Thursday, 15 December 2011

Varying Complexity in the Table of Contents

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In some of its architectural elements, the book's development has been toward simplification.  Take the common table of contents, for example.  In its modern form, it usually comprises a fairly simple correlation of chapter title--sometimes numbered--with a starting page number (fig. 1).  

Fig. 1. Simple representation of "Contents" in Roston, Soul of Wit (1974)
In contrast, nineteenth- and early twentieth-century books often contained fulsome and elaborate descriptions and location aids for surveying and navigating its contents.  The second edition of Daniel Rock’s The Church of Our Fathers (1905), for example, provides an elaborate summary of the main points of content in each chapter, keyed by reference numbers to the relevant location in the text.  On the first page of the “Contents,” for example, one gets a detailed itemization of nine major points discussed and numbered as section headings in chapter one, comprising a fairly granular account of its contents.  Supplied with the “part” number (the “first”), the chapter number (“1”) and page number (“18”) one can locate not only where the chapter begins, but also the page on which Rock discusses “The belief of the Anglo-Saxons in Transubstantiation.”   (The header of the page indicates the page number, of course, but also, on the recto page, the part and chapter number). 
Fig. 2. Detailed "Contents" for Rock, Church of Our Fathers (1905).
Fig. 2. Section on “The belief of the Anglo-Saxons in Transubstantiation”
with page numbers of the original edition indicated in parentheses: “(20)” and “(21).”

This book offers another and peculiar (though potentially very helpful) feature of navigating its content: page numbers, in parentheses, marking the page divisions of the original edition of Rock’s text.  Someone (whether Burke in the first edition, or, in the posthumous second edition, the editor or publisher) was very considerate of the reader in providing intelligent representation and location aids to the reader.

Works Cited

Rock, Daniel. The Church of Our Fathers as Seen in St. Osmund’s Rite for the Cathedral of Salisbury. 2nd ed. Vol. 1. London: John Murray, 1905.
Roston, Murray. The Soul of Wit: A Study of John Donne.  Oxford: OUP, 1974.

1 comment:

  1. I wonder when the full phrase Table of Contents emerges. I also wonder when these tables begin to be placed exclusively near the front of books. In early modern books one sometimes finds tables at the back of books, and they sometimes look more like indices then tables. It is difficult to think of using a reference work, without a table of contents or index, and yet many of the earliest printed books have neither. I say this, and as I do I am thinking about whether the table of contents will continue to carry the same weight in the digital world.