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.
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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’

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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.

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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.

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