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London Rare Books School 2016


Alexandra Wingate (College of William and Mary, Virginia)

The London Rare Books School (LRBS) is the closest thing an aspiring rare books librarian could have to Hogwarts. It’s held in an amazing building, run and taught by remarkable people, and covers all those subjects that you can only dream about at your regular school or university—though the LRBS offers courses such as the Medieval Book and the Early Modern Book Trade as opposed to Potions and Divination. Nevertheless, I had that same mix of excitement and intimidation leading up to the first day of the LRBS that Harry had approaching the Sorting Hat. I’m an undergraduate student studying linguistics and Hispanic studies at the College of William and Mary in Virginia, USA, and the idea of taking graduate-level classes was a bit nerve-wracking. However, my fears were assuaged because no matter their background, anyone who is involved in any capacity with the LRBS is a wonderful person, who has the same goal in regard to rare books as you do—to learn about them.

For the first week of LRBS, I took part in the Introduction to Bibliography course, which was taught by Andrew Zurcher, Warwick Gould, Colin Smythe, and Laurence Worms. Each of them brought his own perspective to the topic of bibliography as scholars, publishers, and booksellers. For this course, Andrew asked us to complete a small project, during which we created a full bibliographical description of an early printed book of our choice. Being a Hispanic studies student, I looked through Senate House’s catalog for something associated with Spain or the New World. I found a 1616 copy of the second part of the Comentarios Reales by Inca Garcilaso de la Vega, which is his history of Peru. I used the Comentarios Reales previously in a paper at William and Mary, so I was very excited to look at this text. By studying the contents and structure of the book, I came up with my own description, which included a quasi-facsimile transcription of the title page, the collation and signing formulas, and physical features. I was particularly excited to see the preliminaries, the pages that come before the actual content.  During research which I conducted in spring 2016, I learned about the different types of preliminaries in Spanish books and their functions. I found the book’s tasa, which states the legal price of the book. This is interesting because the price was determined by the number of bifolia that made up the book. There were 157 bifolia, and so at a price of 4 maravedis per bifolium (pliego in Spanish) the book cost 628 maravedis when it was originally printed.


I was one of the lucky few who was able to stay for both weeks of the LRBS, and in my second week I took the Provenance in Books course with David Pearson, who wrote the standard text used for learning about the subject. We learned about inscriptions and notes in books, bookplates, book labels, armorial book bindings, and heraldry. The paleography exercises, in particular, helped us to bond as a class because we were united in our misinterpretation of people’s terrible handwriting. I learned how to identify the style and date of armorial bookplates and correctly state the blazon for a coat of arms. On the last day of the class, we were given twelve early printed books to study for provenance evidence.  We then compared our findings with David’s. Never have three and half hours of my life passed so quickly.


What I will take away from the LRBS is this: most people in the field of rare books and manuscripts are lovely people, who also want to geek out over the subject they love. To any future undergraduate students who might be intimidated by graduate courses, don’t worry about it. If you were accepted to the course, you’ll do fine and whatever happens you will end up expanding your knowledge on the topic. The LRBS has firmed my resolve to continue on the path to rare book librarianship. I still have two years left in my undergraduate degree, but afterwards I want to complete a book history graduate program and get my Masters of Library and Information Science (MLIS). LRBS proved to me that rare books are my passion and I intend to pursue that passion.

The London Rare Books School will run 26-30 June & 3-7 July 2017. Course options will be posted in October.

Reinstating the Blackburn Columbian Press


Ben Weiner is a freelance consultant in information design and software development, and a letterpress printer.

The Blackburn Museum, home to a large collection of materials from industrialist R.E. Hart, participated in the ‘Cotton to Gold: Extraordinary Collections of the Industrial Northwest’ exhibition at Two Temple Place (2015)–an exhibition co-curated by the Institute’s Dr Cynthia Johnston.

The older the machine the better, and although dated 1875 this one supplied by Figgins Foundry of Ray Street, Farringdon, in London adheres quite strictly to the orginal c.1813 pattern. The design was by George Clymer, the American engineer who in his sixties travelled to England to find a market for his latest invention, a printing machine of iron with an impression-enhancing compound lever. He named it the ‘Columbian’, decorated it with an eagle, and competed quite successfully with home-grown designs that emerged around the same date, notably the equally overtly patriotic Albion with its knuckle-action impression. Along with the eagle, Columbian presses are ornamented with decorative studs, garlands, and a rather fanciful impression of a snake. On grounds of size, and as they are usually painted black with bright metal pins and a polished brass maker’s plate, these embellishments might be considered superfluous. The machines have considerable presence.

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English Literary Heritage & Senate House Library


An IES conference on English literary heritage provided an excellent opportunity to make known some of Senate House Library’s literary manuscripts and artefacts. We chose a mixture of the bizarre and the worthy, taken from across several collections acquired at different times.


Representative of the bizarre is a piece of a mulberry tree branch gathered with curatorial permission by Sir Edwin Durning-Lawrence (later a prominent Baconian) in 1885 from the garden of Shakespeare’s house in New Place, Stratford-Upon-Avon, in the (erroneous) belief that it was part of the mulberry tree planted there by Shakespeare himself. We moved into the present with a jigsaw puzzle based on Terry Pratchett’s Discworld character of the Librarian, one of numerous memorabilia from the Colin Smythe Terry Pratchett archive ranging from candles and badges to T-shirts, mugs, mouse mats and embroidery kits.


A Wordsworth sonnet based on a portrait by Benjamin Robert Haydon of the Duke of Wellington on the Field of Waterloo and composed while Wordsworth was ascending Helvellyn in the summer of 1840, for publication two years later, exemplifies the worthy element of the display. Senate House Library purchased the manuscript in 1950 in the belief that it was in Wordsworth’s hand. In fact, it turned out to be by his wife Mary, with the correction of single words by Wordsworth. As a reminder that literary manuscripts can include correspondence as well as works of imaginative literature, we selected a holograph letter from the poet Robert Southey to John May (1775-1856), a London merchant, financier and business agent whom Southey met in 1796 and with whom he remained friendly until he died: May was the godfather to two of Southey’s children and the dedicatee of Southey’s poem The Poet’s Pilgrimage to Waterloo (1816). May acted as a financial adviser and agent to Southey, lending him money, and in this letter of 1797 Southey writes at length about his straitened financial circumstances and his efforts to alleviate them by his writing. He also writes about his rift with Samuel Taylor Coleridge, stating: ‘My opinion of S.T. Coleridge was not what it had been, for by long living with him I knew much of his character now’, and: ‘he had been employing every possible calumny against me & representing me as a villain’. A published, abbreviated version of the letter in Life and Correspondence, edited by Southey’s son Charles Cuthbert (1849) omits all reference to Coleridge.


Shakespeare, Southey, Wordsworth and Pratchett cover the seventeenth, eighteenth, nineteenth and twenty-first centuries. We brought in the twentieth with drafts of poems by the poet and critic Austin Dobson (1840-1921). Probably because Dobson is not well known, his work seldom features in displays – and the collection deserves to be exploited, consisting as it does both of multiple printed editions of works he wrote or to which he contributed and of manuscript material. A long letter-like inscription by Walter de la Mare to his eldest son, Richard, at the front of St Andrews: Two Poems, completed the display: a reminder of the intrusion of manuscript material into printed text.


Dr Karen Attar is Special Collections Librarian at Senate House Library, University of London.

Reflections on the 2015 T. S. Eliot International Summer School


Mena Mitrano (Loyola University Chicago, Rome Center) participated in the T.S. Eliot International Summer School (11-19 July 2015).

Encountering T. S. Eliot again at the 2015 Summer School has meant for me receiving a major re-introduction to the art of giving.

The first gift is what might be called room for “breathing.” It refers to a state of well being that comes from inhabiting a space that is, of course, material (Senate House, the building where the Summer School was held on the West side of Russell Square close to where Eliot worked at Faber and Faber), but also densely symbolic, made up of words and ideas as well as presences, forms of contact, layers of communication other than linguistic, all of which immersed participants in the Eliot vocabulary and in his world. As an outcome of such hospitality, one realizes what an incredible opportunity Eliot is for thinking and for writing today. That room for breathing should be had not only by those who have come encouraged, perhaps, by their connections or even discipleship to Eliot scholars but also, and quite powerfully, by scholars from diverse backgrounds, and with diverse interests and modernist or theoretical genealogies, is quite exceptional and, I would say, the trademark of the Eliot Summer School.waste land 1

The lectures by prominent Eliot specialists are a first-hand introduction to the debates in the field. In step with the new archival materials made available in the online edition of The Complete Prose edited by Ron Schuchard and his team, together with recent studies such as Robert Crawford’s Young Eliot (March 2015), at this year’s school the sense of an opening, the inauguration of a new era in Eliot studies was palpable. As Ron Schuchard told us, this is an exciting time to be studying Eliot. As he prodded us to explore and use the range of resources, he inspired us to entertain the promise that Eliot is enabling us, somehow, to say what we might not be able to say via other means and from other vantage points.

The visits to the locations of The Four Quartets remain impressed on my mind as an example of how a poet can indeed take us on his journey and how this journey can intersect with ours. The beauty felt at Burnt Norton, Little Gidding or East Coker cannot be explained merely but the interesting layers that our presence in those places might add to our reading of Eliot’s text. We were not there, it seemed, to hoard and acquire new clues to reading (although, perhaps, in this case, that sort of expectation might be justified); rather, the experience of this beauty is inseparable from the intimation of a clearing or new space, so that one can really grasp what Lyndall Gordon means when she asks: How does Eliot transcend time? How does he touch other lives?

At a certain point in his life Eliot decided that he belonged to London. With the city, he chose entanglement in the world of nine-to-five work, the discipline necessary to combine a job done for money with the life of the mind, his hard and serious academic work as an extension lecturer, the conflicts and compromises that transformed the talented poet into an influential public intellectual. What limited time he had available to himself he had to use wisely and work out those questions that really needed to be asked. Especially when compared to Wallace Stevens (as I did in Massimo Bacigalupo’s seminar), T. S. Eliot might uncannily appear as our contemporary. Eliot’s form of life–with its knot of work, thinking, human desire and moral questions–feels incredibly close to our times of generalized economic hardships and, within the Humanities, struggle for critical renewal.dedication full

There were personal, creative, and intellectual gifts to be received at the Eliot Summer School. Gifts kept multiplying after the end of School, during the days that I spent in Bloomsbury thinking about Eliot among the things of the present, and reading and researching in the Senate House Library where, in Special Collections, I found a valuable copy of the 1923 Hogarth Press edition of The Waste Land with Eliot’s signature, given by John Rothenstein, once a young Oxford man who had heard Eliot’s fame predicted by Lady Ottoline Morell herself at Garsington, to a certain Nathalie.

A Bit of Bibliographical History


It’s not every day that an ornamental trowel turns up on your desk:


This trowel was presented to WA Copinger, the first president of the Bibliographical Society, in 1896, upon the laying of the foundation stone of the Catholic Apostolic Church in Buxton. Copinger was an ‘angel’ (i.e. bishop) of the Church, sometimes referred to as ‘Irvingites’. (Lambeth Palace Library, which holds a collection of Church material, has a guide to the Church and its beliefs on its website.) As a (slightly unusual) bit of Bibliographical Society history, the presentational trowel will make its way to the Society’s archives, on deposit in the Bodleian Library’s special collections.
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Illuming the Mystery of Edwin Drood?


From part 6

Original part of ‘The Mystery of Edwin Drood’

Senate House Library often provides small displays to support conferences. The Library scans lists of forthcoming SAS conferences to offer displays, where timing fits and it has relevant holdings, and sometimes conference organisers approach the Library to request displays. When The Mystery of Edwin Drood: Solutions and Resolutions organisers requested a display on the back of one that had accompanied the Victorian Popular Fiction Association’s conference in July, the Library was delighted to comply, having already had the Drood conference in its sights.

How does one select material in such instances? The original ‘parts’ were a clear must: Dickens parts are always popular. Those of Edwin Drood show the work of two illustrators / interpreters – Dickens’s son-in-law Charles Collins for the cover, and the younger Luke Fildes for the rest. The original parts are also the only way to demonstrate the enormous initial popularity of the publication, with the large number of advertisements: in the first part, 36 pages, headed ‘Edwin Drood Advertiser’ at the front, and another seven at the end, not to mention the covers. Seeing the parts means seeing for oneself how readers of 1870 also imbibed advertisements for Chappell’s twenty-guinea pianoforte, Mr Streeter’s machine-made jewellery, Epps’s cocoa, croquet sets, and the Scottish Widows’ Fund Life Assurance Society among other goods and services.

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The Ministry of Information Project and Being Human Festival


The ‘A Publishing and Communication History of the Ministry of Information’ project team are delighted to confirm their involvement in the Being Human 2014. This post by Dr Henry Irving explains what can be expected.

Being HumanBeing Human is the UK’s first national festival of the humanities. Running between 15 and 23 November 2014, it aims to engage people with innovative research and highlight the impact of the humanities on everyday life. And I am delighted to confirm the Ministry of Information (MOI) project’s involvement.

The festival is of particular interest to our team because the MOI was itself designed to act as a ‘vehicle of communication’. As Simon Eliot and I have explained on the Being Human blog, its success depended on effective dissemination and involved a variety of different approaches.

A commitment to public engagement is also central to our project. We recognise that the MOI’s history extends beyond its archives, and are keen to share this history beyond an academic audience. These are among the main reasons for the existence of our website  and for our regular tweeting.

During the Being Human festival, we will invite participants to join us as we explore the MOI within the very building that it occupied for the duration of the Second World War. An exhibition and series of talks will examine different parts of the MOI’s work, while tours of Senate House will offer a tactile history of the corridors that once housed its staff.

You can keep up to date with the programme at the Being Human festival website or by following @BeingHuman on Twitter.

You can find out more about the ‘A Publishing and Communications History of the Ministry of Information’ at the MOI Digital website.

Introducing MOI Digital


The Ministry of Information (MOI) is the focus of a major AHRC-funded research project being undertaken by Professor Simon Eliot of the Institute of English Studies in collaboration with Paul Vetch of the Department of Digital Humanities at King’s College London.

MOI GraphicOn 28 July 1939 Samuel Hoare, the British Home Secretary, provided the House of Commons with an update on the progress being made to establish a Ministry of Information (MOI) in the event of war. He explained that the intention was to ‘build up a comprehensive and efficient machine that would be able to work as soon as war came upon us’ and that efforts had been made to consult as widely as possible. He stressed that he had made ‘contacts with people in every walk of life and every kind of opinion’.

As explained by a previous post on this blog Ministry Worth Exploring, the MOI provides a unique case study for historians of communication.  Using all available methods, this was always a two-way process, with the MOI responsible for both the dissemination and the monitoring of information.  It was in this sense that the first Minister of Information, the Scottish Law Lord Hugh Macmillan, described his department as a ‘vehicle of communication between the Government and the public at home and abroad’.

It is in a similar spirit that we announce the launch of MOI Digital. This website is the online home of the ‘Publishing and Communications History of the Ministry of Information’ project and details of our scholarly activities and a regularly updated blog. It also provides an opportunity for you to engage with the project’s development by contributing to its findings.  This is important. After all, as Hoare acknowledged, ‘however good our machine may be, the real thing that matters is the record that we have to tell.’

To find out more visit and follow @moidigital

‘For the Greater Glory of God and the More Universal Good’: A Conference Exhibition


Jacobus de Voragine, Legenda aurea (1486), Senate House Library [Incunabula] 87

Jacobus de Voragine, Legenda aurea (1486), Senate House Library [Incunabula] 87

For several years now Senate House Library has been supporting Institute of English Studies conferences with small displays of books, to enhance the experience of conference delegates and demonstrate the relevance of library holdings — especially special collections holdings — for research. Academics conference organisers are experts in the subject areas, and I try accordingly to interest them in helping to select material and write exhibition captions. Research Excellence Framework (REF) requirements to demonstrate research impact and knowledge transfer mean that the organisers derive professional benefit from the task, and the co-operation between the Library and academic staff ensures high-quality displays. Nonetheless, exhibition timescales and busy schedules rarely render such collaboration feasible.

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Postfeminism, Sexy Bodies, and Sherlock Holmes on Screen


In the run up to – and right after – the broadcast of the much awaited third season of BBC’s Sherlock earlier in 2014, blogs, reviews, articles, and conferences were abuzz with all things Sherlockian, analysing each and every conceivable aspect of the show: from the religious turn in fan appreciations of Holmes and Watson’s relationship (Poore 2012) to links between Victoriana, Steampunk and doctor Watson’s black Haversack jacket (Artt 2014). Yet one thing seemed to go unnoticed, for all its fleshly, flamboyant spectacle: the political implications of season two’s sexualisation of Irene Adler, the only female character who ever outwitted the legendarily astute Sherlock Holmes in Arthur Conan Doyle’s Holmes stories.

Irene Adler Sherlock 2012 Whereas Doyle’s Adler, first appearing in ‘A Scandal in Bohemia’ published in The Strand in 1891, is the only woman who beat Holmes at his own game by outsmarting him, in Gattis & Moffat’s irreverent updating and re-mixing of Doyle’s stories she becomes a scantily clad dominatrix who literally beats him. Instead on her brains, the focus of ‘A Scandal in Belgravia’ is somewhere else: on Adler’s sexy body and sexuality. And here, in the ‘sexsation’ (Kohlke 2008) of this neo-Victorian interpretation of Adler, one detects the adaptation’s neo-conservative and neo-colonialist rub. What, at the first glance, would – and easily could – be dismissed as a mere ‘sexing up’ of the Victorian text for contemporary sensation-seeking audiences turns out to be a pleasurable visual distraction from the politically regressive interventions of the adaptation.

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