July 2018

Last week, I was very pleased to receive the news that I have been elected as a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society.  It’s a real honour, and another milestone along the way.  My grateful thanks go to Professor Anne Curry for supporting my application – in fact her ongoing support for and interest in my work is a great encouragement to me.


This is the final post in a short series about my trip to Utrecht, to the EDPOP conference European Dimensions of Popular Print Culture: A Comparative Approach.


I wanted to see something more of Utrecht, so while I was there I took the opportunity to visit the Museum Catharijneconvent, which holds a fascinating collection relating to the history of Christianity in the Netherlands, housed in stunning surroundings.
The conference continued after lunch with ‘Top ten popular narratives in European languages. Corpus, genre, materiality, production and readers’, coordinated and chaired by Rita Schlusemann, who also opened the panels with Krystyna Wierzbicka on ‘The idea of top ten popular narratives in Europe and the question of their genre’.  They identified lots of problems surrounding the terminology, not least the fact that the word ‘romance’ means different things in different times and in different places, including verse and prose, so as a term it is not always helpful.  Instead, they suggested that ‘narratives’ is a more uniform term. These texts were also profoundly mobile.  The story of Griselda was the first popular pan-European narrative.


Anna Katharina Richter and Jordi Sanchez gave a paper entitled ‘Materiality matters. Production and printing of romances in Europe 15th-17th century’, followed by
Helwi Blom and Marie-Dominique Leclerc who discussed ‘The European dissemination of Pierre de Provence and Fortunatus; a comparative case-study in popular print culture’.  Finally, Ursula Rautenberg presented the ‘Top ten highbrow and lowbrow: on the different audiences of individual and complete editions: a case study of Sigmund Feyerabend’s publishing strategy’


The final session was on Education and children’s literature, coordinated and chaired by Elisa Marazzi. Matthew Grenby started off with ‘What is popular children’s literature?’ His answer was that it was not just the material which they used, but that which was printed especially for them.  He pointed out that we assume that children’s needs are the same across the continent, but we should question whether they were.  Introducing the following two panels, he made us aware that the distinction between educational and recreational literature was arbitrary and false, but the research had required divisions and so that distinction had been made.


Laura Carnelos talked us through ‘Educational popular printed products (1450-1900)’.  She comented that it was common practice to use secular literature, such as primers and moralistic tales, in schools.  Most of these genres were widespread across Europe, as items like ABCs were found in the majority of national areas, but the battledore was a uniquely British item.  Elisa Marazzi presented the final, formal paper of the conference, ‘Recreation in popular children’s literature (1450-1900)’. Although the division between recreational and educational literature was porous, there was a wide range of material which could be classed as recreational, even if it had a moralisitic slant.  The invention of children’s literature took place in Britain in the mid-18th century, although the first examples were bourgeois rather than cheap print.  Matthew rounded off the panel, discussing the importance of the children’s literature genre to cheap print as a whole and commenting that “Popular print cannot exist without the market for children’s literature”.  Nevertheless, although there are transnational continuities, there are also discontinuities of which we should be equally aware. Furthermore, he posited a set of trajectories across time in which recreational and educational print moved from being expensive, refined material aimed at adults to being cheaper, vulgar and aimed at children. He suggested that, as time passed, national traditions moved further apart as markets expanded and became more secure.  It was sobering, though, to realise that his final comments on children’s cheap print in fact apply to all of us working in history – the data may not be complete, either because it doesn’t still exist or even because we don’t know where to look.

Jeroen Salman then closed the conference by looking at the next steps for EDPOP, which included the Virtual Research Environment, the working group who would draw up a taxonomy of European cheap print and a publication of the conference transactions.

After the conference, a large number of us went for a drink in a bar by the canal and then headed off for what became known as ‘Not the conference dinner’, where we enjoyed an excellent Indonesian meal and chatted about life, the universe and everything.

Lovely to see this post about the reopening of Helmshore Textile Museums, where I worked for a year after completing my undergraduate degree many moons ago. Such a shame that it, like many of LCC’s museums, is now reliant on volunteers to get it going and is looking for a new operator.

Museum Development North West

Earlier this year Lancashire County Council announced that Helmshore and Queen Street Mill Textile Museums, which had been closed to the general public since 2016, were going to be partially reopened; since then staff and volunteers have done sterling work to get both sites ready. In the latest of our guest blogs Philip Butler and Jenny Ingham from Lancashire Museums Service recount the reopenings which were well attended by visitors, despite Queen St Mill’s being the same day as a certain World Cup semi-final match!

“From our roving curator Philip Butler enjoying the sights and sounds of cotton production in Lancashire once again…

Helmshore Mills 26 May 2018
At 11am the audience gathered at the front of the museum to hear Cllr Anne Cheetham perform her first duty as Chairman of the County Council and introduce Cllr Peter Buckley cabinet member with responsibility for community and cultural services, to perform…

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This is the third post in a short series about my trip to Utrecht, to the EDPOP conference European Dimensions of Popular Print Culture: A Comparative Approach.

digThe second day of the conference (which was, thankfully, slightly cooler than the first) began with our news panel: News – Intermediality and mobility, coordinated and chaired by Joad Raymond. Joad Raymond and Alexandra Schäfer were first up with ‘News moves’.  Joad cautioned that news ‘forms’ and the way they were communicated have communicated too much attention, and that we should consider thinking about the ‘unit’ of news, which is very mobile.  That unit could be a textual part such as a paragraph as well as an entire publication.  He pointed out that news forms are designed with codependency in mind, so that what is presented in one can be put with other materials.  Alexandra compared reports of the French Wars of Religion in France and the Holy Roman Empire. She showed that in France, the vast majority of publications supported the Catholic league, only a tiny minority the Protestants, and the Royal party only published proclamations.  In the Holy Roman Empire, only a few publications supported the League, whereas most were pro-royal.  She concluded that news changed when it moved in order to fit legal and publishing contexts, as well as to suit diverging personal and political backgrounds.
Massimo Rospocher and I were up next with ‘News sings’, comparing and contrasting Italian and English sixteenth-century news ballads.  We talked about war songs, political news, murder and disaster ballads.  Although they take different forms, Italian and English ballads have much in common.  They stressed their newsworthiness, truthfulness and novelty, while straying into sensationalist territory in the way that they appealed to their listeners.  Above all, it was the fact that they combined many media that was key to their success.  As well as singing short excerpts from two English ballads (A Dolefull Ditty, or sorowfull Sonet of the Lord Darly, sometime King of Scots. Neuew to the Noble and worthy King, King Henry the eyght and William Elderton’s A New Well a Day), I also had a go at singing some Italian ones too (La morte de Papa Iulio con altre Barzellette: cosa nova and Historia come papa Iulio secondo ha prese la cità de Bologna).
The final paper on our panel was given by Hannu Salmi and Yann Ryan: ‘News counts’.  Their paper concentrated on methodologies. They described newspapers not as monolithic texts but as collections of paragraphs.  Hannu and Yann set out to discuss whether it was possible to record data using network science which takes the mobility of these paragraphs into account in order to say something in a general sense about the mobility of paragraphs across Europe.
digSession 4 was entitled ‘Stories and songs travelling through Europe’. It was coordinated by Juan Gomis and chaired by Jeroen Salman, who also gave the first paper on ‘Popularising classics in Spain and the Netherlands: Penny prints and Aleluyas’. Juan described Dutch penny prints being distributed by schoolmasters as rewards for children.  He looked at the similarities between auques, which were used as board games, and aleluyas, with 48 woodcut illustrations of saints which were cut out and thrown during processions.  High numbers of aleluyas were printed, indicating that they were extremely popular.  Jeroen noted that huge numbers of the auques and aleluyas were educational and aimed at children, though others were about history, politics or moralistic stories.  Over time, they began to tell stories from popular literature such as Robinson Crusoe, Gulliver or Don Quixote, although he pointed out that they don’t keep entirely to the storyline – although it’s obvious that the plot would need to be reduced to fit on the sheet, the cuts at times made the single sheet versions absurd.
digSiv Gøril Brandtzæg and Juan Gomis  then talked about ‘Crime and Punishment: mapping the European execution ballad’ in a paper which had been written in collaboration with Una McIlvenna. This was a paper which took a broad sweep, looking at Spain, Norway, Sweden and Denmark, Britain, Germany, Italy and France over several hundred years.  Not all of them were broadside ballads, and sometimes more than one ballad was printed on a sheet.  The central function of the the execution ballad was to provide a moral lesson for the audience.  Ballads were seen as a vehicle of learning, with divine retribution creating a warning for the audience to amend their ways.  Execution ballads were usually written in the first person by a criminal who was not only guilty but also repentant.  The Spanish ballads were different because they sometimes showed admiration for bandits.
Antonio Serrano, who had worked in collaboration with David Stoker described ‘Cluer Dicey and Agustín Laborda. Chapbooks in eighteenth-century England and Spain’.  He suggested that one of the keys to success of Spanish pliegos printers was their high production volumes, whereas in England it was the variety of business that they produced.

This is the second in a short series of posts about my trip to Utrecht, to the EDPOP conference: European Dimensions of Popular Print Culture: A Comparative Approach.

digAfter the various opening and introductory sessions (which took more than 3 hours), it was time for Session 1: The circulation and materiality of parodic and comic literature in Northern Europe, co-ordinated by Katell Lavéant and chaired by Malcolm Walsby.   The first speaker was Ruth von Bernuth on ‘Shared books and laughter: the Schildbürgerbuch in German and Yiddish’.  The Schildbürgerbuch is a very funny story based on Thomas More’s Utopia, describing what happens when one town’s attempt to construct a reformist and ideal society goes wrong.  Ruth described how the story was subtly altered when a Yiddish edition was published in Amsterdam.  She noted, for example, the residents of the ideal city Laleburg bathe on Sunday in the Yiddish edition rather than Saturday and they eat beef rather than pork, but that there are inconsistencies, as they still go to church!

Ruth was followed by Cécile de Morrée and Rozanne Versendaal who spoke about ‘Recurring interest in joyful songs and summonses: Reflections on a variety of shapes and sizes’.   This paper was based on their work on the Uncovering Joyful  Culture project held up a lot of aspects of joyful songs which were familiar to me from my work on ballads. Cécile and Rozanne pointed out that often, the texts come from elite culture and are adapted for popular audiences, that the song books might contain tune references but not usually notation and that they were also spread in manuscript.  They argued that youth was a significant market for their type of print, which was quite interesting.

Next came Katell Lavéant on ‘Forms and uses of seventeenth-century comic broadsheets’.  These sometimes have one huge image or sometimes, in Dutch or French, no image at all.  They have often been studied by art historians, or for their performative context, but hybrid versions are more difficult to appreciate.
digFollowing a short break, we moved on to Session 2, Popular medical books in Europe, which, if I’m honest, I didn’t think would interest me all that much.  How wrong I was!

The co-ordinator and chair, Sabrina Minuzzi, introduced Tessa Storey, whose paper bore the fascinating title of ‘The Lament of the Melons’: Extracting the rules of healthy living from cheap print in sixteenth and seventeenth century Italy-with a glance at England and France”.  Apparently, early modern medical cheap print was full of self help books which recommended living healthily, as this would reduce the need to call on the services of expensive doctors.  These texts represent a filtering down of more expensive regimen, which were out of reach of the ordinary person.  She reported that she has not found an equivalent amount of material in French or English to that in Italian, although she did note that this might be because she was less sure of where to look.  This, of course, is one of the limitations of this comparative approach, as it either relies on getting large numbers of scholars to collaborate fully on a single paper (especially as things change over time as well as location), or having someone present on an area which is not their direct specialism (which is necessarily somewhat speculative), or taking a directly comparative approach which only looks at a small number of cases – as Massimo Rospocher and I did by comparing 16th century England and Italy – but is therefore not really a broad brush picture.  Nevertheless, it was refreshing to hear someone acknowledge the limitations of their approach, and it didn’t make Tessa’s comments on the Lament of the Melons any less interesting or amusing.   The Lament is an Italian barzelletta, which might either be intended to make fun of melon-sellers or it might be by them, in an attempt to persuade people to buy their produce.  Either way, it suggests that the vendors were aware of the medical properties which were ascribed to melons and other fruit in treatises and regimen.
digSandra Cavallo then talked about ‘Genres of medical didactic literature and medical culture in early modern Italy’.  She pointed out that although utilitarian texts and self help books had been widely used in research, it might be worth looking at how they talk about medicine as well as what they actually recommend as medical practises.  The final paper of the day was given by Hana Jadrná Matějková on ‘Early Modern midwifery books from German speaking regions and the Czech Lands between Scholarship and practice’.  She argued that print allowed men to penetrate women’s field of midwifery and obstetrics, first in print and then in practice.  She challenged the view that these books were owned by midwives, pointing out that there is no evidence of their annotation by midwives in England. Whereas women learned their craft from other women, men’s practical experience was limited to Caesarian sections on dead mothers and the removal of dead babies from the womb.

After a short presentation by Julia Martins and Andrea van Leerdam, it was time for the

conference dinner, where Juan Gomis and I were charged with entertaining the delegates.  Juan sang two Spanish ballads, while I performed extracts from William Elderton’s ballad on The Dangerous Shooting of the Gun at Court’.  Then it was time to walk back to my hotel, through a beautiful evening.

This is the first of a short series of posts about my trip to Utrecht, to the EDPOP conference.

After my delightful trip to the EDPOP Turku workshop, where my panel prepared its ideas, I was really looking forward to visiting Utrecht for the full conference, European Dimensions of Popular Print Culture: A Comparative Approach.  Utrecht certainly didn’t disappoint – it is a beautiful city and the weather was wonderful (although that did make for some unpleasantly hot conference sessions!).

I’d given myself plenty of time to get to Utrecht, as I wanted to be able to have a good look round while I was there, as well as allowing for travel delays. As it was, everything ran very smoothly and I was able to visit the Museum Speelklok before it closed, the day before the conference began.  It is full of mechanical musical instruments.  Those of you who have been reading this blog for a long time might remember that I am very fond of the Mechanical Music Museum in Northleach.  I first went there in my teens on a family holiday; the last time I visited was on my research trip to Oxford.  Discovering that there was a similar museum in Utrecht meant that it jumped to the top of my list of things to do!

Housed in a disused church, it was appropriate that the first stop on the guided tour was a 15th century carillon, which still works.  Carillons like this one played tunes in order to get the attention of the townspeople, before they chimed the hour.  The idea was that people who heard the tune would know that the hour was about to strike, so that they could listen out to see what time it was – without the tunes, people might well miss the time.  The tunes on these carillons could be reset, but it was done infrequently not only  because it was a difficult and time consuming operation, but also because the carillon would be out of action during the process, leaving the people without their chimes.
There were fascinating musical boxes for tabletops, the wonderfully-named tingeltangel, clocks of all sizes and great barrel organs for street fairs and ballrooms.  It was a wonderful place to visit, and I recommended it to several people at the conference!  We all agreed that the final item on the tour, the mechanical jazz duo, was completely amazing, if slightly bizarre in that the players were ‘naked’.  The museum had decided to reclothe the automatons in the their original outfits, but while they were waiting for them, they had taken off the clothes which they had been wearing.  It meant that visitors could see inner workings, springs and all!
sdrThe conference itself was held at the Faculty Club, a former 15th century canon’s house.  It opened on the afternoon of Thursday 8th June with a short welcome from Frank Kessle, Director Institute for Cultural Inquiry (ICON) at the University of Utrecht.   EDPOP Project leader Jeroen Salman (also from Utrecht) gave an update on ‘EDPOP in progress’, at which he launched the EDPOP Virtual Research Environment which will bring together collections and catalogues, making them accessible via one portal.  The project will continue until the end of 2018; it has brought together a network of 50 scholars who have held 9 workshops and 2 conferences, and it has produced an edited collection.  Further outputs will include a publication of the proceedings of the 2018 conference, as well as a taxonomy and glossary of popular print culture.
There followed a Round Table on Reflections on the key concepts in European popular print culture chaired by Jeroen.  The first speaker was Matthew Grenby (Newcastle) on European print culture, who asked ‘What is popular print?’ and ‘How is it European?’.  He pointed out that although we might now be drawn to transnational histories, given the current global political situation, we should nevertheless remember that there are fractures and hybridisations as well as similarities in the materials that we study. He suggested that perhaps there was a rise in discontinuity as markets developed and solidified, especially after the 19th century.  He also reminded the delegates that popular print stretched far beyond Europe, through the colonies.  The discussant, Joep Leerssen (Amsterdam), made 3 main points:
  • print is a medium – it has no intrinsic spatiotemporal characteristics and its availability is contingent.
  • the terms ‘early modern’ and ‘popular’ have overlapping conotations, especially with relation to being diffuse and non-bourgeois.
  • whether pring culture is ‘early modern’.
Jeroen then gave us a run down of the historiography of cultural history and popular culture.  He suggested that we move our emphasis away from the product itself to the process of popularisation, as this includes the producers and consumers and would give us a more dynamic perspective. The discussant, Alessandro Arcancelli (Verona), remarked that the idea of ‘cultural dynamics’ presented a promising agenda, placing popular print in its wider print sphere.
img_20180607_140817.jpgThe introductory session, ‘Reflections on the life cycle of European popular print’, was then chaired by Malcolm Walsby.  The first paper, entitled ‘The production of European popular print’, was given by Laura Carnelos.  She identified a low cost of production as being the only consistent factor in European popular print. Jeroen Salman described ‘The distribution and dissemination of popular print in Europe’, pointing out that although popular print itself might be marginal and ephemeral, it was an economically important part of the print trade.  He noted that it was associated with other, non-commercial cultural aspects such as singing and performing, and that the culture of popular print was also affected by regulation.  Jeroen hoped that there would be an investigation into the ways that the dissemination of popular print was affected by different genres, regulations and disseminators.  The next paper, ‘Consumers of popular print through Early Modern Europe’ was given by Shanti Graheli, who argued that use is the single most important factor in the destruction of texts.  Popular texts were used extensively, but that use declined over time.  Issues of survival make it difficult to reconstruct the activities of reader from the past, but indirect evidence is important.  She concluded that form guided consumption, so we should explore it in conjunction with production and disctribution.  Malcolm’s summing up raised questions about whether some aspects of survival relate to whether or not a house had somewhere suitable in which to keep its cheap print, as well as the matter of use.
By this stage, we were beginning to melt – it was a very warm room – so we were grateful to move downstairs for the next session, where it was a little bit cooler!