This is the first in a series of informative blog posts aimed at illuminating the production and use of digitised materials. The posts are part of a larger project for creating sustainable digital learning materials, supported by EDINA, the Centre for Research Collections and the Centre for the History of the Book.
Nowadays, it is highly unlikely that you will encounter a university student who has never had to deal with digital materials: at the very least, they browsed the online catalogue of the university library to find the physical resources they needed. The digital has entered academia in various forms. Many university libraries now simply subscribe to the online editions of academic journals, rather than accumulate piles of the physical issues. Digital collections are created and presented on the libraries’ websites, allowing ready access for more users regardless of geographical distance. Whole books can be found online or in ebook form. Technically speaking, some students might not even have to set foot in the library. The computer screen can be the window to all the resources they need.
Professor James Loxley’s dynamic report on the origin, development and future of the Palimpsest Project provided an engaging second lecture for this spring series at the Centre for the History of the Book. The blog associated with the project, which Professor Loxley directed us to throughout the lecture, explains that the name Palimpsest was chosen ‘to evoke the multi-layered imaginative, conceptual and historical cityscapes of our everyday settings that this resource seeks to bring to life.’ Professor Loxley’s lecture further elucidated these noble aims and outlined some of the obstacles the project faced throughout its journey.
Professor Paolo Quattrone began this semester’s seminar series at the Centre for the History of the Book with a wide-ranging discussion of accounting, rhetoric, and the administration of the Jesuit Order.
If these seem unlikely topics to crop up at the Centre’s seminar series, it’s because they are; indeed, as a Professor at the University of Edinburgh Business School, Quattrone himself may seem an unlikely choice. The majority of past speakers have had their feet firmly planted in the field of humanistic studies; however, Quattrone (who, incidentally, also holds the position of Dean of Special Projects at the College of Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences) has produced research that realises the connections between our respective disciplines. From the beginning of the seminar, Quattrone connected the dots between business and humanistic studies by drawing attention to the importance of etymology in realising the link between rhetoric and accounting. The etymology of the word ‘inventory,’ for example, comes from the Latin inventio, the first of the five canons of rhetoric. This type of interdisciplinary enquiry is exactly the kind of research welcomed by book historians and exemplified by the field of the History of the Book as a whole.
We tend to perceive history as a somewhat continuous flow from one period to another — regardless of how many times history itself tries to prove us wrong by introducing events and processes driven by no principle other than randomness, and hence messing up the timelines that we have made so much effort to arrange and pin down. Last Friday Dr Katie Halsey of the University of Stirling stepped out of the narrative of smooth, all-encompassing cultural transitions to present an intriguing case of what might seem to some as a historical ‘inconsistency’. Exploring the development of Innerpeffray Library in rural Perthshire and its readers, Dr Halsey told a peculiar story about reading in the Romantic period that did not happen the way we might like to imagine.
The second instalment of the Centre for the History of the Book’s lunchtime seminar series for this term, titled The Bibliomaniac’s Progress, began with the speaker, Dr William Zachs, showing us an old clip from The Twilight Zone. The clip was a scene from the episode ‘Time Enough as Last’, during which the protagonist frantically stumbles through a post-apocalyptic cityscape, gathering books and organizing them into monthly piles that he intends to read with all his newfound time. ‘Books, books! All the books I’ll ever need, all the books I’ll ever want!’ he cries. Perhaps nothing could have been more apt in preparing the audience for the talk that followed: an origin story to rival that of any comic book hero, but one that could even be said to be superior to those other tales, because this was a tale of books. Continue reading