Rethinking Time via the Early Modern Almanac

Back in the crisp days of March, Book History @ Sheffield heard a fabulous paper from Sheffield PhD student, Catherine Evans. In her talk, ‘Pleating Time in Early Modern Almanacs’, Catherine reported back on archival research completed during a four month fellowship at the Huntington Library in California.

Writing Time, Writing the Self
Writing Time, Writing the Self

Almanacs were one of the most popular types of printed text in the early modern period, with around a third of families in England owning one. Critics have suggested that almanacs were part of an ongoing cultural movement to standardize and order the perception of time. Based on her findings at the Huntington, Catherine’s paper examined how people actually used almanacs on a day to day basis, through evidence left in the form of annotations. Annotations in almanacs have historically gone unstudied, indeed many reference libraries had a policy of destroying ‘damaged’ copies, keeping only the pristine blank ones.
Historians of the almanac form have often focused on their ephemerality. However, close examination of annotations has revealed that almanacs were often kept for decades and used continuously. Rather than subscribing to the rigid structuring of the month and year that was suggested by the almanac form, annotators often wrote against this using their own dating and organisational systems. These annotations provide an intriguing insight into how early modern individuals ran multiple time systems alongside one another. The almanac kept account of one’s days, and so in accounting for time, the annotator writes themselves, and their own time consciousness into the text.

(this post is based on Catherine’s abstract of her talk; you can reach her here: @CatRoseEvans )