Conference Report: Incunabula on the Move

This is a guest post by Lucy Hughes, Modern Archivist at Corpus.

This one-day conference held at Clare College, Cambridge, on 6 March 2012 was timed to commemorate the 100-year anniversary of the birth of J. C. T. Oates, author of the landmark catalogue of incunabula in Cambridge University Library. It was organised by Satoko Tokunaga, who was a visiting Research Fellow at Corpus Christi College between 2010 and 2011, and was supported by the EIRI Project of Keio University, Tokyo, and the Cambridge University Library Incunabula Cataloguing Project.

The theme – ‘Incunabula on the Move’ – stimulated reflections on how books have been traded and exchanged in a physical sense, changing geographical and institutional locations over time, as well as how they have sometimes been recontextualised in a more abstract sense. The exchange of ideas between bibliographers like Oates, Bradshaw and their associates, was shown to be as dynamic as many of the books themselves are well-travelled. Satoko’s own paper showed us how patterns of rubrication can yield clues to the history of book production, whilst Paul Needham’s paper on Ulrich Zel – whose productions were often printed without dates – showed how the study of paper stocks can help with establishing possible chronologies. Eric White, of Bridwell Library at the Southern Methodist University, reminded us how valuable auction catalogues can be as a source for tracing the histories of individual copies and their owners, whilst John Goldfinch’s paper gave intriguing insights into the custodianship of incunabula at the British Library historically, and the exchange of books between it and Cambridge University Library. After lunch we were treated to reflections by Toshiyuki Takamiya and Lotte Hellinga, who both drew on their personal memories of Oates as scholar and mentor. This brought the day to a fitting conclusion, although for those able to stay longer there was an opportunity to view a selection of incunabula at the University Library. It was a very inspiring occasion, attended by a range of participants from across the book history, book-dealing and library worlds, and also by many young scholars.

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