Seminar Series: Paper, Pen and Ink: Manuscript Cultures in Early Modern England

The OU’s Book History Research Group’s series for 2014 is themed around Paper, Pen and Ink: Manuscript Cultures in Early Modern England. The full programme is at For further information, please contact the series organiser, Jonathan Gibson (

Monday 13 January 2014: University of London, Senate House, Room 234 (2nd floor)
Helen Smith (University of York): ‘Paper: Beyond Words’
‘Evidently, it is not enough to regard the surface as a taken-for-granted backdrop for the lines that are inscribed upon it’ (Tim Ingold).

In this ‘paper’, I will follow the lead offered by influential studies of manuscript letters (Gibson, Daybell) to investigate how men and women attended to the materiality and make-up of the paper on which they wrote. Drawing on a range of sources, I will draw the physical presence of writing paper into conversation with the very wide array of early modern paper uses and technologies, in order to suggest the kinds of social and cultural presence possessed by paper, and the varied relationships between paper and its users. By inquiring into natural philosophical uses of and investigations into paper, I will suggest that we can discover the multiple valences of paper as a substance for thinking on and thinking with. At the same time, by investigating the relationship between paper as both an object for, and a subject of, writing, I will suggest how paper works in both material and metaphorical ways to transact not simply social but emotional relationships. My paper thus aims to suggest the importance of bringing together material, critical, and historical studies of manuscript writing, and to explore the relevance of manuscript sources and study to the current critical obsession with objects and their meanings.

Dr Helen Smith is Reader in Renaissance Literature at the University of York. Her publications include Grossly Material Things: Women and Book Production in Early Modern England (Oxford University Press, 2012) and Renaissance Paratexts, co-edited with Louise Wilson. Helen was Co-Investigator on the AHRC-funded project, ‘Conversion Narratives in Early Modern Europe’, and is Principal Investigator for the AHRC Research Network, ‘Imagining Jerusalem, c. 1099 to the Present Day’. She is currently in the early stages of a new project, on ideas about materiality and their material expression in early modern Europe.

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