“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.
At the age o’ 22, I flew o’er the ocean blue… to pursue a full-time MA in the History of the Book at the School of Advanced Study’s Institute of English Studies. And clearly poetry was not my speciality.
During my undergraduate degree at the University of Toronto, I had become enamoured with illuminated manuscripts, and I was set on writing my MA dissertation on anything medieval. Even before the Medieval Book classes began, I had devoured the reading list, and I regularly sought recommendations for further reading. Of course, those teaching the course excitedly listed titles for me to pick up at the Senate House Library.
Further supporting my interest in medieval manuscripts, my course tutor connected me with the exhibition team at Two Temple Place, and by November I found myself preparing all the medieval manuscripts and early printed books for display in Two Temple Place’s ‘Cotton to Gold’ exhibition. There I was, thumbing through priceless medieval manuscripts teeming with illustration and, in some cases, literally covered in gold leaf. Yet, as exciting as it was to be working with the materials that I had literally crossed the Atlantic Ocean to be near, I found myself drawn to another book: an early twentieth-century journal about some bloke’s trip to Peru. Bound in full-fledged llama skin.
Figure 1: The llama book, now held at Towneley Hall (http://www.burnley.gov.uk/residents/towneley-hall).
I quickly took on the task of transcribing this book. Throughout the rest of the year, I would spend my free time working page by page to unravel the stories the book held. While this was no medieval manuscript, I grew so passionate about the llama book that my MA peers still tease me about it.
As the year went on, and classes continued, I found myself exposed to more things that piqued my interest: things that had little to do with the Middle Ages. For our Textual Scholarship course, for example, I wrote a paper about computer-generated poetry. For our Printed Book course, I wrote about an underground publication of Kurt Vonnegut’s Mother Night produced and disseminated in Soviet-dominated Poland. Come time for the final dissertation, I had drastically adjusted my dissertation topic to accommodate a new love that I had been introduced to during the IES’ London Book Trade Internship: 1960s/70s American counterculture. My dissertation supervisor and course tutor, however, took it in stride, supporting me throughout the entire writing process despite how – ahem – quirky my topic was.
All of our dissertations highlighted the diversity of our class’ interests. We had dissertations on Orwell, witchcraft pamphlets, the thirteenth century book trade, digital literature… And each of our supervisors challenged us to write dissertations that pushed us to become better academics and resulted in work we could brag about.
While we all worked hard in school, we never failed to make time to visit the many cafés, burger joints, and pubs near Senate House. Those in the course became quick friends, bound together by a love of books, and we’d spend hours drinking overpriced beer and bouncing paper ideas off each other. Occasionally, we’d even trek to Surrey, where one of our peers (and her delightful dogs!) lived.
Figure 2: Three of the Book History girls (L-R: Pauline, Jess, and me) visiting Surrey, featuring Stig and Impi.
The academic and social opportunities associated with my time at the IES – including the range of courses, the Book Trade Internship, and the school’s affiliations with other organisations across the city – allowed me to explore various theoretical and practical aspects of book history in a supportive environment. The Textual Scholarship class in particular opened my eyes to what would eventually become the subject of my PhD: algorithmic authorship.
As I grew evermore fascinated by Twitter bots and computer-generated texts, Dr Wim Van Mierlo served as a sounding board for ideas and a constant source of academic advice. Just over a year later, Dr Van Mierlo is one of my supervisors at Loughborough University, where I am pursuing a fully-funded PhD studentship in the Arts, English and Drama department. I’m looking at the future of the book, applying the book history basis I developed at the IES as a framework for my research.
Figure 3: Graduation with the gang (L-R: Janine, Ben, Pauline, Jess, Me, Cynthia)
Britain, Canada, and the Arts: Cultural Exchange as Post-war Renewal
15-17 June 2017
CALL FOR PAPERS
Papers are invited for a major international, interdisciplinary conference to be held at Senate House, London, in collaboration with the School of English, Communication and Philosophy (Cardiff University) and the University of Westminster. Coinciding with and celebrating the 150th anniversary of Canadian Confederation, this conference will focus on the strong culture of artistic exchange, influence, and dialogue between Canada and Britain, with a particular but not exclusive emphasis on the decades after World War II.
Dr Elizabeth Savage is British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow and Lecturer in Book History and Communications, Institute of English Studies, School of Advanced Study, University of London. Her research explores how earliest printing techniques in the West shaped visual communication across text and image. She took her PhD at Cambridge, where she was elected Munby Fellow in Bibliography. She has held fellowships at the Centre for Material Texts, Cambridge; the Rylands Research Institute, Manchester; and the Warburg Institute, London. Her recent curation includes exhibitions at the British Museum and Cambridge University Library. In 2016, she won the Wolfgang Ratjen Award for distinguished research in the field of graphic art, and Printing Colour 1400-1700: Histories, Techniques, Functions and Receptions (2015), which she edited, was recognised at the IFPDA Book Awards. Continue reading →