Between text and materiality. Discussions in book history

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The Visual and Material History Working Group is collaborating with the Intellectual History Working Group at the EUI to bring you a two-hour seminar with three exciting avenues into book history. We ask what a focus on the practices involved in making, moving and reading books brings to the field of book history. Our aim is to think about how to approach differently some of book history’s historiographical and conceptual trends. Through the study of books interests in material and visual culture studies and intellectual history converge bringing forth fascinating and important synergies to expand the study of books in the past.

Our speakers include Jacob Baxter (University of St Andrews), Professor Veronika Čapská (Charles University), Dr Mercedes Cerón (University of Salamanca) with comments by Professor Kim Christian Priemel (University of Oslo).

Please register via EUI events

PROGRAMME for 6 April 2022




Jacob Baxter, ‘The first writer who gave cadence to English prose’: Sir William Temple and His Readers


Mercedes Cerón, Annotated prints and drawings in the collections of Francis Douce (1757-1834).


Veronika Čapská, Between Texts and Textiles – Towards Transcultural Histories of Materiality and Agency




Comments by Kim Christian Priemel followed by Q&A and Discussion



Jacob Baxter, University of St Andrews
‘The first writer who gave cadence to English prose’: Sir William Temple and His Readers

According to his biographer James Boswell, the great lexicographer Samuel Johnson said that ‘William Temple was the first writer who gave cadence to English prose.’ As an author, Sir William Temple (16286-99) engaged with a range of different genres, from poetry and pamphlets to medicine and memoirs. His most famous book is his survey of the Dutch Golden Age, the Observations upon the United Provinces (1673), which was recently described by the historian Maarten Prak as ‘probably the best contemporary analysis of Dutch society’. Temple appears to have enjoyed a decent literary standing during the century after of his death. He attracted an array of admirers, including Alexander Pope, George III and John Adams. But this reputation declined rapidly during the early decades of the nineteenth century, and few have heard of Temple today. This paper will aim to answer the question: how do we know who read Temple’s books? It will do so by outlining the three main ways we can identify the owners of early modern books. First are physical encounters, such as signatures and bookplates. Second are lists such as auction catalogues and library catalogues. Finally, we have contemporary references. It will highlight the perks and pitfalls of each of these methods, using a now largely forgotten author as a case study.


Mercedes Cerón, University of Salamanca
Annotated prints and drawings in the collections of Francis Douce (1757-1834).

The antiquarian collector Francis Douce (1757-1834) was a compulsive annotator, whose rare books, manuscripts, prints, and drawings often bear hand-written inscriptions on their margins and mounts. These annotations are usually either records of their provenance or cross-references to other objects in Douce’s collections. Some, however, refer to the relationships that Douce established with fellow collectors and scholars through the gifting and exchanging of items that reflected their shared interests. They provide significant biographical information, as well as an insight into Douce’s views on his acquaintances and on their activities and motivations as collectors. A further few are records of the connections and associations that Douce established between the miscellaneous materials in his collections while searching for information on specific subjects. When referring to his reasons to acquire certain objects, Douce explained that he collected ‘in order to understand’ his subject, which can be broadly defined as the history of manners, customs and beliefs. His notes can therefore help us map Douce’s use of his collections and understand the many ways in which knowledge was produced within them and then circulated within his networks. In this paper, I will examine a number of examples of the different types of annotations that can be found on Douce’s works on paper, and I will explore their links with the rest of Douce’s collections and with his networks.


Veronika Čapská, Charles University
Between Texts and Textiles – Towards Transcultural Histories of Materiality and Agency

In my paper I will briefly introduce the tradition of material culture history (especially its semiotic mode) in the Czech Republic. I will then explain my research position which is increasingly informed by transcultural history and its developing methodologies. I believe that the growing interest in transcultural interactions and (dis)connectivities opens up new space for book history/print history and translation history, among other fields. It also inspires questions about the interconnections between the history of mobility/migration and the circulation of texts/books/objects. I will share examples of my research on early modern East-Central European women as book readers and producers of texts and textiles, especially on Maria Eleonora Sporck, Anna Katharina Swéerts-Sporck and Gabriela von Spens Booden (née Sobková z Kornic). Book/print culture history offers a promising ground for the joint study of material culture and intellectual history. At the same time, we need to reconceptualise our analytical categories. This is a strategy amply used in gender and womenʼs history. The concept of textual practices seems particularly useful for the study of non-canonical texts and authors. Furthermore, the study of textual practices, such as translation, reading, editing or book exchange draws our attention to new concepts of agency as the long dominant concept of (implicitly male) individual social actor/author ceases to suffice. Drawing on Marie-Elizabeth Ducreux we may also discuss the potentially promising role of the history of mobility of people and circulation of texts (or more broadly: transcultural history) as a powerful epistemological tool for integrating neglected areas and historiographies into a better geographically and linguistically connected World history.

Image: Jan Davidsz. de Heem, Still Life with Books (1625 – 1630) CC0

Organisers: Isabelle Riepe, Vigdis Andrea Evang, Jonas Bakkeli Eide, Elisa Chazal, Ana Struillou