Robert Keable, from Magdalene scholar to notorious novelist

With Simon Keable-Elliott. Thursday 2nd November 2023, 5pm, Cripps Court, Magdalene College.

When Robert Keable left Cambridge, there were high expectations that he would have a dazzling career in the church. He certainly built a reputation as a fine writer and preacher working in Bradford, Zanzibar and, during the war, in Basutoland. It was, however, his experience serving in France with the South African Native Labour Contingent which changed his life and led to him writing the bestseller, Simon Called Peter, and becoming a celebrity novelist.

New horizons in bibliography: the Andean khipu, Dr Manuel Medrano

Thursday 8th June 2023, 5.00pm (tea from 4.45pm), in the Cripps Court Auditorium at Magdalene College. This meeting begins with the AGM.

This event is held in partnership with the Cambridge Bibliographical Society.

Dr Manuel Medrano (Harvard University) studies khipus, knotted-string devices that fulfilled the functions of writing in the prehispanic Andes, whose narrative properties remain little known. He is working to catalogue the remaining khipus in museums and private collections around the world. 

Chinese Book Culture in the Early Modern Period

Friday 10th December, 6.30pm, Magdalene College

Professor Cynthia Brokaw, Professor of History and East Asian Studies and Chen Family Professor of Chinese Studies, teaches early modern Chinese history at Brown University. Her research focuses on the social history of publishing and book culture in China, with particular attention to the relationship between the growth of commercial publishing and the development of a large commoner reading public in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. As the current Yip Fellow at Magdalene and 2021 Panizzi Lecturer at the British Library, she will be speaking informally about her work on Chinese book culture in the early modern period. Please see our events page for further details.

Chinese woodblock

Bibliography in Black History Month (UK)

‘Black book history’ most evidently pertains to writing and publication by Black authors and publishers, to the creation and reception of a Black literary canon, and to the history of Black readerships and sites of reading. But there was (and is) clearly no monolithic ‘Black culture’, just as textual and ‘literary’ forms were multiple, and reading experiences were communal, individual and in other ways diverse. These are ‘histories’, not one ‘history’. Segregation, oppression and discrimination remain intrinsic to these broader social and political histories of the book, as do pride, celebration and self-identity. Compared to other long, wide-ranging and entrenched studies in Western bibliography and the history of the book, histories of writing, publishing and reading by Black women and men are under-researched and unquestionably in need of greater attention and support.  Characterisations and associations are even more fluid, however, when as always, boundaries and definitions are the challenge and the opportunity for book historical understanding.

The relative neglect and marginalisation by bibliographers of Black literature and history only adds to the timeliness of renewed investigation, but it is also a subject given new dimensionality by the global and comparative turn in the study of book history. Current interest in the production and reception of books at very different times and in very different societies around the world, demands fresh consideration of exactly what we mean by ‘books’ and of the means and consequences of their conveyance of texts. By questioning the materialities and technologies involved in making and communicating by books – whether they be made of bone, clay, wax, papyrus, silk, bamboo, palm-leaf, parchment, paper, the digital or many other constituents, and whether their texts be impressed, drawn, written, imprinted, incised, stereotyped, photographed, electronic-screen displayed or otherwise created – we hugely stretch our understanding of not just the form but the agency of books. We evaluate not just what they were and are, but what they did and can do. That interrogation fundamentally alters appraisals of the interplay between orality and literacy, rethinking assumptions about the oral as being unquestionably ‘pre-literate’ and inviting reconsideration of the scope of ‘textual’ transmission. It also means that we have to think anew about bibliographical categories, defining these in fresh and active ways rather than against an existing or predominant mode of classification. A broader definitional interrogation asks whether a particular area of book study is too defined by its opposite and invites engagement with alternative modelling. Such a challenge, provoking a radical rethinking of bibliographical scope and practice, is especially germane to the conceptualization and writing of Black book histories. What has rightly often begun in response to scholarly neglect, misapprehension and even condescension might rewardingly be extended by new and wider questioning of foundational assumptions. By pondering both the limits and expansiveness of Black book histories we might reframe the challenge of modern bibliography itself.

Bookscape and the history of the book trades in London

Recorded for and by the Programa Instrumentos para la Bibliografía Mexicana, directed by Laurette Godinas at UNAM, Mexico City.

In this talk, James Raven explains how he invented the term ‘bookscape’ to recover the history of the sites and activities of printing and publishing in London, and particularly how historians can find new sources of evidence despite the catastrophe of the Great Fire of London 1666 and the Blitz 1941.

This version also offers Spanish subtitles for key slides.

Writing the Oxford Illustrated History of the Book


An online event to celebrate the recent publication of The Oxford Illustrated History of the Book.

Contributors discuss their experience of planning and writing the volume. How important is it to define what a book is? What are the merits and challenges of a global history of the book?

What is a book? Find out with this discussion!

Our seminars and lectures are part of our major international project: 

The Bibliography of Enlightenment: Literature, History and Economics, directed by James Raven

The Project was launched by an international workshop:

Understanding Mediation: Knowing about Communication in Enlightenment Europe 15-18 September 2013, at Magdalene College, Cambridge, sponsored by a major grant from the European Science Foundation.

Since 2015 the workshop has been extended by further meetings of its members in Cambridge and in other research centres in Europe, and the Trust has sponsored evening seminar series in the Parlour, Magdalene College.

Past presentations include illustrated talks by Dr Joanna Maciulewicz, Faculty of English, Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznan, and Dominic Bridge, University of Liverpool.