In preparation for our What Are Libraries For? debate on Tuesday 20 February, we’ve been asking students, librarians and even a small child what they think libraries are for. The answers range from studying to ‘freedom’ via productivity, travel, and socialising.

You can still register for the debate for free via Eventbrite.

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Philip Kent, Suzanne Paul and Mimi Thebo to debate ‘What are libraries for?’

Inside Arts Debate: What Are Libraries For?

Tuesday 20 February 2018, 6-7.30pm
Great Hall, Wills Memorial Building, Park Street, Bristol


In preparation for our debate next week, here’s a little more about our three speakers.

Philip Kent

Philip Kent was appointed the new Director of Libraries at the University of Bristol in November 2017. He is currently leading the development of the new University Library. Philip has 30 years of experience in libraries and cultural collections, most recently as University Librarian and Executive Director of Collections at the University of Melbourne, where he focused on supporting teaching, research and engagement missions and the exposure of the library’s rich cultural collections. In an interview for the student newspaper Epigram, he affirmed that ‘the library is the laboratory for Arts and Social Sciences students’, and emphasised the need for the library to include a gallery space to showcase collections and art work.

Dr Suzanne Paul

Dr Suzanne Paul is the Keeper of Manuscripts and University Archives at Cambridge University Library.  She is a medieval historian by training, and has worked at libraries in Cambridge since 2007. Within the broad field of manuscript research, she has a particular interest in medieval sermons and preaching, and in the application of digital technologies to the study and curation of medieval manuscripts. You can read about her work at Cambridge University Library here.

Mimi Thebo

Mimi Thebo is an international writer for both children and adults. Her novels, often about recovery from trauma, are humorous and humane. Her first novel The Saint Who Loved Me was shortlisted for the McKitterick prize, and her novel for children Wipe Out was made into a Bafta-winning film.  Her work has been translated into twelve languages. Born in the USA, Mimi has lived in the UK for many years. She is Reader in Creative Writing at the University of Bristol and is designing a new MA in Creative Writing for the University. You can read more about Mimi here.

Register for the debate for free via Eventbrite.

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The Object of our Affection arrives in Bristol University’s Special Collections

We are delighted that the University of Bristol Arts and Social Sciences Library has acquired two copies of The Object of our Affection, created by Angie Butler in response to our Making Books in Bristol events. 

The one of a kind leather-bound copy, as well as one cloth-bound copy, were presented to Michael Richardson in Special Collections yesterday. Anyone interested in viewing the books – or anything else in Special Collections – can make an appointment to do so for free.



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Research Portrait: Re-writing Ovid’s Metamorphoses in the Italian Renaissance

Today’s Research Portrait comes from one of our postgraduate members, Marta Balzi, who recently organised the Ovid Across Europe conference here at Bristol. Marta works on how Ovid’s Metamorphoses were translated, published and re-imagined in Renaissance Italy. In this post, she introduces some of her work focused on paratexts and presentation.

metamorphoses 1

Fig. 1 Fabio Marretti, Le Metamorfosi d’Ovidio (Venitiis: apud Bologninum Zalterium et Guerreos fratres, 1570), fol. *2r. Digitized copy held at the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Roma.

The Metamorphoses is a Latin poem written by the Roman poet Ovid, and it tells the story of the world from its creation to the deification of Julius Caesar through a series of over 250 myths. This poem has exerted an enduring influence on Western culture, and today, two thousand years after the death of its author, it is still an object of study and reflection among academics and non-academics. The capacity of this poem to be constantly present in our world has been attributed to its innate transformative ability. In the Middle Ages, for example, the Metamorphoses was often read as a philosophical text in which to find advice on Christian morality and ethics. In the early modern period, it constituted the most important repertoire of myths, an encyclopaedic work plundered by writers, musicians, and painters. My research sheds further light on the power of Ovid’s poem to ‘metamorphose’ itself. The object of my investigation are three Italian translations of the Latin poem written and printed in the sixteenth century, the Trasformationi by Lodovico Dolce (1553), the Metamorfosi by Giovanni Andrea dell’Anguillara (1561), and the Metamorfosi by Fabio Marretti (1570). Analysing the text, the paratext, and the physical structure and presentation (support material, script or type, size, layout and decoration) of these three translations, the aim of my research project is to unveil the ways in which Ovid was repurposed and received in Renaissance Italy.

metamorphoses 2

Fig. 2 Publius Ovidius Naso, Metamorphoses libri XV. (Venice: Giovanni I Griffio, 1574), fol. Ar. Digitised copy held at the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek

On a paratextual level, at the beginning of all the editions of the Italian Metamorphoses, for example, there is an epistle that dedicates the translation to a political authority. Dolce dedicated his translation to Charles V, Anguillara to Henry II, and Marretti to Alfonso d’Este (Fig. 1). This dedication epistle conceals Ovid’s dedicatee, the Roman Emperor Augustus. This change of dedicatee repurposes the translation for a new audience, while also giving prestige to the translator by associating his work with a famous contemporary authority. Furthermore, the epistle foregrounds the translator and his work, concealing the primary author (Ovid) and the aims of his literary endeavour. The visibility of the translator is another object of investigation of my research project, which unveils the strategies of authorial construction in the Italian Metamorphoses, and the influence of print culture on the medieval conception of authorship.

metamorhposes 3

Fig. 3 Ludovico Ariosto, Orlando Furioso (Venice, Gabriele Giolito dei Ferrari: 1543), fols. (Avii)v-(Aviii)r. Digitized copy held at the Bibliotheque Municipal de Lyon

The transformation of the Latin Metamorphoses in the Italian Renaissance is also implemented  through the layout, or mise-en-page, of the Italian translations of Ovid’s poem. In the edition of Latin Metamorphoses printed in 1492/1493 together with the commentary of the humanist scholar Raphael Regius, the pages are arranged as a mirror to each other. The Latin text is placed on the right of the verso and on the left of the recto, while the commentary frames the Latin text. A later edition of Ovid’s Metamorphoses with the commentary of Raphael Regius, printed in 1574, still maintains a similar layout (Fig. 2). The Latin text is central to the page, framed on all sides by the Latin commentary. This well-structured disposition of Latin text and commentary is completely lost in the Italian translations of the Metamorphoses, which show striking similarities with the mise-en-page of the editions of the Orlando furioso, the Italian epic poem by Ludovico Ariosto. In the 1543 edition of the Furioso printed by Giolito, on the verso, at the beginning of each canto, there are an illustration, a decorated initial, and two columns of three ottave (Fig. 3). On the recto, there are two columns of five ottave. A similar layout is maintained in all the following editions of the Italian Metamorphoses (Fig. 4; Fig. 5). The intention to imitate this layout is particularly evident in the bilingual edition of the Metamorfosi by Marretti, in which the Latin hexameters on the right-hand column are split and arranged on the page to fit in the square space of the ottava (Fig. 5). The transformation of the layout of the Latin text lends support to the view that the Italian Metamorphoses are the result of a collaborative effort of printer and translator. My research aims to shed light on the competences of these two agents in the re-fashioning of Ovid’s text, unveiling the influence of print culture on the making of the Italian Ovid.


Combining the analysis of the textual and non-textual elements of the Italian Metamorphoses, my projects charts the changing face of Ovid in Renaissance Italy while also addressing wider questions concerning the culture of the Renaissance. As emerges from these examples, this project has a multidisciplinary character: it stands at the crossroads between the history of translation, classical reception, and history of the book. It is this multidisciplinary approach that allows this research to explore the Italian Ovid under a completely different light.

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InsideArts Debate: What are libraries for?

Tuesday 20 February 2018, 6-7.30pm
Great Hall, Wills Memorial Building, Park Street, Bristol

libraryWhat are libraries for? What have libraries been? What are they now? What can libraries be? What should they be?

The debate brings together library users with librarians, researchers, and creative writers to discuss what libraries have meant to us in the past, what they mean to us now and what they might mean in the future.

Confirmed speakers include Philip Kent, Director of Library Services & University Librarian (Bristol), Suzanne Paul, Keeper of Rare Books and Early Manuscripts (Cambridge), Mimi Thebo, Author, Royal Literary Fellow, and Reader in Creative Writing (Bristol).

After our speakers have set out their positions they will be responding to questions from the audience. Please email questions which you would like our panel to answer to arts-books@bristol.ac.uk by 12 noon on Friday 16 February. We will choose a representative sample to be discussed.

The debate is open to the public and free to attend, but please sign up using Eventbrite or Facebook.

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Where we read: text experience and the physical environment

Centre for Material Texts Seminar Series

Where we read: text experience and the physical environment

Anezka Kuzmicova, Stockholm University

Thursday 25 January 2018
LR8, Arts Complex
All welcome

The Centre for Material Texts Seminar Series kicks off this week with a paper by Anezka Kuzmicova of Stockholm University. Anezka’s research focuses on reading as cognitive process, embodied experience, and situated practice, and she has published on topics including readers’ mental imagery, immersion, audiobook and mobile reading experience, and the role of the physical environment in reading.

Before the lecture, from 1-3pm, Anezka will be running a workshop on ‘Empirical methods for studying reader response’. There are a few places still available on this workshop; if you’re interested in attending, do drop an email to Jenny Batt at arts-books[at]bristol.ac.uk.

If you’d like to be added to the Centre for Material Texts mailing list, please let us know at arts-books[at]bristol.ac.uk

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Research Portraits: Romantic albums, poetry, and print

In this Research Portraits series, we want to introduce you to the work of some of our Centre for Material Texts members. Today, Dr Samantha Matthews, Senior Lecturer in English at the University of Bristol introduces her current research into the literary significance of the 1820s’ British fashion for albums. This research is leading towards a forthcoming book, Album Verses: Poetry, Manuscript, Print, 1770-1850.

album title page

[Album title page] London: Ackermann and Co. [?1830-1858] John Johnson Collection: Trade in Prints and Scraps 1 (1) ©Bodleian Library, University of Oxford 2008.

My research explores the literary significance of the 1820s’ British fashion for albums: personal miscellanies of texts, images and souvenirs collected by genteel and middle-class women in blank manuscript books. I’m writing a critical study of album verses, a neglected genre of occasional lyric poetry composed for these books and their owners, designed for private circulation in manuscript, not conventional print publication. Poet Laureate Robert Southey termed this phenomenon ‘Albo-mania’. In a carnivalesque reversal of hierarchies of gender, age, and authority, young women soliciting for original album-contributions exercised power over the most famous poets of the day: Thomas Moore, Walter Scott, William Wordsworth. Male professional writers reacted by dismissing this feminine cultural force as indecorous, transgressive, even pathological.

Recently, I have been investigating the problem of albums’ origins: where did ‘albo-mania’ come from? Were these books simply DIY versions of expensive, lavishly illustrated printed literary annuals and gift-books like The Keepsake or The Literary Souvenir, fashionable in the same decade? In The Reading Nation in the Romantic Period (2004), William St Clair describes the album as ‘a revival of a literary form of the early modern period, the manuscript miscellany or commonplace book’, but does not propose how or why the revival took place, or how this particular kind of book acquired the name ‘album’. The term does not appear in lifetime editions of Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary, and only becomes common currency from the mid-1780s.

I have traced Romantic albums’ origins back to this decade through a survey of late eighteenth-century pamphlets, newspapers and magazines accessible online through databases such as British Newspapers 1600-1950. Manuscript albums function in intimate and dynamic dialogue with all kinds of printed sources, but especially cheap print. Tracking allusions to an emergent album culture makes it possible to reconstruct through reception history the early life of the hybridic and varied Romantic album.

grande chartreusse

Album-keeping began as a Continental practice derived from the album amicorum or ‘book of friends’ kept by networking seventeenth-century students on the European university circuit. However, where the album amicorum was portable, the practice cross-fertilises in the eighteenth-century with the static album or visitors’ book kept at religious institutions, stately homes and inns, in which departing guests recorded tributes before continuing on their journey. The English poet Thomas Gray (1716-1771) unwittingly played a major role in naturalising the European practice. Staying in 1741 at the famous Monastery of the Grande Chartreuse on the return leg of his Grand Tour, Gray composed an Alcaic Ode for the monastery’s visitors’ book, ‘the Album of the Fathers’. Although the Ode lacks the generic conventions of later album verses, its first publication in 1775 emphasised that context: the Gentleman’s Magazine titled it ODE. By the late Mr. GRAY. Written in the Album of the Grande Chartreuse, in Dauphiny, Aug. 1741. By 1788 the Critical Review saw ‘Gray’s very elegant Latin Ode’ as primary evidence for an emergent history of the English album.

 cossey hallIn 1785 an album was started at Costessey Hall, the Norfolk country house of the Catholic Jerningham family. Although the book is lost, records of its content and use survive in the Jerningham family letters at the Cadbury Library, University of Birmingham, and in contemporary periodicals. The volume stimulated public curiosity about elite album-keeping through a long poem, ‘Lines Written in the Album at Cossey-Hall, Norfolk, the Seat of Sir William Jerningham, August the 4th, 1786’, by the baronet’s brother, the high society wit Edward Jerningham (1737-1812), inspiration for Sir Benjamin Backbite in Robert Brinsley Sheridan’s The School for Scandal (1777). First privately printed for friends only, the poem suddenly became much more visible in 1787, when it was reprinted in four newspapers and two magazines in the space of a fortnight. The poem was introduced as a unique manuscript treasure copied directly from the album on a visit to Costessey Hall; in fact it was appropriated from the private printing, then pirated by opportunistic editors. At this time it was still necessary to explain that ‘The Album is a book, in the blank leaves of which every visitor writes something’; later reprintings could rely on readers knowing very well what an album was.

‘Lines written in the Album, at Cossey Hall’ is the most widely known late-eighteenth century album poem, and made its subject the most famous English album of the time. The high profile of album-keeping is shown by it becoming the premise of a Whig political satire. Joseph Richardson’s Extracts from the Album of Streatham: Or, Ministerial Amusements (1788) pretended that William Pitt the Younger’s Tory ministry gathered at Sir Thomas Steele’s house, Streatham Park, during the summer recess. According to the Whig view, Pitt’s ministers were too vain and irresponsible to spend their spare time working hard on affairs of state and foreign diplomacy. To alleviate their boredom, the ministers start an album. The fictional Album of Streatham presents extracts from the politicians’ self-revealingly inept poems, interspersed with comic scenes from these unlikely literary soirées.

ministerial amusements

Anon, ‘The Album: or, Ministerial Amusements. No. I.’, Walker’s Hibernian Magazine, Jan 1788, p. 29. British Periodicals Online. ©ProQuest LLC, 2008

The Editor’s re-creation of the book’s beginnings shows how this bravura political parody depends on readers’ shared understanding of the conventions of album culture. Agreeing in principle ‘that an Album should be immediately opened’ was much easier than improvising a poem for real: when ‘the ALBUM was produced, a degree of anxious diffidence appeared in every face’. Vain parliamentarians are humorously presented as struck dumb with bashfulness, but readers who had been asked to contribute to albums would recognise their own trepidation and fear of failure.

By the end of the 1780s, print culture had identified the vogue for elite albums in out-of-the-way places as a lucrative opportunity. In 1789, a manuscript of inscriptions by famous travellers copied from the ‘Album of the Fathers’ became bizarrely embroiled in disputes between the business-partners of fashionable London newspaper, the World, John Bell, Edward Topham, and Charles Este. After a row, Bell left to set up his own rival daily, The Oracle. When the World published a series of extracts from ‘LA GRANDE CHARTREUSE’, boasting that they were ‘literal Copies from the hand-writing of the FIRST PEOPLE of FASHION’, Bell launched a counter-attack. The Oracle’s satirical parodies ‘LA PETITE CHARTREUSE’ or ‘Extracts from the ALBUM of COWSLIP HALL’ contrasted sublime Chartreuse with Topham’s humdrum fenland country residence.

Bell’s next publication was The British Album, a bold re-appropriation of the World’s successful spin-off poetry anthologies. By identifying his anthology with the fashionable album, Bell distanced the poems further from their newspaper origins. However, when William Gifford (1756-1826) attacked the Della Cruscan poets in his notorious verse satires The Baviad (1791) and Maeviad (1795), he targeted Bell’s British Album as a symbol of poetry’s cultural feminisation:

I was tempted to indulge in a wish that the blue-stocking club would issue an immediate order to Mr. Bell, to examine the cells of Bedlam. Certainly, if an accurate transcript were made from the ‘darken’d walls’ once or twice a quarter, an ALBUM might be presented to the fashionable world, more poetical, and far more rational, than any they have lately honoured with their applause.

Gifford’s nasty misogynistic fantasy that an Album of Bedlam would be more rational and better art than the works of leading contemporary women writers anticipates the anti-feminist satire characteristic of male commentary on albums in the 1820s.

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