Two years ago I retired from my job as a manager in the IT Services industry (I wasn’t much good at the technology, but was rather better at managing the people who were) and looked around for ways to keep the little grey cells ticking over. I originally graduated in geology and did a PhD forty years ago in Pleistocene Entomology (fossil beetles!). Over the years I’ve built up a respectable pile of Folio Society publications as well as a small collection of antiquarian geology and natural history books, and I’ve wondered about the books themselves, as well as their content.
I’ve always kept a geological hammer in the back of the car, but I didn’t really want to go back to cold, wet fieldwork in retirement. Then I remembered that, on the back of the old ‘Folio’ magazine, there used to be an advertisement for a ‘History of the Book’ course at London University. Did it still exist? I googled it – and here we are!
Can you please summarise your research interests and/or the preliminary topic of your PhD?
During the History of the Book course I discovered two topics which would have made excellent research projects. I wrote the MA dissertation on two eighteenth-century miners’ libraries in southern Scotland, and it would have been great fun to have continued with that. However, the one I’ve chosen is on the significance of heraldry in thirteenth and fourteenth-century psalters. Illuminated manuscripts have mostly been studied either as texts or as from the perspective of art history. However, many of them include heraldry in the decoration and this has been much less explored. What is it doing there? Does the heraldry occur in specific places (e.g. alongside particular psalms) or is the distribution random? Who decided which arms should be included, and why? Why do some manuscripts contain the arms of many families? What might the heraldry tell us about the commissioning, ownership and purpose of the manuscripts?
This topic gives me the opportunity to combine a lifelong (but extremely amateur) fascination with heraldry with the chance to explore a group of manuscripts in detail, and perhaps reveal more about the contexts in which these splendid documents were created.
Why did you choose to pursue your PhD at the IES?
IES (and other parts of SAS) have members of staff and associates with relevant knowledge and complementary research interests. I’ve been able to arrange joint supervision from IES (for the manuscripts) and UCL (for the heraldry). I get unlimited access to the comprehensive library resources at Senate House and other institutions in the immediate area, and there are exhibitions, lectures and additional courses which support and complement what I’m doing. The College of Arms is only a mile or so away. (It also helps that I live in west London, and can come in on any one of three underground lines, not to mention a variety of buses.)
How did the MA in the History of the Book shape your current research interests?
Completely! Had it not been for a course trip to Lambeth Palace Library to look at some manuscripts, I would never have noticed the heraldry. It was only because I then chose to write a course essay on the subject that I found out how little is known about it. And although I knew the miners’ libraries existed before I started the course, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity (or the academic credibility) to be able to work on them, or the encouragement to tease out the stories hidden in their records. I’ll probably be able to publish some of that work, which may make the libraries better known and help to preserve them.
How was the MA in the History of the Book different from what you expected?
I wasn’t sure what to expect, so it’s hard to know how it differed. By the end of the induction week I was hooked: a breathless gallop from Assyrian clay tablets through five thousand years of ‘book’ production, mixed with hands-on printing, a close encounter with a third-century papyrus fragment of John’s gospel and glimpses into the complexities of archives, the depths of the OUP and the various ways in which a book can be held together. The subsequent lecture series were taught by genuine enthusiasts, and although there was not as much group discussion as I had expected, this was only because there was so much interesting material to get through.
Given that I hadn’t written an essay for a very long time, the prospect of six of them was alarming to begin with, but there was helpful advice from the lecturers and a completely free choice of topic within the context of each course, so it wasn’t hard to come up with something really interesting for each one. The most difficult part turned out to be wrestling each essay down to the permitted size.
Looking back, it has been a very varied and extremely enjoyable undertaking. I took the course for fun, and it was. It has introduced me to an entirely new area of knowledge which I’m now going to spend several years exploring further. I certainly didn’t expect that when I started.
What is your advice for any future students of the MA in the History of the Book?
Take advantage of everything that’s on offer! There are optional visits and lectures as well as the scheduled courses, and the practical option – work experience with an antiquarian bookseller – is a must for anyone who is even slightly interested in the more commercial aspects of book history and book collecting. It’s also worth signing up for one or more sessions of the London Rare Books School if you can; these (with an essay) can be taken for course credit, and they provide an even wider range of study possibilities.
I struggled with the bookbinding option. Memo to future students: Senate House Library has a splendid collection of collapsed books upstairs in the palaeography room. If you can get hold of these and investigate them in parallel with the lectures, the whole thing makes much more sense. I wish I’d found them at the beginning rather than almost at the end of the term.
What excites you most about pursuing your PhD?
Colour is critical for heraldry, and facsimile and digitised reproductions are not always sufficiently accurate, so I shall have to work on the original manuscripts, which will be exciting in itself. These are scattered around Europe and the US, so there will be visits to some of the world’s most famous libraries. There is something very rewarding about collecting data, shaking it around, discussing it with experts and seeing what emerges, especially when there is the possibility of coming up with genuinely new ideas and interpretations. And I am very pleased to find that the analytical approach I have taken throughout my career in science and technology is equally appropriate to the world of the humanities.
As part of the AHRC-funded project ‘Women Negotiating the Boundaries of Justice’, and in conjunction with Swansea University’s annual ‘Symposium by the Sea’, we are pleased to announce a two-day symposium on the female litigant in the medieval and early modern period (c.1100-c.1750). The intention is to bring scholars together in order to explore women’s access to legal redress and to shed new light on individuals’ lived experiences of the law. We are seeking 25-minute papers from researchers (of all career-stages) working on any aspect of the history of women litigating in the courts across the known world during this broad timeframe. We welcome work on all courts, regions, jurisdictions, ethnicities, languages and religious and confessional identities, and on any aspect of those histories or historiographies. Post-graduate students are encouraged to apply.*
Topics and approaches might include:
The operation of gender in the courts.
The practicalities of litigation: travel, subsistence, accommodation, planning and expense.
The impact of a woman’s life-stage, status or ethnicity on her experience at law.
The woman’s voice and barriers to its ‘audibility’.
Visual or textual representation of the female litigant.
Specific case-studies and longue durée perspectives.
Historiography and ‘where do we go from here?’.
We would like to welcome papers from a broad range of backgrounds, spanning history, law and literature. We highly encourage interdisciplinary approaches to this topic.
Applicants are invited to submit by 21 January 2017 a proposal of 250-300 words, together with a short biography for inclusion in the programme.
“Since brevity is the soul of wit…” – Hamlet, Act II, Scene 2
“Short Talk on Brevity… try to leave the skin quickly, like an alcohol rub. An example, from Emily Tennyson’s grandmother, her complete diary entry for the day of her wedding, 20 May 1765: ‘Finished Antigone, married Bishop.’” – Anne Carson
Perhaps Polonius and Emily Tennyson’s grandmother were ahead of their time. In the twenty-first century, we can now choose to express our political opinions in 140 characters, express emotion in emoji, and finish our thoughts with a TL;DR. The literary context of ‘brevity’ spans across centuries, cultures and artistic forms, emerging in styles such as short stories and aphorisms, and ranging from the texts of the late Middle Ages to auspices of contemporary poetry. Whether found in the incisiveness of Anne Carson or the pith of Alexander Pope’s epigrams, economy of language is often prized in texts and academic work; whether or not that superiority is merited is, of course, up for debate.
The term ‘brevity’ also brings about various material interpretations—abbreviations and abridgements, for example. We can consider the consequences for the reader when a writer abridges narrative, paraphrases the work of another, or condenses their own language, as well as the physical marks of abbreviation on the page condition. Alternatively, we can consider texts and forms that are naturally short—such as Basho’s preternaturally tweetable haikus and the hermeticism of Symbolist poetry—as well as texts that are exceptionally long—Richardson’s Clarissa, for example—to consider the comparative value of brevity and length. In the end, the age-old question rises once more: ‘does size really matter’?
The implications of concision are endless (ironically enough), and this issue seeks to explore these different interpretations of brevity, welcoming papers investigating, but not limited to, any of the following topics:
Abridged texts, paraphrases, simplifications or summaries
The forms that brevity can naturally take: haikus, parables, sonnets and sketches
Rhetoric and style
Editing, collaboration, (self-)censorship
Staging, sound, metre, time
Abbreviation in the material text: signs, effacement/defacement, eyeskips and misprints
Linguistic change: semiotics, texts and tweets, artificial languages
Oxford Research in English (ORE) is an online journal for postgraduate and early career scholars in English, Film Studies, Creative Writing, and related disciplines. All submissions are peer-reviewed by current graduate students at the University of Oxford. The journal is currently seeking papers of 5-8,000 words for its fifth issue, to be released in 2017. Please submit papers for consideration to email@example.com by the deadline of 1 February 2017.
My name is Bonnie and I’m from Colorado, USA. I earned my Bachelor’s degree in History and English from the University of Denver, and I have always loved books and reading. I’ve worked as an editor and enjoy seeing the process of making a book from start to finish. After finishing the MA, I hope to pursue a PhD in cultural history and become a university professor.
What led you to enrol on the MA course in the History of the Book?
I wrote an undergraduate thesis on the history of the fantasy genre, which led me to some really fascinating discussions of readers and how they interact with books and authors. I wanted to explore more of the history of reading as well as the material object of the book so I could have a greater understanding of the historical background of these developments. When I discovered this course in book history, I felt like I had found exactly the sort of programme I was looking for to continue my research, as well as to explore other areas of book history I hadn’t even considered.
How has the London setting contributed to your experience so far?
London is probably the perfect place to study the history of the book! I was definitely drawn to this programme by the opportunity to live and study in an area with such a rich history in the publishing world as well as many amazing artefact collections. We’ve had classes at the British Library and other book-related institutions where we got to go behind the scenes and get up close and personal with rare, antique books, some over a thousand years old. Through the program I also had the opportunity to work with the INK LDN rare book fair and interact with antiquarian booksellers. I even got to hold a manuscript, portable Bible from the thirteenth century—the very type of book I was in the middle of writing an essay about!
How is the MA different from what you expected?
Most of the class sessions are taught by different professors, each an expert in the area of that particular day’s topic. This helps us as students to benefit from each professor’s expertise and leads to some really interesting discussions. Despite the rotating teachers, I still feel like I get the personal attention I need from the programme, especially with Cynthia, the course tutor, and the other IES staff. Also, the class sizes are nice and small, so you can really contribute and participate in class. I feel really free to ask questions, and I always either get an excellent answer or an interesting discussion as a result.
There is also not as much homework, per se, as I might have expected. The main focus is on the final essay for each class. Once you’ve decided your specific topic for the essay, this frees you to read more extensively in one particular area instead of trying to read all of the books about the entire ten weeks of discussion.
Which module/topic are you most looking forward to studying?
I am really looking forward to the practical course on printing presses next term, as well as the internship at an antiquarian bookseller. These opportunities to be physically involved in the book world are really exciting.
What would your advice be for any prospective students of the MA in the History of the Book?
Don’t worry if you’re not already an expert in the history of the book—that’s what this course is for. The Induction week was an excellent introduction to the discipline, and even still, the teachers don’t expect you to have memorized all the background information. Don’t be afraid to ask a lot of questions; someone is always willing and able to help. All you really need is a love of books and history and the desire to read and learn more about them.
Scott Fitzgerald, the Jazz Age author par excellence, wrote light, funny, jazzy short stories early in the 1920s, and Hollywood adapted four of them into films. The only one known to have survived is Conductor 1492, an adaption of the short story “The Camel’s Back.” As part of the Bloomsbury Festival, we decided to screen the jazziest sequence from the film.
As IES students researching early F. Scott Fitzgerald and popular culture, we gave the audience a brief interdisciplinary tour of the music, film, and literature of the day. Offering some relevant context, we tried to give our audience a sense of the cultural moment in which the adaptation was made. In the few years between the publication of the story in 1920 and the production of the film in 1924, American culture underwent dramatic transformations. With a selection of silent film clips, images, and popular songs, we aimed to offer a more nuanced view of the decade.
The evening was a celebration of Fitzgerald’s depiction of the wild, riotous, alcohol-fuelled Jazz Age party. In the films and literature of the 1920s, parties were alive with sassy flappers in racy outfits, handsome young college men, bootleg liquor, suggestive banter, vaudeville-inspired physical comedy, risqué dances, and of course jazz.
To bring it all to life for our audience, the excellent jazz pianist [Andrew Oliver https://andrewoliver.net] joined us to play some lively early jazz tunes. His expert accompaniment to the silent film selections offered a taste of the silent film experience contemporary audiences would have had.
On the night, the Beveridge Room was filled with the sound of rough-and-ready, honky-tonk jazz. Around the room, there were posters on display with images from contemporary newspapers and magazines, providing some insight into the American scene in the first half of the Roaring Twenties.
In the end, around 130 people joined us for an evening of jazz, literature, and silent film. The audience was made up of people of various ages and backgrounds, many of whom were not academics. As the Bloomsbury Festival is part of an effort to engage the public with current research, we were pleased to have the opportunity to do just that.
With support from SAS and an excellent team led by Michael Eades, we had an excellent time leading our guests on a little Jazz Age jaunt.
Comments from the audience:
‘Combination of eloquent information delivery and entertaining film and music‘
‘Thoughtful and informative presentation. Great visuals and music’
‘Excellent description of the subject matter. As a newbie I felt informed’
‘Inspired to listen to more jazz. Really enjoyed the music’
‘It inspires me to look more into the history of that time and do some research‘
‘A new understanding and appreciation for jazz music and Scott Fitzgerald as an author’
If you were at the event and want to share your thoughts, or you want to know more about our research, find us on Twitter [@BeYourJazzAge https://twitter.com/BeYourJazzAge].
In preparation for a series of broadcasts for BBC Radio Lancaster’s Museums’ Week in November, I visited the Harris Museum and Art Gallery in Preston last week. The Harris holds a spectacular collection of rare books comprised of several discrete bequests: the Sheperd Library, originally an 18th century collection greatly enhanced during the 19th century, the Spencer Collection of Children’s Books and the Francis Thompson Collection, both the gifts of the same patron, and a fine collection of Private Press books donated by Joseph Pomfret a former librarian (1878-1944). The Harris Museum’s Special Collections also contain impressive complete runs of many Victorian periodicals including All the Year Round,the Athenaeum, and Blackwood’s Magazine.
With the exception of the Sheperd Library, these collections, and the Harris Museum itself, were created from wealth accumulated during the Industrial Revolution. The interests reflected in the collections are diverse, but despite their broad intellectual and social historical reaches, all were thought worthy of donating to the public library of the town.
The Sheperd Collection holds outstanding examples of early printing. Sheperd was a local physician and twice mayor of Preston. His library originally comprised several thousand volumes. It was expanded by bequests and acquisitions in the nineteenth century and now holds over 10,000 volumes. Highlights include the first translation of Confucius into English:
Confucius Sinarum philosophus: sive scientia Sinensis Latine exposita / stu . – Parisiis : Apud Danielem Horthemels…, 1687
Sheperd’s vocational interests are well represented in his collection including one of the first printed books on anatomy, Charles Errard’s Anatomy (London: J. Senex, 1723).
John Henry Spencer was born in 1875 and began his life working in the cotton mills. He eventually became assistant secretary of the mill. He had a passionate interest in the history of Preston, and his collection of children’s books is exceptional. Highlights include the Infant’s Library, published in London between 1785 and 1802. A note inside the book below reads, ‘reads ‘Printed in 1802. Given to me when 4 years old. Now I am 73. Mary Lane, Decr. 29th, 1871′.
While the Harris Collection has been immaculately catalogued and conserved by the Museum’s curator of Special Collections, Anna Crouch, over the past decade, it has been the subject of little academic research. There are many rich seams to pursue here. Beyond the contents of the collections themselves lies the overriding question of the purpose of these public bequests in the context of the new Cotton Towns. This is the question Ruskin posited, ‘For what purpose do they spend?’ Surely an answer lies in the examination of these collections in their larger regional and socio-historical context.
Centre for the Study of the Book
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 (firstname.lastname@example.org) by 30 November, 2016.