Thursday, August 11, 2011

Back From DC With a Sharpened Appetite for Bookish Matters

It's now been about two weeks since I returned from the annual conference of the Society for the History of Authorship, Reading and Publishing (SHARP) in Washington, DC—feeling, as always—as one of my tweeps put it—"post-conf malaise mixd w/urge to wrk," "so grand that I was sad to leave that collegiality."

This year's theme was science, art, and the history of the book, though, as always, conference papers and panels were not restricted to that theme. One of the best panels I attended had nothing to do with any of that and was right up my alley: it dealt with the book trade in the Third Reich. Incidentally, it took place in the first session of the first day, an auspicious start. I won't attempt to report on the conference here for the moment, instead simply hoping to act on that sense of collegiality, inspiration, and "urge to work" by posting here more frequently now on various topics related to the history of the book. I'm afraid that even trying to keep up with the historical and historic-preservation topics on the "home blog"—To Find the Principles—has been almost more than I can manage these days.

In the meantime, a few scenes from the conference.
The Executive Council (EC) at work: President Leslie Howsam in the center, Vice President Ian Gadd, at left.

Key topics included finances (they are sound, and we agreed not to raise membership fees this year); future conference sites (2012: Dublin; 2013: Philadelphia); adapting our listserve to the newer needs and standards of the current digital culture; new initiatives to support student participation and general scholarly research, and the continuing internationalization of the organization.

Among the firsts for this EC meeting: remote participation. Director of Publications and Awards Claire Squires, just returned from a conference in Tübingen, "Skyped in" from to her home base at the University of Stirling, where she is Director of the Stirling Centre for International Publishing and Communication.

The officers have done business by Skype on several occasions, just not at an EC meeting. The real first, however: first cat to attend an EC meeting, and from Scotland, via Skype. Now that's progress.

The EC meeting took place in the elegant quarters of the Corcoran Gallery and School of Art + Design, one of the conference hosts, and site of pre-conference program activities.

In the atrium:  "Painting Big": works by Chris Martin. (Ever wonder how they manipulate and mount such mammoth works? Videos on the website explain that, too.)

Conference registration at the National Library of Medicine in Bethesda, MD, also the site of the opening keynote and welcome reception.  Security was extremely tight here because the Library is located on the campus of the National Institutes of Health), so we had to allow additional time for visitors to travel by metro, pass through checkpoints, obtain ID badges, and so forth.

One of the distinctive features of this conference was the co-hosting by multiple organizations. Although most SHARP conferences hold events at multiple sites, there is generally a principal institutional sponsor and venue—often, for example, a university or major library. This year's conference, meticulously organized by SHARP Membership Secretary Eleanor Shevlin and Casey Smith, Interim Chair of the Arts and Humanities at the Corcoran, was a logistical triumph as well as a great intellectual success. Despite the need to move large numbers of people back and forth between venues—many of which, this being DC, involved security checkpoints—there were no disasters or even delays. Movement

Eleanor Shevlin introduces Jonathan Topham (Senior Lecturer in the History of Science, University of Lees), who delivered the keynote lecture, "Why the History of Science Matters to Book History."

The first full day of sessions took place at the Library of Congress.

Welcome, but let's see what's in your pockets and that bag. Security checks even at a library: the contemporary world.

I didn't blog during the conference, and I probably won't write in detail about most of the proceedings. However, we did cover the proceedings live via Twitter, and with great success. More on that in the next post.

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