Council's choice

Bibliography- or book-related links recommended by members of the Society’s Council

A new series initiated by Margaret Ford, Past President

April 2021

The UK Reading Experience Database

Some years ago, I stumbled across UK RED, the UK Reading Experience Database (, and have returned to it many times since when investigating a particular book, to see what real people at the time perhaps thought of it, but often just out of idle curiosity when thinking about an author. 

Take, for example, Dostoevky.  There are infamous appraisals of the Russian novelist which one often comes across in the literature, such as that of D. H. Lawrence (‘a rat, slithering along in hate’), or Robert Louis Stevenson saying that reading Crime and Punishment was ‘like having an illness.’  But what of others?  Pleasingly, UK RED gives a range.  We learn that Crime and Punishment (in French) was one of the books Virginia Woolf read on her honeymoon in 1912: ‘You can’t think with what a fury we fall on printed matter, so long denied us by our own writing!  I read 3 new novels in two days: Leonard waltzed through the Old Wives Tale like a kitten after its tail: after this giddy career I have now run full tilt into Crime et Chatiment, fifty pages before tea, and I see there are only 800; so I shall be through in no time.  It is directly obvious that he [Dostoevsky] is the greatest writer ever born.’  (There had been an English version, published by Vizetelly in 1886, but Constance Garnett’s important translation did not appear until 1914.) 

At the other end of the social spectrum, we find Jack Jones, a labourer from the mining town of Blaengaerw, who used to borrow Russian literature from Cardiff Central Library once a month: ‘he would exchange twelve to twenty books and take them home in an old suitcase.  He read Tolstoy and Gorky, and raced through most of Dostoevsky in a month.  He was guided by a librarian who, like a university tutor, demanded an intelligent critique of everything he read.’

Simon Beattie, member of Council

March 2021

The digitisation of incunabula at the British Library

I’ve chosen to write about something that’s very important to me and that’s made a difference to incunabula researchers around the world during lockdown.

When I took on the role as Lead Curator, Incunabula and Sixteenth Century Printed Books, at the British Library a few years ago, starting a project to digitise the Library’s collection of incunabula was high up on my agenda. It was finally begun with the inclusion of the English and unique incunabula in the Library’s corporate Heritage Made Digital programme. While the full colour cover-to-cover digitisation of all the Library’s copies of English incunabula was an obvious choice and a high priority, it has of course been the inclusion of the unique items that has proved particularly valuable for researchers, especially while we are all dependent on material being accessible in digital form.

 Propertees and medicynes of hors, Westminster, Wynkyn de Worde, [about 1497-98], ISTC ip01019200
© British Library Board, IA.55279., a1r.

With most of the digitisation of the English and unique incunabula complete before we went into the first lockdown in March 2020, I worked closely with my colleagues in Heritage Made Digital throughout last year to make the high-resolution images freely available through Explore the British Library. We’ve also so far added over 400 links to the Incunabula Short Title Catalogue (ISTC) which can be found by searching for ‘Electronic facsimile : British Library, London’. The images can also be accessed via links in records in the Gesamtkatalog der Wiegendrucke (GW).

The images of a number of volumes are still waiting to be ingested, but they will become accessible over the next few months. While this work will continue until all English and unique incunabula in the British Library are freely available to a worldwide audience, we are now planning for the digitisation of further sections of one of the world’s largest collections of incunabula.

Karen Limper-Herz, Hon. Secretary and Vice-President


February 2021

The Takamiya Collection at Yale

One of the greatest book collecting achievements of the past fifty years are the medieval manuscripts assembled by Toshiyuki Takamiya, Professor Emeritus of Keio University in Tokyo.  The focus is on English books and book production, and at the heart of the collection are the fifty-one Middle English manuscripts including the classics of English poetry (three important manuscripts of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, Gower’s Confessio Amantis, Lydgate’s Fall of Princes), works of spiritual devotion in prose and verse, historical chronicles in roll and codex form, two Wycliffite Bibles plus a fragment, scientific and medical texts, a fine copy in its original binding of Mandeville’s Travels, and so forth.  The Latin and other manuscripts are hardly less distinguished further demonstrating the collector’s interest in English history and literature, heraldry, Arthurian and other romances, book production and the history of script, book collecting, and English medieval provenances.

The collection was acquired by the Beinecke Library at Yale and each manuscript is identified by its special Takamiya shelf-mark.  There was a major exhibition in 2017, and the contents can be viewed online:  Making the Medieval English Manuscript:  The Takamiya Collection at the Beinecke Library.

Richard Linenthal, Vice-President

January 2021

Last year marked the fortieth anniversary of the publication of the first volume (in two parts) of Peter Beal’s Index of English Literary Manuscripts, 1450–1625. A second volume was published, again in two parts (1987 and 1993), covering the period 1625 to 1700. Twenty years after the publication of the last part, with funding from the AHRC, the Index became an open-access, online database, the Catalogue of English Literary Manuscripts, 1450–1700 (CELM: The Catalogue is not just a searchable version of the Index, but a hugely expanded revision of it. The 123 authors covered in the Index became 237; the number of individual manuscript entries grew from about 23,000 entries to 37,000. All the Index entries and the author introductions were revised, and among the many new entries were 75 concerning women writers. CELM’s contents can be viewed either by authors or by repositories.

Scholars of the period, especially historians of the book, are exceptionally well served by such familiar resources as the Short-Title Catalogue and ESTC, EEBO and ECCO, the OED and ODNB, Electronic Enlightenment and Oxford Scholarly Editions Online. The wealth of material in CELM about authors and their writings, their manuscripts, letters, documents, the books they owned, as well as the history of who collected these items is extraordinary. Such a comprehensive, scholarly, wide-ranging, and accurate catalogue exists for no other period of English literature or for the literature of any other country.  It is all the more astonishing that it should be the work of one man. A day spent without looking up something in CELM or reading part of it is often a wasted day.

H. R. Woudhuysen, Past President


December 2020

In the past decade I have worked in various ways to compare global perspectives in historical bibliography and book history, and have learned so much from collections of and scholarship about the production of materially diverse manuscripts and printed items in East and South Asia.  Geographical location is often unexpected, but on-line access makes study wonderfully available.  Det Kongelige Bibliotek, the Royal Library in Copenhagen (the National Library of Denmark), offers a fascinating on-line exhibition of Oriental writing and printing tools, showcasing 155 objects relating to the culture of writing and printing from central Asia, Tibet, Laos, China, Japan, and elsewhere in east Asia:

And after that you might want to take a tour with the Exhibition Guide to the Printing Museum in Tokyo – the English site for those of us less expert in Japanese: and the collection

James Raven, President

November 2020

I have been heartened and inspired over recent months to read about two projects that have been identifying and naming women in library, archive and short-title catalogues.

Staff at the Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Columbia University, New York, have documented how this summer they identified 1,257 women previously referred to in the library’s finding aids solely by their husbands’ names. It’s testament to librarians’ determination and research skills that they were able to complete this project during the lockdown period, drawing on the wealth of online resources and digitised material to confirm names and details.

The Flemish Short Title Catalogue (Short Title Catalogus Vlaanderen, known as STCV) announced on UN International Widows Day (23 June) that they have identified 136 widows previously only identified in the catalogue by the name of their husband. As well as identifying these women in their own right it has revealed hitherto unknown family connections between printing firms, visible once we can see that the same woman married into one family and then later into another.

Projects of this kind take time, resources and expertise. They’re vital in opening up library and archive collections to their full research potential, and in doing justice to the people whose lives are represented within them. 

Katie Birkwood, member of Council

October 2020

I hope I’ll be forgiven for choosing something which has come out of my own workplace – Cambridge University Library – but in August we became the first institution of the University to join the Google Arts & Culture platform, which aims to bring historic content from a range of museums, galleries and libraries to a broader public audience.

From the six themed ‘stories’, including the history of anatomical illustration and objects in the Library’s collections, I have chosen the story themed on communication to focus on here. It aims to tell the history of writing and communication, beginning with a Sumerian clay tablet made c. 2200BCE (the oldest example of writing in the Library). Along the way themes include materials on which writing is found (bone, papyrus, pottery and palm leaves), how texts were transported and the advent of printing, from illuminated incunabula to popular reading (including seventeenth-century newspapers and Penguin fiction).

Some of the contents will be known to members of the Society, forming part of the well-trodden path of the history of printing, including the Cambridge copy of the Gutenberg Bible (known to have been used as printer’s copy by Heinrich Eggestein of Strasbourg c. 1469), itself fully digitised at the Cambridge Digital Library. But as the routes through which researchers come into the world of bibliography widen and Council muses on how best to engage with new audiences, this seems like a good time to publicise content which takes us back to the origins of our subject, giving newcomers and old hands alike a fresh look at the key milestones writing, printing and reading.

Liam Sims, member of Council

September 2020

I have always been fascinated by the work of conservators, and I can enthusiastically recommend  ‘Conservation: Together at Home’, the webinar series produced by ICON: The Institute of Conservation.

The talks now available on online range very widely in subject matter from historic paintings to cannon balls to issues facing the cultural heritage sector.  There are some intriguing and engaging talks on books and manuscripts: such as Caroline Bendix on Conserving the National Trust’s Libraries, and Kristine Rose-Beers on a very early Qur’an at the Chester Beatty Library, or Andrew Honey on 17th-century paper faults.   But be warned, scrolling through the various talks can lead to binge-watching.  It will be time well-spent, however.   So much of our work as researchers and exhibition viewers is shaped by and dependent on the work of conservators, we should enjoy this opportunity to hear and learn directly from them.

Julia Walworth, member of Council

August 2020

The Gentleman's Magazine provides a panoramic view of print culture, literary biography and networks of learning across the eighteenth century.  Each monthly number overflowed with letters to the editor on a vast range of topics, memoirs, poetry, and reviews of the latest publications.  Though most contributors concealed themselves with anonymity or pseudonyms, meticulous research by James Kuist, Arthur Sherbo and more recently, Emily Lorraine de Montluzin is now revealing their identities.

My choice is the two online databases developed by Professor de Montluzin.  The first,Attributions of Authorship in the Gentleman’s Magazine, 1731-1868: identifies 2,362 authors of 25,585 letters, articles, reviews, poems, and obituaries. It is founded on the annotated editorial copy preserved at the Folger Shakespeare Library but augmented by Lorraine’s ongoing project to identify the magazine’s many contributors. 

Lorraine has also published The Poetry of the Gentleman’s Magazine, 1731–1800: An Electronic Database of Titles, Authors, and First Lines accessible at This provides a searchable list of the 12,561 poems printed in the magazine in the mid-Georgian period covering topics as diverse as politics, love, science, medicine and the arts.  They represent the work of 1,291 identified authors, from established poets whose works endure in the literary canon to amateur writers whose verses proved as ephemeral as the pages of the magazine itself. 

Julian Pooley, member of Council.


July 2020

My link is to the London Review of Books blog:

Here Thomas Poole talks about the engraved frontispiece of Thomas Hobbes’s landmark work Leviathan (1651), perhaps one of the most famous images from any English 17th-century printed book.  He points out that Hobbes was closely involved with the engraver Abraham Bosse in the production of this image.  Drawing our attention to the details of the engraving, he observes, unnoticed before, that it depicts a city in lockdown, much as our cities are today, though of course in Hobbes’s period due to plague.  Relating this to Hobbes’s other works, Poole demonstrates that this famous image has much more to tell us about the context and content of this important work than we realised.  It is a fascinating and concise example of how curiosity and attention to the physical detail of a familiar book can open up new levels of understanding about a text and its meaning.  

Mark Byford, member of Council


June 2020

Not only do I myself love looking closely at books and manuscripts, but I love exhibitions that help the public look closely, inevitably finding something of interest in a close examination. The display of the Ripley Scroll was one such display, and this link reproduces it:  It was exhibited as part of the British Library’s Harry Potter: a History of Magic, an exhibition I found fascinating (despite having read only the first book in the Harry Potter series), in part because I knew so many of the books (but not these copies) displayed and also because I encountered and learned about so many others. 

 Margaret Ford, President