Janet Coats Black – The Woman who founded Scotland’s longest running book prizes (1919-2019)


In celebration of the centennial of the James Tait Black Memorial Book Prizes the Centre for the History of the Book welcomed Lucinda Byatt on March 29th as she presented her research on the woman who made these prizes possible, Janet Coats Black. The James Tait Black Memorial Book Prizes are a collection of literary awards which are structured as three individual prizes each year in the categories of drama, fiction, and biography. Claiming the title of the longest-running prizes for literature offered in Scotland, the James Tait Black Memorial Book Prizes began in 1919 with Janet Coats Black, the wife of the man for whom the prize is named. Over the last century, however, the woman behind the prize has existed as a fringe historical figure with little more than rudimentary credit given when the prize is discussed. Continue reading

Opening Up the Archives – The Museum of Childhood Book Collection

On the 15th of February the Centre for the History of the Book welcomed Lyn Stevens, curator at Edinburgh’s Museum of Childhood, to talk about the museum’s nationally-recognised collection of children’s books. The collection encompasses over 15,000 items, ranging from a Latin grammar book from 1579 to a book about Hammy the Wonder Hamster from 2006. Not only does the museum actively collect contemporary children’s literature, but its staff are also still uncovering treasures from the donations they’ve already acquired.

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Biologies and Ethnologies of the Book: a one-day interdisciplinary workshop on Deciphering the Indigenous Artifact Language of the Edinburgh Indian Primer.

This interdisciplinary seminar, hosted by the Centre for the History of the Book brings together experts in literary studies, book history, chemistry, archaeology, and biology to create dialogue between disciplines and further understand approaches to early and Native American material and print culture.

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Enlightenment readers in the Scottish Universities – Matthew Sangster

Dr Matthew Sangster delivered an enlightening and engaging seminar on his recent work concerning the rather understudied area of the history of readers. Dr Sangster is an English Literature Lecturer at the University of Glasgow, where he focuses on eighteenth-century and romantic literature, as well as book history – in particular on the history of publishing and libraries. Though he has a focus on the author, his recent work focuses on the history of the reader, with the intention of understanding reading patterns, curriculum changes, and the sharing of works amongst readers.

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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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