On a particularly cold and rainy November the 13th, the Center for the History of the Book welcomed Professor Iain Donaldson from the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh to speak about the important features of the modern book that derived from the early printed books created before the end of the sixteenth century. By providing examples through books found in the Royal College of Physicians’ Library, Professor Donaldson argued that many of the elements we see today in modern publishing are direct, or close indirect, descendants from those first printed books. Although they may look very different now, the functionality and look of these elements remain relatively unchanged. Specifically, those that favor the accessibility of readers seem to survive today, while those intended for the printer’s use have dwindled away with the inventions of new technologies and processes.
Officially founded on the 29th of November, 1681, Edinburgh’s Royal College of Physicians certainly warrants the epithet of ‘venerable’ and this is reflected in both the grandness of the buildings which house it and its worldwide reputation as a centre of medical education and research. One of the physicians who campaigned voraciously for the institution to be founded, Sir Robert Sibbald, was also involved with the inauguration of the city’s Royal Botanic Garden and this link between the worlds of botany and medicine is continued through the small Physic Garden which can be seen in the College’s central courtyard. Designed by Thomas Hamilton and ready for occupation in 1846, the College’s main building is one of great distinction, acting unmistakably as an architectural signifier of the wealth of knowledge and tradition contained behind its doors.
This Friday lunchtime, the Centre for the History of the Book welcomed Dr Simon Rowberry, lecturer in Digital Media & Publishing at the University of Stirling, to give a lecture entitled ‘A Historiography of the Ebook’. As a printed book enthusiast, I came to this CHB seminar as someone who is fairly sceptical about e-readers. I’ve never read a book on a Kindle, never read a newspaper on my smartphone, and definitely never dared touch an iPad (too scared I’d break it). As a result, I didn’t know what to expect from such an intriguing lecture title; the relatively new term ‘ebook’ seems almost out of place next to the grandiose, scholarly pursuit of ‘historiography’. However, over the course of the lecture Dr Rowberry gave us an absorbing insight into the historical origins, development, and controversies surrounding ebooks and e-readers and their implications upon contemporary reading practices.
October 16th witnessed a special event at the Centre for the History of the Book: a round table discussion including representatives from three different Edinburgh bookshops.
Chaired by Katherine Inglis, Chancellor’s Fellow, the initial participant to be introduced was Blackwell’s, the city’s biggest (academic) bookseller. Ann Landmann, the company’s Events Manager, kindly started off by introducing ‘her’ bookshop, highlighting the store’s 150 year history, during which it also served as the original premises of James Thin’s.
Marie Moser owns the smaller and independent Edinburgh Bookshop, which focuses on an “unusual, intelligent and topical selections of titles”. Being situated outside the city centre, this bookshop has succeeded in becoming an active part of the local community, for which it has been recognised with several awards.
Finally, Derek Walker from McNaughtan’s Bookshop and Gallery was introduced. Quite unlike the other two, his shop combines an antiquarian and collectors bookshop with a small art gallery.