I’m always telling people that booksellers learn something new every day – and it’s true, they do. There is no upward limit to how much one might know about all of the books on all of the subjects written and circulated in all the periods of book history – and all of the authors and all of the publishers – but there generally comes a point in a bookseller’s career – and it can take years to reach this point – when you suddenly realise the full and enormous extent of what you don’t know. You need to know an awful lot already, simply to be able to map out the vague outlines of all the things you don’t know – and then to realise that your knowledge will only ever be fragmentary.
You might in a lifetime hope to master a small portion of it – a specialist expertise in this topic or that – but even there you will still be surprised and still be discovering new things as long as you live.
We tend to learn simply by handling lots of books, taking little lessons directly from the material here and there, discovering interest and significance as we go along. It’s the best way to learn – a gradual accumulation of knowledge and expertise. It’s true what they say – you can’t learn to be a bookseller in a class-room.
But – and this is a big but – once you have reached the stage where you know enough to know (and to accept) how little you really know, you should also by now have learned that you can draw on the expertise of others to block in some of the more obvious gaps. And you should probably also have learned who the people are that have that expertise.
I’ve been involved with and watched the London Rare Books School grow steadily year-by-year from its inception some ten or eleven years ago. Its hallmark has always been that the intensive week-long courses are taught by the people we all know and all accept have just that expertise.
The School has been expanded to three weeks this year –just look at the courses on offer and who the teachers are.
Week One : 26th- 30th June 2017
Provenance – taught by David Pearson – the David Pearson who wrote “Provenance Research in Book History” (1994, reprinted 1998 and still the standard work). Is there anyone that might teach it better? And the same goes all the way down this list.
The History of the Book in India – taught by Graham Shaw, former Head of Asia, Pacific and Africa Collections at the British Library, author of “Printing in Calcutta to 1800” (1981)
Scholarly Editing: The Example of Shakespeare – taught by John Jowett, Professor of Shakespeare Studies at the University of Birmingham, Deputy Director of the Shakespeare Institute, and academic editor of the Oxford edition of Shakespeare’s Complete Works (1986-87).
The Printed Book in Europe, 1455-2010 – an overview of the origins, spread, and impact of printed materials in Europe – taught by Simon Eliot, Professor of the History of the Book at the School of Advanced Study, University of London, and the founding director of the London Rare Books School.
History of Book Illustration – taught by Elizabeth James, head of the National Art Library Collections at the Victoria and Albert Museum, and Rowan Watson, former Senior Curator at the National Art Library.
Week Two : 3rd-7th July 2017
The Medieval Book – taught by Michelle Brown, Senior Research Fellow and Professor Emerita of Medieval Manuscript Studies at the Institute of English Studies, a Fellow of the Courtauld Institute, a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, and formerly Curator of Medieval and Illuminated Manuscripts at the British Library.
A History of Reading – an exploration of the nature of reading as it emerged in the late eighteenth century in the western world, and developed in the context of an industrial and then an advanced industrial society – taught by Dr Shafquat Towheed, who has taught at Nottingham University, the Institute of English Studies (University of London), and with the Open University. He is currently a Senior Lecturer in Book History.
Introduction to Bibliography – taught by Dr Andrew Zurcher – fellow, tutor, and Director of Studies in English at Queens’ College, Cambridge.
The Queer Book – the course outline for which begins, “The invention of moveable type is the greatest aberration in the history of communication” – taught by Brooke Palmieri, whom some of you will no doubt recall from her time in the book trade, now completing her Ph.D. and editor of “Printing History”, the journal of the American Printing History Association.
History of the Book in Scotland – taught by Andrew Nash, Reader in Book History and Communications at the Institute of English Studies, and formerly Associate Professor and Head of the Department of English Literature at the University of Reading.
An Introduction to the Modern Rare Book Trade – again this year to be taught by myself and Angus O’Neill, president-elect of the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association, with guest appearances from others – we enjoy it more and more each year and the students are always a delight. It’s a course intended for librarians and collectors who need to engage with the rare book trade – we shall tell you all our secrets – as much as it is for embryonic or inexperienced booksellers.
Week Three : 10th-14th July 2017
Medieval Women and the Book – the evidence for the role of women in the creation of medieval manuscripts, as scribes, illuminators, patrons and authors – taught by Michelle Brown (see above).
The Digital Book (don’t say we don’t keep up) – taught by Dr Daniel Boswell, who joined University College London’s Department of Information Studies as a Teaching Fellow in September 2015 to work as part of the MA Publishing team within the UCL Centre for Publishing.
European Bookbinding – from the end of the Middle Ages to the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, using the bindings themselves to illustrate the aims and intentions of the binding trade – taught by Nicholas Pickwoad, adviser on book conservation to the National Trust since 1978, Chief Conservator in the Harvard University Library 1992-1995, Director of the Ligatus Research Centre, which is dedicated to the history of bookbinding. He gave the 2008 Panizzi Lectures at the British Library, was awarded the 2009 Plowden medal for Conservation and is a Fellow of the IIC and of the Society of Antiquaries.
History of Colour Printing – one of the new courses this year – taught by Elizabeth Savage, Lecturer and British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow in Book History and Communications, awarded the Wolfgang Ratjen Prize in 2016 for distinguished research in the field of graphic art, and “Printing Colour 1400-1700: Histories, Techniques, Functions and Receptions”, which she edited with Ad Stijnman, was recognised at the IFPDA Book Awards. She was previously Munby Fellow in Bibliography, Cambridge University, and she has curated exhibitions at the British Museum and Cambridge University Library.
The Book in the Renaissance – the impact of printing at the dawn of the early modern era – taught by Paolo Sachet, who obtained his Ph.D. at the Warburg Institute, while working as a consultant in the London antiquarian book trade. He is currently a FCS Postdoctoral Fellow at the Istituto di Studi Italiani, Università della Svizzera Italiana (Lugano).
The courses are taught in small groups (maximum of twelve on each), so that everyone can see and handle the material, there are a number of bursaries available to help with the fees in cases of need – and of course the courses are not just for booksellers or would-be booksellers – there will be librarians, academics, art-historians, collectors, museum curators, print enthusiasts and literary and cultural historians and bibliophiles of every ilk. If you really don’t think that you have anything to learn from any of these people, then you would be quite seriously wrong.
All the details here: http://www.ies.sas.ac.uk/study-training/summer-schools/london-rare-books-school.