “What is this arrow for? Why can’t I just do it my head? The answer is obvious! What’s the point of all these lines and remainders?” The homework coach patiently explained that the learning outcome was mastery of the process, not production of the right answer. We have to learn the process on simple problems so that we can scale it up to less tractable problems, he said. How many times have I said similar things as a professor? So there was no excuse for not mastering the process of manual long division by remainders, despite the ubiquity of devices that calculate a million times faster than I ever could.

The next night we moved the white board into the kitchen and I became the student. Within three minutes, I was wielding the dry-erase marker myself, reckoning quotients from random numerators and denominators. The cleverness of the method—essentially an algorithm that breaks down long division into a series of shorter divisions—is deeply satisfying.


My first thought after performing two or three divisions in rapid succession was “This is genius! Who invented this technique?” And then of course I had to ask the question in a more formal way in the library today. English mathematician Henry Briggs (1561-1631; see ODNB or Wikipedia) usually gets the credit for teaching the long division algorithm in this particular way.

In 1597, Briggs was appointed the first professor of Geometry at Gresham College in London, endowed by Sir Thomas Gresham who built the Royal Exchange in London. In 1616, Briggs wrote the preface to the English translation of John Napier’s Mirifici Logarithmorum Canonis Descriptio (1614). The printer of A description of the admirable table o[f] logarithmes with a declaration of the most plentiful, easy, and speedy use thereof in both kindes of trigonometrie, as also in all mathematicall calculations (STC 18351) was Nicholas Okes, best known to Shakespeareans as the printer of the Pied Bull Quarto of King Lear but best known to MoEML and much admired by me as the printer of most of the mayoral pageant books. Long division has been hovering, unseen, on the periphery of my research life for a long time.

Inventor of logarithms, Napier recognized the impediment that complex calculation presents to mathematical investigation. “There is nothing,” he wrote, “that is so troublesome to Matheticall practise, nor that doth more molest and hinder Calculators [people performing calculations], then the Multiplications, Divisions, square, and cubical Extractions of great numbers” (STC 18351; Sig. A5r).

Briggs seems to have been a good teacher. At “Gresham house,” he “publickly taught the meaning & use of this [Napier’s] booke.” Given that not everyone could attend his classes, he aimed in his preface to “give some taste of the excellent use” of the book. He wanted to make clear that the techniques described in the book had an application. This particular book wasn’t ultimately about long division, which was merely a technique for performing the calculations necessary to produce logarithmic tables, but the message is pedagogically valuable.

When my son needs help with long division again, I will try to historicize the method and explain that it is simply a way of breaking down and rendering on paper something he understands quite well in the abstract. There are other algorithms that predate Brigg’s long division, and perhaps my son would find one of them more appealing. I will try to explain that the technique is not an end in itself, even though his math textbook presents a culturally and historically specific method as a universal law. And I will happily draw arrows and divide with him.

New Scholars Roundtable — Treasures and Tea @UVicLib

The UVic Special Collections “Treasures and Tea” series gave me the opportunity to convene a “New Scholars Roundtable.” Today, I had the privilege of moderating a session highlighting the work of emerging scholars with material from Special Collections. The speakers were: Michelle Spelay on Thomas Heywood’s Gynaikaeion, Emily Hector on The Wrongs of Woman, Alyssa Currie on William Blake prints, Nadia Timperio on the Pocket Books phenomenon, and Elyse Mitchell on the fortunes of Sono Nis Press. I reproduce below the text of my introduction to the event and my introductions of each presenter. We’ll be posting their work to the new Special Collections blog in due course.


I’m very pleased to be showcasing the work of new scholars today, all of whom took English 500 in Fall 2014. English 500, or “Textual Studies and Methods of Research,” is the only course in our graduate program that all students must take. The challenge of the course is to turn obligation into opportunity. Holding the class meetings right here, in this room, means that we are surrounded by the wonderful opportunities afforded by our Special Collections and University Archives.

My colleague, Dr. Erin Kelly, says that she feels like a matchmaker when she teaches English 500. She does a wonderful speed-dating exercise where students get to spend a few minutes meeting a series of rare books and materials from our literary archives. Students rank their books and arrange a second date if they wish. This year, with the fortuitous appointment of Heather Dean as Associate Director of SCUA, I felt that we could be more ambitious. To extend the metaphor, we hoped to spark a love affair between books and graduate students that would lead to a long-term relationship with the material forms of literary transmission.

Setting aside the potential jokes about getting into bed with a book – which is one of the many things not allowed in SCUA – we did have two additional objectives. The first was to provide students with opportunities to make new discoveries that might lead to original research projects. The second was to learn more about our collections. And so Heather and I matched each one of the 26 students with manuscripts, rare books, prints, archival holdings, and other SCUA materials that spoke directly to their research interests. Each student had a unique assignment, which the student and I co-created in the SCUA Reading Room with the materials in front of us. The one requirement common to all the assignments was that the student contribute something back to the library – in the form of a finding aid, an update to the catalogue metadata, a complete signature collation, a blog post, a conservation proposal, or an acquisition proposal.

The results were wonderful … and this work is now filtering into the Library system. For several students, the bibliographic love affair is bearing fruit in the form of the Master’s Essay. For others, it will be a valuable line on their CVs. For the library and future users, we now have several more invaluable finding aids, including a list of poems and stories in an important journal in the Transgender Archive, which makes visible a hitherto hidden collection.

So why these five new scholars today? Certainly, their presentations in December were excellent. To be fair to the other members of the class, I must say that there were many excellent presentations – which tends to be the outcome when students get excited about a project. But these particular five presentations, taken together, will give us a good sense both of the range of materials in SCUA and of the kinds of questions that new scholars can ask – and answer – within the limited time frame of English 500. As you’ll hear and see, our speakers today have done first-rate scholarly work. They truly are “scholars.”


Michelle Spelay

Michelle recently graduated from the English Honours program at UVic where she pursued research interests in early English drama and book history. This led her to the School of Library, Archival and Information Studies at the University of British Columbia where she is working towards a dual degree in both library and archival studies. At UBC, Michelle is combining her interests in rare books and digital librarianship by working at the UBC Library’s Digitization Centre. Her current project is digitizing the Uno Langmann BC Historical Photograph Collection that features photographs dating back to the 1850s. Michelle’s discussion today will focus on Thomas Heywood’s Gynaikeion, a 17th century encyclopedia of women.-

Emily Hector

Emily Hector is a first-year Masters student in UVic’s English department. She graduated with a BA Honours in English from the University of Manitoba and is a 2014 SSHRC recipient. Emily’s research interests lie in Victorian literature, with special focus on working-class women, literacy, and Christianity. Today, she will be presenting on Charlotte Elizabeth Tonna, a Victorian Evangelical who wrote to improve safety conditions for factory workers.

Alyssa Currie

Alyssa completed her undergraduate degree from the University of Northern British Columbia with a joint English and History Major. She is currently completing her Masters of English, studying the works of William Blake and other Romantic Era artists. Alyssa serves on the board of the English Graduate Student Society and recently presented at University of Victoria Ideafest. Today, she will be discussing how things are not always what they seem in Special Collections.

Nadia Timperio

Nadia Timperio is a Masters student in the English department at the University of Victoria. She completed a Bachelor of Arts and Science in English and Biology in 2014 at the University of Windsor. There, she co-authored the piece, “Narrative and Numbers: Tony Judt, Edward Bellamy, and the Problem of Inequality,” which was presented at the Canadian Association for American Studies annual conference and is currently under review. Her research interests lie in American drama and the construction of identity through social and cultural spaces. Today, her presentation looks at an early publication of American playwright Edward Albee’s most notable work, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Elyse Mitchell

Elyse attended UVic for her undergrad, where her research interests led her to focus on modernist poetry and contemporary Canadian gothic fiction. After spending several years as a high school English teacher in Vancouver, she has returned to academia, where she is focusing on the changing face of Canadian publishing and how Canadian literature reflects and constructs Canadian identity. Her Masters essay examines Eden Robinson’s Monkey Beach and considers the limits of Gothic narrative tropes for critical examinations of literature from a postcolonial perspective. Her discussion today focuses on the changing face of publication in Canada.

Versioning John Stow’s A Survey of London, or, What’s New in 1618 and 1633?

In June, I’ll be attending the conference of the Bibliographical Society of Canada for the first time. It’s here in Victoria, as part of the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences, an umbrella under which many learned societies shelter.

As a semi-regular instructor of our graduate-level Textual Studies course (English 500), I’m looking forward to learning about books from a wide range of periods and regions. This panel features a paper on American poet Walt Whitman (given in French) and a paper on Canadian poet bpNichol (yes, that is how the late bp signed his name).

One of the odd facts about English departments is that the medieval and early modern scholars inevitably teach the bibliography courses … to students who are overwhelmingly interested in contemporary poetry. I’m going to this conference with every intention and hope of returning to my office with a new set of bibliographical puzzles for my modern students.

When and Where
Monday, 3 June 2013
10:45 – 12:15 Editions and Revisions
Room: Cornett A-129
Chair: Éric Leroux (l’Université de Montréal)
Janelle Jenstad (University of Victoria), “Versioning John Stow’s A Survey of London, or, What’s New in 1618 and 1633?”
Pierre Hébert (Université de Sherbrooke), “Traduire le poète américain Walt Whitman pour ‘l’âime canadienne’ : ‘comme ce petit saut lui ferait du bien!’”
Katherine Wooler (Dalhousie University), “evolve: Editing the poetry of bpNichol”

Sneak Preview of my Paper

Versioning John Stow’s A Survey of London, or, What’s New in 1618 and 1633?

John Stow’s A Survey of London is best known in its 1598 first edition and its 1603 second edition. John Strype’s 1720 magisterial post-fire revision of A Survey of the Cities of London and Westminster is likewise well known as “the standard and invaluable work of reference for historians of the capital.” Much less attention has been given to the intervening editions, notably the 1618 and 1633 editions. These posthumous editions were crucial to the development of the tradition that I call accretive revision, whereby Stow’s perambulation of the city was retained as the core of a text that was “furthered” interstitially with commentary on new developments since Stow had surveyed that part of London. The 1618 edition established the tradition of editorial revision. Anthony Munday “continued, corrected and much enlarged” Stow’s text, but fashioned himself as an editor in his “Epistle Dedicatorie.” This edition also changed the title from A Survey to The Survey, signalling the authority and canonicity of the work. In 1633, The Survey was finally deemed “completely finished.” Published in folio for the first time, the text is marked as an official utterance of the city. The Corporation of London’s coat of arms faces the title page. Stow is credited with having “begunne” The Survey, but the corporate authorship of “A.M. H.D and others” frames Stow’s words. Just as the size of the book is materially increased by publication in folio, the boundaries of London are increased by the addition of a verbal “perambulation foure miles about London,” attesting to the outward growth of London’s urbs (buildings). At the same time, the London livery companies, whose jurisdiction lay mostly within the old walled city, put their stamp on the book with full page woodcuts of their arms (for the 12 great companies) and half-page woodcuts for the lesser companies. At The Map of Early Modern London, we are preparing a versioned edition of the 1598, 1603, 1618, and 1633 texts of A/The Survey. Versioning, a form of electronic collation, allows us to see at a glance that the nature of the revisions to Stow are accretive rather than corrective, added to the edges of Stow’s text rather than replacing it. We are also digitizing my copy of the 1633 Survey so that the many newly added woodcuts are accessible to readers who wish to read the visual dimensions of the work. My paper concludes with a demonstration of our versioned edition and a hands-on exploration of the 1633 book.

A Day in the Life of One Academic

Time to stop tinkering with fonts and templates and WRITE something.  I was going to launch this blog with an explanation of the multiple meanings of “Occasional Drama” (consider it “forthcoming”) but “The Day of Higher Ed” calls me to a different reckoning.  Lee Bessette has challenged us to “record, in minutia, what we do as professors from the moment we wake up to the minute we fall asleep.  All the work we do that contributes to our job as educators.”  And maybe a blow-by-blow summary of Monday, April 2, is as good an introduction to “Occasional Drama” as any other.

04h00.  Today, my occasional pre-dawn research and writing time was wholly given over to the creation of the final examination for English 147:  Literary Traditions and Transformations.   The exam has to be done today so that I can head off to the Shakespeare Association of America conference in Boston at 5:45 a.m. on Wednesday with a clear conscience.  I remind myself of the course objectives and learning outcomes, look through my own notes and slides, pick passages, write essay topics, and finally try to imagine being a student writing this exam.  Student assessment is a tricky business; after fifteen years of setting exams, I still worry and second-guess throughout the process.

06h30.  The Bookworms awake early, cranky and incapable of effective communication.  The next two hours are a blur:  make nutritious breakfasts, negotiate the complexities of dressing rituals and the morning melodrama of favourite shirts being mired in the laundry system, admire Lego structures, rescue aforesaid Lego structures from dinosaur attacks, resolve several disputes, and look for Waldo with a magnifying glass while teaching the G-Worm about alliteration (Waldo, Wenda, Wizard, Wag).  While drinking tea, I brush up on Jungian Psychology 101 in preparation for my lecture later in the day.  I owe my morning shower to Miss Frizzle and The Magic School Bus.  Gathering boots, coats, hats, knapsacks, security blankets, and raingear makes me grateful that I teach adults and doubly appreciative of childcare providers and elementary school teachers.  Every venture outside our door is a variation on Thomas’ Snowsuit.  Once in the car, we listen to stories on CD or deal with the usual questions about the Big Bang, where babies come from, how electricity stays inside the wires, or why the digger/truck/car/bike/machine/tree/dog/stoplight/pedestrian is doing whatever it’s doing.  True inter-disciplinarity happens in the preschool years.  I’m grateful for all those courses in Physics, Chemistry, and Math in my B.Sc. days.  By the time I drop the Bookworms at daycare, I’ve already done a day’s worth of problem-solving.

09h00. Daycare drop-off accomplished, I can turn my thoughts to my work.    On Friday afternoon, I mapped out the month of April in yellow flags stuck to the  portrait of Elizabeth I on my office wall.  Like me, Elizabeth is up to her ears in tasks.  I begin Monday by gazing at Elizabeth and contemplating the tasks she has for me.

09h30.  Weekly check-in with my research and writing buddy.  These meetings get shorter and shorter as the term progresses.  Come summer, we’ll start reading and discussing each other’s work again.  Meanwhile, we remind each other that research really is 40% of our job, even if 100% of today is devoted to Service and Teaching.

09h45.  I take my laptop over to Special Collections Reading Room in the Library.  I’m co-curating an exhibit of rare books donated to the McPherson Library by the late Dr. Patricia Koster (more about this in a later post) and we (doctoral candidate Sandra Friesen, a team of students, and I) are at the stage of placing books in the display cases and writing up the bibliographical descriptions for the 180 books we’ve selected.  It’s a peaceful place to work, even though we’re rushing to finish up the analytical work.  Handling the tooled leather bindings, turning old linen-rag pages, looking for watermarks, reading the marginal inscriptions of past readers, transcribing the title pages:  these activities have a meditative quality for the bibliographer.  I even get to do an exciting bit of bibliographical forensic work:  a signature collation to determine that we do indeed have first editions of Dryden’s Fables (1700) and Pope’s Works (1717).  I’ve been typing so much lately that I have shooting pains in my right hand, wrist, and forearm.  When the pain gets unbearable, I stop to read some of these wonderful old books.  The lack of critical apparatus and editorial footnotes lets me read guiltlessly.  I soak up rhyming couplets, Restoration playtexts, gossipy prose, hilarious dedications “To the best judge of this book, Myself.”  It’s a rare reminder of what first excited me about literary study.

12h45.  Lunch.  The line-up is too long at the upscale Bibliocafe, so I walk across the heart of campus to the University Centre for a sandwich, where I bump into a colleague in History whom I haven’t seen all year.  We talk for five minutes on our way back to our offices, the only collegial interaction I’ll have this afternoon.  We talk campus politics, which revolve around workload and pay at the moment.

12h55.  I eat at my desk while reading the 37 emails delivered to my inbox while I was shielded from the internet down in Special Collections.  Only two can be dispatched with a simple “thank you.”  The rest require more thought, but I have to turn my attention to the last lecture of the term.

13h05.  My classes never go well if I reuse an old set of notes.  I have to reread the primary text, rework my notes, and tinker with my powerpoint slides every single time.  Reworking the notes is how I think through an argument and figure out how I want to approach the text or problem.  Once made, the notes have served their purpose; I often don’t need to look at them at all while teaching.  I’m teaching the final lecture on Ann-Marie MacDonald’s Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet) — and the final lecture of the course — at 3:30.  I copy part of an old set of notes into a new file, rework them, and then add a new section on how MacDonald traces a Jungian path of individuation for the main character, Constance Ledbelly.  I plan a 5-minute introduction to Jung’s conception of the Self, Shadow, Archeyptes, and Individuation, just enough to make sense of MacDonald’s use of these concepts and maybe to whet the students’ appetite for more information.

15h15.  Off to the classroom, a cavernous room with no windows.  Set up laptop, Clicker base station, slide show, video data projectors, wireless microphone.  There’s good energy in the room today, students are taking notes, and, when I thank them at the end of the lecture for their attention over the term, they are generous enough to applaud.  For a huge course (two lecture sections of 180 students each, with twenty tutorials and twenty TAs), it’s gone remarkably well.   I’ll repeat the same lecture tomorrow to the other section … but I’ll probably tweak it again before I do.

16h20.  Field a couple of questions from exiting students, unhook all the cables, shut down computer, and pack up.  Meet briefly with the TA Coordinator and discuss strategies for managing any problems that might arise while I’m away in Boston.

17h00.  I’ve gone home early today.  The Bookworms will be picked up by their dad while I put some time into the family finances.  All UVic employees had their banking information compromised by a break-in.  Many of us are still sorting out new accounts, transfers of automatic debits, and credit monitoring.  Somehow I feel I ought to be able to do this business on my employer’s time, but then I’d just end up prepping a lecture or marking in the evening on “my time.”  The concept of “my time” and “the employer’s time” is nearly absurd in academia.

17h40.  The Bookworms return, chattering of beach adventures, books read, plans for the evening.  In the blur of hand-washing, table-setting, discussing the importance of vegetables, bathing, and tooth-brushing, reading stories is always a highlight.  Like every English professor who is also a parent, I’m fascinated by the structure and style of children’s books, but even more fascinated by the opportunity to study reader response, or at least the responses of two small readers who are learning the narrative ropes, so to speak.  In an hour, we range across old favourites that we own, new library books, fiction, science books,  picture books, and chapter books.  Our new book for tonight is Henry and the Kite Dragon (Bruce Edward Hall; illustrated by William Low).  There’s a dark moment right in the middle of the book where the Chinese-American children and the Italian-American children are “ready to start swinging” at each other.  The Bookworms are on the edge of the couch, absolutely still (for once), waiting for violence to erupt.  Then the story shifts abruptly, and the two warring neighbourhood groups unite in a shared bid to protect a pet pigeon from the frightening titular dragon kite.  “Ah,” I think, “That was the augenblick.”  Only a few hours earlier, I was talking about the augenblick in Othello and Romeo and Juliet.  And in this moment, the two halves of my life click neatly together.  I’m a better teacher because I’m a parent, and a better parent because I’m a teacher.

23h00.  The Bookworms are asleep, their dad is out in the garage building sections of a new fence, and I have just put the finishing touches on the final exam.  I’ve worked a normal workday (9-4:45), spent a good five hours with my children, and given an extra 3 1/2 hours to my job at the beginning and end of the day.