The printing press with moveable type, introduced by Gutenberg in the Occident in 1440, ended the days in which the written word had to be replicated laboriously by hand to produce few expensive copies, initiating an era in which books could be produced faster and more cheaply than ever before. The system was so efficient and widely accepted it remained nearly unchanged until the nineteenth century. This socio-political and cultural revolution facilitated and promoted literacy and literary creation, favouring the emergence and spread of new ideas and movements, and playing a crucial role in many historical events that would shape the world as we now it.
The third in this year’s series of English Literature seminars was delivered by the Centre for the History of the Book’s director, Dr. Tom Mole, on the topic of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s religious reception in Victorian Britain. That authors and poets can be received differently in their own time than in subsequent decades or centuries is a familiar idea for students of literature. But what was immediately surprising and fascinating about Dr. Mole’s lecture was just how extreme he claimed Shelley’s transformation to have been between the Romantic and late Victorian periods. According to Mole, Shelley, in his own time an infamous atheist, was transformed in the Victorian age into a Christian teacher and prophet. Using Shelley and his poetry for their own evangelical purposes, four religious commentators in particular – Clara Lucas Balfour, George Gilfillan, Richard Armstrong and Stopford Brooke – had spread their Christianised idea of Shelley through speeches and public lectures, thus reaching a wide audience of Victorians who were likely unfamiliar with Shelley’s writing.
Kylie Murray, Junior Research Fellow and Tutor at Balliol College, Oxford travelled to Edinburgh for our first Centre for Book History luncheon seminar to give a lecture on Friday, October 2nd. Her enthusiasm for her subject was unmatched. Her lecture was nothing short of epic. It was, to draw on her title, a Hobbit-like adventure in the making.
Her lecture on Boethius in early modern Scotland: from script to print and back again advances the argument that Boethius texts were circulating in Scotland. Murray believes transcriptions of Boethius’ texts were copied by Scottish readers. She further believes these texts circulated by means of handing down the text from companion to companion in Scotland. One possibility she surmises is that the entrustment of the texts from generation to generation was part of a larger pedagogical movement. Evidence for this supposition is in the marginalia. Signatures and annotations by well-known Scottish residents are present in these margins. One commonality that links these owners of Boethius texts like John Vaus (1484-1539), David Black (c.1546-1603), James Stewart (1500-1544/5), David Rait (1592-1638) George Buchanan (1506-82), Peter Young (1544-1628), and Alexander Yule (c.1578-1612)—just to name a few Murray touches on in her lecture—is that they were all in the pedagogical world of early modern Scotland. The link between ownership and pedagogical use is a claim, Murray makes, because the tradition of Boethius in Scotland is not a common one.
‘Everything is changing, but nothing is new: some current challenges facing libraries and books’: a public lecture by Dr. John Scally on 1st October, 2015
To paraphrase the intriguing title of this lecture: libraries have seen it all before.
Dr. John Scally, director of the NLS, used a potted history to effectively illustrate that, since the great library of Alexandria to the present day, libraries have always faced technological challenges. By presenting a survival plan for the 21st century, that can be adopted by any library, it is Dr. Scally’s aim to ensure the NLS stays true to its fundamental principle as a protector of its 20 million books and other media, yet remains relevant to library users today and in the future. The main ways of achieving this are:
It has been a month since I attended the second of the two twined symposia co-organized by The University of Edinburgh and Harvard University, and nearly daily an insightful comment or compelling example from the symposium crosses my mind.
The symposium thrived within the conceptual space afforded by the difference between the History of the Book and the history of a book. This seemingly small grammatical difference, as well as the interplay between thinking of the book and new media and then the book as new media, opened the theoretical space of the conference.
At the conference’s concluding roundtable, the presenter’s joked about the rigorous work undertaken in the sliver of conceptual slippage offered by the different prepositions, noting that the symposium could be summarized in one sentence – “What are a book?”