Printing on the ‘Moxon’ Press in the Weston Library, Blackwell Hall

Image of replica 'Moxon' press
Image of the precursor of the ‘Moxon’ press in Blackwell Hall, from A.H. Smith, A description of the hand-press in the Department of English at University College, London (1933, printed on the press itself). The 1933 press was destroyed by bomb damage in WWII.

The press in Blackwell Hall, the public entrance foyer of the Bodleian’s Weston Library, is a replica made in 1951 by A.H. Smith, Quain Professor of English at UCL, with A. Brown, from designs published in 1683 by Joseph Moxon in Mechanick Exercises, or, The doctrine of handy-works, applied to the art of printing.*

It is currently being used by a team of volunteers, who will be at press most Saturdays this summer, to enable visitors to try their hand at printing keepsakes
Saturday printing 2015
Saturday 13 June, 2-4 pm
Saturday 20 June, 2-4 pm
Saturday 27 June, 2-4 pm
Saturday 4 July, (Alice’s Day), 11-4
Saturday 11 July, 2-4 pm
Saturday 18 July, 2-4 pm
Saturday 25 July, 2-4 pm
Saturday 1 August, 11 am -1 pm
Saturday 8 August, 2-4 pm
Saturday 29 August, 2-4 pm

* See Frans A. Janssen, ‘Reconstructions of the common press: aims and results’, Quærendo 32/3-4 (2002), for a photo of the press at UCL and a discussion of the design and use of this and other replicas.

Kabe Wilson ‘Of One Woman or So’: Virginia Woolf Remixed

from Dennis Duncan

Unfurled across five tables, Kabe Wilson’s astonishing Of One Woman or So is the result of a painstaking process of cutting up books. The novella, which tells the story of a young Cambridge student who becomes politicized and burns down the University Library, was created by re-arranging all 37,971 words of Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own. At once a tour de force of wit and wordplay and a serious consideration of what Woolf’s essay has to offer us today, Wilson’s work often dramatizes its own method of construction, as in the following passage.

Kabe Wilson_OOWOS

In front of an audience in the Visiting Scholars’ Centre at the Weston Library, Wilson described how creating the piece involved a mixture of old and new technologies: spreadsheets and macros to keep track of each word has he typed; scissors and glue – and two copies of Woolf’s book – to turn the digital document into a physical piece. ‘I see myself as an artist rather than a writer,’ he told us, ‘so it was important that at the end of the process there should be something that could be exhibited.’

For Wilson, one of the major reasons for doing this work was to see how the language of Woolf’s time has been reoriented or reenergized in the intervening years. Woolf’s fictitious author, Mary Carmichael, provides a means for Wilson’s protagonist to become radicalized by the writings of Stokely Carmichael; a mention of the writer Vernon Lee in A Room of One’s Own allows Wilson to drop in a reference to Woolf’s biographer Hermione Lee. bell hooks and Edward Said appear courtesy of the simple terms bell, hooks and said. Meanwhile there are dozens of playful allusions to the culture of the early twenty-first century, from reading Harry Potter to supporting Manchester United; from watching Friends to drinking vodka jellies. Wilson described how the word sex features prominently in Woolf’s essay, but how, in recent feminist discourse, the sense in which Woolf uses it has been largely supplanted by the term gender. In order to avoid the clang of anachronism, then, Wilson’s tale involves rather more sex scenes than Woolf’s, with the narrator at one point voicing Wilson’s own concerns here: ‘True, I should think of women, women, women, women. And not of sex, sex, sex.’

During the Question and Answer session Wilson discussed how he envisaged publication of the work, and the importance of retaining the look of the art piece with the signs of its physical construction: the shadows of the cut-up paper and Wilson’s handwritten punctuation. We also got to consider the mind-boggling, Borgesian potentiality of the exercise – the infinite, unwritten texts contained in all the other possible arrangements of the same words – and the one extant but secret rearrangement hidden on the reverse sides of Wilson’s gummed-down words.

Kabe Wilson_1
Seminar participants viewing the complete text of ‘Of One Woman or So’ in the Visiting Scholars’ Centre, Weston Library


Letterlocking: keeping post from prying eyes

by Emily Mayne (St Hilda’s College) and Callum Seddon (Merton College)

Jana Dambrogio at the workshop in the Weston Library, Bodleian Libraries
Jana Dambrogio at the workshop in the Weston Library, Bodleian Libraries

How did men and women secure their letters before the introduction of gummed envelopes? Why should the materiality of letters as folded packets interest scholars and conservators as much as their contents? Jana Dambrogio (Thomas F. Peterson (1957) Conservator at Massachusetts Institute of Technology) and Daniel Starza Smith (British Academy postdoctoral research fellow, Lincoln College) led a workshop to explore these and related questions through a series of hands-on case studies.

When we send letters today, the envelope acts as a security, protecting the content from prying eyes. But envelopes as we think of them now were not invented until the mid-nineteenth century. Prior to this letters were secured by folding and various combinations of sealing, tying, cutting, and sewing, making the letter its own security device. ‘Letterlocking’, as Jana Dambrogio calls it, is a social and textual practice of document security that stretches back thousands of years, but the workshop focused particularly on techniques dating from the late sixteenth to the mid-twentieth century. Participants were able to open pre-sealed examples, and, throughout the workshop, learn to fold and lock their own.
letterlockingFig 2_sm
We began by opening a folded packet, sealed with a strip of paper and wax seal. Upon opening, a number of slits were visible, running vertically down each side of the paper; a triangular section of paper was also missing from the lower, right-hand corner of the unfolded letter. Many early modern letters currently survive in this state today, and it is only by thinking of letters as folded and sealed packets, rather than simply flattened objects, that we can begin to piece together why these material signs – vertical or horizontal slits, and missing triangular pieces – matter. In this example, the triangular piece of paper has been cut from the end of the letter and used as a sealing device to authenticate the packet. Anyone receiving this packet would know if its contents had already been read, because both wax seal and paper strip would be broken. It would take someone with access to an identical seal and paper-stock to replicate this security measure once opening it. This format of letterlocking is, therefore, a more secure method than the ‘tuck and seal’ method (also demonstrated in the workshop) in which one side of the packet is tucked into the other prior to sealing.

We then looked at a series of case studies of alternative letterlocking formats, each of which demonstrated the importance of bringing an analysis of a letter’s material form to bear on understanding the circumstances of its production, exchange, and reception. Wax is by no means a necessary part of letterlocking, as we learned by studying correspondence sent from the front line by a Russian soldier in the Second World War. This soldier secured his letter (into a triangular format) with the expectation that it would be opened and read by army censors, who would examine the post sent by troops to safeguard against the risk of military intelligence coming into the wrong hands. Similarly, a letter sent by Marie Antoinette to Cardinal Ignazio Boncompagni Ludovisi showed the importance of being able to open, but re-secure the letter with a removable paper lock and elaborate papered-seal. Other examples included a format often used by Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex in his correspondence with Elizabeth I: the letter is pleated, folded into a small packet and a length of thread is wound around the ends of the folded letter, and warm sealing wax is placed over the thread on one (and often both) of the exposed panels and impressed with a signet. Folding a letter in this way produces a thin rectangular packet easily concealed in the hand or sleeve, and choosing this letter format might then serve to communicate intimacy or a wish for intimacy between letter-writer and recipient, in addition to the written contents of the letter. John Donne’s letters were arguably the ‘show-stoppers’ of the workshop, if only for his spectacular seals: a sheaf of snakes, and Christ crucified on an anchor. Participants sealed their own versions of the letter formats demonstrated in the workshop using replicas of Donne’s own sealing devices that Dambrogio and Smith had specially made. Donne used many of the formats explored in the workshop, but perhaps unsurprisingly also took care to make more extravagant paper locks.

letterlockingFig 3_sm

The session ended with the chance to apply this knowledge to actual examples in the Bodleian’s Special Collections. We were able to materially ‘read’ surviving autograph Donne letters, besides other examples of letterlocking in some of the Bodleian’s manuscript letter collections. This final stage of the session served to illustrate an important point: letterlocking is useful for both researchers and conservators. After working through the examples, we could appreciate that letters were neither ‘flat’ objects (they only seem to be once they are bound into a composite volume), and that they conveyed a number of social signs through their material features. If scholars are repeatedly called upon to recognize the importance of the material text, letters are a useful place to begin exploring the connections between material form, content, and meaning.

Bodleian Libraries Fellows Seminar, 27 November

Fellows Seminar 27 Nov 2014_2_web
27 November: the first Bodleian Libraries Fellows Seminar heard from three researchers in the Visiting Scholars’ Centre, Weston Library.

Dennis Duncan (British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow at the Bodleian Libraries, Centre for the Study of the Book) has embarked on a three-year project to write the history of the book index from late medieval times to the present. Dr Duncan presented to the seminar an early-modern instance of the index used as a weapon of character assassination in 1698 when Richard Bentley was satirized by critics deploring his painstaking philology. An item from Bodleian collections, T. B. Macaulay’s heavily and intemperately annotated copy of Charles Boyle’s attack on Bentley, highlighted the continued fear of the index as a potential distortion, rather than distillation, of knowledge.

Claire Gallien (Université Paul Valéry – Montpellier 3, and BSECS-Bodleian Fellow, 2014) is extending her work on English Orientalism* to a close study of the manuscript collections which informed 17th- and 18th-century scholarship. Working with the Bodleian Oriental manuscript collections, she will be examining the contribution these materials made to English understanding of the Middle East and of Arabic literature throughout the cycle of collection, from their acquisition to their reading and annotation by English scholars.

*L’Orient anglais: Connaissances et fictions au xviii e siècle (Voltaire Foundation, 2011)

Mirjam Brusius (Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in the History of Photography, Oxford) is building on her research into the origins of photography* with further examination of the role of photography in historical and archaeological study during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Her presentation to the seminar focussed on the early history of photography in Iran, outlining in that context the adoption of the technology (notably by the Shah, Nasser al-Din) and the adaptation of aesthetics to the production of photographic records of the Middle East in the middle of the 19th century, including albums produced by European visitors which have survived in library and museum collections.

*William Henry Fox Talbot – Beyond Photography (Yale, 2013)

Bodleian Fellows Work-in-Progress Seminar

Bodley door pic_web

Work in progress from three resident researchers: on 27 November the Bodleian Libraries Centre for the Study of the Book will host a its first evening seminar in the new Visiting Scholars’ Centre.
Dennis Duncan, British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow at the Centre for the Study of the Book, will talk about his project on the history of the book index, and a case of ‘Indexing with malice in the 17th century.’
Claire Gallien, BSECS-Bodleian Fellow, will speak about her research into British Orientalism, for which she is examining materials in collections of Arabic and Persian manuscripts bequeathed to the Bodleian in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Mirjam Brusius, Mellon Post-doctoral Fellow in the history of photography (History of Art), will speak about her current research into the history of photography in Iran.

Learn more about the current fellows and researchers here


18th-century printing innovations: conference, Sept. 2014

Harlequinades from the Bodleian Library's Rare Books colleciton

These notes on the Bodleian’s collection of harlequinades, by Sarah Wheale (Bodleian Rare Books), were  first posted in 2008-9, and are presented again in anticipation of the conference taking place in Oxford, Sept. 2014, ‘Forms and formats: experimenting with print, 1695-1815’ See the event posting to register:

A harlequinade (known also as a metamorphosis, flap-book or turn-up book) is composed of two single engraved sheets. The first sheet is folded perpendicularly into four sections. A second sheet is cut in half and hinged at the top and bottom edges of the first so that each flap could be lifted separately. The sheets are folded into four, like an accordion, and then roughly stitched with a paper cover. A verse on each section of the flap tells a simple story usually concluding with instructions to turn a flap to continue. When the flap is turned either up or down the viewer sees that half of the new picture fits onto the half of the un-raised flap, so the act of lifting one flap after another creates a surprise unfolding of the story.

The Library has recently (in 2009) acquired an album of 89 coloured prints dating from the early 1820s. It may have been issued by William Darton Jr. (1781-1854) and his firm at Holborn Hill during the mid-1820s as a sample album to show potential customers examples of his work. It contains a small number of sheets originally issued in 1800 by William Darton Sr. (1755-1819);  11 harlequinades in unfolded sheets with the imprint of B. Tabart & Co., and some sheets bearing Darton Jr’s imprint with dates ranging from 1821 to 1824. This mix of imprints suggests that Darton Jr. inherited some of his father’s old stock upon his death, including some of Benjamin Tabart’s publications which William Sr. possibly acquired in 1811 when financial difficulties may have forced Tabart to sell off some of his stock.

The harlequinades are especially interesting as very few examples survive generally, and four of the eleven Tabart examples in this album are currently untraced elsewhere. There are certainly difficulties locating harlequinades in library and museum catalogues around the world as they can be treated equally as toys, books, ephemera or prints, but as some titles were not located by Marjory Moon in her bibliography of Tabart’s Juvenile Library it seems likely that some of the Bodleian copies may be unique survivals. It is also possible that these eleven titles represent Tabart’s entire output of harlequinades, but that is pure speculation.

Blue Beard. Sold by B. Tabart & Co., June 1st. 1809.
Robinson Crusoe. Sold by B. Tabart & Co. June 1. 1809.
Veroni or the novice of St. Marks. Published by B. Tabart & Co, June 1. 1809.
Mother Goose. Published by B. Tabart & Co., July 1st 1809.
Hop o’ my thumb. Published by B. Tabart & Co., Jany. 1st. 1810..
Black Beard the pirate. Published, by B. Tabart & Co., July 1st. 1809.
Parnell’s hermit. Published, by Tabart & Co., Jany. 31st. 1810.
Exile, as performed at the royal theatres. Published by B. Tabart & Co., June 1st. 1809.
Robin Hood. Published by B. Tabart & Co., June 1st. 1809.
Polish tyrant. Published, by B. Tabart & Co., Aug. 1st. 1809.
A tale of mystery. Published by B. Tabart & Co., Jany. 25th, 1810.
Shelfmark: Vet. A6 c.118

See the records of the pictured harlequinades here:

The Sister-Witches, or mirth and magic

Dr Last, or the Devil on two sticks


Error and print culture, 1500-1800: conference, 5 July 2014

Corrected proof of a plate from Richard Gough's Sepulchral monuments, folded into Bodleian Gough Warw. 22, William Dugdale's Antiquities of Warwickshire (1656)
Corrected proof of a plate from Richard Gough’s Sepulchral monuments, folded into Bodleian Gough Warw. 22, William Dugdale’s Antiquities of Warwickshire (1656)

The CSB conference ‘Error and Print Culture, 1550-1800’ convened by Adam Smyth (Oxford) welcomed delegates to Oxford for a day of contemplation of errors, posing questions both historical and philosophical: why did printed materials deviate from authorial intentions – how can we be sure that any printed line is wrong, or right? – and when does an error happen: in the printing, or in the reading or theatrical or musical performance or the peal of church bells based on a printed guide?

See abstracts of the presentations at ‘Error and Print Culture’

John Taylor's 'Errata, or faults to the Reader' rehearses the usual excuses - sickness, and a job put out to several printers - and the plea for readerly generosity.
John Taylor’s ‘Errata, or faults to the Reader’ rehearses the usual excuses – sickness, and a job put out to several printers – and the plea for readerly generosity.

Poetry, politics and war in the archives

On June 18, the opening day of the Bodleian’s WWI centenary exhibition ‘The Great War: Personal stories from Downing Street to the trenches’, the curator, Mike Webb, joined in conversation with representatives of two other institutions staging similar exhibitions: Frank Druffner, from the Deutsches Literaturarchiv Marbach; and Julien Collonges, from the Bibliothèque Nationale et Universitaire Strasbourg. They were joined by Chris Fletcher, Keeper of Special Collections at the Bodleian Libraries, and by Christophe Didier, director for development of collections of the BNU Strasbourg, for a panel discussion on the theme of exhibiting the history of WWI. A partnership between these three institutions has included some reciprocal loans of manuscripts for display in this centenary year, with the aim of exploring the connections between national histories and the archival collections that hold memories of the War.

The discussion on 18 June, moderated by Stuart Lee (English Faculty, and director of The First World War Poetry Digital Archive), considered questions including how much historical truth is conveyed through poetry; how to tell the story of individuals during the war, and whether at the same time to acknowledge their later reputations;  and the roles of libraries and archives as repositories for national memories of war.

Profound differences in the national attitudes to the memory of WWI and the historical debates that have been generated around the centenary were explored in this discussion. It was evident that the three exhibitions, primarily shaped by the available collections in each place, were also responding to different audiences and contexts. Mike Webb described his approach in the Bodleian exhibition, which traces the history of Oxford connections with the war up until 1916, as seeking immersion in the historical moment, maintaining the immediacy of the impressions of fast-moving events as captured in letters and diaries, such as the diary of Lewis Harcourt, a member of Cabinet during the War, who in July 1914 recorded his deep dislike of the belligerent attitude of Winston Churchill. This curatorial approach contrasted with the challenges described by Julien Collonges, who will use the Strasbourg exhibition opening in Autumn 2014 to explore the work and relationships of three poets: Ernst Stadler, Charles Péguy, and Wilfred Owen. Collonges found in planning the display that he had to tell the story not only of the days of 1914, but of the post-war reputation of the poets, and this was both rewarding and problematic in the case of Péguy, whose patriotic verses have been appropriated by right-wing nationalists, with resonances for the later history of France and Europe.

The shadow of later events also falls on the survival of material; asked what single item the Deutsches Literaturarchiv would have liked to display, Frank Druffner described an album of drawings by the writer Ernst Jünger, who was also a noted entomologist, of insects in the trenches. The album was lost during WWII.

This event was supported by the Institut Français, the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany, the Oxford German Network, the Fonds culturel franco-allemand, the Maison Française Oxford, and the Bodleian Libraries

‘’Time and Emotion’’ : Byrne Bussey Marconi Lecture, Michael Weatherburn

On 10 June, amidst centuries’ worth of scientific implements at the Museum of the History of Science, Michael Weatherburn gave the fifth Byrne Bussey Marconi Lecture. Titled ‘Time and Emotion Study: Anne Shaw, Metropolitan Vickers, and Work Experiments on the Twentieth Century British Factory Floor,’ the presentation, which drew on research in the Bodleian’s Marconi Archives, began with an image familiar to many in the audience: a poster for the 1959 film ‘I’m Alright Jack.’ The Boulting Brothers comedy, starring Peter Sellers, Ian Carmichael, and Terry Thomas, was the most popular film of 1959. It was not the film’s popularity, however, that made it relevant to Weatherburn’s research, but the issue at the centre of its satirical plot: in the film, a national strike is prompted by a single time and motion study.

Rotating stamp holder, Marconi Collection, Museum of the History of Science, Oxfor
A rotating stamp holder, from the Marconi Collection, Museum of the History of Science, Oxford

These efficiency studies were the subject of Weatherburn’s lecture, which introduced his audience to a new way of understanding twentieth century British labour and business history. Most existing work by labour historians, said Weatherburn, focuses on the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in Britain. He also noted that historians of business stress that crucial changes made to the analysis and organization of work on the factory floor were completed by World War One.

His research shifts the focus to the twentieth century, particularly during WWII when, he noted, Britain was in fact at its most industrialized, either before or since. While the typical narrative of postwar British industry is one of the ‘British management failure’, Weatherburn challenged that assumption, asking if there was indeed such a failure by interrogating the terms of judgment; in fact a great deal of effort was put into management – but, as Weatherburn asked, was it successful on its own terms while doing little to improve output?

Time and motion studies were at the centre of Weatherburn’s presentation. He explored their use by companies such as Metropolitan Vickers, drawing on the records of the electrical company contained in the Marconi Archives. Weatherburn also highlighted the role played by individuals like Anne Shaw in the development and adoption of time and motion studies. He explained that Shaw was a protégé of Lillian Gilbreth who, along with her husband Frank, was a pioneer of motion studies in the United States. Their work analysis films can be seen here. (The Gilbreths are perhaps most popularly known as the subjects of the 1948 book and 1950 film Cheaper by the Dozen).

In his presentation, Weatherburn spanned the pre-WWI and post-WWII decades, and focused not only on management strategies but on worker responses. He explained the Labour government’s decision to continue efficiency studies after WWII, pointing to the creation of the British Institute of Management and asking whether it is fair to say, as many have, that the post-war Labour government failed to intervene (or intervened unsuccessfully) in attempts to increase British industrial efficiency. Perhaps, Weatherburn suggested, Labour  succeeded on some of its own terms; it is towards those terms, and away from normative standards of success, that Weatherburn shifted analysis.

Weatherburn’s research was funded by the Byrne Bussey Marconi fund, and relates to his doctoral research, which aims in part to ‘reframe the history and historiography of management, particularly in relation to British industry.’ Read more about Weatherburn’s research here.

– from Nora Wilkinson (Harvard University)

Transmission in the 15th century: Seminar on the History of the Book – David Rundle

Under the title, ‘Transfer, Transmission and Reception: thoughts from the fifteenth century on how ideas (fail to) spread,’ David Rundle (Lecturer in History at the University of Essex) delivered the last of this term’s Seminars in the History of the Book as a contemplation on the theme of transmission.

Starting from the history of Poggio Bracciolini’s service in the household of Henry Beaufort from 1418 to 1422, Rundle examined several histories of cultural transmission between Italian and English humanists in the 15th century. The handwriting, marginal notes, and provenance histories of manuscripts now in London, Florence, the Vatican, Oxford, and Padua which he has examined as part of his work on humanist scribes inspired him to ask whether models assuming the slow transmission of ideas – the reliance on the necessarily limited activities of individuals – the dispersal of ideas always from a central hub towards the barbarian rim – had ‘misconfigured the cultural geography of Europe’ in the 15th century.

He suggested this set of assumptions should be replaced with a multiplicity of histories that recognized the ‘strength of weak ties’ (in a model borrowed from sociological research into networks and innovation) formed by the long-distance travels of a few individuals, and the potential for the influence of ‘barbarian’ England on the ‘centre’. This was instanced in the copies of Greek manuscripts taken by Antonio Beccaria on his return to Italy after he was in England as secretary to Duke Humfrey of Gloucester, c. 1438 – c. 1446.

Rundle’s presentation suggested that the focus of scholarship about the spread of humanism in this period could usefully shift from emphasis on how a text was read, to how it arrived in front of the reader – a concern shared with historians of texts in the age of print.

Discussion at the seminar touched on the evaluation of English music in humanist circles; the role of universities; and how a rhetoric of cultural distance provided a motive for the uptake of ideas and the desire for books.

bonæ litteræ (blog)
The University of Essex Centre for Bibliographical History
Bodleian MS. Rawl. C 298, (Poggio, De infelicitate principum dialogus)