The Book Index, Oxford, 22-23 June

I’m delighted to announce that registration is now open for this summer’s conference on the history of the index, taking place in Oxford on 22-23 June. The line-up is fantastic, with Ann Blair (Harvard) and Emily Steiner (UPenn) providing the keynote talks.

The full line-up, plus registration details can be found here:


“Like the Learned Pig”: Virginia Woolf’s First Index

“If you had come in yesterday you would have seen me with the floor all strewn with little squares of paper, like the learned pig, making an index for Viola.”
Letter to Vita Sackville-West, 29 March 1926

I’ve written a couple of times (here and here) about the index Virginia Woolf prepared for Orlando, but I hadn’t realised till the other day that this wasn’t her first index. (Nor would it be her last.)

In 1917, Woolf and her husband Leonard bought themselves a printing press. Over the next few years the Hogarth Press would grow from being a hobby – with Virginia setting the type while Leonard operated the press – into a substantial publishing operation, producing dozens of books a year, and with most of the printing being done offsite. The growth of the Hogarth Press meant that, along with their own writing and the literary and critical output of their friends, the Woolfs began to publish longer works of prose non-fiction, one such work being Castles in the Air (1926), the memoirs of the actress and singer Viola Tree.

Viola Tree (1907), by John Singer Sargent
Viola Tree (1907), by John Singer Sargent

And so it was that Woolf should find herself surrounded by indexing slips bearing the names of Lord and Lady Asquith, Winston Churchill and all the other socialites namedropped in Tree’s effervescent life story.

The index which Woolf prepared is fairly straightforward – its only real shock is the entry, “Crippen, Hawley Harvey, murder by, 41, 42,” appearing bluntly among the actresses and landed gentry. What is most fascinating about the Castles in the Air index is how closely it resembles the spoof index for Orlando which Woolf created the following year. It is almost identical in both length – two pages of double columns – and style: the Castles in the Air index lists only proper names, and aside from Dr Crippen and Viola Tree herself, none of the other people listed is allowed any subheadings (other than the cursory “letter from”). So for example, we get long, unhelpful lists of undifferentiated locators such as:

Asquith, H. H. (Lord Oxford), 42, 80, 139, 140, 183, 283; letters from, 159 ff., 161, 162 ff., 165, 166, 168, 172 ff., 174, 185 ff. 190, 194, 204, 213, 225 ff. 239, 252, 285, 291, 300; telegram from, 188.

But when it comes to Tree herself, Woolf provides a running narrative, where every locator receives a description:

Tree, Viola, leaves stage, 11; studies music, 12; engaged to A. P. 13; goes to Milan, 15; at Milan, 18 ff., sings to Ricordi, 23; life at Milan, 27 ff.; in her own house at Milan, 53-90; visit to Strauss, 115 ff.; returns to England, 138; summer in England, 159; returns to Italy, 181; Christmas in England, 224; returns to Italy, 233; engagement to A. P. announced, 257; marriage, 290.

This is Tree’s memoir in miniature – a potted biography, by way of index. And presumably this is where Woolf learned the lesson she would put into practice with Orlando: that an index entry can function as a narrative, and that she might have some fun with this.

The Tree index has no run-ons – in other words, terms are repeated in full from one subhead to the next: “goes to Milan; at Milan”. But one of the jokes about Orlando‘s index is the way it breaks down this notion that each subhead must be a discrete entity. Woolf uses “and” so that the sense of narrative is made explicit:

his romantic dramas, literary ambitions, 48, 50-2, 63-6; and Greene, 53, 57, 59;


entertains the wits, 129; and Mr Pope, 132; and Nell, 135.

It’s a lovely piece of wit, completely of a part with Orlando‘s narrative restlessness. It’s rather lovely too to imagine that the joke first came to Woolf on a Tuesday afternoon, sitting on the floor of Tavistock Square amidst a mess of indexing slips which told, in abbreviated form, the glittering life of Viola Tree.

(Woolf’s other index was for Roger Fry: A Biography, the last of her works to be published during her lifetime. While her first two indexes seem to have provided Woolf with some amusement, this last was an unrewarding effort. Her diary entry for 11 June 1940 records her “working till eyes blind at Index”. Two days later she writes: “My Index sent off – so thats the very final full stop to all that drudgery.”)

Pointless Arrows

Following on from yesterday’s blogpost on the illustrated table to Frarin’s Oration, I wanted to mention briefly another visual index, this time from a contemporary book. The book is The Gorgeous Nothings, Marta Werner and Jen Bervin’s edition of Emily Dickinson’s ‘envelope poems’.


The envelope poems are a trove of scraps – envelopes and parts of envelopes – on which Dickinson composed fragmentary poetry. Werner and Bervin’s edition reproduces the envelopes themselves, and alongside them includes transcriptions of the text.

It’s an absolutely beautiful edition, but what I love most about it is Bervin’s ‘Visual Index’. Rather than indexing the poems by their textual content, Bervin arranges the material by various other means:

  • Index of Envelopes by Page Shape
  • Index of Envelopes by Addressee
  • Index of Envelopes with Columns
  • Index of Envelopes with Pencilled Divisions
  • Index of Envelopes with Multidirectional Text
  • Index of Envelopes Turned Diagonally
  • Index of Envelopes with Cancelled or Erased Text
  • Index of Envelopes with Variants


Many envelopes appear in several different indexes, but as you can see from the titles, each index explicitly concerns itself with the envelopes rather than the poems: their shape, their orientation, who they’re addressed to, etc. Like the Auden & Garrett anthology, this is the index-as-argument again: an index designed to tell us how we should think about the book. It instructs us that the envelope poems are material texts rather than poems-in-the-abstract. So if you’re looking for that poem about Hair or Mushrooms then you’re on your own – good luck with that. But if you’re looking for the poem written diagonally on an arrow-shaped envelope, then that’ll be A364 (‘Summer laid her simple Hat’).


Personally, I’m not a very visual thinker – I don’t think this index will ever be a useful finding aid for me, and I’m not sure it would be for anyone (‘Pointless Arrows’ – one of Bervin’s categories of envelope shape – would be a good name for the locators here). But that’s rather missing the point. With the ‘Visual Index’, Bervin has come up with a wonderful, impish way to make a serious argument about what Dickinson’s envelope poems are, about their materiality, and their resistance to being reduced to mere text.

For Him that Cannot Reade: The Index as Graphic Novel

In early 1566, Peter Frarin’s Oration Against the Unlawfull Insurrections of the Protestantes began to circulate in its English translation, printed in Antwerp. Frarin’s text is standard religious polemic – nothing particularly surprising – until we come to the back of the book. There we find a rather extraordinary innovation.

Peter Frarin, Oration Against the Unlawfull Insurrections of the Protestantes (Antwerp, 1566) [Oxford, Bodleian, Wood 800(3)]

The Table of this Booke set ovt not by order of Alphabete or numbre, but by expresse figure, to the eye & sight of the Christian Reader, and of him also that cannot reade.

Instead of keywords or chapter epitomes, then, the book’s table contains a series of woodcuts illustrating the key sections of the main text. It is a functioning table of contents – the woodcuts have locators beneath them, and if we follow the link from the above image to leaf B iiii, sure enough we find that this illustration is depicting a Protestant riot in Paris:

Oute with thy sword for the Gospell, sayeth the new Gospeller. There was a Companie of desperat & wicked personnes that ran lyke mad men up and down the streates of Paris with glistering naked swordes in theyr handes, and cried out, the Gospel, the Gospell: when they meant nothing els, but to bring a sort of cursed Sectes and wicked Heresies into the Realme.

And we can tell that the Table really was used as a table of contents because one of the copies in the Bodleian has been marked up by a reader, adding extra locators underneath the woodcuts. The Oration was printed without page numbers, and the printed table was instead keyed to the page signatures – marks primarily for the bookbinder’s use. This is not uncommon in early printed books, as I’ve noted in an earlier blog, but by 1566 page sigs are a rather old fashioned locator to use. So this reader has inserted their own page numbers in the corners of the pages, then added numerical locators, replacing the alphanumerical sig marks, to the table.


There are even manicules on the relevant pages pointing to the indexed passage.


So the visual table really did function as a table of contents, at least for the owner of Wood 800(3). But let’s pause here. The Table announces that its illustrations are intended for the benefit of illiterate people. But for ‘him that cannot reade’, the main text, of course, will be meaningless. Those locators are no use at all: the table needs to stand alone. Added to that, the table does not in fact contain only those ‘expresse figures’, the images. Instead, each woodcut is accompanied by a short scurrilous verse, like this rather magnificent couplet:


Calvin in his chamber fiue yeres taught a Nonne
Tyll she was great with Gospell and swolne with a Sonne

So the table is really two things at once, or rather it is designed to function within two different modes of reading. On the one hand, as a true table of contents, designed to support extract reading. But the table is also intended to be something else entirely: not an index but an adaptation, distilling the main text into something like graphic novel form: a version of Frarin’s Oration to be read sequentially by illiterate readers using only the images, or literate ones able to enjoy the satirical interplay of image and doggerel.

The Book Index: A Two-Day Symposium

The Book Index
Bodleian Library, Oxford
22-23 June, 2017

Keynotes: Professor Ann Blair (Harvard); Professor Emily Steiner (UPenn)

‘I for my part venerate the inventor of Indexes, […] that unknown labourer in literature who first laid open the nerves and arteries of a book.’
Isaac Disraeli, Literary Miscellanies

Now that much of our reading activity begins with the Results page of a Google search, this two-day symposium will take a timely opportunity to consider how the index – the foremost finding aid of the physical book – shaped reading and scholarly method over the last eight hundred years. An academic enabler, allowing readers to synthesise texts on a scale that had previously been impossible? A prop for fakers and the lazy – see Pope’s ‘index-learning turns no student pale’? What has the index offered readers, and what can indexes – both published and reader-created – tell us about the ways that a book has been consumed?

Subjects might include, but are not limited to:

  • the emergence of the index and its refinement over time
  • indexes and genre
  • ‘indexical reading’ and ‘index scholarship’
  • reader indexes: handwritten indexes to printed books
  • the index and ‘extract reading’: commonplacing, anthologising
  • the indexer, their place in the publishing foodchain
  • the grammar of the index
  • the emergence of indexing societies and agencies
  • indexing and the novel
  • indexing technology – from slips to punchcards to hyperlinks
  • the index and the eBook

Please send proposals (250 words) for papers of twenty minutes, along with a short biographical note to Dr Dennis Duncan ( by 30 November, 2016.

See for more information as it is available.

Robert Grosseteste’s Symbolic Search Engine

When it comes to kings and queens, the year 1230 was a relatively quiet one. In the history of indexing, however, 1230 is probably the most important year of all. For a start, it’s the date usually given for the first Bible concordance, compiled at the monastery of St Jacques in Paris. But 1230 is also the probable date of another extraordinary indexing project, on a scale only slightly less mindboggling. While the monks at St Jacques were at work on the concordance, the scientist and theologian Robert Grosseteste was in Oxford devising and compiling his Tabula, a combined subject index for the Bible and nearly two hundred other texts, largely the works of the Church Fathers but also including classical and Arabic authors.

C14 depiction of Grosseteste. British Library, MS Royal 6.E.v, fol. 1ra.
14th-century depiction of Grosseteste. British Library, Royal MS 6 E. v, f.1.

Grosseteste’s origins were humble – he came from a poor family in Suffolk, but was supported through school by a local nobleman and subsequently attended Cambridge before entering the service first of the Bishop of Lincoln, then the Bishop of Hereford. It was during this period that he wrote a number of scientific works – On the Calendar and On the Movements of the Planets among others – along with the first Christian commentary on Aristotle’s Posterior Analytics. It is also likely that he spent some of this time studying theology in Paris. By the middle of the 1220s, however, Grosseteste had begun to teach at Oxford, where, towards the end of the decade, he served briefly as the university’s Chancellor, and it was then he produced the Tabula, which now survives in a single manuscript held in the Bibliothèque municipale in Lyons.

The breadth of Grosseteste’s interests, and of his reading, was, as his biographer James McEvoy puts it ‘little short of encyclopaedic’, and it was in order to marshall this vast learning that Grosseteste devised a system of annotation which would allow him to group subjects together, along with a set of references – essentially keywords – which could be used across disparate texts. Rather than being an alphabetical system, the Tabula divides its subjects into nine categories, or distinctions, which are themselves divided into a varying number of subcategories, or topics. By way of example, the first distinction is entitled de deo, or On God. Beneath this heading is a list of thirty-six topics each of which relates to its parent category: that God exists, what God is, the unity of God, the trinity of God, and so on.

Lyon, Bibliothèque municipale, MS 414 f.17r

The first part of the Tabula is simply a list of these distinctions and topics, 440 of them. Alongside each, Grosseteste has designed a symbol – simple but unique to that topic – so that, in the course of his reading, whenever a particular topic comes up, he can quickly jot down the symbol in the margin for later reference. Sometimes the symbols have a clear relation to the topic – the trinity of God is represented by a triangle; the unity of God by a dot – but given the large number of topics in Grosseteste’s system, it is no surprise that many are more arbitrary – and more complex – than this. S. Harrison Thomson, the first modern scholar to pay real attention to Grosseteste’s index, neatly sums up their variety: ‘All the letters of the Greek and Roman alphabets are used, plus mathematical signs, conjoined conventional signs, modifications of the zodiacal signs, and additional dots, strokes and curves.’

The outline of the nine distinctions and their topics runs to five pages, three columns to a page, and it is immediately followed by the index proper. Here, each topic, along with its symbol, is listed again. This time, however, beneath the topic is a series of references, first to passages in the Bible which deal with the subject, then to the writings of the Church Fathers, and finally, in a separate column to the right, to pagan or Arabic writers.

So, taking the first topic from the first distinction – the proposition that God exists – we find Grosseteste’s symbol for that topic followed by this set of references:

Lyon, Bibliothèque municipale, MS 414 f.19v
Lyon, Bibliothèque municipale, MS 414 f.19v

Expanding the abbreviations with the help of Philipp Rosemann’s superb edition of the Tabula[1] we get the following (where l’ – in Grosseteste’s hand a crossed l – indicates liber, i.e. book):

ge· 1· a·
augustinus contra aduersarios legis et prophetarum· l’·1· De trinitate ·12· De libero· abritio· l’·1· De uera religione· epistola· 38· De ciuitate· dei l’·8· 10· 11· gregorius dialogi l’·4 ·27· Ieronimus· 13· damascenus· sentenciarum ·l’·i· c· 3· 41· anselmus prosologion· c· 2· 3· monologion·
[and in the right margin] aritstoteles methaphise l’·1·

What this all means is that, should we wish to know more about the proposition that God exists, we should start by looking at the first chapter of Genesis (‘In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth’). We might then look to various works by Augustine – Books 8, 10 and 11 of City of God (De Civitate Dei), for example – or Gregory’s Dialogues, or Jerome, St John Damascene, or Anselm. And if we were prepared to go off-piste into non-Christian thought, we could try the first book of Aristotle’s Metaphysics.

If we follow one of these references up in Grosseteste’s own copy of De Civitate Dei, now in the Bodleian Library in Oxford, we can turn to Book 8, and find the topic’s symbol alongside the following section:

Viderunt ergo isti philosophi, quos ceteris non inmerito fama atque gloria praelatos uidemus, nullum corpus esse Deum, et ideo cuncta corpora transcenderunt quaerentes Deum.

[These philosophers, then, whom we see not undeservedly exalted above the rest in fame and glory, have seen that no material body is God, and therefore they have transcended all bodies in seeking for God.]

Oxford, MS Bodley 198. Grosseteste’s copy of St Augustine’s De Civitate Dei [City of God] with his topic symbols in the margin. The flower denotes imagination.
There is another sign, a little like a three-legged table, in the same section of margin, annotating the same passage. This indicates de videndo deum [On seeing God], and sure enough, if we look this topic up in the Tabula the list of references includes De Civitate Dei, Book 8.

Having both Grosseteste’s Tabula and some of his books allows us to see both how the index worked and how he went about compiling it. Once he had annotated his books with topic symbols, filling in the index would be simply a matter of skimming the margins for each sign in turn and jotting down the references. Thomson suggests that the index may have been intended as a perpetual work-in-progress, something that Grosseteste could carry on expanding throughout his life. Nevertheless, it is precisely the texts which it doesn’t include – and which we know that Grosseteste read – that allow the dating of the Tabula. Grosseteste translated Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics from Greek, for example. If he was still compiling the index by the time he did this, we would expect to see it among the references.

For the priest with sermons to write, or for the teacher in the newly-founded university at Oxford, the value of an index like Grosseteste’s is clear. It is almost inconceivable to think of university work nowadays, as a teacher or as a student, without the use of finding aids like book indexes (which direct us within a single text) or search engines (which operate across many). The extraordinary thing about 1230 is that, in Paris and Oxford, two vast projects – concurrent but separate – were tackling these two different approaches to literature: the Bible concordance, with its word-for-word dismantling of the singular text, and Grosseteste’s all-encompassing Tabula – the search engine of the thirteenth century.

[1] Robert Grosseteste, ‘Tabula’, ed. by P. W. Rosemann and James McEvoy, Corpus Christianorum, 130 (1995), 233–320 (p. 265).

The Map and the Territory: Caxton’s Index Prefaces

In that Empire, the Art of Cartography attained such Perfection that the map of a single Province occupied the entirety of a City, and the map of the Empire, the entirety of a Province. In time, those Unconscionable Maps no longer satisfied, and the Cartographers Guilds struck a Map of the Empire whose size was that of the Empire, and which coincided point for point with it.

Borges, ‘On Exactitude in Science’

Chronicles of England (St. Albans: c.1483). © University of Glasgow.

One of the fascinating things about the earliest English printed indexes and tables of contents, particularly Caxton’s, is that they are usually prefaced with a short introduction. These function as a brief How To guide, setting out what the table is for and how to use it. Take, for example, the Legenda aurea sanctorum, a book of saints’ lives from 1483. It’s rather innovative in that it has not one but two tables. Firstly, a list, with folio numbers, of the two hundred or so saints in the order in which appear in the book. This is immediately followed by another table which uses exactly the same headings – the same group of saints – but rearranges them, listing them in alphabetical order. In other words, Caxton has included both a table of contents and an index. And here’s what he has to say:

And to thende eche hystoryy lyf & passyon may be shortely founden I have ordeyned this table folowyng / where & in what leef he shal fynde suche as shal be desyred / and have sette the nombre of every leef in the margyne.

So the book is helpfully provided with tables and folio numbers so that you can shortely find whichever saint’s history, life or passion you’re looking for. But it’s that phrase ‘suche as shal be desyred’ that I’m interested in right now. It seems to cover all eventualities: Whatever you’re looking for, look it up in the index and follow the reference. Caxton isn’t about to admit publicly that there might be things in the book that you’d want to look up but which aren’t included in the index, that the index might be an inadequate representation of the main text. Why would he? ‘He shal fynde suche as shal be desyred’: it seems a perfectly reasonable thing to say, as long as you don’t wilfully overread it.

Here’s another perfectly reasonable thing to say, this time from Caxton’s Cicero (1481): ‘Here foloweth a remembraunce of thistoryes comprysed and touchyd in this present book entitled Tullius de Senectute, Tully of old age, as in the redying shal more playnly be sayd al a longe.’ Aside from the fact that remembraunce is a magnificent word for a table of contents (it’s conspicuously backwards-facing: does it imply that you should have read the book already, that a table is not a shortcut to an initial reading?), the passage states that the main text of a book will describe things ‘more playnly’ and at more length than an index entry. Of course it will: the map is not the territory.

But in Polycronicon (1482) there’s quite a striking shift in emphasis in how the table is introduced: ‘And folowynge this my prohemye I shal set a table shortly towchyd of the moost parte of this book.’ That phrase ‘the moost parte’ doesn’t exactly inspire confidence, does it. It sounds a very different note from the idea that ‘he shal fynde such as shal be desired’. An admission, or perhaps a warning: it’s not just that the entries in the table are, of necessity, briefer – less plain – than the main text; there seems to be an implication here that parts of the book are uncharted territory as far as the table is concerned.

I wondered whether this might be a paranoid reading, whether I might be seeing doubt or admonishment creeping in where really there is none. But in Caxton’s Cato (1484) the point is made explicitly. The table of contents concludes with the following note:

And over and above these that be conteyned in this sayd table is many a notable commaundement / lernynge and counceylle moche prouffitable whiche is not sette in the sayd regystre or rubrysshe.

A table which immediately professes its insufficiency? I love this – it sounds so contemporary, the kind of thing we teach students in early Research Methods training: an index can a wonderful labour-saver, but never, ever mistake the map for the territory.

The First English Table of Contents?

Sir Thomas Littleton, Tenores novelli (London: Lettou & Machlinia, c. 1482) [Oxford, All Soul's College, l.9.1(1)]
Sir Thomas Littleton, Tenores novelli (London: Lettou & Machlinia, c. 1482) [Oxford, All Souls College, l.9.1(1)] ©All Souls College, Oxford
I’m going to make a slightly controversial claim and say that this is the first table of contents in an English printed book. It’s from Sir Thomas Littleton’s New Tenures, a legal text, printed in London by John Lettou and William de Machlinia around 1482.

I’m making one important distinction here in calling it the first true contents table. After all, Caxton’s The Game and Playe of Chesse (1474), the second printed book in English, already included a table summarising the chapters and listing them in the order in which they appear. And over the next few years, several of Caxton’s books include variations on this type of chapter list. But none of these lists have locators. That is, they may say what the chapters are, but there’s nothing to tell us what page they begin on. And this is where Lettou and Machlinia’s book is different.

J. H. Baker’s ODNB entry for Littleton describes the Tenures as ‘the most successful law book ever written in England’, and notes its role as a textbook: ‘Until Victorian times, Littleton was one of the first books placed in the hands of a law student’. Although they couldn’t have foreseen its phenomenal success when they first printed it, we should credit Lettou and Machlinia then with the foresight to see that a table might come in handy for a work like this. Nevertheless, as I mentioned in my last post, page numbers were rather slow to catch on in the fifteenth century. In 1482, no English book had included them yet, and the Tenures does not break the mould in this respect. So how does its table of contents work?

We need to look more closely at those locators: a i, a ii, a iii… A letter followed by a roman numeral: these are signature marks. Unlike page numbers, signature marks were well established by this stage (as Margaret Smith’s fantastic graph attests): over the previous two or three years, all four of the English printing houses – Westminster, Oxford, St Albans and London – had adopted them. These marks are included at the bottom of the page, below the main text, to help the binder fold and stitch the sheets together in the right order.

Sir Thomas Littleton, Tenores novelli (London: Lettou & Machlinia, c.1482) [Oxford, All Souls College, l.9.1(1)] ©All Souls College, Oxford
Sir Thomas Littleton, Tenores novelli (London: Lettou & Machlinia, c.1482) [Oxford, All Souls College, l.9.1(1)] ©All Souls College, Oxford
But what Lettou and Machlinia are doing is assigning them an additional role, pressing them into use as a finding aid. A pretty ingenious piece of lateral thinking!

But here’s another quirk: because a book’s sheets are folded in half at the spine (think of the way a magazine is put together: double pages, stapled and folded in the middle), a binder only needs signature marks on half the leaves. Get these in the right order and the other half will naturally be OK, since they’re on the same sheets. Commonly, then, when books are bound in gatherings of eight leaves at a time, the printer only needs to include signature marks on the first four. So, as you turn the pages, you see a1, a2, a3, a4, blank, blank, blank, blank, b1, b2, b3, b4, blank, blank, blank, blank, c1, etc. And indeed, this is the case with the Tenures. Which means that for half of the entries in the table of contents, the locators are directing readers to pages that aren’t actually marked with a signature. You want to know about Collusion? It’s on page b viii; just find b iv and count four along from there! (In one copy in the British Library, an early reader has written in the missing sigs, but only for those pages which appear in the index.) This really is an attempt to bootstrap a finding aid for the book’s readers onto an ordering system designed purely for its producers.

I mentioned at the top of this post that I was being controversial in calling this the first English ToC. The reason is that Lettou and Machlinia produced another book, the Abbreviamentum statutorum, frequently bound-in with the Tenures, and which also includes a table keyed to signature marks. And although neither book includes a publication date, several bibliographers – not least E. G. Duff and Lotte Hellinga – suggest that the Statutes appeared c.1481-82 and the Tenures c.1482-83.

Abbreviamentum statutorum (London: Lettou & Machlinia, c.1482) [Oxford, All Soul's College, l.9.1(2)]
Abbreviamentum statutorum (London: Lettou & Machlinia, c.1482) [Oxford, All Souls College, l.9.1(2)] ©All Souls College, Oxford
Abbreviamentum statutorum (London: Lettou & Machlinia, c.1482) [Oxford, All Soul's College, l.9.1(1)]
Abbreviamentum statutorum (London: Lettou & Machlinia, c.1482) [Oxford, All Souls College, l.9.1(2)] ©All Souls College, Oxford
What troubles me, however, is that the Abbreviamentum statutorum takes the form of a series of alphabetically-ordered paragraphs, like an encyclopaedia. The table of contents, then, is redundant: the text is already auto-indexing. If you want to look up the entry on Executours, you don’t need an innovative finding aid: it’ll be there with the other Es, sandwiched between Execucion and Exemcion.

On the basis that innovation is most likely the response to a specific problem, I want to place the Tenures before the Statutes, to argue that the table was invented for the textbook,  not the encyclopaedia, and that the latter only has one because the book that preceded it did: there out of habit, effectively. But if anyone can suggest why the alphabetically-ordered Statutes might have been the first book to get a proper ToC then I’d be very keen to hear your thoughts.