We tend to perceive history as a somewhat continuous flow from one period to another — regardless of how many times history itself tries to prove us wrong by introducing events and processes driven by no principle other than randomness, and hence messing up the timelines that we have made so much effort to arrange and pin down. Last Friday Dr Katie Halsey of the University of Stirling stepped out of the narrative of smooth, all-encompassing cultural transitions to present an intriguing case of what might seem to some as a historical ‘inconsistency’. Exploring the development of Innerpeffray Library in rural Perthshire and its readers, Dr Halsey told a peculiar story about reading in the Romantic period that did not happen the way we might like to imagine.
For many people, their first encounter with the history of the book is reading Alberto Manguel’s narratives that effectively combine historical detail, beautiful descriptions and personal anecdotes that give a unique spiritual element to the author’s encounters with books. These qualities that we have come to associate with Manguel in the written word were strongly felt in the engaging and thought-provoking lecture the author gave on ‘Adam’s Task: A Dictionary Story’.
The prevailing image of the dictionary as a functional book listing words with their definitions was immediately challenged by Manguel’s perception of it as a magical object with mysterious powers containing the modern language in its entirety: past forgotten languages and future words not yet known to name new experiences. At one time the dictionary held a place of importance, regarded as an essential possession along with a copy of the Bible and the Complete Works of Shakespeare, but is increasingly unlikely to be found on today’s bookshelves. Whilst electronic versions offer a viable alternative, one feels they are even more functional than their paper counterpart as they do not offer the serendipity of discovering new words as you flick through the pages. During the course of the lecture, Manguel elevated the dictionary from a mere book of words with definitions laying forgotten on bookshelves, to a book that defines humanity itself, an essential volume containing our past, present and future. Instead of casually standing by and allowing this important book to become obsolete, Manguel forces us to consider the significance of loosing such a book, that it would be like losing our memory and losing our ‘guardian angel’ of the library.
For its final seminar of 2015, on November 27th, the Centre for the History of the Book welcomed Dr Bruno Tribout to present “The mazarinades after Mazarin: literary memory and political criticism in the reign of Louis XIV.” The Fronde was a period of civil wars in France during which opposition from the princes, nobility, and the courts of Paris confronted the monarchy during the years 1648 to 1653. And the mazarinades appeared during these years of the Fronde as anti-government pamphlets that commonly attacked Cardinal Mazarin in particular. Cardinal Mazarin had been the Chief Minister for Louis XIII until the king’s death in 1642 and continued to wield influence alongside his widow Anne until Louis XIV’s ascension to the throne. The term for the pamphlets, clearly derived from the Cardinal’s name, was first popularized with Paul Scarron’s pamphlet of that title in 1651.
Une moitié de Paris imprime ou vend des imprimés; l’autre en consomme.
Half of Paris prints or sells pamphlets; the other consumes them.
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.
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.