Ghostwriting: Historical Readers and Library Collections


The University of South Carolina’s libraries are massive repositories of human knowledge. They also hold a hidden archive of historical reading practices that is at risk, as digital sources become the norm, of remaining unseen. Previous owners and historical readers engaged sentimentally, creatively, or casually with their books, leaving behind marginal notes, newspaper clippings, locks of hair, or unsent letters. Originating in USC Libraries but extending across and beyond campus, “Ghostwriting: Historical Readers and Library Collections” aims to initiate an extensive search of the University of South Carolina’s libraries and to record, organize, and disseminate the marks that past readers, particularly of the nineteenth and early twentieth century, have left behind in accessible but rarely-accessed books.

This project began with an especially notable instance of an eighteenth-century reader’s use of an extremely notable book. William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge ushered in the literary period known as Romanticism with the publication of one revolutionary volume: Lyrical Ballads (1798). The University of South Carolina’s Irvin Department of Rare Books and Special Collections owns an original edition of this book, which is itself significant. But UofSC’s copy is especially notable because it contains extensive commentary by one of Wordsworth’s acquaintances, John Peace. Peace provides personal remarks about his relationship with the poet, information about the composition of one of the volume’s—and, indeed, English literature’s—most famous poems (“Tintern Abbey”), and detailed references to Wordsworth’s revisions in the volume’s second edition. There is no scholarly discussion of these extremely significant annotations. There are also no consistent protocols for recording such evidence of readers’ use of older library books. “Ghostwriting” aims to develop appropriate standards for recording the long-unseen traces of history’s forgotten readers. Here, project participants share significant finds from UofSC’s libraries.


Ghostwriting: Historical Readers and Library Collections is supported by an Internal Grant Program from the Office of the Provost at the University of South Carolina.