in book history and bibliography: resources and research
This was a two day conference on bookbindings and the study of the history of the book to take place in Oxford on 9-10 June 2011, organised by Ligatus, the Centre for the Study of the Book and CERL and supported by Saint Catherine Foundation. The first day consisted of a series of short papers describing some of the printed and on-line resources for binding studies currently available and the day will end with an evening lecture by Anthony Hobson. The second day was a day-long series of discussions raised by the study of bindings, involving an invited audience.
The aim of the conference is to try to bridge the gap that exists between the study of bindings and the rest of the bibliographical world, with the result that bindings do not play the interpretative role that they might in the study of the history of the book. They are all too often seen as lying somewhat outside traditional areas of bibliographical research and there are two main reasons for this - firstly, that many people do not fully realise what can be learnt from bindings, both decorated and undecorated, about where, when and by what sort of person a book might have been read, and secondly, even if they are interested, very few people know how to identify and describe what they see in a reliable and consistent manner. While a great deal of work has been done for many years on the description of the tools used to decorate bindings, the recorded tools still form a small minority of those used and structures and materials remain largely unrecorded. Where they have been recorded (e.g. covering materials) this has often been done inconsistently and all too often inaccurately. The conference is designed to address the questions raised by bringing bindings closer to the centre of the study of the book – a proposition made more urgent these days as the study of the history of the book gains ground in academic circles.
The conference goes under the title “The Place of Bindings”, and the discussion is intended to bring together a group of 40-50 people from across Europe and from the U.S.A., all of whom are in some way closely involved in handling early books, whether as academics, binding historians, binders, librarians, rare book cataloguers, library managers or booksellers, to discuss the place of bindings in the wider bibliographical world and what would be needed to integrate them more closely in what might be called mainstream bibliographical studies. There are several things that need to happen to make this possible – firstly a commonly-agreed language and format with which to describe them, a means by which bindings can be identifed and located in collections (which means essentially the inclusion of, or links to, useful descriptions of them in rare-book catalogues) and how the electronic world may make the integration of different catalogues and databases easier to use and more useful.
The discussion amongst the invited delegates was recorded with the aim of producing a short publication summarising the discussions, and listing the conclusions and recommendations.
Both days of the conference were fully booked but it was possible to follow the conference live on twitter (#ligatuspob) .