Wednesday, 23 May 2012

The Centre for the Book at Monash

I was recently asked by Dr Stephen Herrin, Rare Books Assistant Librarian, to write the Preface to an exhibition entitled "Books Never Die: An Exhibition on the History of the Book" (see here). While I was writing it I wanted to say a few words about the study of Book History at Monash and it occurred to me it was time to do a post on the subject here. It has been difficult piecing together information on the subject so I will do what I can now and correct, update or add information as it comes to hand.

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Since 1982, The Centre for the Book has existed, at different times, under changing University (1982–84), Faculty (1985–97), Department (1998), and School (1999–) management. The Centre for the Book was reconstituted as a School of English, Communications and Performance Studies "research unit" in 2010. The management of all research units at Monash is in flux and so the future of the Centre for the Book is unclear. Again. But to look backwards …

In terms of name, as far as I can tell, The Centre for Bibliographical and Textual Studies existed from 1982 until 1998, when it was re-named The Centre for the Book. Apparently, Monash is unhappy about the liberal use of the term centre across the university, and there was some suggestion in 2009 that the name would have to be changed in 2010, but fortunately this did not happen.

As I said, the Centre for the Book is presently a research unit in the School of English, Communications and Performance Studies (ECPS; 2005–), previously the School of Literary, Visual and Performance Studies (LVPS; 1999–2005), which was formed in 1999 from an amalgamation of two departments (including English) and three centres (including the CftB).

(It is unclear whether the recent amalgamation, and renaming, of the English Department to create the "Literature Section" will force another name-change on the School—ECPS being the "School of English…" etc.)

Wal Kirsop was the "Chairman of the Committee for the Centre" from 1982 to 1991, then it was Ross Harvey (1992–93); Bryan Coleborne (1994–96); Harold Love (1997); Wal Kirsop (1998–2009). In 2010 Simone Murray became the Director of the Centre and in 2012 Anna Polletti and I became Co-Directors.

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The Centre is the institutional body that represents bibliographers and book historians at Monash, but Monash had an active group of researchers in this field before the Centre was formed in 1982. (Wal Kirsop provided some details about this period, including the roles of Roger Laufer, Harold Love, Arthur Brown, Clive Probyn, Mary Lord etc, which I posted here.)

Monash academics (especially Wal Kirsop and Harrold Love) were instrumental in the establishment of the Bibliographical Society of Australia and New Zealand (BSANZ) in February 1969. Indeed, Wal was both a foundation-member of the BSANZ and its foundation-President (from 1969-73). And, as Brian McMullin noted recently, the journals published by BSANZ:

[have had] an Australian emphasis: within Australia it has had a Melbourne emphasis, and within Melbourne a Monash University emphasis, in that Monash has supplied several of the editors (among them two of its graduates) and has been the institutional home of what might be seen as a disproportionate number of its authors (B. J. McMullin, "Forty Years On" Script and Print 35:2 (2011): 106–7)

Since Brian does not enumerate the BSANZ Bulletin and Script & Print editors, I will do so, with details of which issues were edited by each editor where I have that information

Harold Love [staff] (vol.1, no.1–vol.2, no.3; March 1970–December 1975)
Brian McMullin [staff] (vol.2, no.4–vol.7, no.2; August 1976–July 1983)
Brian Hubber [Graduate], John Arnold [Graduate], Richard Overell [staff] (1993)
Ross Harvey [staff] (1995?)
Ian Morrison [Graduate] (vol.24, no. 3—vol.27, no.4; 2000–2003)
Patrick Spedding [Graduate] (vol.30–33; 2006–8)

As you can see, there are more than two Monash graduates in this list.

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The Graduate School of Librarianship was established at Monash in 1976, offering masters courses in book history shortly thereafter. The Ancora Press and a weekly seminar series were immediately established by Jean Whyte. Thanks to Brian McMullin—a foundation lecturer—I have recordings of some of these early seminars, which suggest the scope of the series:

1. John Spring, "The Use of Type-Evidence in the Identification of the Work of Joseph Bennett, A Printer of the Restoration" (27 February 1976), [39.18 mins]

2. Wallace Kirsop, "On Pierre Corneille's Le Cid" (22 April 1976) [46.03 mins]

3. David Bradley and B. J. McMullin, "Textual Problems and Playhouse Copy; Consideration of Some Editorial Orthodoxies" (23 July 1976) [1hr 59.45 mins]

4. Angus Martin, "Specialized Retrospective Checklists: the example of eighteenth-century French Fiction" (8 Oct 1976) [1hr 38.05 mins]

5. Wallace Kirsop, "Bibliographical Detection" (14 October 1977) [1hr 03.07 mins]

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From the above it appears that much of the energy of Harold and Wal went into establishing the BSANZ in the early 70s, and that it was only after they had been joined by Brian and others at Monash that the idea of a research Centre at Monash was seriously contemplated.

I am told that in the very early 1980s the Fraser Government proposed establishing ten research centres across Australia. A proposal was hastily assembled by Harold and Brian (Wal was in Cambridge at the time) for a Centre for Bibliographical and Textual Studies at Monash to undertake research for the Early Imprint Project** and to prepare scholarly editions. The Centre was unsuccessful in its bid, but redirected its proposal to the University (sans the request for money), and it was accepted.

Wal and Brian had been responsible for editing all issues of the BSANZ Bulletin from 1970 until this time. Shortly after the Centre was established (in 1982) the editorship was passed on to Trevor Mills (in 1983), allowing Brian and others at Monash to concentrate on Centre activities—including the development of an the interdisciplinary MA in Bibliographical and Textual Studies (restructured in 1994, but was still available in 2001).

Although, I am told, there were few graduates of the Monash "Master of Arts, Centre for Bibliographical and Textual Studies", I have been able to identify four students who produced important work between 1989 and 1999:

1. Linley Horrocks, "The creation of the Anzac market 1914-1918: the role of the press and the book trade" (MA thesis, 1989).

2. John Arnold, "The Fanfrolico Press: history and bibliography" (MA thesis, 1994). ¶ John's Fanfrolico Press: Satyrs, Fauns & Fine Books (Private Libraries Association, 2009) was reviewed by Nathan Garvey in Script & Print 36.2 (2012).

3. Laurel J. Clark, "Aspects of Melbourne book trade history: innovation and specialisation in the careers of F.F. Bailliere and Margareta Webber" (MA thesis, 1997).

4. Peter Pereyra, "Crime-fiction: from publisher to reader" (MA thesis, 1999).

Some significant work—both published and in theses—has also come out of both the "Bibliography and Textual Scholarship" unit and the "Analytical and Descriptive Bibliography" unit, which was offered by the Centre as an elective to M.A., M.Lib. and a few other candidates. This includes:

1. Annemie Gilbert and Sylvia Ransom, "The Imposition of Eighteenmos in Sixes, With Special Reference to Tranchefiles" BSANZ Bulletin 4:4 (1980), 269–75.

2. Penny McCristal, " '$½’ as a statement of signing" BSANZ Bulletin 19:3 (1995), 209–12.

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By the time that the Centre was reconstituted in 2010 the principle academics involved in its earlier history had all retired and it was no longer possible for the remaining (emeritus) staff associated with the Centre to teach or take on higher-degree student supervisions. In the eyes of the university, this was a serious problem.

Of course, the Centre remained active in its research and publishing programme, in an academic seminar series, and in obtaining grant funding. And Wal and Brian took an active role in mentoring scholars like myself. (Without the assistance of Wal, Brian and others associated with the Centre, I would never have been able to take on the editorship of Script and Print and get it back up to date in such a short period.)

But, when all ECPS research units were reconstituted in 2010 as research-only units, the Centre needed a director with an outstanding research record who could supervise MA and PhD students. This was Simone.

Interestingly, teaching was specifically excluded from the purview of the new research units, although mentoring—and building the number of—M.A. and Ph.D. students were each among the KPIs. But with the recent university-wide move to force a coursework component on all MA and PhD students—it may be that research units will have some involvement with teaching in future. If so, there is a slight chance that some sort of Centre for the Book unit will be available to MA and PhD students again.

(A brief explanation: All research units and all new MA and PhD students will be administered within a program which is aligned with Field of Research codes (such as 2005–Literary Studies), by a program-manager, and will be supervised by Monash Institute of Graduate Research-approved, research-active staff, affiliated with that program. It seems likely that MA and PhD students will be offered coursework units that are aligned—at least to a certain extent—with the focus of research units within each program. If so, it seems likely that staff in the research units within each program will be called on to do the coursework teaching, as well as the supervision.)

Whether or not research units return to coursework teaching, the Centre for the Book at Monash has a small group of talented PhD students associated with it already and a steady stream of enquiries from would-be students suggests that this group will continue to grow.

**The aim of the Early Imprint Project (subsequently the Australian Book Heritage Resources Project) was to compile a short-title catalogue "in machine readable form" of all books published before 1801 held in Australasian libraries. See B. J. McMullin, "The Australia and New Zealand Early Imprints Project: The Background" BSANZ Bulletin 6:4 (1982), 163–73.

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Bryan Coleborne, Chairman of the Committee for the Centre from 1994–96, records some of his thoughts about both the centre and the future of teaching bibliography and book history in his "Course Design and Analytical Bibliography" BSANZ Bulletin 20:3 (1996), 213–17.

Brian McMullin records some of his thoughts in "Bibliography in the Library School at Monash" BSANZ Bulletin 20:3 (1996), 218–20; "Forty Years On" Script and Print 35:2 (2011): 106–7.

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