accident of birth | Stars the cause

In this blogpost, artist Hermeet Gill shares the inspiration behind her work made in response to the major Bodleian exhibition, Melancholy: A New Anatomy. The work is on view during February 2022 at the Weston Library, Oxford

Type and blocks on a 19th-century cast-iron printing press, with a printed sheet
Printing the segments of a ‘star chart’ for ‘accident of birth | stars the cause,’ by Hermeet Gill, at the Bodleian Bibliographical Press workshop

This artwork, created in response to the exhibition Melancholy: A New Anatomy, is inspired by Robert Burton’s interest in astrology. In The Anatomy of Melancholy, Burton writes that “a physician without the knowledge of stars can neither understand the cause or cure of any disease”. Today, astrology is held in opposition to science and evidence-based approaches, nonetheless, it intrigues me – this system built upon scientific observation, geometry, and mathematics, to make sense of human lives.

Astrology claims to predict a person’s character and life path based on the position and alignment of planets at the time and place of their birth. However, the exact time and place of our birth also determines who we are born to and our wider circumstances, earthly constellations of contexts which also predict much about our experience of life, including our mental health. Predict, but not determine.

Three star charts, one actual and two hypothetical, reflect a family history in which three previous generations (in the UK, Uganda and India) in turn designated a different place for my birth. Each unrealised life path left ink-smudge imprints on my life experience: in my genetic makeup, in the consequences of forced migration events, and in cultural legacies.

The tactile qualities of the process of letterpress printmaking inspired this work. Many thanks to Richard Lawrence, Superintendent of the Bodleian Bibliographical Press, where the piece was created.

Hermeet Gill is an Oxford-based artist, inspired by ideas, systems and data and how these can be structured and combined. She has recently completed commissions for the University of Oxford’s Wytham Woods, Arts at the Old Fire Station and Oxford’s Library of Things. Originally trained in engineering, she had a career advising organisations, including on innovation and has worked with the Science Museum, London and TED. Hermeet has been printing at the Bodleian Bibliographical Press since 2016.

Bodleian CSB Seminars, Hilary Term 2022

Bodleian logo and Centre for the Study of the Book banner with background image of Douce Woodblocks b.1

Seminar in the History of the Book

Hilary Term, Fridays, 2:15 pm
Registration required:
In-person seminars, if offered, will meet in the Lecture Theatre, Weston Library.

21 Jan.  (Week 1) [ONLINE ONLY] Mercedes García-Arenal (Madrid, CCHS-CSIC), ‘The European Quran: the role of the Muslim Holy Book in writing European cultural history’
28 Jan. (Week 2) [ONLINE ONLY] Renae Satterley (London, Middle Temple), ‘On Robert Ashley (1565-1641)’s use of collections in Oxford in the 17th century’
4 Feb. (Week 3) [ONLINE ONLY]  Laura Cleaver (London, UCL), ‘Henry White (1822-1900): Collector of Second-Rate Manuscripts?’
11 Feb. (Week 4) [ONLINE ONLY] Riccardo Olocco (Bolzano), ‘The trade in type in Venice in the early decades of printing’
18 Feb. (Week 5) [ONLINE ONLY] Brian Cummings (York), ‘Bibliophobia’
25 Feb. (Week 6) Katarzyna Kapitan, ‘The Virtual Library of Thormodus Torfæus, reconstructed from Danish and Icelandic collections’
4 Mar. (Week 7) [IN PERSON ONLY] Lisa Barber, ‘The Goldsmiths’ Register and other record books of various London Livery Companies’
11 Mar. (Week 8) Alexandra Franklin and Andrew Honey, ‘Bodleian Materials for the teaching of Book History’

Textiles in Libraries: Context and Conservation

A binding with a gold and blue textile cover is displayed in an open purple box. There is damage to the covering of the spine which reveals the sewing supports underneath. The title of the project 'Textiles in Libraries: Context and Conservation' is overlaid.
Textiles in Libraries: Context and Conservation

The Bodleian’s Conservation and Collection Care team, in collaboration with the Centre for the Study of the Book, is embarking on a year of discovery in the field of Textiles in Libraries. The scope of this project is wide, from embroidered bindings to endbands, including textiles found between the pages, covering or wrapped around the binding, as well as the more unexpected places they can be found in library collections from tapestries to t-shirts.

As part of this project, the Library will be hosting a series of free online talks running from November 2021 to February 2022, bringing together conservators, curators and book artists to explore this topic further. Our speakers will highlight the many ways textiles are found in books and library collections, share case studies of collaborative conservation projects, examine what textile bindings can tell us about historic craft practices, and share examples of textiles used in contemporary book arts.

These talks will coincide with an exhibition held in Blackwell Hall of the Weston Library from November 2021, ‘The Needles Art’, which will show-case a selection of embroidered bindings from the Bodleian’s collections.

View the full programme and book tickets to the live talks here.

All talks will be recorded and publicly available to watch after the event.

Script/Print/Code: the information revolution in one afternoon

Bodleian Library, Douce Woodblocks d.1, detail
Bodleian Library, Douce Woodblocks d.1, detail

On Monday 11 October 2021 in the Bodleian’s Weston Library for Special Collections there will be a race between The Oxford Scribes , the Bodleian Bibliographical Press, and the Centre for Digital Scholarship.

This webpage,, tells the story.

This is a chance to compare script, print, and electronic text encoding side-by-side, in real time. The text will be written in manuscript, printed in movable type, and encoded by three teams, starting at 1pm.

In this blogpost we’ll report on the progress and the thoughts of the scribes, printers and encoders as they work through the same text, a portion of Psalm 107 (‘… They that go down to the sea in ships …’), to create a published version, in one or many copies.

Onlookers are welcome in Blackwell Hall, the main public foyer of the Weston Library on Broad Street, Oxford.

The event is in honour of the start of the Lyell Lectures 2021, The Genesis, Life, and Afterlife of the Gutenberg Bible, which will be given by Paul S. Needham, beginning on 11 October 2021. Details in the event listing include links to watch the livestream of these lectures. The lectures will be recorded and will be available a short time after the conclusion of the series, at

A webpage showing many digitized copies of the Gutenberg Bible, for comparison, is available here.

Here is the webpage for this event:

Musical premiere of ‘Clippings and Fragments,’ by Tom Coult, Albi Rosenthal Visiting Fellow

Composer Tom Coult (Albi Rosenthal Visiting Fellow, 2021) will see the premiere of his song cycle, ‘Clippings and Fragments,’ at the Oxford Lieder Festival on 18 October 2021.

Composer Tom Coult
Composer Tom Coult

The work was commissioned by the Festival for its 20th year, and draws upon the Bodleian Library’s John Johnson collection of printed ephemera. This rich and diverse assemblage of often-overlooked items is one of the largest and most important collections of printed ephemera in the world. It offers a fresh view of British history through documents which, produced for short-term use, have survived by chance, including advertisements, handbills, playbills and programmes, menus, greetings cards, posters and postcards.

The Lieder Festival ‘Nature’s Songbook,’ 8-23 October 2021, takes place both in person and online.  This will include a performance of ‘Clippings and Fragments’ by soprano Anna Dennis and speaker John Reid, a conversation with Tom Coult, and a film which looks into Coult’s creative process, and ephemera from the John Johnson collection.

A blogpost by Tom Coult outlines the commission.

Persian Arts of the Book conference, July 2021, reuniting Bodleian Bahari Fellows

In July 2021 the Bodleian Libraries hosted a virtual reunion of scholars who spoke about their research into the Persian collections of the Bodleian Libraries. Over the past five years, through the Bahari Fellowship programme, scholars have visited the library to examine texts, paper, paintings, bindings, and provenance of manuscripts now in the Bodleian collections. Their insights and conversations with distinguished panel chairs were shared with an online audience watching from around the world, on 13 and 14 July.

Papers delivered at the conference can be seen as podcasts at this link.

Download the full conference programme here.

A suite of films about the collections, from the point of view of curators, conservators, and researchers, is linked here .

Fellowship opportunities for research in Bodleian Special Collections can be seen from this webpage: 

Early Modern copper plates at the Bodleian Libraries

The Bodleian Libraries hold copper plates from the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries in several different collections.  These are listed along with the finding aids in the LibGuide Printing Surfaces.

Many of the earlier plates are survivals from publishing projects, whether realised or not. Others were collected or commissioned to depict objects of antiquarian study. Still others, in the John Johnson Collection of Printed Ephemera, represent the process of printing, for instance, Copper plates for paper bags.

The Rawlinson collection of copper plates is the subject of a doctoral study by Chiara Betti, under the Collaborative Doctoral Partnership programme.

Engraved and etched copper plates owned by the London-based antiquarian collector Richard Rawlinson (1690-1755) came to the Bodleian Libraries, Oxford, with his bequest of a large collection of material, in 1755. The majority of these plates were gathered by Rawlinson second-hand from printers or other collectors, and thus date from the seventeenth, and first half of the eighteenth, century. These illustrate scenes and objects of antiquarian and topographical interest and many portraits. The plates include work by seventeenth-century engravers Wenceslaus Hollar [see the catalogue of Hollar’s work by Richard Pennington, A Descriptive Catalogue of the Etched Work of Wenceslaus Hollar 1607-1677] and David Loggan. Another group of plates within this collection was made for Rawlinson himself, to depict unique objects in his own vast antiquarian collections. These collections included a large number of medieval and early modern manuscripts donated or bequeathed to several institutions including the Bodleian, as well as printed images, antique and exotic cultural objects, inscriptions, and seal matrices.
The copper plates thus sit within a much more extensive collection assembled by an eighteenth-century antiquarian, touching on areas of curatorial interest to libraries, museums, and archives. Surviving papers and notebooks of Richard Rawlinson are held at the British Library, the Bodleian Library, and at St John’s College, Oxford.


Shaping Scholarship: early donors to the Bodleian Library

This AHRC-funded project led by Robyn Adams (CELL, UCL), examines the network of individuals whose donations helped to build the collections of the library. Focusing on the first two decades following the seventeenth-century refurbishment by Sir Thomas Bodley (c.1600-1620) of Oxford’s university library, the study examines the shape of the collection of the books donated and purchased with funds, the social backgrounds of the c.220 donors, and how these men and women were connected across the social compass of the time.

Locating material for the material history of the book

Teaching with our Collections, at the Bodleian Libraries

The Bodleian Libraries contain a wealth of material that is relevant to the study of the book in every period. This is not only in book or manuscript form, although Bodleian Special Collections are frequently used for teaching at the Bodleian’s Weston Library for Special Collections. Many non-book items–eighteenth-century pins, samples of paper, newly-made parchment, old copper plates–exist within and outside the miles of bookstack. We will be undertaking a survey of this material in 2021-22, paying close attention to what is useful for the teaching the history of books and manuscripts in the broadest sense.

Throughout this year we expect to be looking into:

Centre for the Study of the Book | Bodleian Libraries (


Lectures and seminars from the Special Collections of the Bodleian Libraries

Palaeography, Bibliography, History of the Book

Monday 25 April 2022
The Book at the Bodleian: Whence, Where, Whither?
11am–6pm (BST)
Lecture Theatre, Weston Library and also streamed live
Free, booking required to attend in person or watch online.
Link to registration
For twenty years, the Lyell benefaction has funded a career development fellowship that has enabled scholars to study subjects that have included the History of the Book, bibliography and palaeography. For “The Book at the Bodleian”, these nine Lyell Fellows come together for the first time to reflect on developments in their respective fields and present their current research.
Speakers: Niels Gaul, Georgi Parpulov, David Rundle, Irene Ceccherini, Barbara Bombi, Cristina Dondi, Jason McElligott, Giles Bergel, Stewart Brookes

Tuesday 26 April 2022
Professor Marc Smith (École Nationale des Chartes and Lyell Reader in Bibliography, 2019-20)
From Round Hand to l’Anglaise: 18th century English handwriting and the Continent.
Conclusion of the Lyell Lectures, 2020
5pm–6pm (BST)
Lecture Theatre, Weston Library and also streamed live
Free, booking required

Begins Tuesday 3 May 2022
The Lyell Lectures 2022
Professor Susan Rankin (University of Cambridge and Lyell Reader in Bibliography, 2021-22), ‘From Memory to Written Record: English Liturgical Books and Musical Notations, 900–1150’
3, 5, 10, 12 and 17 May 2022
Free, booking required

Book Arts

20 April 2022
Beyond the Pale
An exploration of black shapes on book pages begins with author and curator Andrew Spira in conversation with book historian Gill Partington.
20 April, 5.30–6.30pm (BST)
Registration (to receive a Zoom link):

Wednesday 25 May 2022
Artists’ Books
Chris Fletcher, Keeper of Special Collections, in conversation with the American artist and designer Ben Denzer, whose witty and provocative books are acquired by the Library, and Robert Bolick, a collector of thought-provoking artists’ books and up-coming Bodleian exhibition curator. Examples of books will be shown and questions will be encouraged.
Online only
Free, booking required

Friday 27 May 2022
The Making of Tristram Shandy
1 pm – 2 pm (BST)
Lecture Theatre, Weston Library
Free event, booking required. Find the event listing on:
Laurence Sterne’s multi-volume work, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy is one of the most creatively printed novels of the handpress period. Sterne personally intervened in the printing, insisting that each copy have different material features to make readers handle and interpret the text in an entirely new way.
Explore the pages of this novel with Helen Williams (Northumbria University) and Elizabeth Savage (Institute of English Studies), who will guide us through the unique features which bring the book itself into the story.

Novel Impressions is run by Helen Williams (Northumbria University) and funded by the British Academy Rising Star Engagement Awards. It is a series of research- and practice-led events that will create network of early career researchers, printers, and curators producing print workshops for public audiences inspired by eighteenth-century literature. This particular event is supported by the Institute of English Studies, the Bodleian Library, and Book and Print Initiative.

Saturday 28 May 2022
Storylines: printing Tristram Shandy
11 am – 1 pm (BST)
Bodleian Printing Studio, Schola Musicae, Old Bodleian Library
Booking required.
Deposit of £5 refunded on arrival
In this practical workshop, find out what happens when a story breaks free of words. Join expert printmakers at the Bodleian Bibliographical Press to learn first-hand the techniques used in the convention-defying pages of a 250-year old novel.
Peter Lawrence (Society of Wood Engravers) will introduce the technique of carving illustrations in wood; Richard Lawrence and the workshop team will guide you through setting type, and demonstrate the printing of intaglio plates.
18+ only
Registration is essential. Find the event listing on:


The next Oxford Society for Cartography (TOSCA) series will take place via Zoom Webinar at 16.30 (UK time).

Maps of the European Historic Towns Atlas series

Thursday 28 April
Maps of the European Historic Towns Atlas I: Germany
Daniel Stracke (Universität Münster)

Thursday 5 May
Maps of the European Historic Towns Atlas II: Great Britain
Keith Lilley (Queen’s University Belfast)

Thursday 12 May
Maps of the European Historic Towns Atlas III: Ireland
Sarah Gearty (Royal Irish Academy)

Thursday 26 May
Maps of the European Historic Towns Atlas IV: East Central Europe
Katalin Szende (Central European University)

Seminars run from 16.30 to 18.00 (UK time) via Zoom Webinar
For further details, please contact: or +44 1865 287119

The Oxford Seminars in Cartography are supported by: The Friends of TOSCA / The Bodleian Libraries / The School of Geography and the Environment / The Charles Close Society / Lovell Johns Ltd