Randall McLeod gave a Brown Bag Lunch presentation on Wednesday, April 8, 2015, from 12 to 1:30pm, at the Bard Graduate Center in New York City. His talk is entitled “The Birth of Italics.”

At the BGC, Dr. McLeod will speak about The Birth of Italics. This densely-illustrated talk treats the first italic fount, produced by Aldo Manuzio and Francesco da Bologna at the end of the quattrocento. The lecture focuses on the 1501 Vergil, the first book Aldo printed in italics and also the first of his famous line of octavos. Aldo began printing this work with all the necessary letter-sorts, but not all the ligatures, a dozen of which trickled on stream during production. The timing of their appearances allows confident reconstruction of the printing schedule: from cast-off copy, composition began in the middle of the volume (as it is bound), with outer formes com-posed before inner. When production approached the end of the volume, composition reverted to the beginning, except the title leaf, and eventually concluded with a) the end of the middle, b) the end of the end, and c) the remainder of the beginning.

One should not regard Aldine ligatures as purely graphic forms to be set (barring type shortages) whenever the appropriate letter sequences arose, for the composition of some of them—ni, nt, and nu—was governed by linguistic morphology: at least while Aldo was alive, his compositors routinely avoided these three ligatures in the composition of specific kinds of Latin words.

Randall McLeod was educated at Harvard and the University of Toronto, where he spent his career in the English Department, and is now Professor Emeritus. His research has been supported by such agencies as the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and the Mellon and Guggenheim Foundations. Since his retirement, Dr. McLeod has held library fellowships at Harvard, Yale, and the Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas. His publications are in the field of textual criticism, and were at first focused on the English renaissance – Harington, Holinshed, Shakespeare, Donne, Herbert. Twenty years ago he began to study continental books – first Estienne’s Hebrew bible, printed in Paris, 1538-44, and then the works of the Venetian printer Aldo Manuzio. His current research is on the first Greek edition of Aristotle, which appeared from the Aldine press in five volumes between 1495 and 1498.

To facilitate study of the instability of printed texts, he invented the McLeod Portable Collator, an instrument for the rapid comparison of two copies of the same edition, in which graphic differences between copies are revealed immediately through such effects as the shimmering of the variant or its appearance in a different depth from the plane of the invariant parts of the page. On his collator, one can therefore see variants immediately, without having to read. (Looking at books rather than reading them is the key to McLeod’s textual insights.)