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!