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.
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.
Kylie Murray, Junior Research Fellow and Tutor at Balliol College, Oxford travelled to Edinburgh for our first Centre for Book History luncheon seminar to give a lecture on Friday, October 2nd. Her enthusiasm for her subject was unmatched. Her lecture was nothing short of epic. It was, to draw on her title, a Hobbit-like adventure in the making.
Her lecture on Boethius in early modern Scotland: from script to print and back again advances the argument that Boethius texts were circulating in Scotland. Murray believes transcriptions of Boethius’ texts were copied by Scottish readers. She further believes these texts circulated by means of handing down the text from companion to companion in Scotland. One possibility she surmises is that the entrustment of the texts from generation to generation was part of a larger pedagogical movement. Evidence for this supposition is in the marginalia. Signatures and annotations by well-known Scottish residents are present in these margins. One commonality that links these owners of Boethius texts like John Vaus (1484-1539), David Black (c.1546-1603), James Stewart (1500-1544/5), David Rait (1592-1638) George Buchanan (1506-82), Peter Young (1544-1628), and Alexander Yule (c.1578-1612)—just to name a few Murray touches on in her lecture—is that they were all in the pedagogical world of early modern Scotland. The link between ownership and pedagogical use is a claim, Murray makes, because the tradition of Boethius in Scotland is not a common one.
‘Everything is changing, but nothing is new: some current challenges facing libraries and books’: a public lecture by Dr. John Scally on 1st October, 2015
To paraphrase the intriguing title of this lecture: libraries have seen it all before.
Dr. John Scally, director of the NLS, used a potted history to effectively illustrate that, since the great library of Alexandria to the present day, libraries have always faced technological challenges. By presenting a survival plan for the 21st century, that can be adopted by any library, it is Dr. Scally’s aim to ensure the NLS stays true to its fundamental principle as a protector of its 20 million books and other media, yet remains relevant to library users today and in the future. The main ways of achieving this are:
Heddon and Myers introduced the audience to the Walking Library project by referencing examples of literary figures who took books as companions on walks in the past: John Hucks and the poems of Thomas Churchyard; Samuel Taylor Coleridge and a book of German poetry; John Keats and Dante’s Divine Comedy. The Walking Library thus follows in a long literary tradition of the side-by-side practices of reading and walking. These practices beg the question: what does it mean to take a book on a walk? What do literary companions contribute to a journey? And how might location and mobility affect both the act of reading and one’s hermeneutics of reading?