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Woodcut initial depicting the ancient astronomer Ptolemy from the Cosmographia (MER 105.F.4)

Research at Merton: History of the Book

The History of the Book Group was established at Merton in May 2006. Fellows, students, and visitors from many disciplines gather at least once a term to discuss aspects of written communication and explore the material and intellectual nature of the book in many cultures and periods. The College's own historic holdings are often the focus of inquiry, aided by the Library's growing collections in bibliography and book history.

The History of the Book is a relatively young field of research; it takes its character from the various subject-areas in which its practitioners are based and to which it contributes in turn. It defines the book broadly, from inscriptions, manuscripts and early printing to digital media. Drawing upon both textual and historical scholarship, it necessarily includes the history of authors, publishing, libraries and reading. The material form of the book is of particular interest in the field at present, as is electronic editing and publishing.

The subject of group meetings has included the development and use of the mathematical typesetting software TeX, the manufacture of paper in the sixteenth-century, a rare Arabic Shahnama manuscript held at Merton, the changing nature of popular broadside ballads, medical imaging of the past and present, studies of historic handwriting, and the changing nature of intellectual property and print. Symposia in which Merton students and tutors present their research using items from the college collections have proved annual favourites as have lunchtime discussions.

The group also makes trips to libraries, archives and other places in which books and their histories are important. Most events are open to all. Information on events and membership may be obtained from Julia Walworth, the convener.

Image: Woodcut initial depicting the ancient astronomer Ptolemy from the Cosmographia, printed in Ulm by Johann Reger in 1486. (MER 105.F.4)