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.
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.
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.
The second instalment in this term’s series of seminars was given by Dr Bill Bell, Professor of Bibliography at the University of Cardiff and founder of the CHB. His talk centred on the John Murray Archive, which houses a rich repository of materials relating to the celebrated publisher. Founded in 1768, the Murray publishing house was run by seven generations of publishers, all named John Murray, until 2002 when John Murray VII announced a voluntary takeover by Hodder Headline. Professor Bell has a comprehensive study forthcoming on John Murray, Travels into Print: Exploration, Writing, and Publishing with John Murray, 1773-1859; in this seminar, he focused specifically on paratexts in books published under the proprietorship of John Murray I, John Murray II and John Murray III.