History and Theory Reading Group: Paper Tools

This term the History and Theory Reading Group will be grappling with ‘paper tools’ in the sciences, starting on October 17th with readings by David Kaiser and Ursula Klein.
Meetings will take place in the new Seminar Room 3, and will run every other Friday, 2.30–4pm. See below for the full Michaelmas schedule. Readings will be available in a file in the Whipple Library and online via Dropbox.
Convenor: Boris Jardine — bj210@cam.ac.uk.


17 October

  1. David Kaiser, ‘Making tools travel: pedagogy and the transfer of skills in postwar theoretical physics’, in David Kaiser (ed.), Pedagogy and the Practice of Science (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2005), pp. 41–74
  2. Ursula Klein, ‘Paper Tools in Experimental Cultures’, Studies in History and Philosophy of Science 32 (2001), pp. 265–302


  • Andrew Warwick, ‘A mathematical world on paper: written examinations in early 19th century Cambridge’, Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics 29 (1998), 295–319

31 October

  1. Lisa Gitelman, Introduction and Chapter 3 in Paper Knowledge: Toward a Media History of Documents (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2014)


  • Markus Krajewski, Paper Machines: About Cards and Catalogues, 1548–1929, translated by Peter Krapp (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2011)

14 November

  1. Ben Kafka, ‘Paperwork: the state of the discipline’, Book History 12 (2009), pp. 340–53
  2. Ann Blair, Chapters 1 and 2 in Too Much to Know: Managing Scholarly Information before the Modern Age (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2010)


  • Lisa Jardine and Anthony Grafton, ‘”Studied for Action”: How Gabriel Harvey Read His Livy’, Past & Present 129 (1990), pp. 30–78
  • Jeffrey Todd Knight, ‘”Furnished” for Action: Renaissance Books as Furniture’, Book History 12 (2009), pp. 37–73

28 November

  1. Nick Hopwood, Simon Schaffer and Jim Secord, ‘Seriality and scientific objects in the nineteenth century’, History of Science 48 (2010), pp. 251–85
  2. James Delbourgo and Staffan Müller-Wille, ‘Introduction: Listmania’, Isis 103 (2012), pp. 710–15


  • Papers in both special issues, especially Volker Hess and J. Andrew Mendelsohn, ‘Case and Series: medical knowledge and paper technology 1600–1900’, History of Science 48 (2010), pp. 287–314

Perversions of Paper


20 and 28 June 2014, Keynes Library, Birkbeck College.

Perversions of Paper comprises two events, an invitational workshop on 20 June 2014 and a one-day symposium on 28 June 2014. Both events investigate the outer limits of our interactions with books, manuscripts and paper. They consider unorthodox engagements with texts, from cherishing or hoarding them to mutilating and desecrating them, from wearing them to chewing them, and from inhaling their scent to erasing their content. ‘Perversion’ may apply to deviations from normal usage but also to our psychological investments in paper. To talk of having a fetish for books is common, but is there more to this than merely well-worn cliché? These events provide for reflections on perverse uses of – and relationships with – paper and parchment. What part do books, manuscripts and other written artefacts play in our imaginary and psychic lives, and what complex emotional attachments do we develop towards them? Also, how might literary studies or cultural history register these impulses and acts; what kind of methodologies are appropriate?

Registrations are now open for the one day symposium on 28 June 2014. The programme and registration information can be found at www.perversionsofpaper.com. Inquiries can be emailed to Gill Partington (g.partington@bbk.ac.uk).

Perversions of Paper is jointly sponsored by the Birkbeck Material Texts Network and the Archive Futures Research Network.

Perversions of Paper

Calls for Papers, News;
28 June 2014

Keynes Library, Birkbeck College, University of London

Perversions of Paper is a one-day symposium investigating the outer limits of our interactions with books and with paper. It considers unorthodox engagements with texts, from cherishing or hoarding them to mutilating and desecrating them, from wearing them to chewing them, and from inhaling their scent to erasing their content.

‘Perversion’ may apply to deviations from normal usage but also to our psychological investments in paper. To talk of having a fetish for books is common, but is there more to this than merely well-worn cliché? What part do books and other written artefacts play in our imaginary and psychic lives, and what complex emotional attachments do we develop towards them? Also, how might literary studies or cultural history register these impulses and acts; what kind of methodologies are appropriate?

This symposium invites reflections on perverse uses of – and relationships with – paper and parchment. We welcome proposals from a range of historical periods and disciplinary backgrounds, and from postgraduate students, as well as from more established academics.

Contributors are invited to consider bookish and papery aberrations from any number of angles, including but not limited to:

* the defacing or mutilation of writing
* the book as sculpture or art medium
* ‘upcycling’ or re-purposing
* the book or manuscript as a fetish object
* pathologies or obsessions related to paper
* psychologies of book collecting
* bibliophilia and bibliophobia
* book crazes, the tactility or sensuality of paper and manuscripts
* books, libraries and archives as sources of contagion, or as the focus of terror or abjection.

Deadline for proposals: March 30th 2014.

Please email abstracts of no more than 200 words together with a brief bio statement to Dr Gillian Partington (g.partington@bbk.ac.uk).

More information: http://archivefutures.com/events/perversions-of-paper/

what is this strange papery thing anyway?


Tomorrow I’m heading off to the new Library of Birmingham for a conference entitled ‘Resurrecting the Book‘. When I tell people this, they tend to ask: ‘Is it dead?’ I could point them to a letter sent home my son’s school last week, which read:

“Dear Parent / Carer of Year 8,

We are delighted to inform you that your child has been loaned a copy of A Christmas Carol, which they will be studying in English until the end of the Autumn term. Students will be bringing their copy home to enable them to continue reading and enjoying the novel outside of lessons. We ask that you join us in encouraging students to look after their copy as it will be passed on to other students in the future.

Each copy has been marked with a unique code, which will enable us to keep track of the books. Your child is responsible for returning their copy of A Christmas Carol, at the end of term, by the 19th December 2013. Any books which are not returned will need to be replaced at a cost of £4.99. Please note this is specifically a charge for books that are not returned and not a general charge for borrowing the text.

We look forward to enjoying reading the novel alongside year 8 in the coming weeks.”

I’m sure that a year or two ago the act of borrowing a book from school would have been an everyday affair, completely taken for granted. Now it needs a detailed explanation and a fanfare of celebration. Soon each book will have to come with an instruction manual, and (probably) a charger.

Calls for Papers


CMT conference announcement and call for papers

Calls for Papers, News;


a conference organised by the Centre for Material Texts
to be held 11-12 September 2012 at Jesus College, Cambridge

The shared origin of text and textile in the Latin texere, to weave, is a critical commonplace. Many of the terms we use to describe our interactions with words are derived from this common linguistic root, and numerous other expressions associated with reading and writing are drawn from the rich vocabulary of cloth. Textiles are one of the most ubiquitous components of material culture, and they are also integral to the material history of texts. Paper was originally made from cotton rags, and in many different cultural and historical settings texts come covered, wrapped, bound, or decorated with textiles. And across the domestic, public, religious, and political spheres, textiles are often the material forms in which texts are produced, consumed, and circulated.

In the light of the CMT’s current research theme on ‘the material text in material culture’, we invite papers which consider any of the many dimensions of the relationship between texts and textiles. There are no historical, geographical, or disciplinary limitations. Areas to be addressed could include:

the shared language of texts and textiles

construction and deconstruction: to weave, spin, stitch, knit, stitch, suture, tie up or together, piece, tailor, gather, fashion, fabricate, mesh, trim, stretch, wrap, unfold, unpic
challenges and problem-solving: knots, tangles, holes; to lose the thread, iron out creases, unravel, cut, keep on tenterhooks
pieces and fragments: rags, patches, patchwork, scraps, strands, threads, rhapsodies, patterns, seams, loose ends, layers

the stuff of books

bookbindings and covers
incunabula – ‘swaddling clothes’
medieval girdle books, book chemises
paper and paper-making
cutting, sewing, and stitching in and on books
scrapbooks, albums, collages
book ribbons and bookmarks
carpet pages
textiles in illustrations, frontispieces, title pages

textile texts

needlework and words: tapestry, embroidery, samplers, quilts, hangings, carpets, banners
the needle and the pen
printed textiles
sacred/religious texts and textiles
love-tokens, keepsakes, charms, and relics
cushions, badges, handkerchiefs, flags, scarves, uniforms, livery and other textual/textile ephemera
professional and amateur work
relationships and networks of gifts, patronage, exchange
pattern books, sample books, costume books

Proposals of up to 250 words for 20-minute papers should be sent to Jason Scott-Warren (jes1003@cam.ac.uk) and Lucy Razzall (lmfr2@cam.ac.uk) by 30 April 2012

British Newspaper Archive


Launched today, the British Newspaper Archive digitizes millions of newspapers published between (roughly) 1700 and 1950. Sadly, it’s a subscription service–but also a godsend to research in innumerable fields. Click here to have a look.

Paper Passion


Elegies for that soon-to-be-defunct artefact, the book, frequently wax lyrical about its most evanescent quality: the smell of the pages. Robert Darnton, in The Case for Books, refers to a survey of French students in which 43% of respondents said that the lack of scent put them off electronic books; he also reports that one French online publisher distributes a sticker that gives off a ‘fusty, bookish smell’, to ease the transition to the new medium. You can buy ‘a revolutionary new aerosol e-book enhancer’ (see http://smellofbooks.com/) for the same purpose. Or you can join around 100 other people mulling on the mystique of the bookish aroma at LibraryThing (http://www.librarything.com/topic/10361).

For Richard Lanham, ‘our cultural vitals are isomorphic with the codex book. Its very feel and heft and look and smell are talismanic’. A friend of mine once complained that modern writers overuse the word ‘heft’–presumably because, in its simplicity and unfamiliarity, it carries some of the physical weight that it describes. And I’ve always felt that the book-smell argument was a rather desperate, last-ditch defence of the book. Surely we can do better than that!

But now the final nail is being hammered into the coffin of my cynicism, as the fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld announces a new perfume, ‘Paper Passion’, based on the smell of the book, and sold encased in a hollowed-out hardback. The genuine bibliophile will be able to wear the scent of the codex on their person, and the nostalgia that clings to paper, dust and glue will be sublimated into the stuff of love.

Those guys at Amazon had better be very afraid…


Eating Words — call for papers


Some of our most material interactions with texts are grounded in the very food that we eat. Comestibles are eloquent objects; they come stamped with words, festooned with decorative designs, and wrapped in packaging that is at once visually and verbally loquacious. The kitchen has long been a textual domain, regulated by cookery books and recipe collections and noisy with inscriptions on pots, pans, plates and pastry-moulds. This one-day colloquium will explore numerous aspects of the relationship between writing, eating and domestic life across a broad swathe of history, in order to illuminate the unsuspected power of words and pictures in a paradigmatically practical locale and to shed light on the textual condition more broadly.

Questions to be addressed include:

What is the relationship between the visual and the verbal in the history of food?

What archival and physical evidence survives for the textual realms of the kitchen, and what methodological challenges does it present?

Who produces the texts that circulate during the preparation and consumption of food, and for whom?

How do the textual economies of the kitchen relate to those of other household spaces-the study, the library, the gallery-and of the wider world?

How are public historical or cultural events refracted in the domestic locale and its object-worlds?

What permutations has the metaphor of reading-as-eating undergone in its long history?

Speakers include: Deborah Krohn (Bard Graduate Centre), Sara Pennell (Roehampton University)

This one-day workshop will take place under the auspices of the Centre for Material Texts, University of Cambridge, on 13 September 2011. Please submit 250 word proposals for 20 minute papers by 1 May to Melissa Calaresu (mtc12@cam.ac.uk) and Jason Scott-Warren (jes1003@cam.ac.uk).

download a flyer here: eating words cfp

Society for the History of Authorship, Reading and Publishing (SHARP) Call for Papers

Calls for Papers, News;

For a SHARP-affiliated paper panel session at the annual convention of the American Historical Association (AHA) meeting in Chicago January 5-8, 2012 (under approval from Jonathan Rose, longstanding SHARP-AHA liaison). The panel’s theme is “Communities of Print during the American Civil War,” in keeping with the AHA convention theme of “Communities and Networks.”

With the sesquicentennial of the Civil War at hand, the panel’s papers will discuss the role of print in community formation, re-formation, and maintenance during a time of the widespread dissociations and dislocations wrought by the conflict. “Communities of print” as a term can cover specific congeries of readers, printer/publishers, or authors, as well as more general conceptions of nationhood or other types of mass affiliation.

International perspectives are particularly welcome, as are those reflecting upon print communities among racial and ethnic groups, or across categories of social difference, including those of gender and sexuality.

Please send a 300-word (max.) paper abstract and 250-word cv or bio to zboray@pitt.edu by Monday, February 7. Address any questions to Ron Zboray at the same e-mail. Final panel proposal is due to AHA by Feb. 15.

If selected to present, panelists must be members of both AHA and SHARP.

Link to AHA CFP: