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.
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.
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.
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?”
On 14-15 May 2015, the first of twinned symposia, “Books and/as New Media,” was convened at Harvard University. Co-organized by Deidre Lynch (Professor of English, Harvard University) and Tom Mole (Director, Edinburgh Centre for the History of the Book), this symposium featured six leading scholars who traced articulations, re-imaginings, and redeployments of the book in the face of changing media ecologies.