15th Century Booktrade and Learning in the time of Lockdown

How have our reading practices changed during Lockdown?

As somebody working with 20th century samizdat material for my doctoral thesis, I was surprised to find some of the most revealing answers to this question at an event centred round the  15cBOOKTRADE Project which took place in the Italian Embassy, London. In this blogpost I will reflect on the links between the printing and reading practices associated with 15th century booktrade and those of the later years of the GDR.

Over the last three months, we have seen the spirit of resilience and comradery fostered in communities across the world, supporting people through the adversity of the coronavirus pandemic. It would seem that the life advice Boccaccio imparted to us in the wake of the Black Death in his Decameron (1354), is still as apt as it ever was: “in our communities we can find solace”.

Written between 1348 and 1353, Giovanni Boccaccio’s Decameron contains stories told by a gathering of ten young people who had escaped to a villa outside Florence in order to flee the Black Death. Boccaccio’s frame story comprises a miscellany of tales: romantic, tragic and comedic, and ultimately offers a literary retreat from the pain and hardship of life in a time of plague. However, what emerges specifically from Boccaccio’s work is not just the importance of community, but also the curative power of literature.

For the characters in the Decameron, storytelling offered a moment of welcome reprieve from the difficulty of their life circumstances:

It behoveth us live merrily, nor hath any other occasion caused us flee from yonder miseries […] we shall pass away this sultry part of the day, not in gaming,–wherein the mind of one of the players must of necessity be troubled, without any great pleasure of the other or of those who look on, but in telling stories, which, one telling, may afford diversion to all the company who hearken.

Just as the characters in the Decameron came to each other and began storytelling in order to keep up morale, many members of the public today have turned to the creative arts once more to seek solace in this time of crisis. In the academic community, open-access online events have widened the scholastic community and created inclusive, virtual learning groups open to the public. Speaking at a recent webinar, Professor Cristina Dondi (Oakeshott Senior Research Fellow in the Humanities, Lincoln College, Oxford) noted that this movement towards wider educative inclusivity harkens back to key moments in the 15th century with the democratisation of learning through the era’s burgeoning international book. However, Dondi also reminded webinar attendees of how much further we must go in order to facilitate wider access to scholarly materials in archives.

As the Principal Investigator for the 15cBOOKTRADE Project at Oxford, Dondi was in the unique position of being able to offer insight into importance of the digitisation of historical texts. The aim of the project was to use the material evidence from thousands of surviving books from the 15th century to address five fundamental questions relating to the introduction of printing in the West. These questions included investigation of reading practices, the evaluation of the books’ contemporary market, the dissemination and visualisation of these texts, and finally, the use of illustrations.

For Dondi, and indeed many other academics, the coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the absolute necessity of digitisation of historical texts in order to create open-access learning communities befitting the social and academic developments of the 21st century.

‘The Dawn of Printing to Digital Access’
Circumnavigating current lockdown restrictions, the Italian embassy in London recently facilitated a webinar on ‘The Dawn of Printing to Digital Access: the benefits of making books available to everybody’. The event, hosted by Ambassador Trombetta and moderated by Jon Snow of Channel 4 News, brought together international experts engaged in promoting wider accessibility to books of historical and cultural significance (to read more about this project, follow the hashtag #ItalyRestArt).

#ItalyRestArt webinar programme
The webinar was focused on highlighting the progress of the digitisation of Italian incunables, while also looking to the future of digital access to historical books more generally. Organised into four main parts, the webinar opened with words of welcome from Jon Snow and His Excellency Ambassador Trombetta. This was followed by the introduction of previously recorded video statements from major players in the recent cultural preservation movement in Italy, featuring recorded messages from Anna Laura Orrico, Italian Minister of State for Culture and Tourism, and Andrea De Pasquale of the National Central Library of Rome. The third part of the webinar consisted of brief individual lectures from the panel in regard to their engagement with and promotion of digital access in their own fields. Among these panellists were Don Fabrizio Cicchetti, Antonio Padoa Schioppa and Prof. Cristina Dondi, who each offered insight into various aspects of digital preservation and access.

Representing the private foundation supporting this vital digitization of these texts, Marc Polonsky, of The Polonsky Foundation, shed light on the Foundation’s commitment to cultural preservation and wide dissemination. Polonsky credited the collaborative nature of the digitization project for fostering unique partnerships between project stakeholders from both the public and private sectors. According to Polonsky, this collaboration facilitated the establishment of high standards of best practice (both academically and technologically) which could be adopted as a developmental framework for future projects.

While each of these leaders related fascinating thoughts, it was Dondi’s lecture, however, that resonated with me the most. This was due to her inspiring engagement with the study of Material Culture, bringing the riches of cultural treasures not just to those in academia but also to the wider public.

Dondi began her talk by referencing the importance of developing resources that facilitate online access to research materials for precisely the moments in time when researchers cannot travel to archives and research libraries. Indeed, the current climate of the global pandemic is evidence for the necessity of accessible, transnational online learning resources.

In the last two years, the digitisation project of the Incunables of the Benedictine monastery of Santa Scolastica at Subiaco, the first printing place in Italy, a collaboration between the National Central Library in Rome and the Consortium of European Research Libraries (CERL) of which Dondi is the Secretary, however, made these Italian cultural treasures available online anywhere in the world at the push of a button. In doing as much, Dondi noted in her talk that for scholars of the incunables, the restrictions placed on archival research due to Lockdown have in this way been surmounted. For many undoubtedly grateful scholars, the online access to these materials will allow them to continue their research projects unhampered by the social and political upheaval around them. If this outcome were not applaudable enough, then the popularity of Dondi’s recent exhibition ‘Printing R-evolution and Society, 1450-1500. Fifty Years that changed Europe’ at the Museo Correr, Venice (September 2018-April 2019) has demonstrated just how vital digitisation work is for the wider public as for academia. This exhibition documented the impact of the printing revolution on the economic and social development of early modern Europe using hundreds of freely available digitizations from many European and American libraries.

Printing R-evolution
A journey of discovery which used digital tools and innovative methods of communication, the exhibition presented data gathered by the 15cBOOKTRADE Project (University of Oxford) about the History of the Book. The exhibition highlighted how, already by the year 1500, millions of books circulated in Europe, not only for the elite, as often claimed, but for everyone, including a large production of schoolbooks. In those, first, decades, printing coincided with experimentation and enterprise. Printed books were the product of a new collaboration between various sectors of society: knowledge, technology, and commerce, with ideas spreading widely and quickly as never before.

Dondi’s close engagement with the study of material culture was of particular interest to me, as my doctoral project investigates the ‘unofficial’ literary scene of the GDR in the 1980s, specifically through in-depth case studies of magazines printed in a samizdat capacity.

By researching each of the magazines’ diverse literary content, the different ways in which these magazines were produced, and the readership practices that surrounded them, my thesis will offer insights into the creative self-expression of the East Berlin literary scene and examine whether this phenomenon can be understood as part of the wider samizdat movement seen in many Eastern bloc countries. My thesis explores what these magazines tell us about the function, possibilities and limitations associated with publication beyond print in a totalitarian regime.

Although my topic of research differs greatly from Dondi’s work in terms of historical era and social circumstances, in essence both areas of research are fundamentally preoccupied with the same investigative question: what can the physical form of the book reveal about the people behind its printing?

In the scholarly community, as in many other sectors in society, academics have had to adjust their ordinary methods of research in order to continue with their projects.

Working From Home and using online learning tools have helped educators create an academic space (albeit, a virtual one) in this time of crisis. Attending webinars such as Dondi’s ‘The Dawn of Printing to Digital Access’, where international experts shared their knowledge and supported each other and the wider scholastic community allowed myself, and doubtless many other academics, to use our time in isolation fruitfully and thoughtfully. It would seem, therefore, that despite all changes and disruptions, many of us, like in the time of Boccaccio, have taken refuge in our communities, the stories and studies that we hold dear, as we continue to go on learning in the time of Lockdown.

Author: Aoife Ní Chroidheáin BA (Hons) MSt (Oxon) is a Leverhulme Scholar and DPhil Candidate in Medieval and Modern Languages at the University of Oxford. Aoife’s doctoral research entitled ‘Dangerous Creations: Power and Autonomy in East Berlin’s Samizdat’ examines the unofficial literary scene in East Berlin from 1980-1990.

Printer-in-Residence 2018: Emily Martin

Emily Martin portrait
Emily Martin

Update: a view of Emily Martin’s publication, Order of Appearance / Disorder of Disappearance,  while printer in residence at the Bodleian Libraries is in this blogpost by Robert Bolick: https://books-on-books.com/2018/11/22/bookmarking-book-art-emily-martin/

The book evokes the Shakespearean holdings at the Bodleian and expresses the theme of Martin’s residency, movable books and how they allow us to read in multiple ways.

The Bodleian Libraries are pleased to announce that Emily Martin will take up a one-month residency at the Bodleian Bibliographical Press in autumn 2018. Martin, who teaches at the University of Iowa Center for the Book, will bring her exceptional talents to the Bodleian’s working presses housed in the Old Bodleian Library and in the Weston Library beginning on 29 October 2018. As Printer-in-Residence at the Bodleian Libraries, she will creatively engage with Bodleian collections especially around her interest in moveable books and optical toys.

On 21 November, Emily Martin will deliver a public lecture, ‘Visual Metre and Rhythm: the Function of Movable Devices in Books‘. Movable devices, sometimes referred to as novelties, in books are not new. From anatomical lift flap books, to astrolabes and other volvelles in the early modern science texts, from carousel and pop-up children’s books to contemporary artists’ books. These devices allow for the ultimate means of emphasis within the pages of a book.

Lecture Theatre, Weston Library, 5:15 pm

Details and free registration

Emily Martin, 'King Leer' puppet

‘King Leer’ puppet, by Emily Martin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Bodleian’s Bibliographical Press is housed in a workshop located in the Old Bodleian Library. Five iron hand-presses, one modern proofing press (‘Western’) and a complement of type make up the materials that have been used since the mid-20th century to teach typesetting and printing to generations of Oxford students, and members of the public, as part of the Bodleian’s contribution to learning about the material history of the book. These presses, and a replica wooden press in the Weston Library for Special Collections, also enable outreach to the public and schools, through demonstrations and courses. Information about the Bibliographical Press workshop is available here: www.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/csb/bibpress

A Missing Link Revealed: The Paper Layer of the Broxbourne Frisket Sheet

Elizabeth Savage

A frisket used for printing with colour. Bodleian Libraries, Oxford. Broxb. 97.40.
A frisket used for printing with colour. Bodleian Libraries, Oxford. Broxb. 97.40.

Columbia University, Book Arts collection, Frisket 2 [reversed image]
In 1978, the Bodleian Library was given a curious piece of parchment (Broxb. 97.40). It is dotted with rectangular cut-outs, and eight thick, red rectangles and an astonishing amount of dirt and fibres cover one side. As Andrew Honey noted in his blog post about its conservation in 2011, its holes and ‘muck’ obscure the words, but they reveal that this object is actually three texts in one:

First, the parchment sheet was taken from a manuscript of Gregory IX’s Decretals written in Bologna around 1300, which was separated by c.1530.

Then, the skin was used by a printer, probably in France (François Regnault (d.1540–41) or Jean Mallard (fl. 1534–53)?). The red rectangles indicate that it was used as a frisket sheet, a mask inserted into the printing press to keep the paper in place and protect unprinted areas, for printing text and initials in red. There are eight rectangles, so the printed book was in octavo. The arrangement of the cut-outs (i.e., the red texts and initials) suggests that the book was liturgical. The thick layer of red printing ink shows how the frisket sheet blocked the rest of the type from printing on the paper in the many copies of the edition. (The red elements were removed, and the rest was printed separately in black.) The thickness of the ink film, from the ‘black’ text, hints at the number of copies printed. The text is illegible, but the indents of some letters can be seen.

Once cut up for a certain arrangement of red initials and passages, a frisket sheet could be used for only one project. Finally, this one was used by a bookbinder, who put in the pasteboard of a binding around a book. The ‘muck’ is from the binding paste.

It’s an extremely rare and important artefact of the history of the book. But it isn’t complete. Frisket sheets were often made of parchment pasted to paper, the better to resist the wetness of a print run (paper is dampened before printing). In an article in Printing History tracing the movements of the Bodleian skin layer and five others from the same manuscript/print job/binding, I tried to trace this paper layer. But I lost sight of it for the last 500 years, after c.1540.

That paper layer and an undescribed parchment layer from the same group has been discovered at Columbia University in the library of the American Type Founders Company, which Columbia purchased in 1942. Very few frisket sheet fragments are known, and each has much to reveal.

If the paper layer remained paired the Bodleian layer, it would have been in a group of sheets from this manuscript/print job/binding that was owned by the bibliographer E. Gordon Duff (1862–1924) and acquired after his death by the master printer George W. Jones (1860–1942). One of his skin layers was sold by Sotheby’s to Albert Ehrman (1890–1969) and donated to the Bodleian in 1978 as the Broxbourne Collection.

The paper layers described in Jones’ collection and sale catalogues can all be accounted for, so the Columbia paper layer was presumably separated sometime in the 500 years between c.1540 and Duff’s acquisition of his group before 1924. But Jones’ tallies of his frisket sheets’ skin and paper layers varied. Could the layers at Columbia and the Bodleian have remained together for centuries, before the paper layer was sold privately by Jones before his death in 1942? And could the newly discovered skin layer at Columbia have accompanied it? Research continues.

This blog post may be the first time the two halves of this frisket sheet have been reunited in over 500 years. Together, they illustrate the history of the book, from medieval manuscript to renaissance printshop to modern collecting. Much remains unknown, but digital research tools of the future may reveal where and how they were used over the centuries.

With thanks to Jane Rodgers Siegel (Rare Book Librarian, Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University).

For more information

Andrew Honey, ‘Many uses of a piece of parchment’, The Conveyor, 25 Feb 2011, http://blogs.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/theconveyor/2011/02/25/many-uses-of-a-piece-of-parchment.

Elizabeth Savage, ‘The Mystery of the “scrappy fragments”: Untangling Robert Steele’s Discovery of Frisket Sheets (1903), Printing History (2016), 16–32.

Elizabeth Savage, ‘Early Modern Frisket Sheets: A Periodically Updated Census’, Bibsite, Bibliographical Society of America, 1 May 2017, http://www.ies.sas.ac.uk/research-projects-archives/early-modern-frisket-sheets

[Re-blog]: How to print your own 95 Luther-theses for 2017

How to print your own 95 Luther-theses

The 500th anniversary of the Reformation is fast approaching – time to get in the spirit and start printing your own 95 Luther theses!… [read more]

Re-blogged from the Luther in Oxford blog

Charlotte Hartmann, Henrike Lähnemann and Walker Thompson – proudly present the first print of Luther’s 95 theses in Oxford. Photo by Richard Lawrence
Charlotte Hartmann, Henrike Lähnemann and Walker Thompson – proudly present the first print of Luther’s 95 theses in Oxford. Photo by Richard Lawrence

‘The Last Invasion of England’ : Napoleon’s audacious plan

from Adrian Kerrison, Rare Books

On the night of 22 February 1797, 1,400 French soldiers under the command of Irish-American Colonel William Tate disembarked from their ships and landed on the shores of Carregwastad Head in Pembrokeshire. This bold and audacious invasion was actually intended as a diversion to draw British forces away from a much larger planned French landing in Ireland in support of the Society of United Irishmen. It was also hoped that it would cause an uprising against the British government amongst the Welsh population.

Having successfully landed and taken up defensive positions, Colonel Tate and his force now faced John Campbell, 1st Baron Cawdor, and about 600 men from the local militias and yeomanry. Cawdor set up headquarters at the town of Fishguard with intentions to eventually attack the French. Despite outnumbering Cawdor’s forces by over two to one, French indiscipline resulted in the desertion of a large portion of the invasion force, and Tate believed that Cawdor had more men than he actually did. This may have been due to sightings of large groups of women in Welsh national dress, which from a distance could resemble the red uniforms of British soldiers.

In the course of these events one local woman became a Welsh folk hero. Jemima Nicholas, a local cobbler, is alleged to have approached twelve French soldiers armed only with a pitchfork, forcing them to surrender and marching them to Fishguard. While there is little contemporary evidence to support this, her deeds were recorded on her tombstone and she was referred to as ‘Jemima the Great’ in her burial record.

With his situation quickly deteriorating, Colonel Tate quickly attempted to negotiate terms for surrender ‘upon the principles of humanity’. Cawdor replied that due to the ‘superiority of the forces under [his] command which is hourly increasing’, he would only accept a full, unconditional surrender. Unaware that Cawdor was actually bluffing, Tate accepted on 24 February and was taken prisoner with his remaining troops.

‘The Battle of Fishguard’ as it came to be known, never really materialised to be a battle at all, and casualties were very light on both sides. The landings in Ireland were called off due to bad weather and the hope of a Welsh uprising proved to be unfounded. 22 February 1797 was to be the last time that mainland Britain was invaded.

The letters and print below come from the Lord Curzon collection of Napoleonic ephemera.

Bodleian Curzon b.16(239-40), a letter written by Richard Philipps, 1st Baron Milford and MP for Pembrokeshire, informing Home Secretary William Cavendish-Bentinck, 3rd Duke of Portland, that the French invasion forces at Fishguard have capitulated. Dated 26 February 1797.
Bodleian Curzon b.16(239-40), a letter written by Richard Philipps, 1st Baron Milford and MP for Pembrokeshire, informing Home Secretary William Cavendish-Bentinck, 3rd Duke of Portland, that the French invasion forces at Fishguard have capitulated. Dated 26 February 1797.

The Language of Bindings Thesaurus from Ligatus

Ligatus director Professor Nicholas Pickwoad sends this notice of the Language of Bindings Thesaurus, now online at

http://www.ligatus.org.uk/lob/

“Ligatus is proud to announce the launch of the Language of Binding online thesaurus of
bookbinding terms, which was celebrated with a one-day event in the Chelsea College of Arts (University of the Arts London) in collaboration with CERL on 23 June, 2015.
Ligatus is a research centre of the University of the Arts London with projects in libraries and archives and with a particular interest in historic bookbinding. The Language of Binding thesaurus is the result of our long experience with historic bookbindings, but has been greatly assisted by contributions from an international group of bookbinding experts and book conservators. This work was made possible by a Networking Grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council in the UK.
The aim of the thesaurus is to present a consistent vocabulary for the use of all those who work with early bindings, built wherever possible on existing resources, but adapted for use in an on-line hierarchical environment that will allow terms that are not known to a user to be found.”

Read the full announcement:
Language of Bindings Announcement

‘Carefully keepe them together’: a prize for student collectors

This year begins with a call for entries to the Colin Franklin Book Collecting Prize, open to students at the University of Oxford. [See: http://www.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/csb/fellowships/the-colin-franklin-book-collecting-prize] Entries are due by 26 January 2015.

As inspiration, consider a volume which was part of two different collections formed over a century apart. Edmund Malone (1741-1812) developed from the 1770s onwards a fine collection of early imprints of Shakespeare’s works. Several of Malone’s books and notebooks contain handwritten remarks about the early editions he had already secured, or hoped to buy, and estimations of how his collection outshone others. This was not just trophy-hunting. Malone’s collection supported him in a lifetime of scholarship and literary disputation on the subject of Shakespeare. Some time before 1805, Malone wrote that he was still hunting the first (1593) edition of Shakespeare’s poem, Venus and Adonis. It must have been with great satisfaction — and, yes, the trophy-hunting does shine through here — that he was able to add a note when he paid ‘the enormous price of twenty-five pounds’ to acquire the unique surviving copy from a Manchester bookseller.

This particular book had previously belonged in the collection owned by Frances Wolfreston (1607-1677), and kept at her home, Statfold Hall, Staffordshire. She wrote her name on the title page, ‘frances wolfreston, hor bouk’. In her will, Wolfreston left her ‘phisike’ books and ‘godly’ books to her third son, and specified that all the rest, including a rich collection of Elizabethan and 17th-century poetry and drama, could be loaned to any of her sons or daughters to read, but that her son should ensure they were returned, and he ‘shall carefully keepe them together’.* Aided by the inscriptions, her children would remember that these were her books. The Venus and Adonis was not the only unique survival preserved in this collection. See the ‘Wynken de Worde’ blogpost on Frances Wolfreston as a collector, here.

The spirit of the Colin Franklin Prize recognizes that book collections fulfil personal aims and express intellectual journeys for readers, and that collections are also for the future; the current rarity, age, or monetary value are not relevant criteria in the judging of the prize.

*See the article by Paul Morgan, “Frances Wolfreston and ‘Hor Bouks’: A Seventeenth-Century Woman Book-Collector”, The Library, Sixth series, Vol. XI, No. 3, September 1989.

Scholar Spotlight: Renee Raphael

Renaissance Society of America Fellow

Renee Raphael

My research at the Bodleian focused on printed books held in the Savilian Library, a collection of works on mathematics, astronomy, geometry and applied sciences collected by the early Savilian Professors, including Henry Savile, Christopher Wren and John Wallis. I was especially interested in annotations inscribed in the collection’s books for information they provide into the scholarly practices of early modern mathematical reading. Some features of this reading observed in the Savilian books include summarizing an author’s argument, correcting errors, following along with mathematical proofs, and redrawing and/ or modifying diagrams while reading. Because the Savilian collection contains the printed books shared by a community of early modern mathematicians, the annotations in the books provide information as to how a scholarly community shared practices amongst its members and how these practices changed over time.

For more on Renee’s research and time at the Bodleian Libraries, watch this video.

For news on Visiting Scholars at the Bodleian, click here.

‘Digging into the Archaeology of the Book’: The Digital Humanities at the Bodleian Library

Nora Wilkinson, Harvard University

On Monday 14 June, Dr. Alexandra Franklin calmly peeled back layers of a ‘human head’ in the Pitt Rivers lecture room. The ‘head’ in question was an instructive illustration from Bartisch’s rare Opthalmodouleia, a sixteenth century treatise on diseases of the eye from the Bodleian Libraries’ special collections. As she pulled back layers of paper under the document camera, Franklin challenged her audience to imagine the challenge of describing and digitizing the page. These were the questions at the centre of Franklin’s presentation, which was part of a weeklong Digital Humanities training program.

Running from 14 – 18 July, the Digital Humanities at Oxford Summer School is an annual weeklong program exploring the history and future of the digital humanities. In addition to interaction with the University’s experts through lectures, demonstrations, and workshops, participants interact with the Bodleian Libraries’ extensive collection. Not despite but because of the program’s focus on the digital humanities, the chance to interface with the material collection was an important one.

As we increasingly move towards the digitization of physical collections, the material objects themselves shape the way we think about the process of description and digitization. Franklin demonstrated this on Monday afternoon in her discussion of eight unusual objects from the Bodleian’s collection.

Each of the objects posed a unique challenge. How, Franklin asked, do we catalogue a religious manuscript illumination that has been nearly effaced by devotional rubbing? What is the effect of describing it simply as ‘damaged’? Or: How do we photograph a page onto which a miniature has been sewn? Franklin posed these questions and more as she invited participants to examine the objects below.

Master of Her Own Work: RBC Fellow Marie-Claude Felton at the Bodleian Printing Press

On Friday 20 June, Dr. Marie-Claude Felton stood in front of a type case, composing stick in hand. She was selecting metal type to complete a line that read ‘Oxford, Printed at the Bodleian Printing Office by the Author.’ The ‘Bodleian Printing Office,’ officially known as the Bodleian Hand-Printing Workshop, houses several hand-printing presses, in a temporary home at the Story Museum on Pembroke Street.

Dr. Felton at the Bodleian Hand-Printing Workshop
Dr. Felton at the Bodleian Hand-Printing Workshop

What brought Dr. Felton to the printing press on a Friday afternoon? She was there to compose and print a handbill memorializing her recent lecture at the Bodleian. For a historian of publishing practices, this opportunity to work with antique printing technologies was perfectly suited.

Self-Publishing, past and present

Dr. Marie-Claude Felton, one of the Bodleian’s two 2013-4 Royal Bank of Canada Fellows, recently published a book, Maitres de Leurs Ouvrages, focusing on self-publishing in late-eighteenth-century Paris. Her research at the Bodleian expands on this, focusing on self-publishing in Paris, Leipzig, and London –the three main European publishing centres – between 1750 and 1850.

Dr. Felton gave an overview of her past and current research at the Convocation House on 3 June in a lecture titled ‘Masters of Their Own Work.’ She began with an observation about the current state of publishing:

With the growing online book market, especially with the advent of digital publishing and the popular e-readers, one of the more dramatic changes to impact publishing today has been the ability of a growing number of authors to bypass traditional publishers to produce and sell their own books. In fact, for a few years now, self-publishing has been producing more books each year than traditional publishing. This phenomenon naturally raises a number of questions regarding, among other things, the place and role of authors, and the relevance of the booksellers and publishers as cultural mediators and promoters of literature.

These questions, suggested Dr. Felton are not new ones. In her talk, she defined self-publishing before answering the crucial questions ‘who, what, and how?’ Self-publishing was not confined to any one subject or type of author, she said. Interestingly, authors who self-published often sold the books from their homes, which resulted in more direct interaction with their readers. Divided as the artistic enterprise of writing and the professional pursuit of publishing and selling may seem to us now, Dr. Felton suggests that the two were not irreconcilable – that, in fact, many authors fused the two in a variety of ways in the eighteenth century.

For a video of Dr. Felton’s lecture, click here.

The Bodleian Hand-Printing Workshop

Dr. Nash assists Dr. Felton with her composition
Dr. Nash assists Dr. Felton with her composition

Fresh off this lecture, and still immersed in her current research, Dr. Felton tried her hand at ‘self-publishing.’ With the assistance of Dr. Paul Nash, the printing tutor at the Bodleian Hand-Printing Workshop, she composed, set, and printed the sheet below.

A proof with several errors
A proof with several errors
The finished product
The finished product

As you can see, the first draft is rarely the final draft. Indeed, early proofs almost always contain errors. While some are due to mistakes on the part of the compositor, others result when letters are mistakenly returned to the wrong tray. This often occurs with letters that have similar shapes, which might explain the confusions between h, n, and u, seen here.

With a range of types and presses – including Albion, Columbia, Vandercook, and others– the Hand-Printing Workshop hosts classes as well as open workshops from 2 – 5 pm on Fridays. Click here for schedules and further information.

The Bodleian Hand-Printing Workshop, temporarily at the Story Museum
The Bodleian Hand-Printing Workshop, temporarily at the Story Museum

– from Nora Wilkinson (Harvard University)