‘The Object of our Affection’ book launch

Tuesday 5 December was a very special night for the Centre for Material Texts, celebrating The Object of our Affection, the fantastic book created by local book artist Angie Butler, as the culmination of nearly a year of thinking about Making Books in Bristol.


As co-director of the Centre Jenny Batt explains, “as academics, we are trained to read books as material objects. Our work seeks to investigate those books, and the marks they contain, in order to reveal how they came into being, and how they were read; from that, we seek to explore what that might reveal about the creative cultures that produced and used those objects”. From here we developed the idea of a series of lunchtime workshops, Making Books in Bristol, and decided to invite a local book artist to create a response to what we learned and discussed in book form. If you attended any of those talks, you would have been part of those conversations about books: we asked the audience, at the end of each talk, to fill out a questionnaire. Those questionnaires have fed directly into the book. Jenny notes, “Making books is a collaborative process, and one of the really rich things about the work that Angie has done is how she’s embedded that, at every level, into this book that she has made”. We are all completely thrilled by the book she has produced.

ab bookmarks

Bookmarks made from waste and proof sheets from the printing of the book.

Angie took us page by page through The Object of our Affection, showing how she played with the different parts of a book such as the flyleaf (featuring a fly) and the table of contents (featuring a dinning table). From the first pages, the collaborative nature of the project is clear, not only in the inspiration Angie took from our lunchtime workshops, but also her connections with other local artists and bookmakers. The book was bound by Rachel James from Bristol Bound, a regular collaborator of Angie’s, who also provided the beautiful Douglass Cockerell endpapers. The frontispiece is a wood engraving by Ben Goodman, adding a touch of tradition to the book. Angie even borrowed the type from the Gloucestershire-based Whittington Press. 


Angie Butler with the Douglas Cockerell endpapers.

The book brings together handwriting and type, as well as papers of varying thicknesses and textures, and fragments from other local printing projects. It is a reminder of the book as a physical object, the labour which goes in to making it, and the ways in which the visual and tactile can affect readers. Other inserts in the book include a foldable page printed by Rhiannon and Jenny, and a letterpress printed poster designed with Jim Smith, a local book and print designer who attended all of the Making Books in Bristol talks.

means of production

One of our favourite pages is what we call the ‘mistakes’ page. As a quote from Richard Jones’ talk, it reflects Angie’s interest in how involved and hands-on the local publishers are. For us at the Centre for Material Texts, it also reminds us not to read too much into certain aspects of books as conscious decisions.


Angie Butler and the “mistakes” page.

After Angie took us through the book, she introduced Rachel James and Ben Goodman, who both again demonstrated just how much skilled work goes into the various different aspects of print and book-making. Rachel shared pictures of hand-sewing the binding of The Object of our Affection, while Ben showed a video of him creating a wood engraving. 

Rachel sewing book

Rachel James hand-sewing the binding of The Object of Our Affections

The night ended with Rhiannon Daniels’ talking about the project from the point of view of the Centre for Material Texts. She noted, “From the beginning, we envisaged the project as a way of opening new conversations. But we also didn’t know whether anyone else would want to have those conversations with us. The book is a wonderful reminder of the way in which books are a touchstone for shared passions and experiences”.

RD final comments

Rhiannon Daniels, co-director of the Centre for Material Texts, offers some conclusions

As well as a beautiful work of art, The Object of our Affection speaks to our academic interests. Rhiannon highlighted the parallels between Angie’s book and Gerard Genette’s Paratexts, a seminal academic text about the form and function of the parts of the book, which continues to be used by book historians and very much informs our research. “The analogues between Angie’s book and Genette’s are a nice illustration of the ways in which creative practice and academic discourse can meet in the physical book. Our languages may be different, but it is relatively easy to translate from one to the other”.

beacon house exhibtion

Exhibition at Beacon House

If you missed the launch but would like to learn more about the book and the process behind it, please visit our free exhibition in the foyer of Beacon House, which runs until the end of February 2018. 

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Research Portraits: Launch of the digitised AWA magazine

As part of our new series of research portraits, Dr Ruth Bush (Lecturer in French, Member of the Centre for Material Texts) writes about the recent launch of a digitised version of one of the earliest independent francophone African magazines, AWA: la revue de la femme noire.

exhibition launch

Exhibition launch event at Henriette-Bathily Women’s Museum, Dakar. L-R: Claire Ducournau, Aïcha Dème, Aminata Sow Fall, Fatou Sow, Codou Bop, Ruth Bush. Photograph: Dominic Thomas.

Together with a team of researchers, librarians and cultural activists, I recently launched a digitised version of one of the earliest independent francophone African magazines, AWA: la revue de la femme noire, now freely available at www.awamagazine.org. This early glossy magazine was founded in Dakar, Senegal in 1964 by journalist and poet Annette Mbaye d’Erneville and provides a rich resource for teaching and research relating to the materiality of texts. It is a fascinating material object, printed in black and white (colour is used only on the front cover) and using a wide range of typographical styles and page layouts. The magazine was self-funded and produced entirely in Senegal by an editorial team and the pioneering printer, Abdoulaye Diop. This context is particularly important at a time when the Senegalese periodical press depended largely on an infrastructure of production and distribution which dated from the colonial period. AWA features literary texts and photographs alongside articles on politics, fashion, female emancipation, everyday life and the world of paid work. Readers letters indicate that while some felt the magazine was too elitist in a region with low literacy, it nonetheless travelled widely (from the US and Martinique to Russia and Israel), was used in rural women’s education centres, and played an important role in promoting the voices of African women in the period following the independences of 1960.

exhibition poster

Exhibition poster featuring a cover photograph of ‘a young Senegalese woman wearing a boubou’ by Baïdy Sow, AWA, November 1965. Poster design: Hélène Degout.

AWA has been digitised as part of an ongoing AHRC GCRF project, ‘Popular print and reading cultures in francophone Africa‘, in partnership between the University of Bristol, Université Paul-Valéry Montpellier 3, the Institut Fondamental d’Afrique Noire-Cheikh Anta Diop and the Archives nationales du Sénégal in Dakar. For a write-up of the process of gathering the material for this project, see another blog entry written during the project here.

This magazine is also the subject of a multimedia exhibition which launched at the Henriette Bathily Women’s Museum in Dakar, Senegal in November and will run until January 2018. The exhibition will then travel for a month to Montpellier, France from 19 March 2017. It features panels, archival material, three films, an AWA photo studio, and a limited-edition exhibition poster printed on a rotary press similar to that used for the original magazine.

rotary press

Rotary press used to print the exhibition posters, Médina neighbourhood, Dakar. Photograph: Hélène Degout.

Through images, film, and text, the exhibition raises questions relating to critical thought, women’s political activity, the category of women intellectuals, inequalities and complementarity between the sexes, education and pleasure in sub-Saharan Africa.

For more information on this project, please visit the bilingual digital portal www.awamagazine.org and the original project website: www.africanreadingcultures.org. This project is funded by an AHRC GCRF grant under the ‘Translating Cultures/Care for the Futures’ themes. The exhibition received additional funding from the Institut français, Sénégal.



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Artist’s book launch 5 December 2017, 6-7.30pm University of Bristol

The book is made! Our artist-in-residence, Angie Butler, has been working with us on the Making Books in Bristol project to create a book which self-consciously and playfully uses its own structure to reflect on and continue the conversations which began earlier in the year when we invited local book professionals to discuss their lives with books.

On 5 December the book will be on view to the public for the first time, and Angie will be discussing the process of making it and those who have contributed along the way. We are excited to welcome back everyone who attended the public talks in May and June at the Central Library and Folk House, and also anyone who is interested in artists’ books, publishing, letterpress printing, bibliography, and book culture in general.

The book launch is free and open to all, but please book here so that we can plan numbers for catering purposes. Details of the venue are available on the booking page and on the poster below. Please spread the word and we look forward to seeing you there.


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Save the date: Tuesday 5 December 6-7.30pm

Coming soon – the launch of Angie Butler’s artist’s book for the Making Books in Bristol project. There is a sneak preview here (with thanks to Sarah Bodman) but we will be unveiling the real thing and inviting you to come and see it. Watch this space.

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Confined to the library

Book in box

For many of us in the Centre for Material Texts, the focus of our research is the relationship between books and the contexts in which they are produced and consumed. Some of this work involves consciously reflecting on and examining aspects of book culture which for centuries was considered too inconsequential or ‘familiar’ to warrant attention: the way in which an individual reader marks his or her own books by underlining passages or folding down a corner of the page, the ways in which the size and weight of a book demands to be carried and read in certain spaces, the particular order in which books are stored on a library shelf. We scrutinize the historical dimensions of processes which we ourselves also perform in our everyday lives as authors, editors, and readers of our own and others’ work as we write, read, collect and order books.

Consultation on the University of Bristol’s decision to invest in a new library, which will house the Arts and Social Sciences collections, created a moment for everyone in the Faculty of Arts to reflect on the importance of the physical book and the way in which it influences the behaviour of those using it. When presented with the possibility of a new library which might not consider physical books on shelves to be a central concern, we are all (book historians and non-book historians like) acutely aware of the ways in which our research practice and intellectual endeavours continue to be enriched and informed by contact with books which we can browse on library shelves, pick up and leaf through, and spread out on the desk next to us.

The long view of material texts teaches us that our current experience of the paradigm shift from print to digital mirrors earlier shifts from oral to written, and written to print. But we also know that the codex has an extraordinarily long and powerful history as arguably the most successful book form of all time. When building a library for the future, we believe that it is forward-thinking not to ignore the lessons of history. We should recognize and celebrate the centrality and longevity of the material book and its continued importance for all users of the library.

As part of its feedback on proposed plans for the library, the Faculty of Arts commissioned an artist’s book from a former student of the University and local book artist, Kate Bernstein. This was presented to the Vice Chancellor, Hugh Brady, by the Dean of the Faculty, Mike Basker, Faculty Research Director, Robert Bickers, and the Centre for Material Texts.


Entitled ‘Confined to the Library’, the book reflects the intellectual riches captured within a library, as well as the emotional and sensory experiences lying in wait. Books and libraries can be – at one and the same time – private, intimate, journeys of discovery as well as public, magisterial symbols of status, intellectual and financial wealth. Bernstein’s meticulously-made book triggers responses to its weight, its texture, and its smell, which cannot be replicated in a digital facsimile. It is a familiar codex, but the complexity of its form only becomes apparent once it is opened: its unfamiliarity provokes a reflection of the way in which we navigate our way around a book, both physically and intellectually, moving forwards, but also backwards, perhaps missing some elements entirely and only discovering others when re-reading.

Bristol book plateCentre spreadbook on box

As the new library will provide a lasting legacy for the University’s ambitions in early twenty-first century, so we hope that the book will have a long life ahead of it, housed in the library when it is built, and enjoyed by generations of library users to come.

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Launching the Centre for Material Texts

Last week was an important one for the Centre for Material Texts, since it saw both its formal and informal launch.

The informal event took place on Wednesday afternoon as a diverse crowd came together to find out more about what the Centre has planned for the coming year. We were very pleased to welcome researchers from departments across the faculty, as well as a number of people from the University Library, Special Collections, and Theatre Collections.

Over tea and cake we shared some of our plans, which include events to mark the culmination of the Making Books in Bristol Project; an InsideArts debate exploring the question ‘What’s the point of libraries?’; and a conference investigating ‘Living Well with Books’.


We were also able to showcase examples of the work we have been doing collaboratively with locally-based book artists: we previewed some extracts from the book currently being made for the Making Books in Bristol project by our resident artist, Angie Butler; and we gave members an exclusive glimpse of an exciting collaboration with Kate Bernstein called ‘Confined to the Library’ – more on that in a later blog!

The following evening, the official launch of the Centre took place. At a reception at Royal Fort House, the Pro Vice-Chancellor Professor Nishan Canagarajah, and Professor Mike Basker, Dean of the Faculty of Arts, introduced the six Centres now hosted by the Faculty: the Centre for Material Texts; the Centre for Black Humanities; the Centre for Environmental Humanities; the Centre for Health, Humanities and Science; the Centre for Medieval Studies; and the Centre for Science and Philosophy.

If you want to find out more about the Centre or want to join our mailing list do get in touch with us at arts-books[at]bristol.ac.uk.

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Making Books in Bristol: Publishers’ Perspectives

As the new academic year brings a wealth of events for the Centre for Material Texts, we thought now would be a good time to look back on Making Books in Bristol, a series of lunchtime workshops held in May and June.

The idea behind Making Books in Bristol was to celebrate the book-related activities being carried out in the local area, from printing to publishing, via translation, design, illustration, editing, and marketing. For the first two talks, we invited two local publishers to give us their perspectives: Richard Jones from Tangent Books and Greet Pauwelijn from Book Island.


Richard Jones told us that the name of his company reflected his habit of going off on tangents, although most of his publishing has some connection to Bristol. Tangent began with The Naked Guide to Bristol, which was supposed to be the first in a series of city guides, but instead was followed up by the suitably West Country Naked Guide to Cider. Later books have often been by or about Bristolians, including our most famous street artist Banksy.

Through his talk, Richard offered a brief history of publishing in Bristol and the legacy it has left for Bristol based publishers today. The first Bristol publisher was Joseph Cottle who published the Lyrical Ballads of Coleridge and Wordsworth in 1798. Like many publishers, he was broke! Moving forward, Redcliffe Press is, in Richard’s view,  the most important local publisher of recent times. Their Children’s Bristol, first published in 1976, was a bestseller, with new versions still being published today. Another key reference point was the Bristol Review of Books, which published 21 issues between 2006 and 2012. Local talent has equally been supported by the Bristol Short Story Prize, which receives around 2000 entries – clearly there is a lot of material for those interested in local writing to work with! Today, anthologies of the prize winners are just some of the texts published by Tangent, who focus on the subcultural while fellow publishers Bristol Books offer more mainstream local history. Small Press will soon launch a poetry imprint, likely in conjunction with the Letterpress Collective, as they are concerned with the relationship between form and content.

The link between form and content was at the forefront of Richard’s talk. He has published over 120 books in 20 years but few are produced locally, as skilled book printers are dwindling in the UK. Most Tangent Books printing is done in the Czech Republic, where he can find different kinds of finish, such as the hand-painted red pages of Catacombs of Terror. Touch is a key factor of book design for Richard, so the cover of Banksy’s Home Sweet Home is designed to feel like paint, while the cover of Stanley Donwood’s Household Worms was printed to seem slightly warn, reflecting Donwood’s desire for the book to feel like an old friend. Richard also advocated using a letterpress as that way you make mistakes that you could never make on a computer, and mistakes are almost always as interesting as what you are trying to achieve.


Greet Pauwelijn started Book Island in New Zealand but moved to Bristol in 2016. As a parent from Belgium, where there is a rich illustrated tradition, Greet was disappointed by the children’s books in NZ, and as a translator herself, decided to translate and publish the best of illustrated children’s books from around the world.

Greet trawls book fairs and publishers’ catalogues, looking for a combination of a great story, beautiful illustration & book design. Her ideal is a layered book that has something for the adults and something for the children. She has noted that there are many more taboos in the Anglophone market than on the continent: death and nudity are seemingly off limits. However, Book Island aims to challenge received wisdom about what children can and can’t read.

If Greet buys the rights to a book, she gets the book ready formed, and just has to put in the translated text. This means she has not yet had to commission illustrators, but as Book Island expands, she hopes to bring local illustrators and story-tellers together to create books which can then be translated and sold to her contacts across the continental children’s book market. Greet is happy to pay more for a good translation, as the story needs to read well. Often the country of origin gives grants for translation. To find a translator, Greet would go to the translation fund in that country and then ask them for recommended translators.

Greet brought along examples from the various stages of production for us to see: plotters (printed on normal paper), wet proofs (on the paper to be used for printing), folded and gathered. All of these stages are to ensure the quality of the books, to avoid mistakes that would mean destroying books and starting again. We also got to enjoy some originals from France, Latvia and Belgium, among others.

book island originals

Throughout the Making Books in Bristol series, local book artist Angie Butler was taking notes, photos and scraps to inspire her own artist’s book, which will be presented at the University of Bristol soon. You can read more about Angie Butler’s book on A-N Arts News.

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