About sybil

editor, writer, reader, returning to blogging

Never heard of Aldus Manutius? What about Bembo, Garamond and Palatino?

This must be one of the more informative calls for papers (CFPs) that I’ve read in a while. It’s from the Bibliographical Society of Australia and New Zealand, for a conference at University of Melbourne:

Just a few weeks left to submit abstracts for this year’s conference to be held at the University of Melbourne, 26–27 November.  Closing date for offers is Monday 29th June 2015.  The conference is entitled ‘Turning the Page: Bibliographical Innovation and the Legacy of Aldus Manutius’ and marks the 500th anniversary of the death of Aldus Pius Manutius Romanus, one of the three great pioneers of printing (along with Johannes Gutenberg and William Caxton).  Manutius worked predominantly from Venice during his twenty-odd-year career before passing on the business to his son and grandson.  He had a vision of disseminating Classical culture, much of his output being editions and translations of Greek, and some Latin, texts.  He established an academy of scholars to prepare Greek MSS for printing and even learned and used Greek at home and in the print shop.  A central figure in Renaissance classical culture, his academy corresponded with the circle of scholars like Erasmus and Thomas Linacre in Henry VIII’s London.
Technically and aesthetically, Manutius introduced a string of innovations including typefaces like Bembo, Garamond and Palatino, regularised punctuation, and scholarly introductions, but the innovation for which he is most famous is the italic font.  This was intended not as mode of emphasis, however, but simply as a technique of compaction.  For Manutius saw the advantage of making small-format books that could be carried in an overcoat pocket, and from 1501 printed smaller octavo editions that could be made thinner if printed in italics.
Manutius’s books show the rapid evolution from manuscript pages.  On the one hand his pages have a neat type-bed with justified margins, and occasional flourishes such as tapering column- or page-endings which look very modern, while on the other the books are issued with arcane abbreviation conventions and with indicative blocks awaiting hand-coloured initials in the manner of an illuminated manuscript.  Manutius had a wonderful sense of what these days are called ‘production values’.
Manutius is just the starting point, however, for while the conference is anchored in and celebrates his pioneering achievements, it recognises that innovation and change have been hallmarks of the practice of printing, publishing and book distribution ever since, and invites offers of papers which exemplify, historicise or theorise such developments from all centuries and locations.
The keynote address will be given by founding member of the Society and  former President, Professor Wallace Kirsop.   An expert on French  bibliography,  Professor  Kirsop  has  chosen  to approach  Manutius  and  the  universe  of  biblio-innovation via the compiler of the first serious bibliography of the Aldine Press, Antoine-Augustin Renouard (1765–1853). His talk is  provisionally titled  ‘The  Age  of Renouard’.
Enquiries and proposals of 250 words for papers of 20 to 25 minutes should be sent to Anthony Tedeschi (atedeschi@unimelb.edu.au), Curator, Rare Books, Baillieu Library, The University of Melbourne. The deadline for paper proposals is Monday 29 June 2015. Students undertaking higher degree research are encouraged to submit offers of ‘work in progress’ papers; some travel bursaries will be available.
Further conference details will be made available progressively on the BSANZ Inc. website: http://www.bsanz.org/

We All Like a Good List, Don’t We!

This is a repost of an article by Isabel Hofmeyr, one of the editors of the brilliant collection Ten Books that Shaped the British Empire. I had the privileging of meeting Isabel and some of the contributors to this volume when she out in Melbourne for the Writers and Readers conference at University of Melbourne. Here Isabel talks about the interesting challenge of choosing the ten books.

The Books That Shaped the British Empire

Isabel Hofmeyr, University of the Witwatersrand

When we talk about books, we generally think only of their inside – the words, ideas and themes that they contain. But what about the outside? Books are objects in the world. They undertake all kinds of work that exceeds just their words – they forge friendships, decorate our houses, store our momentoes and memories.

Books also have active political lives. They inspire social movements and bind people together. Books can stand as short-hand symbols for larger galaxies of ideas.

A new collection of essays Ten Books that Shaped the British Empire explores the role of books in founding and dismantling The British empire. Written by scholars from South Africa, India, Barbados, New Zealand, Australia, the UK and the US, the volume comprises ten essays, each on a book that shaped British imperial life.

Block-busters and obscure texts

The ten books include five famous block-busters and five now-obscure texts that in their day were influential.

The five block-busters are imperial or anti-imperial classics: Robert Baden Powell’s Scouting for Boys (1908), Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre (1847), Thomas Babington Macaulay’s five volume History of England (1848). The anti-colonial texts are Mohandas Gandhi’s Hind Swaraj (1909) and The Black Jacobins (1938) by CLR James, the famed Caribbean revolutionary thinker.

The lesser-known texts are

• Edward Gibbon Wakefield’s, A Letter from Sydney (1827) , influential in the colonisation of New Zealand and Australia.

• Charles Pearson’s National Life and Character (1893), an Australian book predicting the rise of Asia and the end of the ‘white man’.

Century of Wrong (1899), the pamphlet setting out the Boer cause in the lead up to the Anglo-Boer War.

Totaram Sanadhya’s 1914 Fiji Mein Mere Ekkis Varsh (My Twenty-one Years in Fiji) a Hindi pamphlet opposing indentured labour.

• Gakaara wa Wanjau’s 1960 Mihiriga ya Agikuyu (The Clans of the Gikuyu) written in a Mau Mau detention camp.

How the 10 were chosen

The volume is edited by a radical historian of empire, Antoinette Burton from the University of Illinois and myself, a scholar of print culture and book history from the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg.

In our introduction, we say that from the very beginning the book provoked fascination. “Oh wow! Which are the ten books?” was a common response.

While everyone had a different idea of which books should be included, our interlocutors accepted the premise that books could change empires. People envisaged a series of big books that founded empires (John Robert Seeley, Charles Dilke, Frederick Lugard were common examples) and a set of equally significant books that ended up dismantling them Frantz Fanon, Amilcar Cabral, Che Guevara).

How the books shaped aspects of empire

In some cases the influence was direct. In 1901, when Australian parliamentarians debated the Immigration Restriction Bill (a key part of the White Australia policy), the Australian prime minister held up a copy of Pearson’s book and read two passages from it. On the anti-imperial end of the spectrum, CLR James Black Jacobins was widely taken as an allegory predicting the end of colonial rule in Africa.

Yet books equally have more diffuse and longer term effects – Wanjau’s pamphlet for example was less concerned with direct action against the British than with undertaking the long, slow work of preparing people for independence.

Books were deeply enmeshed with empire and were often used as symbols of British imperial authority, calling-cards of ‘civilization’. As one observer noted, “The English literary text … function[s] as a surrogate Englishman in his highest and most perfect state”. Books were held up as the ‘gift’ of empire and were used to portray colonialism as benign while masking its violent nature.

Books and documents were also instruments of ruling – the pass book was used to control the movements of black people during apartheid in South Africa.

But books could equally be used by those opposing empire, a provocation to imperial power and a monumental statement of intent. James’ Black Jacobins, an account of the late 18th-century slave revolt in Haiti initially appeared in a handsome 328-edition from Secker and Warburg.

Some came from humble beginnings

Yet, not all of the 10 books started out as books – many began life as pamphlets or newspaper articles, more humble forms which nonetheless exerted considerable influence. Century of Wrong became a calling card for the pro-Boer cause. Scouting for Boys appeared first as a newspaper series and then in small handbooks, a format that helped make scouting an international movement.

These texts travelled far and wide at times migrating through different media, appearing as newspaper serials and then rising up into books. Aiding their passage was the vast sprawling periodical and newspaper network that carpeted empire. Hind Swaraj began life in Gujarati in a two-part series in Gandhi’s Durban-based newspaper Indian Opinion before appearing as a booklet translated by Gandhi himself into English.

These streams of print culture made up the sinews and arteries of empire, linking its supporters while offering a mode of communication to its opponents. Access to this field of print culture was uneven and unequal, affected by capital, literacy, censorship.

Yet, much of this printed matter was not copyrighted – all periodicals for example legally reprinted material from each other. These carpets of print culture created a type of commons across empire, a zone of textual production not owned by one person.

Books in empire were dispersed across time and space – they were not bounded events. As instruments for and against empire, they formed part of the sprawling assemblage of the British empire, both extending its reach and limiting its legitimacy.

The Conversation

Isabel Hofmeyr is Professor of African Literature at University of the Witwatersrand.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

In search of a good blook

I’d never heard of a blook until I stumbled onto a post by Mindy Dubansky, an American conservator and preservation librarian, who is deeply interested in collecting and conserving blooks. Well, what are they? I hear you ask. Blooks, and I’m quoting Mindy,  are ‘objects made in the emulation of books, either by hand or commercial manufacture’. She says:

All over the world, for hundreds of years, people have been making, collecting and presenting book-objects that reflect their devotion and respect for books and for each other. There are countless examples; they include bars, cameras, radios, banks, toys, memorials, food tins, desk accessories, book safes, musical instruments, magic tricks, furniture and jewelry. Blooks embody the same characteristics as books and many take the form of specific titles and book formats.

Book lovers like me might prefer the real thing, but to Mindy and other scholars, blooks signify ‘knowledge, education, taste, power, wealth and more’. She explains her research as part of scholarly and popular interest in the ‘book as object’, which has grown as the codex has come to be perceived as an endangered object.

Mindy is head of the Sherman Fairchild Center for Book Conservation at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. She is in the process of preparing the first exhibition of blooks to be held in the USA. As far as she knows it’s only the second such exhibition in the world. Read more about it on her blog, About Blooks.

The Footpath Library: books for homeless readers

Over the summer holidays, when I was walking my dog in the mornings, I noticed an older guy who was often in the local park, lying under a tree reading, losing himself in a book the way all committed readers do. After a few days it dawned on me that he was homeless.

I was struck by the fact that my husband and I had just spent days culling our overflowing bookshelves of volumes we no longer had the space to keep. My husband had become tired of lugging heavy boxes of books down to our local thrift shop. Our book collection had become a problem to us; the reader in the park was a stark reminder of a very different problem faced by the many people who love reading but do not have easy access to books.

As usual, google informed me that someone else had already thought about all this. The Footpath Library, an organisation that distributes books in good condition to homeless readers, was set up in Sydney in 2003 by a volunteer who noticed a homeless man reading a novel under a street light while he waited for the nightly food van. From Sydney, the Footpath Library has spread to Brisbane, Melbourne and Perth. They’re not big yet, but they are growing.

The organisation welcomes donations of new or secondhand books in good condition. There are some restrictions: they can’t accept textbooks or books of true crime, for example. But children’s books are welcome along with many types of fiction and non-fiction for adults. Read more about how to donate here.

The Book is Not History

I love how the Society for the History of Authorship, Reading and Publishing (SHARP) puts its money where its mouth is, by presenting its journal, Book History, as a very traditional-looking hardback in blue cloth binding with gilt lettering.

book_HistoryThe latest issue (vol. 17) is worth a look, not least for Matthew Kirschenbaum and Sarah Werner’s article ‘Digital Scholarship and Digital Studies: The State of the Discipline’. In it they drily remind readers of what it was like for long-suffering fans of the mere codex to live through the early days of the web:

Those who remember the first wave of academic enthusiasm for hypertext, cybertext, electronic textuality, and virtual-everything will also recall the unabashed enthusiasm with which glossy books with primary colored covers celebrated the coming of the empowered reader, the decentered author, non-linear narrative (seemingly paradoxically held together by “link”), and the equally paradoxical end of closure. These texts were laced with techno-neologisms or else imports from Continental theory: thus “hypertext” was deemed “writerly” after Roland Barthes, whereas the poor, staid pages of the conventional codex were condemned to be merely readerly. Readers themselves, meanwhile, clicked through “lexias” which populated hypertexts (or hypermedia), engaging “transversal functions” to navigate the “contours” of “textons” rendered on-screen in “flickering signifiers” dubbed “scriptons.” In journalism and the popular media, meditations on the death of the book were the order of the day. The Gutenberg Galaxy was preemptively mourned by the Gutenberg Elegies, while Wired Magazine served up a monthly dose of McLuhanesque folk wisdom coupled with edgy, pixelated layouts that emblematized a new aesthetic that was equal parts MTV and William Gibson. Text was reimagined as image, whether the suddenly ubiquitous banner ads on first-generation Web sites or the Photoshopped excesses of Wired‘s many imitators. Critics from Neil Postman to Michael Joyce reframed the age-old paragone between word and image as a new battle of the books: “Hurry up please, it’s time,” Joyce wrote in 1991. “We are in the late age of print; the time of the book has passed. The book is an obscure pleasure like the opera or cigarettes. The book is dead, long live the book.”

This obviously will draw a smile emoticon from anyone who remembers the era. Yes, books are certainly changing, but sales of traditional books are actually still growing, Nielsen Bookscan figures show. The Financial Times reported in January that book sales were buoyant : ‘the plot has now twisted sharply, with publishers and book chains in the US, UK and Australia celebrating sales figures showing the resilience of physical editions and of bricks-and-mortar stores.’

On the Changes at the National Library of Australia

I love the National Library of Australia, particularly the archives there. I always thought that when I died (hopefully at some far distant date) it would be lovely (if no doubt impermissible) to have a few of my ashes sprinkled in the manuscripts reading room on level 2, near the window with the view of Lake Burley Griffin and the flowering cherry trees. That room was my idea of heaven. Sadly, however, all in the name of improvement, readers of manuscripts are now directed to a refurbished internal space on level 1 in the centre of the building. It’s much bigger, for sure, and elegantly fitted out, but it is no longer possible to sit close to an external window. It also lacks the charm and companionable atmosphere of the previous room, which was much smaller, and where you might have found yourself bumping elbows with a luminary historian or national cultural icon at the next desk.

This is not the end of the changes, either. Last week when I was there on a rush visit which included Saturday, I found that the library has changed its rules and no longer retrieves books from its collections on weekends. A friendly member of staff whose name I do not know told me this was due “mainly to budget cuts”. The inconvenience to visiting scholars is great, and has either not been thought through, or is not considered a priority. Having hauled myself up to Canberra at my own expense, prepared for two days of blitzing the archives, I was disappointed and frustrated to find that books I wanted to consult as cross-references to the papers I was working on were not available because it was a Saturday. Some of these books are only available in the NLA, not other libraries. Had I known I needed them, I could have booked ahead, reserving them by Friday afternoon. But the whole point of digging in the archives is discovery: often you don’t know what works you’ll need for cross-referencing, because you can’t anticipate everything you might turn up in the papers.

Just to top off this whinge, I note that although the new reading room is larger, the reference collection from the old reading room has been consolidated. Yes, you might now be able to look up the Dictionary of National Biography online, but it’s definitely not the same as that physical process of cross-reading which to me is such an integral aspect of working in a traditional archive, and which leads to so many serendipitous discoveries and insights.