This Friday lunchtime, the Centre for the History of the Book welcomed Dr Simon Rowberry, lecturer in Digital Media & Publishing at the University of Stirling, to give a lecture entitled ‘A Historiography of the Ebook’. As a printed book enthusiast, I came to this CHB seminar as someone who is fairly sceptical about e-readers. I’ve never read a book on a Kindle, never read a newspaper on my smartphone, and definitely never dared touch an iPad (too scared I’d break it). As a result, I didn’t know what to expect from such an intriguing lecture title; the relatively new term ‘ebook’ seems almost out of place next to the grandiose, scholarly pursuit of ‘historiography’. However, over the course of the lecture Dr Rowberry gave us an absorbing insight into the historical origins, development, and controversies surrounding ebooks and e-readers and their implications upon contemporary reading practices.
Professor Faye Hammill kicked off the new seminar series with a talk that spanned three glossy magazines from the early 20th century: Vanity Fair, Tatler, and the Toronto-based Mayfair.
Reflecting on trends in the field of periodical studies, Hammill observed that the periodical itself tends not to be the object of knowledge. Rather, magazines and newspapers are used to illuminate other genres, or to tell us something about the periodical’s historical context.
While Alistair McCleery’s talk was titled “Postcolonial Penguins,” his discussion extended far beyond the nuances of the book trade and into areas such as book historical theory and international politics. At the outset, he explained that his research stemmed from two sources of interest, one professional and one personal. His professional interest, he recounted, was based in a desire for book historians to work harder at finding patterns and models rather than sticking to the kind of case study tradition he has observed for many years. Professor McCleery gave a brief explanation of the British publishing structures post-World War II, and why things changed so dramatically in the world of books at that time. Oxford University Press and Cambridge University Press, in the aftermath of the war, opened satellite branches all over the world. These wholly-owned overseas branches grew and grew until some locations began to devolve based on further development of local communities and new international involvement in publishing.