The Marbled Page


On 21 November 2019, the CMT hosted a paper marbling workshop. After enjoying the session on marbling led by the wonderful Sarah at our Living Well with Books conference last year, we set out to recreate the marbled page famously included by Laurence Sterne in his Tristram Shandy. There are some nice examples of Sterne’s pages  here and here

We practised recreating patterns commonly used for binding papers in the eighteenth century, including ‘antique spot’ and combing to create the ‘nonpareil’ design.


Crease marks in copies of Tristram Shandy show that the paper was folded to create the margins around the marbled image, rather than using a stencil to protect the margins in the marbling bath.  Once the paper was dry, the folds could be creased in the opposite direction to marble on the reverse.



We discovered that it is relatively simple to create margins by folding a sheet of paper and placing the surface to be marbled into the bath, but it takes great skill to take it out again cleanly!

Heavily scoring the creases allows the margins to be folded neatly behind the section to be marbled – making it easier to lift out the paper cleanly – but this increases the risk that the crease marks remain very visible.

We may not – yet – have created the perfect marbled page, but marbling is addictive and we may not be able to stop trying.


With thanks to all of our CMT members who were willing to come along and try something different in their lunch hour.



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Anne Carson’s Float: Reading the Chapbook

The organisers of the Anne Carson Postgraduate Reading Group, Laura Jansen (Classics) and Richard Cole (Classics), would like to thank the Centre for Material Texts at the University of Bristol for sponsoring a session of the reading group. The session, entitled Anne Carson’s ‘Float’: Reading the Chapbook, was hosted by the Centre as their annual 2018/19 PGR event.

Float (2016) is a collection that playfully explores themes of memory, myth, and storytelling within an equally provocative format. Taking the form of individual chapbooks that ‘float’ within a transparent case, this work can be read in any order, thus challenging the reader to connect its fragmented narrative in ever new ways. The collection covers a vast time-span, and makes use of a wide range of voices, spaces, structures, and genres to examine the in-between.

When introducing Float to the group, Richard Cole suggested that it brings together things we might not expect (genre, style, down to the words themselves), perhaps nodding to the heritage of the chapbook as ephemeral street literature host to a variety of ideas. He argued that each chapbook seems to be pointing to, at the same time as frustrating, something longer or more explanatory. This was used by the group as a springboard to reflect on how each reading of this ‘book’ would result in radically different impressions, but also how, despite the experimental nature of Float, Carson cannot quite escape the limits of the book. In fact, she actively draws attention to them by ‘cutting’ back the layers of form, narrative, meaning, and myth, the foundations over/under which her wider oeuvre playfully ‘floats’.

The reading group was attended by postgraduate and postdoctoral scholars from the Faculty of Arts and other institutions in the UK, by artists from Spike Island Studio, and by independent practitioners. This year’s innovation was remote participation. The group also enjoyed the contributions of nine remote participants from both sides of the Atlantic, different nationalities, and academic cultures.

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Exploring Medieval Manuscripts: A Workshop

On 17-18 June 2019, in association with the Centre for Medieval Studies, we’re organizing a two-day intensive workshop to provide an introduction to medieval manuscripts and medieval handwriting. The workshop is for anyone who wants to discover more about medieval manuscripts and anyone wants to gain confidence in reading medieval hands. Participants in the workshop will develop skills in handling and reading manuscripts from the medieval period (c. 1200-1500) by working closely with items from Special Collections at the University of Bristol’s Arts and Social Sciences Library. Topics to be studied include how manuscripts were made and bound; book decoration; charters; and how to read Gothic scripts.

CMS summer school

The workshop will be taught by specialists from the Centre for Medieval Studies, and will be based in Special Collections in the University of Bristol’s Arts and Social Sciences Library.

The course will be of particular value to anyone who is thinking about pursuing research (at MA/PhD) in topics in medieval studies, but we welcome anyone with an interest in the area. The workshop is offered free of charge, but spaces are limited.

You can find out more, including how to apply, here. The deadline for applications is 6 June 2019.

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Workshop: Exploring the Personal Archive of Oliver Messel

Exploring the Personal Archive of Oliver Messel

Wednesday 5 December 2-4.30pm, at The Theatre Collection, 21 Park Row, Bristol

Join the Centre for Material Texts at the Theatre Collection for an afternoon exploring the personal archive of Oliver Messel, one of the ‘bright young things’ in 1920s London, and widely regarded as one of the last century’s foremost theatrical designers.

The Personal Archive of Oliver Messel was recently acquired by the Theatre Collection at the University of Bristol. Alongside the Oliver Messel Design Archive, housed at the V&A, it provides a comprehensive history of Messel’s life and work, which were so often intertwined. It includes photographic scrapbooks, sketchbooks, costume and set designs, stage and architectural plans, interior and furniture designs from the Caribbean, and a selection of plaster casts, masks and costumes, as well as professional and personal correspondence from amongst others; Lauren Bacall, Max Beerbohm, John Gielgud, Vivien Leigh and Michael Redgrave, and images by leading photographers, including Cecil Beaton, Norman Parkinson and Lord Snowdon, as well as many by Messel himself.

The Archive contains a rich array of material, including sketchbooks from Messel’s travels, a large number of photograph albums which include personal memories of family and friends (including images captured backstage on Hollywood film sets), reference albums for stage and screen designs,  a variety of press cutting albums collated by Messel which relate to various productions, his social life, art and design commissions and production stills. In addition to these are a number of notes, manuscripts, exhibition catalogues and associated texts providing rich ground for exploration.

Workshop participants will have an opportunity to tour the new exhibition, Wake Up and Dream, handle original items, and discuss new research opportunities whilst learning more about the Messel Archive and how to access and work with the Collection in the future.

Please email john.mctague[at] and gemma.brace[at] to reserve a place.

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Making Poetry – Fun Palace

We’re excited to be taking part in this year’s Fun Palace weekend. Fun Palaces are community-focused cultural activities, and over the weekend there will be a diverse programme of events taking place across the country.

The Centre for Material Texts will be teaming up with the Bristol Poetry Institute to take part in the ‘Living Well Fun Palace’ in Bristol Central Library today (Saturday 6 October) from 2-4.30pm.

We’d like to invite you to join us in making poetry which explores ideas of ‘Living Well’. We’ll be the using texts that we can find around us in the Fun Palace for inspiration: come along ready to use scissors, glue, and your imagination.

There’ll be a whole host of other activities at the Fun Palace too, including: bike-powered smoothie making; bike decoration with graffiti artists; activities relating to music and memory; and activities focusing on re-imagining health care.


The Fun Palace is aimed at all ages, so if you and your family are looking for something to do this weekend, why not come down and join us? And if you can’t make it into central Bristol, do have a look at the Fun Palace map to see if there’s anything going on near you.

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Living Well With Books – an academic conference with a twist

IMG_1996Over three days at the end of last week, the Centre for Material Texts hosted a gathering of academics, artists, health care professionals and librarians who were all interested in how we make our lives alongside books.

The keynote speakers at Living Well With Books approached the topic from a range of angles: Abigail Williams discussed the dangers of reading in bed, both now and in the eighteenth century; Elif Tinaztepe explored how library design might change communities; Miha Kovac revealed what Slovenian interior design magazines might reveal about attitudes to books; and Alison Strachan how lives might be transformed by learning the historic craft of book binding. IMG_2018

The conference was truly interdisciplinary, transnational and transhistorical: presentations ranged from ancient Greece to contemporary Cuba, from Renaissance Italy to the present-day NHS, and covered quite a lot else in between!

Living Well With Books was a conference with a twist: alongside regular panels and presentations, there was a series of book arts workshops designed to encourage delegates toIMG_2026 live well with books. There were sessions on marbling with Sarah, collagraph printing with Steph from Bristol Print Room, and pamphlet making with Alison and Jonathan from Bound by Veterans. And there were other workshops too: mornings began with a writing retreat; there were opportunities to explore the Theatre Collection and to discover Clifton’s literary heritage; and there was an ideas lunch, courtesy of Brigstow, to round it all off.

20180906_172904The conference was made possible by the generous support of the Faculty of Arts; the Institute of Greece, Rome, and the Classical Tradition; and the Brigstow Institute.

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Living Well With Books, 5-7 September 2018

Living Well with Books starts today!

If you’re coming to the conference, you can find the registration desk on the 3rd floor of the North Wing of the Richmond Building at the Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

The most up-to-date version of the programme can be found here: Living Well with Books programme 5-9-18

We’re really excited to welcome a fantastic range of speakers to Bristol, and we’re very much looking forward to enjoying workshops on marbling, printing, writing and binding, and to exploring the Theatre Collection and some of Clifton’s local literary heritage.

If you want to tweet about the conference, it’d be great if you could use the hashtag #LivingWellWithBooks so we can follow what you’ve got to say!

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Registration open for ‘Living well with books’ conference

Please visit the University of Bristol online shop to register to attend our conference ‘Living well with books’, which is taking place from 5-7 September 2018.

We have an exciting package of presentations and activities lined up for you, including some hands-on making sessions. Spaces for these are limited and strictly first-come, first-served, so book quickly!

For the conference programme and more details of activities, accommodation, and how to find us, visit the conference page.

Registration will close on Monday 3 September.

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Extended Deadline for Living Well with Books

Living Well with Books is interdisciplinary, transhistorical, and transnational conference organized by the Centre for Material Texts, University of Bristol on 5-7 September 2018. The conference aims to explore how books have affected and continue to affect our daily lives and well-being. How we have lived with books in the past, how do we live with them in the present, how we might live with them better in the future, and how might we help others do the same?

We’re extending the deadline for Living Well with Books for a little while longer. If you’re working on any aspect of the relationship between books and people in the present or in the past, consider submitting a proposal to by 10 June 2018.

Topics that papers might address include:

  • Living alongside books
  • Books in our hands
  • Books, health, and wellbeing
  • Books and communities
  • Getting hold of books
  • Living badly with books

You can see the full CFP here.

Our three keynote speakers are now confirmed:

  • Elif Tinasztepe, Associate Partner and Senior Project Architect, Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects
  • Professor Miha Kovač, Department of Library and Information Science and Book Studies at the University of Ljubljana
  • Professor Abigail Williams, Faculty of English, University of Oxford
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Keynote speakers, Living well with books

We are delighted and excited to announce that our keynote speakers for ‘Living Well with Books’, 5-7 September 2018 will be:

Elif Tinasztepe, Associate Partner and Senior Project Architect, Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects
Professor Miha Kovač, Department of Library and Information Science and Book Studies at the University of Ljubljana

Professor Abigail Williams, Faculty of English, University of Oxford

If you would like to submit a proposal, there is still time! Further details are here.


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