History of Material Texts Seminar, Lent Term 2024

Seminar Series;

Thursday 15 February, 5.30 pm, Board Room, Faculty of English

Dahlia Porter (Glasgow)

‘The 18th-century Illustrated Catalogue: List Logics, Identical Objects, Epistemic Images?’

This seminar will be held in association with the Eighteenth Century and Romantic Studies Graduate Seminar. For a Teams link, please email the convenors: 18cRcambridge@gmail.com (links will be provided shortly before the seminar begins).

Thursday 7 March, 5 pm [display available for viewing from 4.30 pm], Milstein Seminar Room, University Library

Irene Fabry-Tehranchi (Cambridge University Library)

‘French and English caricatures of the Franco-Prussian war (1870) at Cambridge University Library’

All welcome

Curious Cures


The next event in the Cambridge Bibliographical Society’s calendar takes place on Thursday 1st February (5.00-6.00pm) in the Milstein Room at the University Library. [NB THIS TALK HAS BEEN POSTPONED DUE TO UNITE STRIKE ACTION]

Dr Clarck Drieshen and Dr Sarah Gilbert, Project Cataloguers on Curious Cures in Cambridge Libraries, will present case studies arising from the Wellcome-funded conservation, digitisation, cataloguing and transcription project, which – led by Dr James Freeman – is enhancing the discoverability of medieval medical recipes in 187 manuscripts across 14 collections in Cambridge. 

Sarah will discuss the manuscript collecting, curating, and donating practices of Roger Marchall (d. 1477), fellow of Peterhouse and doctor to the royal household, and will share examples of his unusual approach to ‘perfecting’ the books in his possession. Clarck will talk about collections of medical recipes that contain references to places, patients, and medical practitioners, and how cataloguing such ‘receptaria’ in detail can reveal new insights about their origins. 

A selection of manuscripts from the project will be on show from 4.45pm and briefly after the talk.

Those interested in attending are asked to e-mail Liam Sims (ls457).

AHRC CDA: Reading and Writing in Medieval Women’s Religious Communities


Applications are invited for an Open-Oxford-Cambridge AHRC DTP-funded Collaborative Doctoral Award at the University of Cambridge, in partnership with the British Library.

This fully-funded studentship is available from October 2024. Further details about the value of an Open-Oxford-Cambridge AHRC DTP award are available on the DTP’s studentships page.

Closing date: 4 January 2024.

This Collaborative Doctoral Award would give you the opportunity to investigate the culture of female religious communities in the Middle Ages, through a study of their surviving manuscripts. Medieval women living together in monasteries and other kinds of convent communities owned or produced an astonishing number and variety of manuscripts. These include literary works in poetry and prose, archive and record books, music manuscripts, financial and administrative accounts, maps, books for religious services, paintings in the form of manuscript illumination, documents such as charters, and sculpture in the form of seal impressions.

We are inviting applicants to propose a project that explores any aspect of women’s conventual life, with the specific aim of bringing together kinds of sources that have rarely been discussed in combination. The themes and structure of the project are entirely open, provided the proposal is interdisciplinary and combines different types of manuscripts—broadly defined, as above—in novel, creative, and productive ways. At least some element of your research should concern institutions in the British Isles, but the project as a whole may be comparative. In your proposal, you would aim to draw principally on the British Library’s collections (although we understand that some research in other collections will almost certainly be inevitable). Some indication of the BL’s holdings can be found on these sites:

Manuscripts and Archives Collections Guides
Digitised Manuscripts
Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts
Archives and Manuscripts Catalogue

The British Library has one of the world’s most extensive and diverse collections of manuscripts from medieval women’s communities. In your research for this project, you would work on these collections alongside the BL’s curatorial staff, and undertake specialised training at both the BL and at Cambridge, where you would be part of a large and collegial community of medievalists in a wide range of fields. The British Library is currently developing a major exhibition, Medieval Women, which is due to open in October 2024. Starting your doctoral research just as the exhibition is opening, you will be able to develop a close familiarity with the display, support the programme of private views and visits to the exhibition, and build on its research findings.

The Cambridge supervisor is Dr Jessica Berenbeim, University Lecturer in Literature and Visual Culture at the Faculty of English. The British Library supervisor is Dr Eleanor Jackson, Curator of Illuminated Manuscripts in Western Heritage Collections. 

We welcome applications from candidates of all backgrounds and ethnicities who have an interest in any field of Medieval Studies. Applicants should meet the eligibility criteria for Open-Oxford-Cambridge AHRC studentships. Should you have any questions, or for an informal discussion about how you might approach the CDA project, you are welcome to contact Dr Jessica Berenbeim at jb455@cam.ac.uk and Dr Eleanor Jackson at ellie.jackson@bl.uk.

You should apply to the PhD in English by 4 January 2024 (midday, UK time), indicate your interest in being considered for an Open-Oxford-Cambridge AHRC DTP studentship and submit a completed copy of the OOC DTP Application Form at the same time. Please see the advert on the Cambridge jobs site.

History of Material Texts Seminar, Michaelmas Term 2023

Seminar Series;

Thursday 12 October, 5 pm, Board Room, Faculty of English

Justine Provino (University of Cambridge)

‘30 years of a self-destructive book: Agrippa (a book of the dead), 1992-’

Thursday 9 November, 5 pm, Board Room, Faculty of English

Lucy Sixsmith (University of Cambridge)

‘Handling Bibles in the Nineteenth Century’

Thursday 23 November, 5 pm, Board Room, Faculty of English

Janine Barchas (University of Texas at Austin, Visiting Fellow at Clare Hall)

‘”Lent to Copy”: Art Rentals in the Age of Jane Austen’

This seminar will be held in association with the Eighteenth Century and Romantic Studies Graduate Seminar

History of Material Texts Seminar, Lent Term 2023

Seminar Series;

Thursday 25 May, 5 pm, Board Room, Faculty of English

Devani Singh (Geneva), ‘Chaucer’s Imperfect Books’

All welcome.

Agrippa symposium, 18-19 May

Events, News;

On the afternoons of 18 and 19 May, in conjunction with Oxford’s Bodleian Library and the Centre for Material Texts, Cambridge, Justine Provino (Jesus College, Cambridge) is organising a symposium on the self-destructive artists’ book Agrippa (a book of the dead) (1992) by the writer William Gibson, the artist Dennis Ashbaugh and the publisher Kevin Begos Jr.

The event will feature: a hybrid book tour of the surviving copies of Agrippa in public institutions and a show-and-tell on the archive of Agrippa’s publisher at the Bodleian; a round table with scholars of Agrippa moderated by Cambridge Digital Humanities Director, Caroline Bassett, and a panel discussion on the place of artists’ books in book studies, between the New York-based book-artist Russell Maret and Gill Partington, Fellow in Book History at the Institute of English Studies. The event is held in conjunction with the Bodleian’s annual D.F. McKenzie Lecture, to be delivered by Matthew G. Kirschenbaum. 

For further information and registration in person and online to the Agrippa Symposium and McKenzie lecture, please follow the links below:

Thursday/Friday, 18/19 May, from 2 pm

Symposium: Agrippa: A Book of the Dead


Thursday 18 May 2023, 5 pm

The D.F. McKenzie Lecture 2023

Matthew G. Kirschenbaum (Maryland) ‘The New Nature of the Book: Publishing and Printing in the Post-Digital Era’


History of Material Texts Seminar, Lent Term 2023

Seminar Series;

Thursday 9 February, 5 pm, Milstein Room, University Library

Irene Fabry-Tehranchi (Cambridge University Library)

‘French and English caricatures of the Franco-Prussian war (1870) at Cambridge University Library’

Update: This seminar has been cancelled due to UCU strike action.

Thursday 23 February, 5 pm, Board Room, Faculty of English

Brian Cummings (York) will discuss his new book, Bibliophobia: The End and Beginning of the Book (2022)

Thursday 9 March, 5 pm, Board Room, Faculty of English

Erica McAlpine (Oxford), ‘The Poem on the Page’

Angry Angels


A guest post by Georgina E. M. Wilson

In act 1 scene 2 of Shakespeare’s The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Antonio discusses his son with his friend Panthino. Panthino advises Antonio to let his son ‘spend his time no more at home’, and Antonio agrees:

              I have consider’d well his loss of time

              And how he cannot be a perfect man,

              Not being tried and tutored in the world (1.2.19–21).

His son, Proteus, needs to travel out of his home environment in order to perfect himself as a man. To deny geographical mobility to a young man is also to cause him a ‘loss of time’: a temporal impediment to his intellectual development.

Texts, like people, move through time and space, altering as they do so. The Two Gentlemen of Verona comes down to us through four hundred years of printing and production history. If the ‘home’ of this play is the Elizabethan London in which it was written, it is also the Italian Renaissance in which the play is set. But it is additionally the places and moments in which the play has been read and performed since its conception. The RSC website records twelve productions in Stratford since 1879, each of which sets the play in a particular moment and provides its own interpretative spin. Meanwhile editions of the play range from the 1623 first folio to Mary Cowden Clark’s Shakespeare’s Works: Edited With a Scrupulous Revision of the Text (1860)[1], to the fourth Arden series edited by Tiffany Stern, Peter Holland and Zachary Lesser currently underway. The Two Gentlemen of Verona has undergone the kind of treatment recommended for Proteus: has already been, if not ‘perfected by the swift course of time’, then at least subjected to the cultural forces of centuries and places beyond its own.

Recently I came across a copy of The Two Gentlemen of Verona which shed new light on these lines by showing quite how far a book could travel from its home context. I met with Jane and John Jeffery, decorative paper-makers or ‘buntpapierists’ based in Edinburgh, who use loose sheets and printers waste from the sixteenth to the twentieth centuries as a substrate for decorative printing.[2] The patterns that the Jefferys deploy on top of the texts are themselves taken from printer’s lace from other sheets in their collection, leading to a cycle of visual reuse and reproduction. Their collection includes loose sheets from the 1901 ‘Edinburgh folio’ of Shakespeare’s complete works, published by Grant Richards. Page 89 from volume one, which runs from ‘Ay Madam’ (The Two Gentlemen of Verona 1.2.138) to ‘converse with noblemen’ (1.3.31), is just one of the sheets which has been transformed into decorative paper. I had to check those lines against my own Arden Complete Works (edited by Richard Proudfoot, Ann Thompson and David Scott Kastan) because they have been partly hidden by the yellow, pink and blue flowers and insects that hover above the text. This is a fragment of Two Gentlemen of Verona which has been transformed into something new. Divisions of scenes, acts, and sentences are overruled by the unit of the page, which is no longer only an extract from a codex but the frame of a visually articulated space.

Two Gentlemen of Verona page

Another book whose pages the Jefferys have printed on is the sixth edition of Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary, printed in 1785. The pages aren’t numbered, but the one which runs from ‘angel’ to ‘angry’ can be identified as sig. L4r using the digital edition on Eighteenth Century Collections Online. About half of the text on this page is covered by the picture of two men standing by a body of water traversed by two boats, which divides them from a city in the background. The image erases many words and draws our attention to those which remain legible: ‘plainly deducible’ springs from the top of the central column, while ‘A’NGLE’ is reduced to NGL (Not Gunna Lie?!) The alphabetic logic of dictionaries like Johnson’s brings together seemingly semantically incongruous words, and in doing so suggests connection between them. Printing over a dictionary page while leaving only some of the words legible creates new narratives out of what is already there. We might now read this page as a text about Milton’s Paradise Lost, from which Johnson quotes the line ‘fair angelick Eve’ (now buried under ink), and whose epic narrative opens with the war between the angel Lucifer and the ‘angry Victor’.

The treated pages of Johnson’s dictionary make other connections between the text in question and the illustration layered on top. Sig. 5G4r, which runs from ‘To Fly in the face’, to ‘Focae’, has been almost entirely printed over by an image of a street, with houses running down either side and a pool of water in the foreground. This scene has been taken from the background to the illustrated capital ‘P’ from sig. A1r of Charles Du Fresne’s Glossarium mediae et infimae Latinitatis (Glossary of writers in medieval and late Latin), initially published in Paris, 1678, and then reprinted in the 1730s. It is this later edition which provided the image printed on top of the page in Johnson’s dictionary, except that the P has been done away with and the engraving blown up to fill an entire page. Knowing where this image came from catapults a French historian onto a page otherwise heavily populated by an Anglo-Irish canon of Shakespeare, Pope, Dryden, and Swift, and weaves a thread between Du Fresne’s Glossarium and Jonson’s Dictionary. Both books share a certain agenda, which is to construct textual histories (whether of writers or of etymologies) that come with their own political, historical, and cultural value systems.

There is a history of treating pages of books to create new texts. The recently deceased Tom Philips (1937–2022) endlessly reworked W. H. Mallock’s conservative novel The Human Document (1892) to make a new satirical narrative.[3] That narrative was itself illustrated by the images with which Philips covered much of Mallock’s prose, leaving only fragments to tell another story. The work of the Jefferys was, they tell me, propelled less by the text and more by the affordances of the paper to support their visual designs. Nevertheless the paper’s original role – as a substrate for an eighteenth-century dictionary and for an early twentieth-century edition of Two Gentlemen of Verona – refuses to fully subside. Text and image play off one another into receding horizons of intertextuality, generated through bibliographic and linguistic quotation. What we have here is a fragment from Jonson’s dictionary from 1785, itself a reprint from 1755, which has been printed over with an image taken from the second edition of De Fresne’s Glossarium, which predates the dictionary by over seventy years. Early modern texts which survive today are inevitably ‘tried and tested by the world’. While this is less the teleological march towards perfection which Antonio desires for his son, it is instead a messily generative story of intertextuality, told through palimpsest, erasure, and juxtaposition.

[1] For a history of women editing Shakespeare see Molly Yarn, Shakespeare’s ‘Lady Editors’: A New History of the Shakespearean Text (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2022).

[2] For the early modern history of recycling printed paper as decorative paper, see Juliet Fleming, ‘Damask Papers’, The Elizabethan Top Ten: Defining Print Popularity in Early Modern England, eds. Andy Kesson and Emma Smith (Ashgate: Surrey, 2013), 179-191. 

[3] https://www.tomphillips.co.uk/humument/essays/item/5857-double-act-by-adam-smyth

Cambridge Bibliographical Society


Our next talk will be on Thursday 19th January at 5.00pm in the Milstein Room at the main University Library. Professor Marc Smith, of the École nationale des chartes in Paris, will speak on Searching for Paper in Cambridge: Import, Use and Manufacture (c. 1450-1560).

Paper historians have long considered the circulation and use of paper stocks mainly as clues leading back to places and dates of production, thus largely neglecting Britain where almost no paper was manufactured before the late sixteenth century. A new survey of virtually all paper documents in Cambridge archives to the mid-sixteenth century shows the local market reflecting shifts in the international paper trade, up to the point when a paper mill was established on the outskirts of the town by an entrepreneur from Strasbourg, Remi Guédon. His business lasted only briefly and many questions remain but a fresh look at the documents and at the paper itself, widely used in the 1550s, clarifies and broadens the picture significantly.

The room will be open from 4.45 and there should be a display of related materials for attendees to view. Could you let me know if you plan to attend (email ls457@cam.ac.uk)?

PAPER AND POETRY: invention through craft

Calls for Papers, Events, News;


 21 –22 September 2023, The Paper Foundation, Burneside, Cumbria. 

How do the making of literary texts and the making of paper shape one another? Paper is one of the most durable and ubiquitous materials in the history of writing surfaces. We conventionally associate paper with the unit of the codex or the sheet, but we also encounter paper in textual culture as endleaves in the form of printed ‘waste’, or in the envelopes and fragments which shaped the poems of Emily Dickinson, or in the work of contemporary book artists who use paper to challenge the very concept of the book. From the medieval period to the present day, writers, artists, and makers have given imaginative and physical form to paper whilst their creative work has in turn been shaped by paper’s materiality.  Paper and Poetry: Invention Through Craft seeks participants to explore the historical and contemporary intersection between literary and material paper forms at the Paper Foundation in Burneside, Cumbria. 

The Paper Foundation offers a unique opportunity for immersive paper-making from pulped rags to the drying and pressing of sheets using historical techniques. Alongside these practical elements of the symposium, a writing workshop led by poet Vona Groarke themed around surface, material, and flaw will offer participants the chance to respond creatively to the paper-making process; Orietta Da Rold will also lead a workshop on paper in the history of the book. Together these workshops will explore paper’s material and imaginative role in shaping literature from past to present day. Finally, participants will take part in roundtables to discuss the place of paper in their own writing and/or research, with around 15 minutes per speaker.  We hope that these roundtables will reach across the creative-critical divide to explore the place and impact of paper-making in both academic and poetic writing. We welcome scholars working on paper in any field including literature, history, art history, and media studies, along with creative writers who engage with the materiality of their surfaces. 

To apply, please send a 150-200 word abstract of your paper-based academic research or creative project to gemw2@cam.ac.ukod245@cam.ac.uk, and vg373@cam.ac.uk by Friday 31st March 2023. Please also get in touch with any questions. 

Topics of interest might include: 

The role of paper in contemporary poetry

Paper in the literary imagination (in any period) 

Paper in the history of painting, art, design

Craft, intellectual labour, and embodied knowledge 

Paper and flaw/error/perfection

Paper and temporality/ephemerality

Paper and the history of the book

The Paper and Poetry convenors: 

Orietta Da Rold (Professor in Medieval Literature and Manuscript Studies, University of Cambridge)

Tom Frith-Powell (Paper-Maker, The Paper Foundation, Burneside) 

Vona Groarke (Writer-in-Residence, St John’s College, University of Cambridge) 

Georgina Wilson (Research Fellow in Early Modern English, University of Cambridge)