In 1625, Nicholas Ferrar and his mother Mary left London to found the Anglican community of Little Gidding. There, the extended Ferrar family practiced a rigorous schedule of communal devotion: they prayed and sang together at appointed hours; children read aloud from John Foxe's Book of Martyrs during meals; and, most remarkably, the women of the community spent their afternoons in a Renaissance makerspace, the Concordance Room, hacking religious books. Surrounded by scissors, paste, and a rolling press, the Ferrar women chopped apart printed Bibles and engravings, then pasted these paper fragments back together into large, elaborate book collages that "harmonize" the four gospels. Together, these thirteen volumes — comprising perhaps the largest early modern archive of English women's bookwork — are known as the Little Gidding Harmonies, and they are the subject of this project.

From Harmony to Harmonizing

Cut/Copy/Paste reconstitutes the scattered fragments of the women of Little Gidding's bookwork. It does so by developing a Digital Concordance Room for harmonizing the Harmonies. This web-based workspace 1) offers access to high-resolution facsimiles of three Harmonies. By clicking a button to "HARMONIZE" any facsimile page, visitors enter the Digital Concordance Room, where 2) this page is situated within a network of drag-and-droppable materials: source prints, poems, letters, 3D models of printing technologies, and videos of bookmaking techniques. There, visitors can also upload supplementary items or generate additional links, bringing new historical and aesthetic configurations into relief.

In this jump from static text to interactive context — from digital library to electronic makerspace — Cut/Copy/Paste models historical thinking and close reading as the collaborative process of locating meaningful patterns in the archive, thereby engaging with the Ferrar women's compositional method as much as its products.

What's at stake?

Little Gidding, Harmony (1635).
Cotsen Children's Library, Princeton University
Baked into the design of the digital Concordance Room is an argument about these books: namely, that the women of Little Gidding invented their cut-up method of composition as a proto-feminist hack of contemporaneous printing technologies.

In the collaborative space of the Concordance Room, the Ferrar women applied their knowledge of domestic handiwork with needles and scissors to the process of composing, imposing, and binding a text, inventing what they described as a "new kind of printing." The result of their labors is a navigationally complex platform capable of materially synthesizing the doctrinal tensions of the period.

Thus the Harmonies are not "wholly unremarkable" scrapbooks or "dreadful monuments of misdirected labor," as they have been described in the past; rather, they witness the Ferrar women's innovative technical solution to the specific sociopolitical problem of religious factionalism.

As a potential solution, their technology fails. Within two decades, the Civil War would erupt, dissolving Little Gidding. As an experimental book-hack, though, their cut-up method has a much longer, if discontinuous, history, as time and again readers have rediscovered in it a space for feminist compositional practices. The formal innovations of Cut/Copy/Paste participate in this history.

Toward a Feminist Digital Humanities

At stake in this project is not only the recuperation of the women of Little Gidding's work but a broader methodological intervention into the fields of book history, media studies, and digital humanities. The material turn has drawn attention to "book use" as evidence of reading and writing practices, indeed is driving much of the renewed interest in the Harmonies. However, materialist methods have their limitations. As a growing number of scholars have begun to note, media objects do not cleanly or transparently represent the time of their creation but come to us accreted with precarious, uneven evidence of multiple moments and many hands, telling discontinuous stories of their use.

"It is not just a matter of weaving together different strands, variations on a theme (textual or musical), but rather of playing the positivity of difference as a specific theme of its own." - Rosi Braidotti, Transpositions: On Nomadic Ethics
Driving this fresh scrutiny of artifacts are two related movements. First is media archaeology. This cross-disciplinary field has spurred book history to widen its historical frameworks and has catalyzed the maker movement. It has also encouraged media historians to reject the evolutionary model of technology's unfolding and excavate instead forgotten machines and failed experiments. The second is a revitalized feminist materialism that takes what Karen Barad, following Donna Haraway, describes as a diffractive approach to interpretation. A diffractive methodology shares media archaeology's interest in non-chronological histories but serves as a much-needed corrective to the field: for diffraction does not violently excavate the delicate strata of past lives so much as shift archival frames of reference in ways that illuminate, rather than that smooth over, our striated differences — much as the women of Little Gidding do in their kaleidoscopic Harmonies.

By adopting a diffractive approach to digital design, Cut/Copy/Paste moves the Harmonies from the margins of a monolithic print culture to the center of an asynchronous history of readers' material entanglements with text, scissors, and paste — a history told by entangling its own readers in a digital Harmony of text and image.

Reading List on Little Gidding

There has been a surge of smart work on Little Gidding recently, including a digital edition of the King's Harmony produced by Paul Dyck in collaboration with Ryan Rempel. By enabling readers to view some of the original Harmonies in full-color, high-resolution facsimiles, Cut/Copy/Paste supports, augments, and is actively in dialogue with this work. To learn more about the community, you might begin here:

Aston, Margaret. "Moving Pictures: Foxe's Martyrs and Little Gidding." In Agent of Change: Print Culture Studies After Elizabeth Eisenstein, ed. Sabrina Alcorn Baron, Eric Lindquist, Eleanor Shevlin, 82-104. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2007.

Blackstone, Bernard, ed. The Ferrar Papers: Containing a Life of Nicholas Ferrar. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1938.

Craig, C. Leslie. "The Earliest Little Gidding Concordance." Harvard Library Bulletin I.3 (Autumn 1947): 362-386.

Dyck, Paul. "'So rare a use': Scissors, Reading, and Devotion at Little Gidding." George Herbert Journal 27.1/2 (2003/2004): 67-81.

Dyck, Paul, and Ryan Rempel with Stuart Williams. "Digitizing Collection, Composition, and Product: Tracking the Work of Little Gidding." In Digitizing Medieval and Early Modern Material Culture, edited by Brent Nelson and Melissa Terras, 229-56. Tempe: Iter, 2012.

Gaudio, Michael. The Bible and the Printed Image in Early Modern England: Little Gidding and the Pursuit of Scriptural Harmony. New York: Routledge, 2016.

Henderson, George. "Bible Illustration in the Age of Laud." Transactions of the Cambridge Bibliographical Society Library 8.2 (1982): 173-216.

Maycock, Alan. Chronicles of Little Gidding. London: SPCK, 1954.

Muir, Lynette R. and John A. White, eds. Materials for the life of Nicholas Ferrar: a reconstruction of John Ferrar's account of his brothers's life based on all the surviving copies. Leeds: Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society, 2006.

Ransome, David. "Introduction." In Virginia Company Archives. Adam Matthew Digital, 2007. Online. /Introduction/DavidRansome.aspx

Ransome, Joyce. "Monotessaron: The Harmonies of Little Gidding." The Seventeenth Century 20.1 (Spring 2005): 22-52.

Ransome, Joyce. The Web of Friendship: Nicholas Ferrar and Little Gidding. Cambridge: James Clark & Co., 2011.

Sharland, E. Cruwys. "Richard Crashaw and Mary Collet." Church Quarterly Review

Shuger, Debora. "Laudian Feminism and the Household Republic of Little Gidding." JMEMS 44.1 (2014): 69-94.

Smyth, Adam. "'Shreds of holinesse': George Herbert, Little Gidding, and Cutting Up Texts in Early Modern England." English Literary Renaissance (2012): 452-481.

Smyth, Adam. "Little Clippings: Cutting and Pasting Bibles in the 1630s." JMEMS 45.3 (September 2015): 595-614.

Williams, A.M, ed. Conversations at Little Gidding. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006.