On Saturday 24th March we welcomed thirty delegates to the University of Reading’s Special Collections for our one-day symposium on ‘Authors, Publishers and Readers: Selling and Distributing Literary Cultures, 1880-1940’. There was a good mix of academics, writers and archivists, and many of the papers, including from some of the international speakers who had travelled from Canada, Belgium and Denmark, were based on research that had been done here at Reading.
The day was intended both as a showcase for Special Collections and to mark the final year of our AHRC funded project on ‘The Impact of Distribution and Reading Patterns on the History of the Novel’, which has used the publishers’ archives at Reading. The conference was opened by Guy Baxter (University archivist) and Professor Patrick Parrinder (Project Investigator). In the first session, Dr Andrew Nash gave a paper on ‘Authors, Publishers and the Control of Literary Property after the Foundation of the Society of Authors in 1883’, and Dr Nicola Wilson spoke about ‘Publishing Working-Class Writers in the 1930s’, drawing on two case-studies from the publishers’ archives of Chatto and Windus and the Hogarth Press.
The delegates enjoyed seeing the exhibition we had put together as part of the public outputs for the project, and we made the most of the fantastic facilities at MERL (including the beautiful gardens). Judith Wright, the archivist from Boots (Nottingham) also brought some of her company’s library materials to show us.
It was a fantastic day, with panels on ‘Genre and Marketing’, ‘Formats and Audiences’, ‘Publishers, Sexuality and Censorship’, and ‘Contextualising the Popular and the Middlebrow’. Our keynote speakers, Dr Shafquat Towheed (Open University), Dr Mary Hammond (Southampton), and Dr Nickianne Moody (Liverpool John Moores), spoke about the Reading Experience Database (RED), early cinema going and book tie-ins, and the Boots Book-lovers’ library respectively. There were some very useful discussions on the methodology of archival research, the gaps in our knowledge with archives, and how best to capture people’s experiences of reading and to make this useful for analytical research.