The Society for the History of Authorship, Reading and Publishing meets annually, alternating conference sites in North America and Europe. The participants include scholars from the disciplines of history, literature, library and information science, and various flavors of cultural studies.
The opening plenary on Tuesday afternoon featured Juliet Gardiner, who has written several histories of Britain during the world wars, speaking on ''Mercurial expectations and uneasy returns: the lot of the modern author.'' The session was held in the Oxford Town Hall, a lovely 19th-century building with so-so acoustics, so I didn't catch all of it. The gist was that the lot of the modern author is not a happy one.
I was too jet lagged to get to the first session on Wednesday. There are about 5 or 6 simultaneous sessions in every slot. For the second morning session I chose ''Cultural economy of cross-media practices in the 20th century.'' Alexis Weedon (U of Bedfordshire) presented sales figures and other data on British books (such as The Scarlet Pimpernal) that were made into motion pictures in the silent film era and later, revealing how the publishing and movie industries used different tactics to build audiences. Simone Murray (Monash U.) analyzed books that have won or been shortlisted for the Booker Prize and been adapted for the screen. She noted that there has been little scholarship on the adaptation of contemporary novels, compared to the many studies of canonical works made into movies (think Jane Austen). Daniel Allington's (Open University) presentation was somewhat more relevant to libraries, as his research group is engaged in participant observation of reading groups. Unlike earlier reading group studies, they have recorded and transcribed the conservations of 16 groups, along with interviewing the members. He shared some preliminary findings about the attention (or non-attention) to paratext as well as text in the discussions (''paratext'' being things like introductions, bibliographies, and introductions) and discussed the difficulties of using conversational analysis methods for this work.
In the afternoon, I attended a panel of younger book history scholars who advocated for new approaches to the field, centering their thoughts around ''keywords'' -- ''political economy'', ''tactics'', and ''reading.'' It's always interesting to see newer scholars critiquing what's come before, but the session was a little abstract for me. So I skipped out when the Q&A began and slipped into another session in time to catch a paper titled @Who reads and uses grey literature?'' Bertrum MacDonald (Dalhousie) shared findings from a study of two intergovernmental groups that deal with the marine environment. He and his colleagues used ISI's Journal Citation Reports to track the readership (readers = people who cite the works) of reports issued in print and online by the groups. Although grey literature is often dismissed as non-scholarly, the reports in question were peer-reviewed before publication and were often cited in peer-reviewed articles. Over 70 percent of the readers had no affiliation with the issuing groups, suggesting that grey literature is widely read and trusted.
The late afternoon plenary was about the research being done for a history of Oxford University Press (due to be published in 2012 or thereabouts), and after that we were bussed to the OUP headquarters for a reception, the annual SHARP meeting, and time to wander in the small but fascinating OUP museum. Highlights: the hand-written account book showing the printing costs for Alice in Wonderland; a letter from J.R.R. Tolkien about the etymology of ''hobbit''; a box full of the original quotation slips that were the sources for the OED; and an early silent film of the industrial processes of printing and binding. There were also early presses and types.
And now to lunch, more sessions, a reception tonight at the Bodleian Library and a banquet in Magdelen College. -- Sue Searing