Book scholarship: Out of the ‘Penn’ and into the future

Getting started

Getting started

An eclectic group was pulled together by Will Noel, Director, Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts, Director Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies, to develop an understanding of what the role that biology has to play in manuscript studies.

A programme had  been circulated prior to the meeting but this was soon pushed to one side in favour of a more dynamic and fluid approach. The buzz in the room was infectious as Bruce Hollsinger, Professor of English at University of Virginia kicked of proceedings and explained the background to his involvement in the project to date, and the importance of true reciprocity – what can the humanist give to the scientist?

Dan Bradley, Steve Milner, Peter Stalybrass, Caroline Checkley-Scott and Matthew Collins

Dan Bradley, Steve Milner, Peter Stalybrass, Caroline Checkley-Scott and Matthew Collins

Tim Stinson, Associate Professor, Department of English, North Carolina State University, Peter Stalybrass, Director of History of the Book, University of Pennsylvania, Will Noel, Stephen Nicholas, Professor Emeritus of  French and Humanities and Research Professor, Michael Whitmore, Director Folger Shakespeare Library all added to the discussion.

It was clear as Dan Bradley, Professor of Population Genetics, Trinity College Dublin, discussed DNA that we had some very exciting ideas on the table.

The session ended and Matthew presented a paper about his recent work at the Materials Text Seminar, held once a week, for post graduate students and researchers in medieval and early modern cultures. We were lucky to see some skins- indentures signed by Benjamin Franklin.

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Benjamin and Peter in the flesh!

Benjamin and Peter in the flesh!

After a very full and exciting day all headed off to dinner together where the plans for the day ahead were hatched.

Fortune cookie at the restaurant trying to tell us something?

Fortune cookie at the restaurant trying to tell us something?

Day 2 we started early, as we had a lot of ground to cover. The aim of the day was to draft a strategy moving forward, and to get a plan in place for the coming 12 months. We committed to protocols, setting up networks and a series of ideas for potential publications, which we hope to develop at a meeting next October. A year is a very short time, so we were careful to be realistic about what we could achieve. In real time, whilst in the room, we were collaboratively making notes about the event in Google docs, and setting up a Parchment Community. After an intense and vibrant session we had the makings of plan.

All the conservators-Glen Gates and Abigail Quandt,Walters, Caroline Checkley-Scott, Manchester, Fenella France, Library of Congress and Nancy Turner Getty

All the conservators-Glen Gates and Abigail Quandt,Walters, Caroline Checkley-Scott, Manchester, Fenella France, Library of Congress and Nancy Turner, Getty

It’s been a truely amazing couple of days, from which the team are still reeling at the airport as they wait to return to Manchester.
It was clear that the common denominator in the room was passion, commitment and the hunger for real reciprocity across the disciplines. We all knew that we were witnessing a paradigm shift in the material history of the book.

A huge thanks to Will and Dot for the opportunity and their generosity.

Heading home

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