Crisis or Enlightenment? 2019 USTC History of the Book Conference

Blog written by Elise Watson. Elise is a first year PhD student in the Reformation Studies Institute and part of the Universal Short Title Catalogue project. Her research focuses on the trade of Catholic books in the Dutch Golden Age, and she will be co-organising next year’s annual book conference on Gender and the Book Trades with Professor Helen Smith. 

On 20-22 June, scholars from as near as Church Street and as far as Colombia gathered for the annual conference hosted by the Universal Short Title Catalogue project, this year entitled ‘Crisis or Enlightenment?’. The conference, organised by St Andrews School of History postdoctoral researcher Dr. Arthur der Weduwen and Université Rennes 2 postdoctoral research fellow Dr. Ann-Marie Hansen, was also generously sponsored by the School of History of the University of St Andrews and the Society for the History of Authorship, Reading & Publishing (SHARP). The conference consisted of eight panels, two keynotes and 24 presenters spread over three days. The chronological range of the conference’s presentations, which extended beyond the current scope of the USTC, both broadened the horizons of the project and explored some of the fundamental questions of early modern book history.

Conference co-organiser Dr. Anne-Marie Hansen address the attendees.
Photo credit: Nora Epstein

The first panel of the conference discussed networks and book distribution from Vienna to Edinburgh. From there, the conversation shifted to book collecting, in examples of parish libraries and Italian monastery libraries. After lunch, a panel on profits and markets discussed the marketing and sale of particular genres of books, including medical books in the Dutch Republic and school books in Catalonia, as well as examples of how (not) to run a print shop in the Enlightenment. The first day concluded with a plenary address by Professor Ian Maclean on the impact of academic journals on the German book fairs in the Enlightenment. After the work of the first day was done, presenters and attendees were treated to an exhibition from University Special Collections, a carefully curated and fascinating collection of early print.

Attendees peruse the Special Collections exhibition in College Hall, St Mary’s College
Photo credit: Nora Epstein

On the second day, the first panel discussed auction catalogues and collecting practices in Lübeck, French private libraries and Jewish collections in the Dutch Republic. The second panel, which dealt with newspapers and periodicals, discussed French language gazettes and discussions of comets in eighteenth-century ephemera. After lunch, three papers on science and censorship in Italy and the Spanish colonies shifted our understandings of the relationship between control and innovation in Enlightenment publishing. The second plenary of the conference, delivered by Professor Dominique Varry of the École nationale supérieure des sciences de l’information et des bibliothèques, delighted the crowd with a fascinating discussion and entertaining examples of false imprints in eighteenth-century French books, including a book claiming its origin in Hell, at the print shop of Beelzebub himself!

Image courtesy of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France.

The second day concluded with the launch of the conference volume Buying and Selling: The Business of Books in Early Modern Europe, edited by USTC alumna Dr. Shanti Graheli and published in Brill’s Library of the Written Word series. This was celebrated with a wine reception sponsored by SHARP.

The final day contained two further sessions. The first, on production, crisis and change, included a fascinating discussion of the impact of the Disaster Year of 1672 on print production in the Dutch Republic. The eighth and final panel included three papers on Enlightenment libraries, asking practical and interpretive questions of what we mean when we say ‘Enlightenment library’ and interrogating systems of organisation, annotation and use. Along with the presentations, I think all participants would agree that a great amount of collaboration and in-depth scholarly synthesis occurred during both the question and answer sessions, and later at the pub after the ideas presented had some time to digest. We are grateful for the help provided by everyone from St Andrews, especially the USTC summer interns, as well as all participants for their excellent and thought-provoking contributions! The conference proceedings will be edited by the co-organisers, Dr. Arthur der Weduwen and Dr. Ann-Marie Hansen, and published in Brill’s Library of the Written Word series.

For more reporting on the conference see the recent blog on the Preserving the World’s Rarest Books site, or follow the coverage on the Twitter hashtag #USTC19. Next year’s conference, entitled ‘Gender and the Book Trades’, is being organised by Professor Helen Smith (York) and myself (Elise Watson), and it will be held from 2-4 July 2020. For more information, please see https://www.ustc.ac.uk/conference!

About standrewshistory
With over forty fulltime 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 Scotland to Byzantium and the Americas to South Asia. Thematic interests include religious history, urban history, transnationalism, historiography and nationalism. The School of History prides itself on small group teaching, 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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