St Andrews Book Conference: Buying and Selling

For the past eight years, scholars working on various aspects of early modern print have descended on St Andrews in the early summer months for the conference organised by the Universal Short Title Catalogue (USTC). Here, Saskia Limbach has provided a report on the proceedings.

This June saw the 8th annual book conference organised by the USTC. Generously supported by the School of History and the Bibliographical Society, the conference brought together over sixty scholars from all over the world, including France, Germany, Poland, Italy, the Netherlands, Switzerland, the UK and the US.

Within the scope of the conference theme ‘Buying and Selling’ the conference sought to further understanding of the complex business of books. Over the course of three days the participants discussed the hard business world of print, focussing on failures and successes of publishing ventures. Ten panels, ranging from fascinating case-studies to general overviews of the book trade in particular geographic areas, proved that the world of booksellers and printers was far from romantic and optimistic.

As every other trade, the book trade depended heavily on credit. Scared creditors could drive a successful business into bankruptcy as Lucas Burkhart (Basel) showed persuasively with his case-study on the publisher Michael Wessner. One way to avoid such a fate was specialisation and re-investment as Jamie Cumby (St Andrews) showed with her paper on Luxembourg de Gabiano: The Lyonnaise printer and publisher re-invested his profits in rural property to secure a steady income. Other contemporaries tried to obtain monopolies and privileges from the authorities to protect their markets (Marius Buning). Another successful strategy was to become a bookseller, leaving the production process with all its hazards to others. Both Jean-Paul Pittion (Tours/Dublin) and Malcolm Walsby (Rennes) showed how many salesmen thrived in the book business in early modern France.  Other speakers illuminated other selling strategies of publishers and the day to day practices of book buying and selling. In addition one well-received panel addressed the modern book market where missing library books magically resurfaced in collections of university professors (Daryl Green, St Andrews) and other books were ‘lost in transaction’ (Falk Eisermann, Berlin).

On Friday evening the participants enjoyed a wine reception in Marty’s Kirk with the launch of the volume of a previous conference ‘Specialist Markets in the Early Modern Book World’, published in Brill’s Library of the Written Word.

The conference was a real success: several attendees returning to our annual book conference attested it was the best so far. For those who unfortunately could not attend the conference this year, a number of attendees tweeted actively during the event, using the hashtag #USTCBookConf, creating immediate responses from the scholarly world in Europe and the US. The papers given will form the basis of an already much anticipated edited volume in Brill’s Library of the Written World.

About standrewshistory
With over forty full time members of staff researching and teaching on European, American and Asian history from the dawn of the Middle Ages to the present day, the School of History at the University of St Andrews has one of the finest faculty and diverse teaching programmes of any School of History in the English speaking world. The School boasts expertise in Mediaeval and Modern History, from S cotland to Byzantium and the Americas to the Middle East and South Asia.Thematic interests include religious history, urban history, transnationalism, historiography and nationalism. The School of History prides itself on small group teaching and tutorials allowing for in depth study and supervision tailored to secure the best from each student. Cutting edge research combined with teaching excellence offer a dynamic and intellectually stimulating environment for the study of History.

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