What is a Librarian? James Hamilton on the Collector Librarian of The Signet Library, David Laing.

On 27th of October, in a session organised by the Centre for the History of the Book, James Hamilton, the Research Principal of the WS Society, introduced David Laing and his history as the Principal Librarian of the Signet Library. With a strong background in the book trade and bibliography, Laing was already a leading figure in Edinburgh’s intellectual elite as a member of the Bannatyne Club and the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. After his attempt, and subsequent failure, to become Librarian to the Faculty of Advocates, Laing accepted a role as the Principal Librarian of the Signet Library, employed by the Society of Writers of the Signet. His appointment set a precedent in the Society history – never before had a non-lawyer been employed to manage their collections. It would set Laing on the collision course that followed and open the door towards the controversy and conflicts that followed him in his later years. His career and its impact on the Signet Library opens up a lot of questions regarding the past, present and future role of the librarian and how it could affect the way we, as scholars of materiality, “read” a library and its collections.

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If a Leaf Falls Press: Sam Riviere on appropriation and micropublishing in the poetry sector

On the 13th of October, Sam Riviere, former Poet-in-Residence at the University of Edinburgh, presented his work as the editor of If a Leaf Falls Press, a micropublishing house working with found and appropriated materials. Fittingly, the name If a Leaf Falls is itself an appropriation of a Lil Wayne lyric (the full lyric, from 2011’s “The Motto,” reads “And if a leaf fall, put some weed on that bitch”) which has come into modern Twitter parlance as a way of referring to something insignificant that is blown out of proportion. With the addition of “Press,” Riviere hopes also to evoke images of pressing a leaf, thereby preserving something that would have otherwise been fleeting.

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Politics, Principles and Plays: Professor Thomas Lockwood on Outlaw Print and Bottom-Feeding Printers.

Professor Lockwood’s interest and curiosity in the subterranean infrastructure of cheap periodical press and the work of its pirate publishers was cultivated during the time spent with the periodicals and journals of the time to research his book Lowlife: Representations of Social Inferiority in Britain, 1660 – 1830. Although there are not many items produced by these pirate printers still extant today, Lockwood believes that a better understanding of their social and cultural influences could shed light onto their contribution to the spread of literature among the lower classes and, additionally, could elucidate references and allusions in contemporary plays and literary works.

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A new literary history: Professor James Loxley on the lessons of the Palimpsest Project

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.

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Chapels and Chapters: Paolo Quattrone on rhetoric and the art of memory

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.

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