In the past decade I have worked in various ways to compare global perspectives in historical bibliography and book history, and have learned so much from collections of and scholarship about the production of materially diverse manuscripts and printed items in East and South Asia. Geographical location is often unexpected, but on-line access makes study wonderfully available. Det Kongelige Bibliotek, the Royal Library in Copenhagen (the National Library of Denmark), offers a fascinating on-line exhibition of Oriental writing and printing tools, showcasing 155 objects relating to the culture of writing and printing from central Asia, Tibet, Laos, China, Japan, and elsewhere in east Asia: http://www.kb.dk/images/billed/2010/okt/billeder/subject4749/da/
And after that you might want to take a tour with the Exhibition Guide to the Printing Museum in Tokyo – the English site for those of us less expert in Japanese: https://www.printing-museum.org/en/collection/general/ and the collection https://www.printing-museum.org/en/collection/looking/.
James Raven, President
I have been heartened and inspired over recent months to read about two projects that have been identifying and naming women in library, archive and short-title catalogues.
Staff at the Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Columbia University, New York, have documented how this summer they identified 1,257 women previously referred to in the library’s finding aids solely by their husbands’ names. It’s testament to librarians’ determination and research skills that they were able to complete this project during the lockdown period, drawing on the wealth of online resources and digitised material to confirm names and details.
The Flemish Short Title Catalogue (Short Title Catalogus Vlaanderen, known as STCV) announced on UN International Widows Day (23 June) that they have identified 136 widows previously only identified in the catalogue by the name of their husband. As well as identifying these women in their own right it has revealed hitherto unknown family connections between printing firms, visible once we can see that the same woman married into one family and then later into another.
Projects of this kind take time, resources and expertise. They’re vital in opening up library and archive collections to their full research potential, and in doing justice to the people whose lives are represented within them.
Katie Birkwood, member of Council
I hope I’ll be forgiven for choosing something which has come out of my own workplace – Cambridge University Library – but in August we became the first institution of the University to join the Google Arts & Culture platform, which aims to bring historic content from a range of museums, galleries and libraries to a broader public audience.
From the six themed ‘stories’, including the history of anatomical illustration and objects in the Library’s collections, I have chosen the story themed on communication to focus on here. It aims to tell the history of writing and communication, beginning with a Sumerian clay tablet made c. 2200BCE (the oldest example of writing in the Library). Along the way themes include materials on which writing is found (bone, papyrus, pottery and palm leaves), how texts were transported and the advent of printing, from illuminated incunabula to popular reading (including seventeenth-century newspapers and Penguin fiction).
Some of the contents will be known to members of the Society, forming part of the well-trodden path of the history of printing, including the Cambridge copy of the Gutenberg Bible (known to have been used as printer’s copy by Heinrich Eggestein of Strasbourg c. 1469), itself fully digitised at the Cambridge Digital Library. But as the routes through which researchers come into the world of bibliography widen and Council muses on how best to engage with new audiences, this seems like a good time to publicise content which takes us back to the origins of our subject, giving newcomers and old hands alike a fresh look at the key milestones writing, printing and reading.
Liam Sims, member of Council
I have always been fascinated by the work of conservators, and I can enthusiastically recommend ‘Conservation: Together at Home’, the webinar series produced by ICON: The Institute of Conservation.
The talks now available on online https://icon.org.uk/groups/book-paper/conservation-together-at-home-webinar-series#prevrecordings range very widely in subject matter from historic paintings to cannon balls to issues facing the cultural heritage sector. There are some intriguing and engaging talks on books and manuscripts: such as Caroline Bendix on Conserving the National Trust’s Libraries, and Kristine Rose-Beers on a very early Qur’an at the Chester Beatty Library, or Andrew Honey on 17th-century paper faults. But be warned, scrolling through the various talks can lead to binge-watching. It will be time well-spent, however. So much of our work as researchers and exhibition viewers is shaped by and dependent on the work of conservators, we should enjoy this opportunity to hear and learn directly from them.
Julia Walworth, member of Council
The Gentleman’s Magazine provides a panoramic view of print culture, literary biography and networks of learning across the eighteenth century. Each monthly number overflowed with letters to the editor on a vast range of topics, memoirs, poetry, and reviews of the latest publications. Though most contributors concealed themselves with anonymity or pseudonyms, meticulous research by James Kuist, Arthur Sherbo and more recently, Emily Lorraine de Montluzin is now revealing their identities.
My choice is the two online databases developed by Professor de Montluzin. The first,Attributions of Authorship in the Gentleman’s Magazine, 1731-1868: https://bsuva.org/bsuva/gm2/ identifies 2,362 authors of 25,585 letters, articles, reviews, poems, and obituaries. It is founded on the annotated editorial copy preserved at the Folger Shakespeare Library but augmented by Lorraine’s ongoing project to identify the magazine’s many contributors.
Lorraine has also published The Poetry of the Gentleman’s Magazine, 1731–1800: An Electronic Database of Titles, Authors, and First Lines accessible at http://www.gmpoetrydatabase.org/db/ This provides a searchable list of the 12,561 poems printed in the magazine in the mid-Georgian period covering topics as diverse as politics, love, science, medicine and the arts. They represent the work of 1,291 identified authors, from established poets whose works endure in the literary canon to amateur writers whose verses proved as ephemeral as the pages of the magazine itself.
Julian Pooley, member of Council.
My link is to the London Review of Books blog:
Here Thomas Poole talks about the engraved frontispiece of Thomas Hobbes’s landmark work Leviathan (1651), perhaps one of the most famous images from any English 17th-century printed book. He points out that Hobbes was closely involved with the engraver Abraham Bosse in the production of this image. Drawing our attention to the details of the engraving, he observes, unnoticed before, that it depicts a city in lockdown, much as our cities are today, though of course in Hobbes’s period due to plague. Relating this to Hobbes’s other works, Poole demonstrates that this famous image has much more to tell us about the context and content of this important work than we realised. It is a fascinating and concise example of how curiosity and attention to the physical detail of a familiar book can open up new levels of understanding about a text and its meaning.
Mark Byford, member of Council
Not only do I myself love looking closely at books and manuscripts, but I love exhibitions that help the public look closely, inevitably finding something of interest in a close examination. The display of the Ripley Scroll was one such display, and this link reproduces it: https://artsandculture.google.com/story/exploring-the-ripley-scroll/sgLCNEuJqIJzLg. It was exhibited as part of the British Library’s Harry Potter: a History of Magic, an exhibition I found fascinating (despite having read only the first book in the Harry Potter series), in part because I knew so many of the books (but not these copies) displayed and also because I encountered and learned about so many others.
Margaret Ford, President